Newton Arvin bigraphy, stories - literary critic

Newton Arvin : biography

August 25, 1900 - March 21, 1963

Newton Arvin (August 25, 1900 – March 21, 1963) was an American literary critic and academic. He achieved national recognition for his studies of individual nineteenth-century American authors.

After teaching at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts for 38 years, he was forced into retirement in 1960 after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the possession of pictures of semi-nude males that the law deemed pornographic.In 2006, The New York Times described the objectionable materials as "'beefcake' magazines and pictures of men — illegal pornography then, but much of it like today's Calvin Klein underwear ads." • McFadden, New York Times, February 20, 2006. New York Times: , accessed January 6, 2010

Death and later recognition

Arvin's final major publication, a study of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, entitled Longfellow, His Life and Work, appeared shortly before his death. The New York Times headlined its review "A Tarnished Reputation Reappraised." The reputation in question was that of Longfellow. The reviewer praised its "fresh and convincing conclusions that Longfellow's best is too good to be left languishing in its present state of neglect," though he expressed dissatisfaction that Arvin "too thinly handles relationships between art and biography."New York Times: , accessed January 6, 2010

Newton Arvin died of pancreatic cancer in Northampton on March 21, 1963 and is buried at Union Street/Old City Cemetery in Porter County, Indiana.

Truman Capote established in his will the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism to be awarded "in honor of the critic Newton Arvin." It has been awarded annually since 1994 by the University of Iowa. It is said to be the largest annual cash prize for literary criticism in the English language.New York Times: , accessed Dec 29, 2009; University of Iowa News Services:

Friends published a collection of Arvin’s essays and book reviews as American Pantheon in 1966. Among the principal authors discussed are: Louisa May Alcott, Henry Adams, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, James Whitcomb Riley, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, and John Greenleaf Whittier, as well as Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman. One reviewer, though unhappy with the book as a representation of Arvin's career, took the opportunity to summarize Arvin's contribution to the study of American literature: "He sharpened to almost unbearable precision the conflict between 'personal wholeness' and the social environment."Arnold Goldman, "The Tragic Sense of Newton Arvin," in The Massachusetts Review, v. 7 (1966), 823-7

In 2001, Barry Werth published a biography, The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal. It provoked a response from Arvin’s nephew that criticized its portrayal of Arvin and particularly the charge that Arvin provided names of colleagues to the police in 1960.

In the course of reviewing that biography, critic Benjamin DeMott allowed that Arvin's "penetrating books about Hawthorne and Whitman...were trailbreaking in their time and remain readable today."

Mount Holyoke College held a symposium about Newton Arvin in 2001.

In 2002, Smith College established the "Newton Arvin Prize in American Studies," a student award.Smith College News: , accessed Dec. 29, 2009

In 2006, an independent documentary film titled The Great Pink Scare aired on the PBS series "Independent Lens". It covers the arrests of Arvin, Spofford, and Dorius, and their subsequent careers.Independent Lens: , accessed Dec. 29, 2009; Internet Movie Database: , accessed Dec. 29, 2009


  • Author
    • Hawthorne (Boston: Little, Brown, 1929), ISBN 1-4047-6722-3
    • Whitman (NY: Macmillan Company, 1938)
    • Herman Melville (NY: Sloane 1950), ISBN 0-8021-3871-3
    • Longfellow: His Life and Work (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963), ISBN 0-8371-9505-5
    • Daniel Aaron and Sylvan Schendler, eds., American Pantheon: Essays (NY: Delacorte Press 1966)
    • "Individualism and American Writers" in The Nation, October 14, 1931
    • "Religion and the Intellectuals" in Partisan Review, January, 1950
    • "Our Country and Our Culture" in Partisan Review, May 1952
  • Editor
    • The Heart of Hawthorne's Journals, ed., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929)
    • Hawthorne's Short Stories, ed., (NY: Vintage Books, 1946), ISBN 0-394-70015-5
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