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Newton Arvin papers

 Collection
Identifier: MRBC-MS-00014

Scope and Contents

The Newton Arvin Papers are arranged in 12 series:

I. CORRESPONDENCE TO NEWTON ARVIN(1922-1960) II. CORRESPONDENCE FROM NEWTON ARVIN (1930-1962) III.THIRD PARTY CORRESPONDENCE (1960-1974)

IV. DIARIES OF NEWTON ARVIN (1913-1918; 1940-1963)

V. JOURNAL AND COMMONPLACE BOOKS OF NEWTON ARVIN (1959-1962)

VI. BOOKS READ AND TO BE READ BY NEWTON ARVIN (1960s)

VII. NEWTON ARVIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY/MEMOIRS—NOTES AND PARTIALLY COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT (1960s) This series contains Arvin’s preliminary notes and the partially completed autobiography covering his family background and life to about 1915.

VIII. DIARY OF JOHN BAKER HAWKINS (1832-1911) FOR 1865 This series contains the diary of Newton Arvin’s maternal grandfather for 1865, the year of the birth of Arvin’s mother Jessie.

XI. PHOTOGRAPHS, LATE 18thCENTURY TO 1950s This series contains family photographs (some unidentified) of the Arvin and Hawkins families, as well as various photographs of or by Newton Arvin.

X. MEMORABILIA, AWARDS, CERTIFICATES, ARTICLES BY AND ABOUT NEWTON ARVIN, ETC. This series includes Arvin’s high school yearbook of which he was editor, as well as numerous awards and other items associated with Arvin.

XI. RESEARCH, WRITINGS AND TEACHING PAPERS OF NEWTON ARVIN. This series comprises the extensive notes that Arvin kept as a result of his reading, especially for his teaching and research. Included in this series is his manuscript (with corrections) of his biography on Longfellow. Arvin’s habitually typed his detailed notes, often adding annotations by hand.

XII. MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS This series contains numerous items related to Valparaiso and Winona Lake, Indiana, an Amherst College thesis on the “Arvin affair at Smith College” and a copy of Joel Dorius’s memoir.

Dates of Materials

  • 1860 - 2003
  • Majority of material found within 1913-63

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Donated by Charles R. Pierce and copyright rights are retained by him. The transfer of these rights to The Trustees of Smith College will occur upon the death of Charles R. Pierce, or sooner if agreed to by him and Smith College.

Biographical / Historical

Frederick Newton Arvin, Jr. was born in 1900 in Valparaiso, Indiana. After attending public school in his hometown, Arvin graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1921; his B.A. was the highest degree he ever attained. Arvin joined the faculty of the Smith College English Department in 1922 as an instructor, and worked his way up to full professor with tenure in 1941. Although painfully shy as a professor, Arvin was considered one of the foremost literary biographers in American literature. He wrote four critical biographies: Hawthorne (1929), Whitman (1938), Herman Melville (1950), and Longfellow: His Life and Work (1963). He also contributed regularly to various publications within his field, as well as editing editions of Hawthorne, Melville, Henry Adams, and George W. Cable. In addition to his writing, editing, and teaching, Newton Arvin corresponded with over 450 people, ranging from high-school students seeking information, to publishing companies, to soldiers serving in World War II, as well as with many of the literary giants of his time, such as Van Wyck Brooks, Lionel Trilling, Carson McCullers, and of course, Truman Capote. His professional achievements are impressive: He was elected to the board of directors of Yaddo—the writers' and artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, NY—in 1939. He received the National Book Award in 1951 for his Melville biography; in 1952 he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Although Arvin was a brilliant scholar, his personal life was deeply troubled. He attempted suicide at least three times. His marriage to Mary Garrison, a former Smith student, ended in divorce in 1940, and in the fall of that year, Arvin had a nervous breakdown. Shame over his own homosexuality tormented him for his entire life, with the possible happy exception of his three-year relationship with Truman Capote, after which the two remained close friends. Arvin adamantly maintained a strict separation between his personal and professional life, but in 1960 that separation would be broken down. Arvin was arrested with two other Smith professors on charges of "possession of obscene pictures for exhibition" and "lewdness": specifically, Arvin held a collection of gay pornography. Although he received only a fine and a one-year suspended sentence, the humiliation of having his homosexuality publicly revealed resulted in a nervous breakdown and a stay in a mental hospital. He was forcibly retired from Smith that same year, and died of cancer of the pancreas in 1963, shortly after his biography of Longfellow was published.

Extent

18.5 linear feet (43 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Frederick Newton Arvin, Jr. was an English professor at Smith and one of the foremost literary biographers in American literature. He was elected to the board of directors of Yaddo—the writers' and artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, NY—in 1939. He received the National Book Award in 1951 for his Melville biography; in 1952 he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Although Arvin was a brilliant scholar, his personal life was deeply troubled. He attempted suicide at least three times.Shame over his own homosexuality tormented him for his entire life, with the possible happy exception of his three-year relationship with Truman Capote, after which the two remained close friends. The Newton Arvin Papers are arranged in 12 series.

Other Finding Aids

A legacy finding aid with more detailed information about this collection is available in this downloadable document: finding aid to the Newton Arvin papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The letters of Newton Arvin (with a few exceptions) came to Smith College as designated in his will—“… accumulated correspondence to Smith College Library for selection and disposition at the discretion of the Librarian” following his death in 1963.

Arvin designated in his will that his niece, Barbara Pierce, was to have “…my diaries, journals, manuscripts whether published or unpublished, notes and the like which have not otherwise been otherwise disposed of by this will.” In November 2011 Charles R. Pierce, the son of Barbara and Edward R. Pierce, gave this collection to Smith College. Not only did this gift contain the items as noted in the will, but the gift also contained some correspondence, photographs, documents related to the Arvin family and an unfinished biography by Arvin.

Title
Finding aid for Newton Arvin papers
Status
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Author
Lynne M. Fors, Laura Freeman and Melvin Carlson, Jr.
Date
2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Mortimer Rare Book Collection Repository

Contact:
Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063