The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered By Scandalby Barry Werth
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. As a scholar and writer, Arvin focused on the secret, psychological drives of such American masters as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and identified the witch-hunt memtality that lies deep in the American
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. As a scholar and writer, Arvin focused on the secret, psychological drives of such American masters as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and identified the witch-hunt memtality that lies deep in the American psyche. Arvin, a Communist and closeet homosexual, experienced the national obsession firsthand when his leftist leanings drew accusations and threats from anti-Communist crusaders during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Although he came through the Red Scare relatively unscathed, the Pink Scare and nationalist antismut campaign that followed ruined him. Arrested for possession of pornography and forced to choose between friendship and survival, Arvin named several men. Despairing in his own guilt and confusion, Arvin banished himself to the state mental institution above the Smith College campus, where he had taught for many years.
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. Evoking the links between the invasion of privacy Arvin suffered and recent events, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Werth exposes the dangers of a society where the possibility of a "private life" no longer exists. His insights into the tangle of political and moralistic fanaticism underlying America's social landscape provide a forthright and compelling perspective on some of today's most pressing controversies.
But The Scarlet Professor is also a story of redemption. Shortly before his death, Arvin managed to come to peace with himself and publish his brilliant biography of Longfellow.
- Doubleday Publishing
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Read an Excerpt
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.
Meet 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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