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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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The Vanitas of Holocaust Painting: Audrey Flack’s World War II



When I took Michael Colacurcio’s graduate seminar on Hawthorne at Cornell University in 1969, I discovered, to my surprise—dismay might better describe my response at the time—that we would be spending ten weeks of the semester on the Puritans and the rest of the semester on Hawthorne. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the Puritans. I also, as it turns out, learned a lot about Hawthorne. But I learned something else and even more valuable as well. This lesson has stood me in good stead not only in my own work on Hawthorne but, as importantly, and thereafter, in all of my other academic projects. To invoke Henry James in his commentary on Hawthorne: “it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”1

Over the years I have migrated away from Hawthorne and the American nineteenth century. Nonetheless, I have remained committed to the idea that it takes a great amount of history to produce a little literature. As I argued in my books on Hawthorne, Hawthorne was not only imagining himself into the philosophical and theological quandaries of Puritanism, he was, in the process, engaging the best minds of his ancestors and absorbing while also radically revising their forms of thinking.2 The Puritans were inclined toward an allegorical way of comprehending past and present: the end was already known, and what was needed was to interpret present events in light of that end....

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