Styron (1960) Set This House on Fire – 1st Printing


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Styron, William. Set This House on Fire. (New York: Random House, 1960) Stated first printing.

Octavo. i. Dedication, ii-iii. Quote from John Donne, iv. Blank. 1-507 Text. Hardcover bound in black cloth-covered boards stamped with author’s signature on front cover in gilt and Gilt red and white on spine. DJ included and is unclipped. Top edge stained red.

Condition: VG with dog-ear on page 33-34 and small spot on fore-edge. DJ has a small tear at hinge on bottom, repaired with transparent tape by a previous owner. DJ shows some minor color loss at hinge. Previous owner’s name on FFE as well as some staining from tape contact.  Slight discoloration of DJ at edges of rear flyleaf where not in contact with text-block.

William Styron is the author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner.

Set This House on Fire is a novel set in a small village of the Amalfi coast in Italy, centered on the themes of evil and redemption. The narrator, Peter Leverett, is a lawyer from the South, but the story is primarily told through the recollections of its protagonist, a troubled artist named Cass Kinsolving.

The story takes place in Italy, not long after the Second World War. Young southern lawyer Peter Leverett is on vacation, and is thrilled to meet his old friend Mason Flagg on a film set in the town of Sambuco. Mason is a handsome, wealthy playboy with a glamorous life style. To Peter Leverett, a good-natured, rather gullible young man, he has always been a hero. But only a few hours after their reunion, Mason is found dead. For reasons of their own, the corrupt local police quickly label his death a suicide, but Peter suspects foul play. And to his horror and dismay, the main suspect is a fellow American named Cass Kinsolving.

Cass Kinsolving and Peter Leverett are both southerners, but strikingly different in appearance, behavior, and social background. Mild-mannered Peter is from relatively comfortable circumstances in Virginia, while brutal, profane, violent Cass was raised in grinding poverty in rural North Carolina. Their first meeting in the town of Sambuco does not bode well for their friendship, as Cass is falling-down drunk and rudely spewing threats towards Mason Flagg and his wealthy Hollywood friends. Peter is disgusted by him at the time, but some months later he begins to be troubled by the sense that brooding, enigmatic Cass Kinsolving may know something about Mason’s death. Even more disturbing are the nightmares and memories that torment Peter. Recalling various unpleasant scenes from his schooldays, he begins to wonder what horrible crimes Mason may have committed to draw down the wrath of divine justice. Finally he takes action, writing to Cass in Charleston and begging for a chance to talk about the murder and other strange events in Italy. The bulk of the novel takes the form of conversations and flashbacks that take place between the two men as they talk over past events while fishing on a lake near Charleston, South Carolina. – Wikipedia