Gaddis self-portrait sketch for cover of In Recognition of William Gaddis, edited by John Kuehl and Steven Moore

Gaddis in Fiction

One measure of William Gaddis’s influence on contemporary writers is the number of times he and/or his novels have appeared in other writers’ books. The following list is organized chronologically.
compiled by Steven Moore
with contributions from the
Gaddis Annotations Project members
and others.
Kindly report further sightings --


Who Walk in Darkness, reprint 2000 

Chandler Brossard
Who Walk in Darkness
New Directions, 1952.
Reprint., with a foreword by Steven Moore, Herodias Press, 2000.

Gaddis knew Brossard in the late 1940s and was the basis for the character Harry Lees, a Harvard dandy who drinks too much.

The Subterraneans, new edition

Jack Kerouac
The Subterraneans
Grove Press, 1958.

After he returned from Europe in 1951, Gaddis became acquainted with all the Beats, and in 1953 made a trip to Alan Ansen’s house that is reported in Kerouac’s bluesy 1958 novel. Gaddis is called Harold Sand and he’s described as “a young novelist looking like Leslie Howard.” Ansen is “Austin Bromberg,” and in later years Gaddis said Kerouac’s account was very accurate.

David Markson
Epitaph for a Tramp
Dell, 1959.

Markson read The Recognitions upon its publication in 1955, wrote Gaddis a fan letter which he responded to six years later, and remained in contact with him until Gaddis’s death in 1998. A character in Epitaph for a Tramp is writing an essay on The Recognitions and Gaddis’s style is parodied in a few places.

Joseph McElroy
A Smuggler's Bible

New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966.

The following passage (plus a reference to a long novel) --

Well, then I tried to go on with a one-thousand-page novel I was reading, but, as usual for the past few months, I got caught in one of the author's closet observations. I call them that because they close me into their suggestions, and before I know it my suspicions of the author are so many and shifting that I'm cut off from the book and have to stop reading. Does that sound normal? Well, this time he'd said

Giorgio examined his nails, not, as men do, fingers in against the palms, but rather in the manner of women, the whole long irregular oval of the back of the hand beautiful and banked. (pages 165-166) 

echoes this one, about Otto, in The Recognitions:

Then he thought to look at his fingernails. Not as a man does, the fingers turned in upon the palms, but like a lady, at the back of the extended hand so that she may admire the slim beauty of her fingers."  (page 167, Penguin Classics edition)

 [Richard Oswald]

Richard Horn
Grove Press, 1969.

The protagonist of this innovative novel in the form of an encyclopedia has The Recognitions on his bookshelf, and on page 48, under the entry ELEVEN WEST HUDSON ST.,  "a big, unshaven man told a small, untidy man, "I used to think The Recognitions was the best in English since Ulysses."


David Markson
Springer’s Progress
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1977.

The opening line of The Recognitions is quoted in a chapter of the protagonist’s favorite opening lines.

John Sladek
Roderick, or the Education of a Young Machine
London: Granada, 1980.

A science-fiction novel that names J R and imitates its style of dialogue.

"Epistle to Chester Kallman," from The Cell

Alan Ansen
“Epistle to Chester Kallman”

from The Cell (privately printed, 1983). 
Reprinted in Contact Highs: Selected Poems 1957-1987. Introduction by Steven Moore. Dalkey Archive, 1989.

Ansen’s acquaintance with Gaddis is the subject of a quatrain in this long poem (page 156).

Stanley Elkin
The Magic Kingdom
Dutton, 1985.

Gaddis admired Elkin and made friends with him in the 1970s. For some reason, he named the 8-year-old geriatric in this novel Charles Mudd-Gaddis.

Charles Simmons
The Belles Lettres Papers
Morrow, 1987.

Gaddis’s name comes up in this novel about editors at the New York Times Book Review.

David Markson
Wittgenstein’s Mistress
Dalkey Archive, 1988.

Gaddis flits through the memory of protagonist Kate a dozen times in this sublime novel.

Sarah Gaddis
Swallow Hard
Atheneum, 1991.

A largely autobiographical account of Gaddis’s daughter’s relationship to her father, here called Lad Thompkins.

The NY Times review

Don DeLillo
Mao II
Viking, 1991.

Gaddis, a friend of DeLillo’s, may have contributed to the character Bill Gray, a reclusive novelist.

Rick Moody
“Primary Sources”
In The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven
Little, Brown, 1995.

Gaddis is included in the list of authors Moody most admires (pages 236-37).

David Markson
Reader’s Block
Dalkey Archive, 1996.

Quotes a line from The Recognitions regarding Sheri Martinelli (the basis for Esme).

