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Newton Arvin at Yaddo

Newton Arvin (1900-1963) was a guest at Yaddo in 1928 where he wrote his first biography about Nathaniel Hawthorne. Arvin thanked the trustees of Yaddo and Mrs. Elizabeth Ames in his December 1928 acknowledgement note. Ames, a Minnesotan Quaker, was Yaddo's director for forty-six years.

This copy of Hawthorne was inscribed by Newton Arvin, "For Mary Ellen Chase with friendly regard." Chase and Arvin were professors in the English Department at Smith College. Arvin taught from 1922 to1960 and Chase taught from 1926 to1955.

Newton Arvin, Hawthorne. Boston: Little, Brown, 1929. MORTIMER RARE BOOK ROOM

Mary Ellen Chase and Newton Arvin in front of Neilson Library, photograph, 1951.


Sylvia Plath, Autograph notes for English 321b, 1954.

One of Newton Arvin's students was the poet Sylvia Plath '55. She studied American fiction with Arvin in 1954 and corrected papers for the class when she was an instructor at Smith College in 1957-1958. She also taught three sections of English 11. In the first part of the course, Plath added Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James to the syllabus, following her training with Newton Arvin.

Although Arvin was a dedicated professor, he hated to correct his students' essays. As he wrote to Truman Capote (Newton Arvin Correspondence 15: 655): "I may be as good a writer as E. M. Forster or André Gide, but you'd never suspect it from seeing me bend over a stack of blue-books. [. . .] Fortunately, they're pretty good this time. But what a treadmill! And a treadmill lined with broken glass, at that."

Newton Arvin's biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was his last publication. It was preceded by biographies of Walt Whitman (1938) and Herman Melville (1950), which won a National Book Award for nonfiction in 1951. Arvin dedicated Longfellow to his literary mentor Van Wyck Brooks who first recommended him to Elizabeth Ames at Yaddo.

Newton Arvin. Longfellow: His Life and Work, typescript (carbon), with revisions in the author's hand, 1963.

Newton Arvin married his former student Mary Jordan Garrison at Yaddo in August 1932. (Her 1931 yearbook is on display below.) They spent their honeymoon at Triuna, the Trask estate on Lake George. But Arvin was tormented by his closeted homosexuality and the marriage ended in divorce in 1940. Garrison and Arvin suffered numerous breakdowns as a result.

CAPTION: MARY JORDAN GARRISON YEARBOOK PHOTOGRAPH

Barry Werth, The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin, Literary Life Shattered by Scandal.

Echoing his psychologically charged biographies, Arvin's own life was shattered when he was arrested on 2 September 1960 and convicted of trafficking in homosexual pornography. This material included the innocuous muscle magazines Grecian Guild Pictorial and Trim reproduced in The Scarlet Professor. As a result of the scandal following Arvin's arrest, Smith College retired him on half salary. However, Arvin was allowed to keep his office and privileges in Neilson Library, which enabled him to research his last biography on Longfellow. Local author Barry Werth used the correspondence of Newton Arvin in the Mortimer Rare Book Room to write his biography.

"Life Visits Yaddo" in Life 21:3 (July 15, 1946): 110-113. With photographs by Lisa Larsen.

Newton Arvin was elected director of the Yaddo Corporation in 1939, a position he held until he resigned in 1961. During one of his annual summer visits to Yaddo in 1946, Arvin met Truman Capote who became the love of his life. They are captured together at Yaddo in Lisa Larsen's photographs for a 1946 article in Life.

Next Page: Newton Arvin & Truman Capote


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