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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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Reconfiguring Nature After Darwin: Skepticism and Sexuality in Modern British and Irish Literature



Before beginning my essay, I want to pay tribute to Michael Colacurcio who was my Cornell colleague from 1968 to 1994 and to thank him for teaching me the need to historicize. When I arrived at Cornell, I was as much as a formalist as any of my colleagues. So when I invoke as my credo, “Always the text; always historicize,” a phrase my students and some of my readers will recognize, some part of that is acknowledging the influence of Michael.

The other thing I learned from Mike was his iconoclastic concept of seriousness. To him there were “serious” teacher-scholars and others, and he made clear that he spoke and taught from the perspective of the former and he had little patience with the second category. Intelligence, judgment, research until one found the right answer, and the ability to make a cogent and lucid argument based on evidence from the text and the context were among the qualities that made for the first category.


Nicolas Kristof has aptly reminded us: “[I]n the industrialized world, nature is a rarer and rarer part of our lives. Children for 1,000 generations grew up exploring fields, itching with poison oak and discovering the hard way what a wasp nest looks like” (“How to Lick a Slug”).

But nature is far more inclusive than Kristof indicates. When we think of nature we need think not only...

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