Ethan Mordden
Some Men Are Lookers

St. Martin's, 1997.

Two characters discusses the virtues of The Recognitions vs. J R on p. 43 of this gay novel.

Klaus Modick
Weg war Weg

Isensee Verlag Oldenburg, 1998

Klaus Modick, German novelist, poet and co-translator of JR and Carpenter’s Gothic has the following passage in his novel Gone Was Gone, making an allusion to the end of Carpenter’s Gothic:

Die ganz Schlauen wie William Gaddis setzten heutzutage freilich nicht einmal mehr den allerletzten Schlußpunkt, sondern signalisierten mit einer hochtrickreich kalkulierten Satzzeichenleerstelle am Ende die prinzipielle Unabschließbarkeit oder unabgeschlossene Fragmenttragik ihrer Herzblutmomente, womit dann sogar noch Célines berühmte drei Pünktchen am Ende der „Reise ans Ende der Nacht“ als kümmerlicher Kompromiß im Leeren stehen.“ (p. 10)

("These days, of course, the very clever like William Gaddis don’t even put the very last full stop, but rather signal the basic impossibility of closure or the unfinished fragmentary tragedy of their most sacred moments with a highly calculated and trickery space instead of a punctuation mark at the end, and thus even turn Céline’s famous three dots at the end of Journey to the End of the Night into nothing but a poor compromise.") [AZ]

John Updike
Bech at Bay
Knopf, 1998.

Gaddis is mentioned a few times (pages 28, 71) in the context of his membership with the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Kurt Andersen
Turn of the Century
Random House, 1999

The character Bennett Gould's scheme to buy up the rights of contemporary fiction is described:

"Authors purchased are said to include A-list biggies Bellow, Updike, Roth, Salinger, Brit bad boy Martin Amis, movie-legit scribe Tom Stoppard, and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, as well as lesser-knowns William Gaddis, Walker Percy, Don DeLillo, Laurie Colwin, David Foster Wallace, Lorrie Moore, Robertson Davies, GOP speechwriter Mark Helprin, and porn-lit scribbler Nicholson Baker." (page 534)   [Peter Dempsey]

William Gillespie, Frank Marquardt, Scott Rettberg, Dirk Stratton
The Unknown

Hyperfiction, 1999

A story following the imagined adventures of three supposedly rich and famous collaborative writers on a mock book tour all over the world. In the course of that they also play pool with William Gaddis and he wins. "The Unknown" won the first price in the 1998 "trAce/Alt-X Hypertext Competition." In a chapter called "Remember to Read Gaddis" there is the following observation about what is going on in Gaddis's novels: "Voices do battle in a hyper-real space where orality, voices, statements and documents of various kinds, represent the sum and total possible understanding of experience. What is said by the characters is all that is known, and what is said is open to misinterpretation, or misdirection." [AZ]

Frederick Busch
Don't Tell Anyone

Norton, 2000

In the story "Domicile," the narrator makes a facetious reference to a seven-page Reader's Digest version of The Recognitions (p. 213).

Joseph Heller
Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man
Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Gaddis mentioned on page 166 concerning his disappointment with his publishers.

David Markson
This Is Not a Novel
Counterpoint, April 2001.

Two lines from The Recognitions are quoted and a statement on the cause of Gaddis's death.


Kurt Wenzel
Lit Life: A Novel
Random House, July 2001.

The character Richard Whitehurst, '"the most underrated writer in America," "an older novelist of literary achievement and poor sales," who lives in the Hamptons, seems to be at least partly based on Gaddis, while the cover art echoes Gaddis's headless self-portrait with drink in hand at the top of this page.   [DBV]

Jonathan Franzen
The Corrections
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September 2001.

Not only does the title echo that of The Recognitions, but the best-read character in the novel uses the e-mail address (page 431).
Carter Scholz
New York: Picador USA, 2002
At least a dozen lines from Gaddis's novels appear in this novel about the nuclear-arms industry. Scholz, who wrote the Salon obituary of Gaddis, re-creates Gaddis's style with uncanny accuracy, down to Gaddis's characteristic punctuation. Scholz's motive emerges from this exchange: "--steal a man's style, about the lowest, and Highet turned to face the back of a scuffed brown leather jacket lined with a red silk scarf nestled under curly blond hair past which a stunning woman in a white silk blouse said, --Chazz, I think he considers it homage" (127-28).

Stephen Dixon.
I: A Novel

Brooklyn: McSweeney's Books, 2002.

Gaddis is pretty obviously the model for the novelist Joshua Fels in the "Author" chapter of this autobiographical novel. If Dixon's account is to be trusted, Gaddis snubbed him on several occasions.

