By Ted Morrissey
When I was bewitched by the Master’s prose in 2009—while reading “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”—and began my obsession with his work, I soon discovered how complicated the publishing history of The Tunnel was. As I worked on Gass I was frequently frustrated by the difficulty of plotting when various parts had been written or published. The information was out there, but not in any focused and comprehensive form. For years, I’ve been thinking of putting together a chronology and bibliography for The Tunnel. To do so, I’ve drawn from numerous sources, but the core of the information comes from Gass’s own CV, which Mary Henderson Gass generously shared with me. In spite of my best efforts, I know this chronology/bibliography is incomplete (or perhaps inaccurate in places), so I’m hoping other Gass aficionados will help to further flesh it out (or fix its flaws when found). Note that the interview quotes were taken from Conversations with William H. Gass, edited by Theodore G. Ammon, University Press of Mississippi, 2003. I wanted to place Gass’s thoughts about the project in a linear context along with its emerging pieces. I’ve included some professional milestones that may have affected his progress on The Tunnel.
Note that Joel Minor’s contribution, “A Survey of Published Excerpts,” has a goal similar to this article’s, but is based on the Gass Papers archived at Washington University Libraries, making it serendipitously complementary.
1966: WHG (b. 1924) begins writing what would become The Tunnel; WHG promoted to full professor at Purdue University.
1968: WHG accepts full professorship at Washington University in St. Louis.
1969: “We Have Not Lived the Right Life” in New American Review, no. 6, pp. 7-32.
1971: “Why Windows Are Important to Me” in TriQuarterly, no. 20, pp. 285-307; WHG: “The narrator in The Tunnel is disenchanted, but, again, that’s his problem. I have always been disenchanted, although I am probably less bitter about things now than I was when I wrote Omensetter’s Luck. I’m personally happier. But The Tunnel will be a very bitter book”; “I have about three hundred pages of The Tunnel. […] The Tunnel is a crucial work for me. All my work up to it I have privately thought of as exercises and preparations”; “I began The Tunnel in 1966. I imagine it is several years away yet. Who knows, perhaps it will be such a good book no one will want to publish it. I live on that hope” (McCauley interview).
1972: “The Cost of Everything” in Fiction, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 19-23; play version of “The Cost of Everything” performed at Purdue University.
1973: Play version of “The Cost of Everything” performed in Seattle.
1976: “Mad Mag” in Iowa Review, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 77-95; WHG: “There isn’t very much satisfaction in getting the world to accept and praise you for things that the world is prepared to praise. The world is prepared to praise only shit”; “At home [in St. Louis] I usually work in the morning and for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Lately I have been getting some work done in the evening, but that’s because I have not been teaching at all”; “The Tunnel is about rhetoric too [as was Omensetter’s Luck]. It’s more completely, more single-mindedly about rhetoric, about the movement of language and the beauty and terror of great speech” (LeClair interview).
There will be lots of times when the reader says: ‘to hell with it’ and stops digging.
1977: “Koh Whistles Up a Wind” in TriQuarterly, no. 38, pp. 191-209.
1978: “Koh Whistles Up a Wind” reprinted in The Wake of the Wake, edited by David Hayman and Elliott Anderson, Wisconsin University Press, pp. 191-209; “Susu, I approach you in my dreams” in TriQuarterly, no. 42, pp. 122-142. WHG and John Gardner debate the concept of “moral fiction” at the University of Cincinnati. (Link)
1979: “The First Winter of My Married Life” in Granta, no. 1, pp. 31-50 (Link); The First Winter of My Married Life limited hardcover edition of 225 copies published by the Lord John Press, Northridge, CA; “August Bees” in Delta, no. 8, pp. 3-6; “The Old Folks” in Kenyon Review, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 34-49.
