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A Passion for Getting It Right

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

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 Critic on Main Street: Hawthorne and Critical Allegory



In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s late short story “Main-street,” first published in 1849 and later included in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-told Tales (1851), an itinerant showman presents a jerry-rigged version of a moving panorama, a “pictorial exhibition, somewhat in the nature of a puppet-show,” to a small-town audience.1 As the showman turns a crank, propelling wooden figures across a series of painted tableaux, the audience sees a forest clearing gradually transform from a primitive path lightly travelled by Native Americans and early settlers into a bustling town center, revealing along the way a parade of well-known New England historical figures and offering a condensed narrative of the progress of colonial American history. In producing the spectacle, however, the showman encounters a perhaps familiar problem: namely, there’s a heckler in the audience. The showman is only a few minutes into the performance when an audience member interrupts: “The whole affair is a manifest catch-penny,” the critic obtrudes: “The trees look more like weeds in a garden, than a primitive forest; the Squaw Sachem and Wappacowet are stiff in their pasteboard joints; and the squirrels, the deer, and the wolf, move with all the grace of a child’s wooden monkey, sliding up and down a stick” (XI: 52). The showman politely thanks the gentleman for the “candor of [his] remarks,” admits the rudimentary nature of the devices, and then calmly proceeds with the show—that is, until moments later, when the same man interrupts again, dismayed this...

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