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.
Frederick Newton Arvin was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, and never used his given first name. He studied English Literature at Harvard, graduating summa cum laude in 1921. His writing career began when Van Wyck Brooks, the Harvard teacher he most admired, invited him to write for The Freeman while he was still an undergraduate. After a short period teaching at the high school level, Arvin joined the English faculty at Smith College and, though he never earned a doctorate, won a tenured position. One of his students was Sylvia Plath, the poet and novelist.
He taught at Smith College for 38 years and was Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English during the year before his retirement in 1961. He rarely left Northampton for long nor travelled far. He visited Europe only once in the summer of 1929 or 1930. He spent a year's leave of absence in the mid-1920s as the editor of Living Age, a weekly compendium of articles from British and American periodicals.
Arvin often wrote about political issues and took public political positions. For example, in 1936, on the day when Harvard celebrated its 300th anniversary, he joined a group of 28 Harvard graduates in an attack on retired Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell for his role years earlier on an advisory Committee to Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller that found that Sacco and Vanzetti had received a fair trial. Among his co-signors were editor Malcolm Cowley and author John Dos Passos.
His first book-length publication, Hawthorne, appeared in 1929. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1935 provided him a respite from teaching during which time he completed a biography of Walt Whitman.
In 1939, he became a trustee of Yaddo, the artist's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was also a frequent writer in residence. There in the summer of 1946 he met and began a two-year affair with the young Truman Capote. Newton addressed him as "Precious Spooky" in amorous letters that went on to discuss literary matters. In 1948 Capote dedicated his novel Other Voices, Other Rooms to Arvin, and he later described how much he learned from Arvin saying: "Newton was my Harvard."
Arvin came to national attention with the publication in 1950 of Herman Melville, a critical biography of the novelist. It won the second annual National Book Award for Nonfiction next year.
Alfred Kazin thought it
the wisest and most balanced single piece of writing on Melville I have seen. It is marked not only by a thoroughly convincing analysis of his creative power and its limitations, but, what is most sharply felt in the book, a wonderfully right feeling for the burning human values involved at every point in Melville's struggle with his own nature... . He is concerned with the man's evolution in a way that leaves an extraordinary impression of concentrated sympathetic awareness.He particularly valued how Arvin's integration of the details of Melville's biography–his Calvinist background, the mental breakdown of the father he so loved, his mother's transformation by his father's failure and early death–exposes Melville's "grandeur and weakness."
Arvin was elected a member of the National institute of Arts and Letters in 1952. Edmund Wilson wrote that of all critics of American literature only Arvin and his teacher Van Wyck Brooks "can themselves be called first-rate writers."
Though Arvin's Whitman reflected some of his leftist sympathies in the 1930s, he responded to the Cold War with renewed cultural patriotism. In a 1952 essay titled "Our Country and Our Culture" in Partisan Review he wrote:
That period, at any rate is over, and the habit of rejection, of repudiation, of mere exacerbated alienation, has ceased to seem relevant or defensible–inevitably, since the culture we profoundly cherish is now disastrously threatened from without, and the truer this becomes, the intenser becomes the awareness of our necessary identification with it.In 1960, the office of the United States Postmaster General (then Arthur Ellsworth Summerfield) initiated a campaign against the distribution and possession of lewd materials, including soft-core homosexually-themed pictures. At the same time, local officials in Northampton were engaged in an anti-homosexual crusade. On September 2, officers of the Massachusetts State Police arrested Arvin on pornography-related charges. The police charged Arvin with "being a lewd person" and charged both him and a Smith faculty colleague, Edward Spofford, with "possession of obscene photographs." Police said Arvin led them to Spofford and that both implicated other male faculty members. Arvin, they said, admitted "displaying the photographs at his apartment and swapping them with others." Further reports specified that the pictures were of males, later revealed as issues of Grecian Guild Pictorial and Trim: Young America’s Favorite Physique Publication containing pictures of semi-nude men.
Arvin eventually pleaded guilty, paid fines of $1200, and was given a one-year suspended sentence and placed on probation. Court testimony established a public record that a local mechanic had sex with both Arvin and Spofford.
Smith College suspended Arvin from teaching, but kept him on half salary until retirement age. Yaddo removed him from its board, but soon offered him a fellowship, though he never visited the colony again. Not long after his arrest, Arvin spent some time in Northampton State Hospital where he was admitted for suicidal depression.
The only other faculty member caught up in the police sweep was Joel Dorius. Newton's biographer wrote that Newton provided the police with the names of Dorius and Spofford, but Arvin's relatives (a nephew writing on behalf of himself and his mother, Arvin's sister) have claimed that Arvin always denied that and said that the police obtained the names from materials found in his home. The Smith College trustees fired both Dorius and Spofford, both untenured faculty members.
Their convictions were overturned in 1963.
Edward Spofford (born 1931) retired after serving as professor of literature at Smith College and Stanford University. His publications include The Social Poetry of the Georgics.
Raymond Joel Dorius (January 4, 1919 – February 14, 2006) left the United States after the scandal and worked as a professor at the University of Hamburg in Germany. In 1964 he returned to the United States and taught as a professor at San Francisco State University. He died of bone marrow cancer at his home in San Francisco, California, in 2006.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
Oskar Seidlin (February 17, 1911 – December 11, 1984) was a German-born American literary scholar, poet, and writer of children’s stories. He is also said to have co‑authored several detective novels or Kriminalromane in collaboration with Dieter Cunz and Richard Plant (1910–1998, his lover) under the collective pen‑name of Stefan Brockhoff.