1980: “The Old Folks” reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1980, edited by Stanley Elkin, Houghton Mifflin, pp. ??; WHG: “The themes, the obsessions that writers have, are absolutely essential to the long process of writing novels. It is such a long-term job, it involves such an enormous commitment of energy, that the whole person is bound up with it […]”; “It has in fact turned out that the sections of the novel will run forty to fifty pages. […] In the novel the sections are all about the same length: forty-page sections, and they have little titles which both refer to the old-fashioned way of putting little titles to chapters […] but also then orchestrate the whole text in these sections in a way somewhat like in ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’”; “On the one hand, because of the complexity of it, it is going to be for the reader, as it is designed in the structure of the work, like digging a tunnel. There will be lots of times when the reader says: ‘to hell with it’ and stops digging”; “my novel, The Tunnel, is a tunnel in a certain metaphorical sense”; “It is going to be really difficult to set. One of the problems in that book is the problem of new inscriptional devices. […] Now for The Tunnel I want a very complex physical structure, and there are all kinds of things I want to have happening” (Janssens interview).
1981: “Summer Bees” (revised version of “August Bees”) in The Paris Review, no. 79, pp. 231-236; WHG: “Readers don’t want difficult works—not just mine—anybody’s. The reward for the time, effort, agony of getting into some of these things is problematic. It isn’t simply that I have a small audience. Most of the writers I admire don’t really have much of an audience”; “I think a great novel—or any great work—affects one as a whole. That’s true of music too. […] I can never experience all of [a building] at once; I have to travel through it. Similarly with a book. I have to travel through the book, but the text is there as a whole”; “[Kohler] is a liar, and he does slander and debunk, but he represents a basic type. I want him to be a combination of things, not just a liar. He’s a truth teller too. […] He’s a monster. I don’t think, as a monster, he’s any different from anybody else” (Castro interview).
The Tunnel won’t be that hard at the beginning, but it’s going to be a very demanding book.
1982: “Why Windows Are Important to Me” reprinted in The Best of TriQuarterly, edited by Jonathan Brent, Washington Square Press, pp. 49-69; “Life in a Chair” in Salmagundi, no. 55, pp. 3-60; “Uncle Balt and the Nature of Being” in Conjunctions, no. 2, pp. 18-29; “O goddess of the risen gorge …” in Perspective (summer), pp. 18-29.
1983: “Three Sections from The Tunnel” (“An Invocation to the Muse,” “In My Youth” and “A Fugue”) in Conjunctions, no. 4, pp. 7-14; “Uncle Balt and the Nature of Being” reprinted in Pushcart Prize VII: Best of the Small Presses, edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press, pp. 384-397.
1984: “Culp” in Grand Street, summer, pp. 29-57; “Barns” in Esquire, pp. ?; WHG: “[The Tunnel] is coming along pretty well now. I know what its structure is, how long it’s going to be. Most of the things are laid out. It’s a matter of finally executing them, a matter of staying in the book continuously for maybe another year”; “But I can remember back into my childhood enough about my kind of daydreams—the notions of tunnels were powerful images before much literary influence”; “[The heroes of my novels] reflect some things of mine, but it’s a mix. For example, the hero of The Tunnel is a not-nice person. He’s a historian of the Nazi period, and he’s got a lot of fascism in him”; “I mean one of the strategies of the book is not to present this character as unattractive. […] I do this in the book a lot. I make the narrator attract you at certain times. […] But if you were feeling the attraction, it must be that you have some of the same thing yourself”; “The Tunnel won’t be that hard at the beginning, but it’s going to be a very demanding book. […] I can’t imagine that most people will want to wade through it” (Brans interview).
1985: Culp reprinted by the Grenfell Press, limited to 100 copies; “Barns” reprinted in The Esquire Fiction Reader, no. 1; “Barns” translated into Russian and reprinted in Amerika (November), pp. 41-45; “The Barricade” in Conjunctions, no. 8, pp. 122-124.
1986: “The Family Album” in River Styx, no. 21, (whole issue).
1988: “The Sunday Drive” (expanded version of “Barns”) reprinted in Facing Texts: Encounters between Contemporary Writers and Critics, edited by Heide Ziegler, Duke University Press, pp. 186-204.
My book is meant to be the inside of narrative, its pulp and seeds, not its rind.
1990: WHG becomes Director of the International Writers Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
1991: “Sweets” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction (William H. Gass and Manuel Puig issue), fall, pp. 46-64; WHG has extended stay at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, Santa Monica, CA, where he does critical work in completing The Tunnel (stay extended into 1992).
