From Library Journal
Werth (The Billion-Dollar Molecule) begins this expos with the arrest of Newton Arvin (1900-63) for possession of pornography, then presents a chronologically organized narrative from Arvin's arrival in Northampton, MA, as a 24-year-old instructor at Smith College, to his death. Arvin became a well-known literary critic and authored biographies of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville, among others. He was forced into early retirement at Smith in 1960 after being sentenced for possession of pornography and for lewd (i.e., homosexual) behavior. The author stresses the psychological cost of Arvin's concealing his homosexuality, as well as the similarity between the prosecution of Arvin and that of Hester Prynne in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Smith College treated its homosexual professors more harshly than a heterosexual professor who was sexually involved with at least one member of the all-female student body. Through Arvin and his associates, Werth ably details the "witchhunt," first for Communists, then for homosexuals, in mid-20th-century America. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Newton Arvin was one of the premier literary critics of his day, hailed as brilliant by such contemporaries as Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, and Edmund Wilson. A professor of literature at Smith College for much of the twentieth century, he transformed the study of American literature and saw the discipline through to maturity. Nonetheless, feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, and worthlessness plagued him. Once a frail boy from Indiana, he became a communist darling at Yaddo, the writers' colony in New York, and he was homosexual, which he kept secret for much of his life. Yet he had torrid affairs (one with Truman Capote), figured prominently in a 1960 homosexual scandal at Smith, and was arrested for possessing pornography. After the last, he started naming names, and guilt drove him to the Northampton, Massachusetts, state mental facility, in which he spent the rest of his days. Werth's wonderfully crafted biography of the brilliant, tormented critic captures the politics, social climate, and culture of fear of the America that Arvin experienced. Michael SpinellaCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved