English MATTERS — SPRING 2011

Edward Alexander

I retired in 2004, partly because poor hearing had turned me into a flabby liberal in class, giving smiling approval to student comments I might once have dismissed with glorious intolerance. Since retirement I’ve published essays on literary and political subjects in Claremont Review of Books, Standpoint (U.K.), Society, Midstream, New England Review, and Modern Judaism. In 2006 I published, with Paul Bogdanor, The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders.

The year 2009 was a tumultuous mixture of good and bad. I published (with Richard Dunn and Paul Jaussen) a very long book, Robert B. Heilman: His Life in Letters (U Washington P) about the premier figure in the history of our department, and a very short book, Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe: A Literary Friendship. Routledge reissued my 1965 book Matthew Arnold and John Stuart Mill, and Transaction published a new edition of my 1988 book The Jewish Wars: Reflections By One of the Belligerents. On the negative side, I had several cancer surgeries in 2009-10.

At the risk of seeming to toot my own horn, I offer a brief description of the book most likely to interest readers of English Matters. Heilman’s Life in Letters portrays the man, the writer, the department chairman, the consummate professional, through his correspondence from 1941, when he was a thirty-five-year-old member of LSU’s English department, through 2001, shortly before his death. In addition to selecting letters that convey Heilman’s voice, we attempted to provide some sense of changes that have taken place in American letters and universities during that sixty-year period. Heilman corresponded with many of the leading literary figures in America, and their voices are also represented abundantly. They include Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Malcolm Cowley, Allen Tate, Theodore Roethke, Joseph Epstein, Bernard Malamud, Charles Johnson. The letters demonstrate that Samuel Johnson’s observation that “We shall receive no letters in the grave” was not a sigh of relief but an anticipatory lament over the loss of a great pleasure.

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