Printer Friendly

"No blank pages": a tribute to Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008).

No one who worked with Prof. Matthew J. Bruccoli, or attended one of his lectures, or even walked within earshot of his office, could ever forget his voice: a Bronx bark, terse, direct, passionate, and booming with authority. His oft-repeated words of received wisdom became maxims for his students, collaborators, and friends. Some examples: "Everything connects," "Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof," "You're only as good as what you've read," "God will provide," and the mantra-like "Get it right!" Often when working on a book's design, he proclaimed "No blank pages." He hated any empty space in a catalogue or reference book because it represented a missed opportunity to teach the reader a new fact. Prof. Bruccoli dedicated his career to filling hundreds of thousands of pages with literary history in his definitive biographies; descriptive bibliographies; authorized texts; edited letter, interview, and story collections; exhibit and auction catalogues; and most notably in the 400-plus volumes of The Dictionary of Literary Biography, the world's most important--and most reliable--literary reference work. Because of his efforts students of American literature know why F. Scott Fitzgerald ended Tender Is the Night the way he did, what Ernest Hemingway really meant to write in The Sun Also Rises, and how Thomas Wolfe's O Lost changed into Look Homeward, Angel.


Prof. Bruccoli published material related to an author's career "to get it out there," so that careful readers (his favorite kind) would understand how a genius crafts his or her talent into a work of art. From a transcribed lecture in his Classes on Fitzgerald (Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, 2001):
   My approach to literature is rooted in authorial intention:
   here is a writer who knew what he was doing; let
   me try to understand what he was doing and how it
   works. If he didn't know what he was doing, why read
   him? I suppose that every writer--except for the really
   bad ones, except for the truly incompetent ones--knows
   what he's doing; but someone with a great deal
   of talent or someone with genius knows more than
   other writers. I once asked the widow of one of the
   greatest writers of the twentieth century for a photo of
   her husband to illustrate a book I was publishing. She
   sent me a baby picture of him, with a note saying, "If
   you look in the baby's eyes you can see that all of my
   husband's work is there already." My first reaction was
   that she was bonkers. My second reaction was that she
   was joking. My third reaction was that she believed
   what she had said--and that, in a way, it was true. All
   geniuses are born geniuses; and his wife knew that
   when he was in his crib, Vladimir Nabokov's genius existed.
   It was just a matter of letting it develop.

      I believe in authorial intention; I believe in it devoutly.
   That is not to say that there aren't happy accidents,
   that an author never gets lucky; but the good
   ones know how to use their luck. I urge you to read a
   good author's work deliberately--almost as deliberately
   as it was written. The good ones, the great ones, are doing
   very complicated, very delicate things. (63)

Prof. Bruccoli was the unrivaled world authority on F. Scott Fitzgerald and a leading expert on the other two literary giants published by the House of Scribner, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe. He described himself as a caretaker for the "drunken geniuses" of American literature. He also published definitive accounts and descriptive bibliographies of other significant American authors, including John O'Hara, Ring Lardner, James Gould Cozzens, Raymond Chandler, and Joseph Heller. At his memorial service, held at the University of South Carolina on 10 November 2008, novelists Janette Turner Hospital and John Jakes, and longtime friend Michael Lazar, offered tributes to Prof. Bruccoli. Screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg, unable to attend, sent remarks that were read by his archivist, Charles Eggleston. Schulberg wrote:
   Prof. Matthew Bruccoli was the indefatigable champion of F. Scott
   Fitzgerald. At a time when Fitzgerald's prestige was in a downward
   spiral, it was Bruccoli who picked up the fallen baton and ran with
   it. Virtually single-handedly, and in thoughtful book after book,
   he reminded the literary and university community of the profound
   contribution that Fitzgerald had made to American literary history.
   All of us who read and value Fitzgerald's body of work have
   Bruccoli to thank for restoring Fitzgerald to his rightful place in
   the very top ranks of American authors: from Melville to

In Prof. Bruccoli's later years, after he had established the definitive texts for Fitzgerald, he turned his formidable editorial skills to Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe, like Fitzgerald, had been ill-served by the House of Scribner's lax proofreading standards, resulting in untrustworthy texts. Working with his wife, Arlyn, Prof. Bruccoli rescued Wolfe's original version of his first novel, O Lost (University of South Carolina Press, 2000). His final Wolfe project, also coedited with Arlyn Bruccoli and published posthumously, restored the author's original text for the novella The Four Lost Men (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

His passion for authors and literature ignited similar excitement in his students. At least once a semester, Prof. Bruccoli grabbed a student's hand in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Room at the University of South Carolina, pressed it onto a page of Fitzgerald manuscript or revised typescript from the Bruccoli Collection, and pronounced loudly "There! Feel that! You're touching something a genius touched!" Prof. Bruccoli's final course, an honors seminar on F. Scott Fitzgerald, was filmed in its entirety by the University of South Carolina, and edited for future students to take as part of the university's Distance Education curriculum. Prof. Bruccoli concluded his last lecture with an inspiring charge for his students:
   In Thomas Wolfe's second novel, Of Time and the River,
   which deals in part with Eugene Gant's years at Harvard
   (Eugene Gant is Thomas Wolfe; Thomas Wolfe was the
   most autobiographical of writers), there's a wonderful
   scene in which Eugene Gant/Thomas Wolfe is in the
   Widener Library stacks at Harvard, yelling at the books,
   and he's arguing with them, and my feeling is that is
   what an education should do for you: should make you
   go into the stacks and argue with the books. The joy of
   literature: you can always make your own discoveries.
   The literary experiences that matter most to you, that
   stay with you all your life, are your experiences, your
   discoveries. I can recall now the experience of reading
   Gatsby for the first time. Go find your own Gatsbys.

Attendees at Prof. Bruccoli's memorial service each received a copy of MJB: Publications by Matthew J. Bruccoli (University of South Carolina Press, 2008). Compiled by Jennifer Hynes and Judith S. Baughman (Prof. Bruccoli's longtime editorial assistant and frequent collaborator), the bibliography documents a scholarship record of Brobdingnagian proportions: 32 authored books, 129 edited volumes, as well as scores of articles, introductions, and series editorships. His sixty-year publishing career spanned from "Ancient History," co-authored with Robert Immerman, published in Observatory (Bronx High School of Science, 1949) to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace: The Auction and Dealer Catalogues 1935-2006, coedited with Judith S. Baughman (University of South Carolina Press, forthcoming 2009). The bibliography demonstrates not only the depth and range of his scholarship, but also the generosity he extended to many of his graduate students in granting them title-page credit and encouraging them in independent projects. He launched many "Bruccoli-trained" students on successful academic and publishing careers. Many of us still hear his voice urging us to be serious scholars, challenging us to do important work, and commanding us to "get it right!"

Very close to his death, Prof. Bruccoli confided to Judith Baughman, "Well, at least I didn't waste my life." As always, he was right. Those of us privileged and fortunate enough to have collaborated with Prof. Bruccoli--and thereby learned from him and laughed with him--owe MJB many thanks. Because of him, we didn't waste our lives either.

Note: A DVD of Prof. Bruccoli's Memorial Service and excerpts from two roundtable discussions of his publishing and academic career will be available from USC in 2009. For more information, contact M. Michelle Crisp, Senior Producer for Distance Education and Instructional Support at the University of South Carolina (e-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2008 Thomas Wolfe Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bucker, Park
Publication:Thomas Wolfe Review
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Thomas Wolfe and Max Beckmann: a creative sympathy.
Next Article:The Harvey Harris Illustrations for Look Homeward, Angel.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters