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The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin a Literary Life Shattered by Scandalby Barry Werth
Synopses & Reviews
In this provocative and unsettling look at the consequences of America's puritanical "need to punish," Barry Werth explores the tragic story of one of America's great literary minds whose life and career were shattered by the "Pink Scare."
Newton Arvin (1900-1963) was one of America's most esteemed literary critics, admired by Edmund Wilson and Lillian Hellman, and mentor to Truman Capote. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and in 1951, won the National Book Award for his biography of Herman Melville. As a scholar and writer, Arvin focused on the secret, psychological drives of such American masters as Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and identified the witch-hunt mentality that lies deep in the American psyche.
Born and raised in the constrained society of Protestant Indiana, Arvin was a social radical and an unproclaimed homosexual. He came through the Red Scare relatively unscathed, but when the national antismut campaign followed, his apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he was a distinguished professor at Smith College, was searched and relatively mild homoerotic materials were confiscated. He was arrested for possession of pornography, accused in the press of being a leader of a "smut ring," and forced to choose between friendship and survival. After naming several men, he despaired at his own guilt and confusion, and banished himself to the state mental institution overlooking the Smith campus. From there public shame and the fear of his associates began to unravel his connections with the esteemed institutions that had been the cornerstones of his life.
In The Scarlet Professor, Barry Werth probes into the virulence with which even the most marginal "sins" are pursued in the fever of America's recurring puritanical crusades. His insights into the tangle of political and moralistic fanaticism underlying America's social landscape provide a forthright and compelling perspective on the dangers of a society where the possibility of a "private life" no longer exists.
But The Scarlet Professor is not just a political parable. It also a story of redemption.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -312) and index.
About the Author
Barry Werth brought the story of Newton Arvin and the "Smith College Homosexual Scandal of 1960" to national attention for the first time in almost forty years in The New Yorker. Werth is the author of The Billion-Dollar Molecule and Damages. In addition to The New Yorker, his articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and Outside. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
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