Born Oskar Koplowitz to a Jewish family in Königshütte in the Upper Silesia Basin of Germany (now Chorzów in southwestern Poland), Seidlin emigrated to Switzerland in 1933, where he supported himself by freelancing for Swiss newspapers. In 1936 he received a doctorate from the University of Basle (Universität Basel) with a dissertation on Otto Brahm (1856–1912), written under the supervision of Franz Zinkernagel (1878–1935) and Eduard Hoffmann‑Krayer (1864–1937). In 1938 he left Switzerland for the United States, where a year later, in 1939, he obtained a lectureship (in 1941 elevated to assistant professorship) at Smith College for women in Northampton, Massachusetts, a post which he held discontinuously until August 1946 – with a hiatus between 1942 and 1946 for his war‑time service in the U.S. Army Intelligence Division (he participated in the early stages of the invasion of Europe). At Smith he is said to have had a relationship with Newton Arvin. While teaching at the German Summer School of Middlebury College in Vermont in the summer of 1946 he made the acquaintance of Bernhard Blume (1901–1978), then chairman of the Department of German at the Ohio State University (and himself a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1936), who offered him a position at his institution. Thereupon, from the autumn of 1946 onwards, Seidlin taught at the Ohio State University, eventually moving to the Bloomington campus of Indiana University where in August 1972 he became professor of Germanic languages, an appointment he retained until his retirement in May 1979. Seidlin also served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University for several terms. He was twice the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1962 and 1976.
Richard Plant, by Robert Giard
Richard Plant (1910-1998) was a German-American writer. He is said to have written, in addition to the works published under his own name, several detective novels or Kriminalromane, with Dieter Cunz and Oskar Seidlin (1911-1984, under the collective pen-name of Stefan Brockhoff. Upon the accession of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933 and the enforcement of the Paragraph 175 against homosexuality, he was obliged to leave Germany for Switzerland in concert with his partner, Oskar Seidlin.
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)Seidlin’s tale for children, Pedronis muss geholfen werden!, appeared in 1937; this was followed in 1939 by S.O.S. Geneva, another book for children which Seidlin authored jointly with Richard Plant (1910–1998). Seidlin’s Der goldene Apfel, issued in the United States during the Second World War, belongs to the same category of children’s literature.
A collection of his poems, entitled Mein Bilderbuch, saw the light of day in 1938.
Seidlin had numerous publications, in both German and English, in the field of (German) literary studies, beginning with his doctoral dissertation, Otto Brahm als Theaterkritiker, published under his birth-name (Oskar Koplowitz) in 1936, and the 29-page essay on Goethe published in the United States in 1947, Helena: vom Mythos zur Person. He collaborated with Werner Paul Friederich (b. 1905) on the latter’s An Outline‑History of German Literature (1948). He considered his study of the German Romantic poet Joseph Eichendorff (Versuche über Eichendorff, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965; 2nd ed., 1968) to be his most important work. His last major publication seems to have been Von erwachendem Bewusstsein und vom Sündenfall, issued in 1979.
On his sixty-fifth birthday in 1976 Seidlin was presented with a commemorative volume or Festschrift entitled tellingly Herkommen und Erneuerung.
A collection of his letters addressed to William Henry Ray (b. 1911), sometime professor of Germanic languages and literature at the University of Washington in Seattle, and written between 1947 and 1984, was published posthumously under the title “Bete für mich, mein Lieber...” in 2001.
Richard Plant (July 22, 1910 – March 3, 1998) was a German-American writer. He is said to have written, in addition to the works published under his own name, several detective novels or Kriminalromane, on which he collaborated with Dieter Cunz and Oskar Seidlin (1911-1984), and which were published under the collective pen-name of Stefan Brockhoff.
Richard Plant was born Richard Plaut in Frankfurt am Main to the family of the town councillor Theodor Plaut. Upon the accession of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933 and the zealous enforcement of the provisions of Paragraph 175 of the criminal code against homosexuality, he was obliged to leave Germany for Switzerland in concert with his partner, Oskar Seidlin. Here he obtained a doctorate from the University of Basle (Universität Basel) in 1935 with a dissertation on Arthur Schnitzler, written under the supervision of Franz Zinkernagel (1878–1935) and Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer (1864–1937). (Picture: Oskar Seidlin)
His first non-academic book seems to have been a children’s tale, Die Kiste mit dem großen S., published in 1936. This was followed in 1938 by his Taschenbuch des Films. In the same year, Richard Plaut arrived in the United States, where he eventually adopted the name Richard Plant. Here another children’s book, S.O.S. Geneva, co-authored with Oskar Seidlin, was published in October 1939. His next book had to await the end of the Second World War, when The Dragon in the Forest appeared in 1948.
From 1947 to 1973, Plant taught at the City University of New York, and discontinuously also at the New School for Social Research.
Plant, who was gay, is the author of The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals (1986; German translation, 1991).
Plant died in New York City on March 3, 1998.
So many young gay people today don't realize the important significance of the pink triangle ~ they think it just another symbol of pride, and don't realize that it has been reclaimed from a horrific history in which many men died for their sexuality. This book helps the common reader understand why Hitler began his hateful anti-homosexual campaign. Through the survivor's stories, it paints a vivid portrait not only of the despicable depths of hatred to which men can sink, but it also shows us the indefeatable spirit of the human race to withstand and move on from such adversity. I cannot recommend this book enough ~ it is only through realizing what we have been through that we learn what we will be able to overcome. --J.M. SnyderDays of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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