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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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Everyone interested in Hawthorne’s renderings of Puritanism—and every Americanist should be—owes an admiring debt to Michael Colacurcio. The Province of Piety (1984) was published at a time when adherents of the theory of American Romance still strove to elevate Hawthorne’s imaginative power by fictionalizing his history, while followers of Perry Miller’s grand scheme of the New England Mind, in which imaginative literature plays second fiddle to intellectual history, still sought to slight Hawthorne’s authority to pass judgment upon the spiritual past. To his great credit, Michael Colacurcio subscribed to neither of these positions. He went his own way, demonstrating a remarkable mastery of New England history, as well as great sensitivity to the imagery, tone and, yes, rhetoric, of Hawthorne’s fiction. His aim was clear, detailed and comprehensive illumination of Hawthorne’s best historical tales, both individually and in their interrelations.

The result was an integration of literary and historical criticism that remains fully convincing, fully readable today. The Province of Piety has remained one of the scholarly books that I gladly recommend to students as a model, not only for what it says, but for the way it is said. (About five years ago I made the mistake of loaning my heavily marked copy to a student; of course, I was never to see it again.) Complex though Colacurcio’s readings rightly and necessarily are, undergraduate students can fully appreciate them because they are beyond bookish, making full use of...

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