To Make the World in the Maelstrom of its Undoing: Cormac McCarthy’s The Stonemason

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Possibly due to the fact that it has never been produced in its entirety, Cormac McCarthy's play The Stonemason has thus far received only scant attention by critics. However, an analysis of this text, supported by the manuscripts held at the Wittliff Collections, proves highly rewarding for an understanding of the author's poetics. In this paper, I first discuss the intrinsic limits of the play in light of the history of its reception and of its failed productions as well as McCarthy's misattribution of a quote from Jean-Baptiste Le Rond D'Alembert to Carl Friedrich Gauss in the first stage direction. Then, I analyze the the play following McCarthy's own suggestion – recorded his correspondence with Emily Mann – that the piece was intended to be “a simple, classical story about a hero and his mentor, how the hero loses his way, and how he recovers it”. In doing this, I rely on several intertextual references in the play. Finally, I consider McCarthy's decision to publish the work in spite of its limitations as a meta-poetic statement about his authorial ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-197
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • McCarthy, Cormac
  • The Stonemason
  • Theater


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