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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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Introduction to The Marble Faun

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ANDREW DELBANCO

Prefatory Note (December, 2014)

The first time I heard Michael Colacurcio’s name was more than forty years ago from a childhood friend who had gone off to graduate school at Cornell to study history. With a kind of grateful bewilderment, my friend told me about an English professor whose lectures were somehow both wild and disciplined, and who did not merely describe Puritanism as a cultural episode that helped to explain the pathologies of contemporary America, but who took seriously the “soul physicians” of the seventeenth century as guides to understanding the human world now as well as then.

Although I was never Michael’s student in any formal or institutional sense, I have been—like all the contributors to this volume—his student ever since. Without suggesting any diminution of his achievements as a scholar, I suspect his singular accomplishment over the decades, possibly unique among his contemporaries, has been his retention of the voice of the true teacher—of what Emerson called “Man Thinking.” It is a voice of vital irritability with anyone (always including, prospectively, himself) who seeks a short cut through the theological or psychological intricacies of the writers who interest him. This voice has a certain patient impatience by which I have always found myself both chastised and refreshed, as when (in his essay “Puritans in Spite” [1994]) he asks, “Can we really imagine [that] Hawthorne’s instructed but edgy invocations of earlier New England, or Melville’s...

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