Frank, Joseph 1918–
Frank, Joseph 1918–
(Joseph Nathaniel Frank)
PERSONAL: Born October 6, 1918, in New York, NY; son of William S. and Jennie (Garlick) Frank; married Marguerite J. Straus, May 11, 1953; children: Claudine, Isabelle. Education: Attended New York University, 1937–38, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1941–42, and University of Paris, 1950–51; University of Chicago, Ph.D., 1960.
ADDRESSES: Home—78 Pearce-Mitchell Place, Stanford, CA 94305. Office—Department of Slavic Languages & Literature, Bldg. 40, Rm. 42G, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2006. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. Bureau of National Affairs, Washington, DC, editor, 1942–50; American Embassy, Paris, France, special researcher, 1951–52; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Christian Gauss Lecturer, 1954–55, lecturer in English, 1955–56; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, assistant professor of English, 1958–61; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 1961–66, began as associate professor, became professor of comparative literature; Princeton University, professor of comparative literature, 1966–84, professor of Slavic studies, 1966–68, director of Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism, 1966–84, professor emeritus, 1984–; Stanford University, professor of Slavic studies and literature, 1984–88, professor emeritus, then professor emeritus on active duty, 1988–. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, visiting professor, 1965; Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, visiting member, 1985–88.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright scholar in Paris, 1950–51; Rockefeller fellow, 1952–53; Rockefeller and University of Chicago fellow, 1953–54; Guggenheim fellow, 1956–57; National Institute of Arts and Letters award, 1958; grants from American Council of Learned Societies, 1961–62, 1964–65, 1967–68, 1970–71, Bollingen Foundation, 1962, and Rockefeller Foundation, 1979–80; National Endowment for the Arts Award, 1967, for article "N.G. Chernyshevsky: A Russian Utopia"; James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association of America, and Christian Gauss Award, Phi Beta Kappa, both 1977, both for Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849; Rockefeller fellow, 1983–84; Guggenheim fellowship, 1983; National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, 1984, for Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859; James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association of America, 1986; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination for biography, 1987, for Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation; recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Chicago, Ph.D., 1992, Adelphis University, Ph.D., 1995, Northwestern University, Ph.D., 1998, and Sorbonne University, Docteur Honoris Causa, 1999; recipient of numerous research grants.
The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1963.
(Editor) R.P. Blackmur, A Primer of Ignorance, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1967.
Dostoevsky, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), Volume 1: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, 1976, Volume 2: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–59, 1983, Volume 3: The Stir of Liberation, 1860–1865, 1986, Volume 4: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, 1995, Volume 5: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, 2002.
(Editor, with David I. Goldstein) Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1987.
Through the Russian Prism, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.
The Idea of Spatial Form, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1991.
Author of introductions to Masters and Friends, by Paul Valery, Princeton University Press, 1968, and The Inward Turn of Narrative, by Eric Kahler, Princeton University Press, 1973; author of preface to The Tower and the Abyss, by Eric Kahler, Transaction Publishers, 1989.
Contributor to numerous books, including Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment, edited by Mark Schorer and others, Harcourt, 1948; Critiques and Essays in Criticism, 1920–1948, edited by R.W. Stallman, Ronald Press, 1949; Critiques and Essays on Modern Fiction, edited by John W. Aldridge, Ronald Press, 1952; The Arts in Mid-Century, Horizon Press, 1954; Malraux: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by R.W.B. Lewis, Prentice-Hall, 1964; From Source to Statement, edited by James M. McCrimmon and others, Houghton, 1968; American Literary Anthology, Volume 2, Random House, 1968; Twentieth-Century Interpretations of "Crime and Punishment": A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, Prentice-Hall, 1973.
Contributor of translations, articles, and reviews to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement, Encounter, Dissent, Critical Inquiry, Sewanee Review, Partisan Review, New Republic, Slavic Review, New York Review of Books, American Political Science Review, American Scholar, New York Review, and Chronicle of Higher Education.
SIDELIGHTS: In the mid-1950s, Joseph Frank was invited to give a series of lectures at Princeton University on existential themes in modern literature. He decided Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground would be a good place to begin his survey, since the Underground Man was a precursor of the isolated, sometimes criminally antisocial hero found in the works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. The more Frank read of Dostoevsky, however, the more his interest shifted from existentialism per se to the author who penned such towering achievements as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. In the years since, Frank has combined his talents as literary critic, cultural historian, and linguist to gather material for a study of the Russian novelist. The resulting multi-volume work, Dostoevsky, "is clearly on the way toward [becoming] one of the great literary biographies of the age," according to Irving Howe in the New York Times Book Review. In another New York Times Book Review piece, Morris Dickstein, in his review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, called it "a masterful work of cultural biography, which explores the writer's Russian milieu in a way that's never been attempted in English. Indeed, it may be the most ambitious book on Dostoevsky undertaken in any language."