1992: “Sweet Things” (revised version of “Sweets”) in Harper’s, February, pp. 35.36; “Being a Bigot” in New Letters, vol. 58, no. 1, pp. 31-48.
1993: “Learning to Drive” in Yale Review, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 51-70.
1995: The Tunnel published, Knopf; “Foreskinned” in Esquire, March, pp. 130-132; WHG: “Many of the [design] results I wanted were impossible to achieve because I simply couldn’t make each page physical enough, or suggest sufficiently this book’s basically unbound unbooklike character”; “Yes, I did [want the book unbound from the first]. I knew I would never get my way, and that such a format was impractical, but conceptually that’s what I wanted”; “My book is meant to be the inside of narrative, its pulp and seeds, not its rind”; “I do say that in this novel, qualities which were once marginal for fiction are made central, and things which were formerly central are thrust to the edge”; “Conservatives hate the book because it is a portrait of them. In the family of man there they sit” (Ziegler interview); “All my novels in particular have been about word-drunk people, who are basically dangerous”; “Twenty-six years [I’ve been working on the book]. Not continuously, of course. The composition of the book was interrupted many times. I had rather long periods when I did nothing with it—as much as a year or two. I found it very hard to compose, and for a long time I was trying to figure out what I was really trying to do, before I got at last the structure clear. Now the book is over-structured. It had to look chaotic and wild while being as tightly bound as a body in a corset. The oddest part about the composition of the book is that half of the material, not the last half, but half of the bulk of the text, was written in one year, 600 pages. I had a year off, and after 25 years of preparation, I did nothing but write, and I wrote 600 pages. It’s scattered around through the book, a great bulk of it is toward the end, where the style for the most part gets smoother, more narrative, and more propulsive” (Kaposi interview); WHG discusses The Tunnel, especially the process of writing it, on KCRW’s program Bookworm, hosted by Michael Silverblatt. (Link)
1996: The Tunnel reprinted in paperback, HarperCollins; wins the American Book Award; nominated for the PEN-Faulkner Award.
1997: WHG receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Lannan Foundation. WHG: “One of the themes of my work is that people certainly do not want to know the truth, and they construct all sorts of idiocies to avoid facing it” (Spatz interview).
1998: WHG: “I expected to be ignored [by the public]. I mean, I expected a few critics to be shocked and upset, and indeed a few were. There were some who were quite enthusiastic, but by and large it was the usual: just shrugs and nobody paid much attention. […] I don’t expect much response from the kind of thing I do” (Abowitz interview); WHG reads passages from The Tunnel for a Lannan Foundation event. (Link)
1999: The Tunnel reprinted in paperback, Dalkey Archive Press.
2000: Opening pages of The Tunnel translated into German by Marcus Ingendaay, Schreibheft, no. 54, pp. 31-61. (Link)
2006: The Tunnel audiobook, read by WHG, released, Dalkey Archive Press.
2007: Le tunnel (French edition) published, translated by Christopher Claro, Paris: Cherche-Midi Editeur; Spanish edition contracted, Madrid: Belacqva; WHG reads from The Tunnel at the Village Voice Bookshop in Paris. (Link)
2010: Spanish edition recontracted, Madrid: Belacqva.
2011: Der Tunnel (German edition) published, translated by Nikolaus Stingl, Hamburg: Rowohlt.
2014: The program “Passages of Time: A Literary Event Marking the 90th Birthday of Celebrated Author William H. Gass” is held on the campus of Washington University (St. Louis), and a frail WHG reads from several works, including The Tunnel. (Washington University Libraries link; video link; my blog post link)
2017: WHG passes Dec. 6 (age 93). Lara Hamdan, St. Louis Public Radio, hosts a discussion of WHG’s legacy, including The Tunnel.
Ted Morrissey is the host of The Tunnel at 25 Online Symposium. He holds a Ph.D. in English studies from Illinois State University. His dissertation focused on literary trauma theory and included a significant amount of material on William Gass’s work. It was published under the title Trauma Theory As a Method for Understanding Literary Texts: The Psychological Basis for Postmodern Hermeneutics. See his contribution “Stripping the Master of Kohler’s Rags” as well as the site’s Introduction.