PATRICK D. MORROW. Academic Memoirs: Essays in Literary Criticism for American and British Literatures. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edward Mellen Press, 2003.178 pages. $99.95.
The title of this collection of essays spanning the thirty-plus-year career of Patrick Morrow is way too stuffy for the material that it encompasses. The title suggests a dry volume of literary reminiscences and academic/literary name-dropping. Instead, what one finds is a series of essays that demonstrates a lively intellectual journey through a number of literary fields and subfields, knit together with too-brief prefaces relating how each period came about in Professor Morrow's career.
Let me say up front that I am prejudiced toward liking this work. Patrick Morrow was one of my first mentors when I was an undergraduate at Auburn University, where he has taught for more than twenty-five years (thus dating us both, I am afraid). His encouragement helped guide me to graduate school, and his friendship since then has been greatly valued. And I was surprised and more than a little moved to find myself listed as one of his all-time ten favorite students; in that, I can assure you, he is being too kind.
So, that said, this is a pretty neat book. From his candid remarks about being denied tenure at the University of Southern California early in his career (he was given what could have been a devastating reason; the tenure committee did not feel that he had a "really first-rate mind"), to the very personal essay on how his twenty-year battle with multiple sclerosis has affected his teaching, this book is highly readable and provocative.
Morrow divides his career into several phases, shown by the sections into which the book is divided. Section 1, "British Literature," contains essays on the development of British poetry and on Doris Lessing; section 2, "American Literature," presents essays on Hawthorne, Frost, Dos Passos, Heller (and Lewis Carroll!), and Bret Harte - quite an array of authors. In section 3 Morrow presents some of his work on "Popular Literature and Culture" with essays on Richard Farina, rock music, Bret Harte once again, and (of all things), "Those Sick Challenger Jokes." He ends the book with probably his longest and still-ongoing incarnation as a scholar of South Pacific literature, with essays on Australian writer Patrick White, on the film The Piano, and on Katherine Mansfield. His essay on dealing with his multiple sclerosis caps the collection. For a not "really first rate-mind," that is quite an impressive range of published critical endeavor.
The essays are invariably interesting. For example, in his essay on Frost, Morrow argues that "West-Running Brook" is a major poem underpinned by the philosophy of Heraclitus; as he puts it, "the Heraclitan cosmogony acts as a kind of trellis on which Frost hangs intertwining vines of playful oxymora and makes comments about men-women relationships, as well as the nature of the universe, all in a New Englandish Greek drama" (44). …