John Dos Passos

(1896-1970 / Chicago, Illinois)

Biography of John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos poet

John Roderigo Dos Passos (anuary 14, 1896 – September 28, 1970) was an American novelist and artist.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Dos Passos was the illegitimate son of John Randolph Dos Passos (1844–1917), a distinguished lawyer of Madeiran Portuguese descent] and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison of Petersburg, Virginia. The elder Dos Passos was married with a son several years older than John. Although John's father married his mother after the death of his first wife in 1910, he refused to acknowledge John for another two years, until he was 16. John Randolph Dos Passos was an authority on trusts, a staunch supporter of the powerful industrial conglomerates that his son would come to oppose in his fictional works of the 1920s and 1930s.

The younger Dos Passos received a first-class education, enrolling at The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Connecticut in 1907 under the name John Roderigo Madison, then traveling with a private tutor on a six-month tour of France, England, Italy, Greece, and the Middle East to study the masters of classical art, architecture, and literature.

In 1912, he enrolled in Harvard University. Following his graduation in 1916, he traveled to Spain to study art and architecture. In July 1917, with World War I raging in Europe and America not yet participating, Dos Passos volunteered for the S.S.U. 60 of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with friends E.E. Cummings and Robert Hillyer. He worked as an ambulance driver in Paris, France, and in north-central Italy.

By the late summer of 1918, he had completed a draft of his first novel. At the same time, he had to report for duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Camp Crane in Pennsylvania. On Armistice Day, he was stationed in Paris, where the U.S. Army Overseas Education Commission allowed him to study anthropology at the Sorbonne. A character in Three Soldiers goes through virtually the same military career and stays in Paris after the war.

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