Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374666
Pages: 968
Publication Date: November 24, 2020

The Recognitions

by William Gaddis, introduction by Tom McCarthy, afterword by William H. Gass


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The Recognitions is a sweeping depiction of a world in which everything that anyone recognizes as beautiful or true or good emerges as anything but: our world. The book is a masquerade, moving from New England to New York to Madrid, from the art world to the underworld, but it centers on the story of Wyatt Gwyon, the son of a New England pastor, who forsakes religion to devote himself to painting, only to despair of his inspiration. In expiation, he will paint nothing but flawless copies of revered old masters—copies, however, that find their way into the hands of a sinister financial wizard by the name of Recktall Brown, who sells them as the real thing. Gwyon’s story is only one of many that fill the pages of a novel that is as monstrously populated as the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Throughout, William Gaddis’s characters preen and scheme and party and toil, pursuing salvation through the debasement of desire.

Dismissed uncomprehendingly by the critics on publication in 1955 and ignored by the literary world for decades after, The Recognitions is now recognized as one of the great American novels.


The Recognitions is always spoken of as the most-overlooked important work of the last several literary generations . . . Through the famous obscurity of The Recognitions, Mr. Gaddis has become famous for not being famous enough.
—Cynthia Ozick

I remember the bookstore, long gone now, on Forty-Second Street. I stood in the narrow aisle reading the first paragraph of The Recognitions. It was a revelation, a piece of writing with the beauty and texture of a Shakespearean monologue—or, maybe more apt, a work of Renaissance art impossibly transformed from image to words. And they were the words of a contemporary American. This, to me, was the wonder of it.
—Don DeLillo

Valued by many serious readers as the secret masterpiece of our time.
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

The Recognitions is a warning above all else—a plea, like “The Waste Land,” for Western society to recognize its mythic origins before art expires.
—John Lingan, The Quarterly Conversation