Ruth Benedict, Patterns of a Life

Ruth Benedict, Patterns of a Life

Ruth Benedict, Patterns of a Life

Ruth Benedict, Patterns of a Life

Excerpt

My biography of Ruth Benedict has been a long quest and steady company for over ten years. Curiosity about the woman who sought to understand herself through writing, in poetry and biography, and through the traditional roles of wife, schoolteacher, and charity worker soon turned to absorption in and profound respect for her "discovery" of anthropology. I traced Ruth Benedict's path, caught up, intrigued, and influenced by her choices while yet maintaining my distance and preserving—as she might say—my own course. There is, I hope, a fair balance of dispassion and empathy, of judgment and of admiration, in the chapters of my book.

Ruth Benedict helped to determine the history of her discipline, in The United States and in the world. Her books Patterns of Culture and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword are classics in anthropology and reference points of humanistic thought in the twentieth century. In my account, I unravel the threads connecting Ruth Benedict's extraordinary professional achievements to her private struggles and personal dilemmas. I have respected her deep discretion while portraying the "passionate experience" behind an intellectual contribution of strength, vigor, and severity. The words Ruth Benedict used about Mary Wollstonecraft's life are appropriate to her own.

I could not have accomplished my task without the help of many people. Margaret Mead immediately encouraged my project, appreciating the need for a full-length biographical study of her teacher, colleague, and friend. As in all her endeavors, Mead supported the work of another scholar with time, information, and enthusiasm. Among colleagues and friends of Ruth Benedict who gave me their time and thought were the late Ruth Sawtelle Wallis, and Theodora Kroeber, as well as Leonard Doob, E. Adamson Hoebel, Ruth Landes, Sidney Mintz . . .

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