M. H. Abrams
an image of an older man in light blue sweater smiling
Born
Meyer Howard Abrams

(1912-07-23)July 23, 1912
DiedApril 21, 2015(2015-04-21) (aged 102)
NationalityAmerican
Other namesMike Abrams
EducationHarvard University (AB, MA, PhD)
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Alma materHarvard University
OccupationLiterary critic
Known forThe Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Mirror and the Lamp

Meyer Howard Abrams (July 23, 1912 – April 21, 2015), usually cited as M. H. Abrams, was an American literary critic, known for works on romanticism, in particular his book The Mirror and the Lamp. Under Abrams's editorship, The Norton Anthology of English Literature became the standard text for undergraduate survey courses across the U.S. and a major trendsetter in literary canon formation.

Early life and education

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, Abrams was the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.[1] The son of a house painter and the first in his family to go to college, he entered Harvard University as an undergraduate in 1930. He went into English because, he says, "there weren't jobs in any other profession..., so I thought I might as well enjoy starving, instead of starving while doing something I didn't enjoy."[2] After earning his bachelor's degree in 1934, Abrams won a Henry Fellowship to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where his tutor was I. A. Richards. He returned to Harvard for graduate school in 1935 and received a master's degree in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1940.[3]

Career

During World War II, he served at the Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory at Harvard. He describes his work as solving the problem of voice communications in a noisy military environment by establishing military codes that are highly audible and inventing selection tests for personnel who had a superior ability to recognize sound in a noisy background.[4]

In 1945, Abrams became a professor at Cornell University. The literary critics Harold Bloom, Gayatri Spivak and E. D. Hirsch, and the novelists William H. Gass and Thomas Pynchon were among his students.[1][5] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963[6] and a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1973.[7] In 1981, Northwestern University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.[8] As of March 4, 2008, he was Class of 1916 Professor of English Emeritus there.[9]

Personal life

His wife of 71 years, Ruth, predeceased him in 2008.[10] He turned 100 in July 2012.[11] Abrams died on April 21, 2015, in Ithaca, New York, at the age of 102.[12][13]

The Mirror and the Lamp

Abrams offers evidence that until the Romantics, literature was typically understood as a mirror reflecting the real world in some kind of mimesis; whereas for the Romantics, writing was more like a lamp: the light of the writer's inner soul spilled out to illuminate the world.[14] In 1998, Modern Library ranked The Mirror and the Lamp one of the 100 greatest English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century.[15]

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Abrams was the general editor of The Norton Anthology, and the editor of The Romantic Period (1798–1832) in that anthology,[16] and he evaluated writers and their reputations. In his introduction to Lord Byron, he emphasized how Byronism relates to Nietzsche's idea of the superman.[17] In the introduction to Percy Bysshe Shelley, Abrams said, "The tragedy of Shelley's short life was that intending always the best, he brought disaster and suffering upon himself and those he loved."[18]

Classification of literary theories

The classification used by Abrams

Literary theories, Abrams argues, can be divided into four main groups:[19]

Works

References

  1. ^ a b "Adam Kirsch Pays a 100th Birthday Visit to M. H. Abrams, the Romanticist and Norton Anthology Editor". Tablet Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  2. ^ Crawford, Franklin (September 2012). "A Literary Century: English Professor Mike Abrams Fêted at 100th Birthday Bash". Cornell Alumni Magazine. Cornell University. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  3. ^ Grimes, William (22 April 2015). "M.H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary 'Bible'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  4. ^ "Honored literary scholar M.H. Abrams continues his labors (of love)". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 2023-02-01.
  5. ^ "M.H. Abrams continues his labors (of love)". News.cornell.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-02-28. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  7. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-08-11.
  8. ^ "Recipients: Office of the Provost - Northwestern University". www.northwestern.edu. Retrieved 2024-05-09.
  9. ^ See article Archived 2008-07-04 at the Wayback Machine in the Cornell Chronicle.
  10. ^ "Ruth Abrams". Ithaca Journal. Archived from the original on 2 June 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  11. ^ Seely, Hart (2012-07-23). "The man behind the Norton Anthology of English Literature is turning 100 today". The Post-Standard. Advance Publications. Archived from the original on 2012-07-25. Retrieved 2012-07-23.
  12. ^ Grimes, William (22 April 2015). "M.H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary 'Bible'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 July 2017. Retrieved 29 May 2017 – via NYTimes.com.
  13. ^ Jeff Stein (22 April 2015). "One of the greatest professors in Cornell history has died". The Ithaca Voice. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  14. ^ Grimes, William (2015-04-23). "M.H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary 'Bible'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-01-13.
  15. ^ "100 Best Nonfiction". Modern Library. 1998. Archived from the original on 2012-08-25. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  16. ^ M. H. Abrams (1962), ed., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York: Norton, back cover.
  17. ^ M. H. Abrams (1962), ed., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York: Norton, p. 253.
  18. ^ M. H. Abrams (1962), ed., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York: Norton, p. 415.
  19. ^ Rooden, Aukje van (2012-08-01). "Magnifying the Mirror and the Lamp: A Critical Reconsideration of the Abramsian Poetical Model and its Contribution to the Research on Modern Dutch Literature". Journal of Dutch Literature. 3 (1). ISSN 2211-0879.

Bibliography