David Markson
Vanishing Point
Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.

"If on a winter's night with no other source of warmth Author were to burn a Julian Schnabel, qualms?" (p.104) and "Tardily realizing---qualms after all. Author would undeniably be distressed at the loss of Schnabel's portrait of William Gaddis. (p.107) Also, "From Nightwood: Pray to the good God; she will keep you. From The Recognitions: Just ask God, baby, She'll protect you. (p.124) [JB]

David Markson
The Last Novel

Emeryville , CA : Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007.

On p. 41 the narrator notes that The Recognitions was misspelled on WG's tombstone, and on p. 83 he quotes the line about "Willie" writing for "a very small audience" ( R 478).

Paul Auster
The Brooklyn Follies

New York: Henry Holt, 2006

On page 58 narrator Nathan Glass meets bookshop owner Harry. While Harry is on the phone behind his desk, Nathan looks around:

"To keep myself occupied, I walked around the room inspecting the books on the shelves. By my rough count, there must have been seven or eight hundred volumes in that neatly organized space, with works ranging from the quite old (Dickens and Thackeray) to the relatively new (Faulkner and Gaddis). The older books were mostly leatherbound, whereas the contemporary ones all had transparent covers wrapped around their dust jackets." --Marija Stojanova

Klaus Modick

Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 2006

Klaus Modick's narrator Lukas Domcik, whom readers of Modick know from his 1998 novel Gone Was Gone (Gaddis mention see this page), returns as narrator in Bestseller. Again Gaddis is mentioned:

"'Die gesamte Geschichte', sagte der ebenso kluge wie skeptische Paul Valéry, ist eine Fälschung, und folglich ist sie nutzlos. Ich bin der Verführung der Geschichte niemals erlegen' – über William Gaddis' monumentalem, einschlägigem Roman Die Fälschung der Welt wäre das ein hübsches Motto gewesen." (p. 95)

("'The whole of history', says the wise and skeptical Paul Valéry, `is a fake, and thus useless. I was never seduced by it' – this would have been a nice motto for William Gaddis's monumental [and in an excursion on fakes in literature relevant] novel The Recognitions. ") [AZ]

Drew Johnson
"Edson to 1958"
Swink Magazine
December 2009

William Gaddis appears as a character in this story, and its concerns mirror many of his, including the loss of parents early in life, the lives and methods of composers, and the isolation of expatriates.

His appearance:

"...The crisis of his poetic life came as a result of an encounter with the novelist-to-be, William Gaddis.

"The young American arrived in Mexico City in an Auburn, an expensive, nearly handmade automobile, which Gaddis and his traveling companion Bill Davison hoped to sell on that country's black market (the car belonged to Davison's father). This was of a piece with Gaddis' expulsion from Harvard a few years before and a stint in a Central American revolution still to come—his period of wandering was more varied and colorful than these pages can encompass. Here, however, the two young men were stymied. The black market of Mexico wasn't up to the Auburn: the car couldn't be sold and didn't survive. When Nancarrow and Edson happened upon Gaddis and Davison, the two young men were in a position to be grateful for the help that was offered."

The Marriage Plot, Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides
The Marriage Plot
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011

In the early portion of this novel, set at Brown University in 1982, two literature students discuss adjectives made from authors' names. The character who speaks first, Leonard Bankhead, seems to be modeled on David Foster Wallace:

    "Kafkaesque," Leonard said. "Pynchonesque! See, Pynchon's already an adjective. Gaddis. What would Gaddis be? Gaddisesque? Gaddisy?"
    "You can't really do it with Gaddis," Madeleine said.
    Yeah," Leonard said. "Tough luck for Gaddis. Do you like him?"
    "I read a little of The Recognitions," Madeleine said. [p. 57]

Later, another student (the third member of this romantic triangle) visits Calcutta:

"Mitchell walked along Chowinghee Road, gazing up at the buildings, repeating a phrase he remembered from Gaddis, the accumulation of time in walls . . ." (p. 314; R 15).

The Pale King

David Foster Wallace
The Pale King
Little, Brown, 2011

In the "Author's Foreword"--a metafiction placed 68 pages into the novel--the narrator writes of his early ambitions: "My specific dream was of becoming an immortally great fiction writer à la Gaddis or Anderson, Balzac or Perec, &c.” (p. 75).

The Familiar -  Danielewski

Mark Z. Danielewski
The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain
Pantheon, 2016

A major character attends a college in California where one of her instructors is named Gaddis (p. 585). The author confirmed to Steven Moore that this was indeed a reference to WG.

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