Newdick's Season of Frost: An Interrupted Biography of Robert Frost

Newdick's Season of Frost: An Interrupted Biography of Robert Frost

Newdick's Season of Frost: An Interrupted Biography of Robert Frost

Newdick's Season of Frost: An Interrupted Biography of Robert Frost

Synopsis

In 1935 Professor Robert Newdick of Ohio State University wrote to Robert Frost already America's most famous living poet in order to suggest certain revisions in the arrangement of the poet's collected poems. The brief letter was to begin a relationship of nearly five years (ending only with Newdick's untimely death in 1939) in which Newdick assiduously gathered materials from a wide variety of sources for a projected (but not authorized) Frost biography. Although only part (about 100 pages) of the biography was actually written, Newdick left behind him several files of factual data, as well as observations and comments by Frost and by many people who knew him. These materials have not heretofore been published, nor were they used in any subsequent biography.

In the present volume William A. Sutton brings together Newdick's partial biography with his various notes and letters, adding a narrative of the Frost-Newdick relationship which sheds new light on the poet and on the identity of poets. With Newdick, as with subsequent researchers, the fiction-making Frost was often playing a game of hide-and-seek so that he would never be completely found out as a mere empirical datum, although there is evidence that his candor with Newdick was at times greater than it would be in later years. Newdick, a perceptive admirer of Frost's poetry, had to struggle with his own realizations of such Frostian characteristics as secretiveness, ambivalence, and capriciousness, and so the book reveals a great poet who could be both generous and arch, a professor relentless in his search for information, a famous man fitfully bothered, then amused by a young academic's earnest efforts on his behalf, and a biographer devoted to, but at times exhausted by, the demands of his biographical subject. Frost appears as one who thought of both biography and biographer as attractive nuisances.

The original materials brought together here manifest, therefore, both a kind of biography, and a chronicle of the act of biography, a fresh look at the creative personality, and a running account of how a biographer attempts to bring such a personality into focus."

Excerpt

As I have often said, life is a series of circles within circles. It might be called Fate. Whatever it is, it often leads to an extraordinary sense of fulfillment: The feeling one has when dropping a crucial piece into a particularly difficult jigsaw puzzle—triumphant. This was what I felt when I learned that a manuscript, half-finished, half‐ completed, had been recovered from its oblivion of forty years.

It was in 1934, as a young professor at Ohio State University, that Dr. Robert Newdick had fallen in love with the poetry of Robert Frost. The correspondence that developed between the two men is particularly illuminating.

It was following the sudden death of Dr. Newdick in July of 1939 that everything in connection with the proposed biography somehow became "lost" in the archives of his widow. Apparently, no one was aware of how much valuable material in letters and articles (printed and unprinted) were available. I had visited the Newdicks in 1937 and, when a friend, Dr. William Sutton of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, was visiting me, he brought up the name of Robert Newdick. I wondered whether Mrs. Newdick had retained her husband's work on the contemplated biography. Opening an old address book, we found not only the address but the telephone number in Columbus, Ohio. She answered the phone! And, consequently, Dr. Sutton got in touch with her immediately on his return West. Mrs. Newdick's cooperation and interest were of the greatest benefit. As a result, Newdick's Season of Frost is herewith published.

Dr. Sutton is, indeed, fortunate in having added one more revealing insight into my father's complex life, particularly since it covers a period not so well known—that is, the years between 1934 and 1940.

Lesley Frost . . .

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