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The Morning Watch

The Morning Watch

By James Agee

126 pp

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About the Book

The Morning Watch by James Agee, like his A Death in the Family, which won him the Pulitzer Prize, is autobiographical. It describes the experiences of twelve-year-old Richard during the early hours of Good Friday and the early stages of spring, in a church school in the Tennessee mountains. In this story of change and visitations, Agee has come close to a small triumph: he has pierced the protective shell of a boy’s personality and exposed his religious exaltation without once falling into bathos. During his watch in the chapel, Richard’s deepest thoughts and feelings are disturbed by weak flesh and childish imaginings. In tone, image, movement, and occasional obscure symbolism, this short novel has something of the quality of a dark poem, plumbing the inextricability of good, evil, beauty, preposterousness, the simple, and the unfathomable, in more or less ordinary sensations and motives. It is a story clear on its surface, but beneath that surface dreamlike in its complexity and ambiguity. Its rare mix of perception and disciplined lyricism have made this novel a minor classic.


“Except perhaps for Joyce’s 1916 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, there may never have been a better and more precise account of the mental life of an intelligent and sensitive boy—at ‘the peak,’ as Agee would later describe the character, of a boy’s early adolescent ‘hypersensitive introversion, isolation, and a certain priggishness.’”


The Washington Free Beacon 

“This is one of the best books about childhood ever written. Agee magnificently reminds us that the intensity of living, able to draw the eschatological and the sensuous together into a single image, belongs way back. The Morning Watch should leave none of us in doubt about his stature.”


The Spectator

About the Author

JAMES AGEE (1909–1955) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated from Harvard in 1932 and was hired as a staff writer at Henry Luce’s Fortune magazine. His book about Alabama tenant farmers during the Depression, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a collaboration with the photographer Walker Evans, appeared in 1941. Agee was later renowned for his film criticism, which appeared regularly in The Nation and Time. He co-wrote the screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter, as well as a screenplay for Charlie Chaplin, though it was never produced. Agee died of a heart attack in a New York City taxicab at forty-five. Two years later, his novel, A Death in the Family, was published and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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