Prior to beginning his award-winning multi-volume work on Dostoevsky, Frank was a literary critic and professor of comparative literature. He has brought the perspective of an intellectual historian to his biographical works, seeking "to reground Dostoevsky in the contemporary world that furnished the terms and issues for his astonishing creations," as noted by New Republic contributor Donald Fanger in his review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849. Fanger added: "Frank's ultimate aim remains to interpret Dostoevsky's art, but he understands that art means more than text. Origin, analogue, function, implication: these are all matters of importance, and Frank pursues them by first establishing the contexts out of which the texts emerged. He considers by turns the personal, the familial, the cultural, literary, social and political. The result—in contrast to the fashionable sophistication of the 'deconstructionists'—is a massive historical reconstruction, sensible and persuasive."
Such an approach has necessitated thorough work with primary sources, so Frank learned Russian to facilitate his research and interpretations. Dickstein maintained that through his studies, Frank has come to see the Russian author "as a writer who brought into sharp focus all the cultural tensions of his age." Paul Roazen wrote in the Virginia Quarterly Review: "Frank treats Dostoevsky's creations as a genius's synthesis of the major themes of his times." Roazen added that "Dostoevsky's stories are examined as personal expressions, but Frank sees him as oriented more than most by issues outside himself. Frank is fascinated by Dostoevsky in the context of 19th-century Russian culture, and his notable achievement is to present Dostoevsky in the milieu of his society."
Reviewers have found much to praise in each volume of Dostoevsky and many have garnered prestigious awards and nominations. In the New York Review of Books, for instance, V.S. Pritchett called Dostoevsky "a work of detection and collation at its scrupulous best. Every detail is considered; evidence is weighed and fortunately the author has a pleasant and lucid style, unleadened by the fashionable vice of factfetishism." Los Angeles Times Book Review correspondent Edward Condren noted that the work proceeds "from the soundest theory of biography we have, benefits from Frank's extraordinary scholarly mind, and best of all, weaves some fascinating theories to account for heretofore inexplicable shifts in Dostoevsky's beliefs and attitudes." The critic concluded: "Frank [takes] care to make neither the literature explain the life, nor the life the literature. Rather he maintains his scholarly equilibrium by keeping a steady eye on the interrelationship of the two." Fanger deemed Dostoevsky "a major contribution to Russian cultural history, whose very virtues make it resistant to summary."
Its scholarly aims notwithstanding, Dostoevsky does not neglect the interests of the general reader. Howe claimed: "Mr. Frank's distinction as a biographer lies not so much in his scholarly investigations as in the justness and comprehensiveness of his portrait. For the general reader, what will matter most is the skill with which Mr. Frank has fused biography, literary criticism and cultural history to place [Dostoevsky] squarely in the mid-nineteenth century Russian setting." According to Adam Gussow in the Saturday Review, Frank "is chiefly concerned with tracing the lineaments of Dostoevsky's restless and tortured soul. He knows how to tell a good story, too, which makes this painstaking study anything but an ordeal for the reader." Roazen likewise commended Frank, noting that the author "has not sought to invent a new Dostoevsky, at odds with the responses of intelligent readers over the past century. Rather we find Dostoevsky more present and critically alive than ever before."
Dostoevsky was originally conceived as a single volume work. The five volumes that it has become each cover a seminal period in the novelist's life. Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, for example, covers that period when the novelist produced such works as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and several other novels. Such output on the part of Dostoevsky is even more miraculous, Frank makes clear in his biography, because this same seven-year period saw the novelist's wife and brother both die, the novelist succumb to bouts of gambling as well as to recurring epileptic seizures, witness the collapse of a journal published by he and his late brother, undertake a speedy second marriage, and escape to Europe to avoid debtor's prison. Through all this turmoil, Frank steers clear of rendering psychoanalytic conclusions as to his subject's mental health and emotional stability, concentrating instead on an examination of the writer's relationship to his fiction. "The Dostoevsky [readers] get," noted New York Times Book Review critic Stephen Jan Parker, "though at times intemperate, passionate and tempestuous, betrays no signs of neurosis or compulsive behavior." Parker added: "Mr. Frank has no interest in identifying and illuminating the writer's many remarkable insights into the psychology of abnormal behavior, let alone in suggesting linkages between the characters and Dostoevsky." Parker quibbles with such a generous view by Frank, noting that the Russian novelist's penchant for gambling during this period, "does conform fully to the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling" of the American Psychiatric Association. But throughout his multi-volume biography, Frank has consistently steered clear of such judgments; he has proceeded with "a close and exhaustive study" of his subject within a "Russian social-cultural context" rather than through more narrow viewpoints.
