"No blank pages": a tribute to Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008).
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 Fitzgerald.
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: email@example.com).
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|Publication:||Thomas Wolfe Review|
|Article Type:||In memoriam|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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