Books Magazine

Next Up: The Sot-Weed Factor

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

I now begin a 700 page novel. I don’t know if I’m ready for this.

The Sot-Weed Factor is a “satirical epic” written by John Barth. It tells the story of Ebenezer Cooke, a poet laureate, on his travels from London to colonial Maryland in the late 1600s.

A few quick facts about The Sot-Weed Factor and John Barth:

  • Published in 1960, The Sot-Weed Factor was Barth’s first experiment with literary postmodernism.
  • Ebenezer Cooke, the protagonist, was an actual English-born poet who lived from 1665-1732 and actually wrote a poem called “The Sot-Weed Factor.”
  • “Sot weed” is an old term for a tobacco plant, and “factor” was a middleman who bought something in order to resell it.
  • The novel has been called a parody of Tom Jones.
  • The Sot-Weed Factor has a lot of historical fiction elements with characters who include John Smith and Pocahantas.
  • In March 2013, director Steven Soderbergh said he was making a 12 hour adaption of The Sot-Weed Factor.
  • Barth, 83, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has written dozens of novels and three pieces of nonfiction.

Another aspect of this book that I find interesting, if not intimidating: It’s a “loosely structured” novel with digressions, stories within stories, and a lot of 16th century dialogue. I’m not too sure what my ADD will think about this.

In my early opinion, the pros of the novel include its satirical style. I love satire (see Catch 22). The cons include the “thees” and “thous” and all the other 16th century speak. I’m not sure how well I can cope with that, but I guess I’m about to find out.

Anyone have experience with Barth or The Sot-Weed Factor?

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