New Yorker essayist George Steiner called Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, "an absolutely indispensable piece of literary and social investigation," adding: "In its scale and scholarly care, Frank's study … has no rival throughout the extensive critical and biographical literature on Dostoevsky." Fanger concluded: "Any future writing on Dostoevsky will clearly have to take account of Frank's unrivalled and henceforth fundamental work—a biography both of Dostoevsky and of his writing." Fanger went on to note: "The [work] as a whole demonstrates … high sensitivity to literary values,… scrupulous historical scholarship, and … sane lucidity of judgment. Frank has set a standard that no single book on the subject in any language can match, or is likely to for a long time to come."
Frank's conclusion to his Dostoevsky opus, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, was published in 2002 and outlines Dostoevsky's final triumphs and failures, from his famous, successful Pushkin speech to his later failures as a writer and the torments in his personal life. "We are grateful for its expansiveness and its detail," wrote A.S. Byatt in a review of the final volume in the New Statesman. New Republic contributor James Wood noted: "There is probably no living biographer more adept than Joseph Frank at drawing intellectual family trees and turning them into forests. In page after page and volume after volume—this is his fifth and final one—he has devotedly elongated the affiliations and connections, the fraternities and masonries, of Russian intellectual and literary life, and in so doing has made luminous a world that for many of us was obscure." Gary Saul Morson, writing in the New Criterion, commented that the author's "five-volume biography of Dostoevsky, completed with the present contribution,… does as well or better than any I have ever read. It is far and away the best comprehensive account of a Russian writer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brown, Edward J., editor, Literature, Culture, and Society in the Modern Age: In Honor of Joseph Frank, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University (Stanford, CA), 1991.
Commentary, March, 1977, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 90.
Commonweal, May 13, 1977, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 310.
First Things, March, 2003, Richard Neuhaus, review of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, p. 74.
Hudson Review, spring, 1985, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 140.
London Review of Books, June 22, 1995, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 20, 1984, Edward Condren, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 2.
New Criterion, June, 2002, Gary Saul Morson, review of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, p. 83.
New Republic, November 20, 1976, Donald Fanger, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 40; May 15, 1995, Stanislaw Barabczak, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, pp. 3540; June 3, 2002, James Wood, review of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, p. 25.
New Statesman, September 16, 2002, A.S. Byatt, review of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, p. 48.
New Statesman & Society, April 7, 1995, Nicholas Richardson, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 53.
Newsweek, January 23, 1984, Gene Lyons, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 65.
New Yorker, September 12, 1977, George Steiner, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 142.
New York Review of Books, November 11, 1976, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 43; September 25, 1986, V.S. Pritchett, review of Dostoevsky: the Stir of Liberation, 1860–1865, p. 11; January 17, 1991, Henry Gifford, review of Through the Russian Prism: Essays on Literature and Culture, p. 36; March 2, 1995, J.M. Coetzee, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 13.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1976, Morris Dickstein, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. 43; January 1, 1984, Irving Howe, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 1; August 31, 1986, Harlow Robinson, review of Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 1860–1865, p. 8; February 19, 1995, Stephen Jan Parker, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 18.
Observer, April 9, 1995, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 16.
Philosophy and Literature, fall, 1984.
Saturday Review, February, 1984, Adam Gussow, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 56.
Sewanee Review, April, 1985, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 293; April, 1988, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 306.
Spectator, February 25, 1995, Peter Levi, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 31; December 14, 2002, Jonathan Sumption, review of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881, p. 75.
Time, January 30, 1984, Paul Gray, review of Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859, p. 75.
Times Literary Supplement, September 30, 1977; October 30, 1987, review of Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 1860–1865, p. 1188; July 21, 1995, W.J. Leatherbarrow, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 8; December 1, 1995, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 13.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 23, 1995, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 1.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1977, Paul Roazen Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849.
Washington Post Book World, January 2, 1977, review of Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, p. G3; November 16, 1986, review of Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 1860–1865, p. 7; February 12, 1995, review of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871, p. 5.
Stanford University Web site, http://www.stanford.edu/ (November 28, 2005), faculty profile of author.