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The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal

by Barry Werth

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1144203,581 (4)1
During his thirty-seven years at Smith College, Newton Arvin published groundbreaking studies of Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville, and Longfellow that stand today as models of scholarship and psychological acuity. He cultivated friendships with the likes of Edmund Wilson and Lillian Hellman and became mentor to Truman Capote. A social radical and closeted homosexual, the circumspect Arvin nevertheless survived McCarthyism. But in September 1960 his apartment was raided, and his cache of beefcake erotica was confiscated, plunging him into confusion and despair and provoking his panicked betrayal of several friends. An utterly absorbing chronicle, The Scarlet Professor deftly captures the essence of a conflicted man and offers a provocative and unsettling look at American moral fanaticism.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Mystery loosely based on Arvin's story and Smith. Fun book.
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This was a great read, I had never heard of Newton Arvin before reading this and I can't say since reading it I've become a fan of his work - literary criticism isn't the lightest of reading - but it is his story that is interesting.

The heart of this book is describing the lengths some will go to destroy what they fear is a "threat" to their society. The Pink Scare, as Werth puts it, followed on the heels of the Red Scare and sought to identify and persecute homosexuals in the the 1950s.

Arvin is a tragic figure, but Werth is careful to portray the flawed human being as a whole rather than simply painting a martyr - a captivating story and I recommend it to any interested in 1950s America and the political and cultural realities of that time. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Newton Arwin isn't a very sympathetic character, but this biography illuminates his life in a very sympathetic way. I think that Arwin's tragedy was not that he was homosexual in a time and place where such behavior was not tolerated, but that he seemed to be incapable of love. ( )
  akblanchard | Jun 25, 2012 |
Newton Arwin was a literary critic, specializing in 19th century American authors and a professor at Smith College. In addition, he helped make Yaddo one of the premiere literary colonies in the United States. He was also a closeted gay man in the United States during the 1950s, which led to problems with both the McCarthy hearings and with pornography charges. He suffered from serious depression all his life.

Werth deftly handles these myriad aspects of Arwin's life, making his contributions to American literary criticism clear, interesting the reader in the communities at both Yaddo and Smith, writing compellingly about the 50s paranoia, and evoking sympathy for Arwin's psychological problems.

There was a period in the late 50s where there's not much to talk about except Arwin's bouts of depression and trips to mental hospitals. I got somewhat bored and frustrated here, as I tend to in biographies when someone is in a morass and unable to move beyond it. However, reading about the obscenity trials and their aftermath was worth getting through the slow part. ( )
  aulsmith | Oct 25, 2010 |
Beautifully written biography. Absolutely engrossing. ( )
  unabridgedchick | May 2, 2009 |
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During his thirty-seven years at Smith College, Newton Arvin published groundbreaking studies of Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville, and Longfellow that stand today as models of scholarship and psychological acuity. He cultivated friendships with the likes of Edmund Wilson and Lillian Hellman and became mentor to Truman Capote. A social radical and closeted homosexual, the circumspect Arvin nevertheless survived McCarthyism. But in September 1960 his apartment was raided, and his cache of beefcake erotica was confiscated, plunging him into confusion and despair and provoking his panicked betrayal of several friends. An utterly absorbing chronicle, The Scarlet Professor deftly captures the essence of a conflicted man and offers a provocative and unsettling look at American moral fanaticism.

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