Kaplan, Fred 1937–
Kaplan, Fred 1937–
PERSONAL: Born November 4, 1937, in Bronx, NY; son of Isaac (an attorney) and Bessie Kaplan; married Gloria Taplin (a teacher), May 28, 1959 (divorced, 1989); married Rhoda Ackerson Weyr (a literary agent), 1993; children: Benjamin, Noah, Julia. Education: Brooklyn College (now Brooklyn College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1959; Columbia University, M.A., 1961, Ph.D., 1966.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Lawrence University, Appleton, WI, instructor in English, 1962–64; California State College (now University), Los Angeles, assistant professor of English, 1964–67; City University of New York, Queens College, Flushing, NY, associate professor, 1967–71, professor of English, 1971–90; Queens College and Graduate Center, New York, NY, distinguished professor of English, 1990–. Graduate School and University Center, New York, NY, professor of English, 1979–. University of Copenhagen, Fulbright professor, 1973–74; University of Paris, visiting professor, 1986–87; Bar-Ilan University, Israel, visiting professor, 1987.
MEMBER: International Association of University Professors of English, Modern Language Association of America, PEN, Dickens Society (president, 1990–91).
AWARDS, HONORS: City University of New York research grant, 1968–69, 1976–78, 1980–85; Guggenheim fellow, 1976–77; National Endowment for the Humanities, fellowship at Huntington Library, 1981–82, grant, 1983; National Book Critics Circle award nominee, 1983, and Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1984, both for Thomas Carlyle: A Biography; fellow at National Humanities Center, NC, 1985–86; fellow, Rockefeller Study Center, Bellagio, Italy, 1990.
Miracles of Rare Device: The Poet's Sense of Self in Nineteenth-Century Poetry, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1972.
Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1975.
(With Michael Goldberg and K.J. Fielding) Lectures on Carlyle and His Era, edited and compiled by Jerry D. James and Rita B. Bottoms, University Library, University of California (Santa Cruz, CA), 1985.
Sacred Tears: Sentimentality in Victorian Literature, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1985.
Dickens: A Biography, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Henry James: The Imagination of Genius (biography), Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Gore Vidal: A Biography, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.
The Singular Mark Twain (biography), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
(And transcriber and annotator) Charles Dickens' Book of Memoranda: A Photographic and Typographic Facsimile of the Notebook Begun in January, 1855, New York Public Library (New York, NY), 1981.
(And author of introduction) John Elliotson on Mesmerism, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(General editor) The Readers' Advisor: A Layman's Guide to Literature, 13th edition, Bowker (New York, NY), 1985.
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Early Reviews, Criticism, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1993.
Traveling in Italy with Henry James (essays), Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
(And author of introduction) Gore Vidal, The Essential Gore Vidal: A Gore Vidal Reader, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Sylvere Monod) Charles Dickens, Hard Times: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000, 3rd edition, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
Editor, Dickens Studies Annual, 1980–. Contributor to Carlyle Newsletter, Dickens Studies Annual, Journal of the History of Ideas, Journal of Narrative Techniques, Lingua Franca, New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Studies in English Literature, and Victorian Newsletter.
SIDELIGHTS: Fred Kaplan is the author of numerous books of nonfiction, including biographies, and he has edited several works as well. Kaplan's Thomas Carlyle: A Biography "tells the story of Carlyle's life with descriptive skill, conviction, and a sure sense of history," commented Donald Thomas in a New York Times Book Review article. Kaplan focuses on Carlyle's childhood in Scotland, his strained marriage, and his chronic gastric disorders, but offers little detail of his works. Carlyle's complicated personality has inspired extreme opinions on his life and works, but Kaplan strives to maintain a balanced perspective on the essayist and historian. Maureen Corrigan observed in a Village Voice article that Kaplan's Thomas Carlyle "doubtless will be the definitive [Carlyle] biography for decades, displacing the one written by James Anthony Froude in 1884." Kaplan's 1988 Dickens: A Biography, reissued in an updated edition in 1999, was also well received by reviewers, as a critic for Library Journal noted the "kudos" it was given by several reviewers.
In 1999 Kaplan published a biography of Gore Vidal and served as the editor for a comprehensive retrospective collection of the celebrated author's work. Consisting of nearly 1,300 pages, The Essential Gore Vidal: A Gore Vidal Reader contains the complete texts of Vidal's once-scandalous transgender novel, Myra Breckenridge, and his John F. Kennedy-inspired drama, The Best Man; excerpts from his six novels of American history (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, etc.), arranged to form a narrative sequence; excerpts from six other novels, including Duluth, Julian, and The City and the Pillar; and twenty-five assorted reviews and essays that include political commentary, satire, tributes to Eleanor Roosevelt and Montaigne, and four previously unpublished entries. In addition to writing an introduction to the volume as a whole, Kaplan introduces each section and provides both a bibliography of Vidal's work and a biographical chronology of his life. Paul Mattick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented: "Fred Kaplan … must … be congratulated for the job he has done in distilling Vidal's writing for The Essential Gore Vidal." However, a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that "Kaplan actually deadens the pleasure of Vidal's prose by constant interruptions that didactically guide readers through a disparate body of work."
Kaplan's Gore Vidal: A Biography, based on access to Vidal's personal papers and interviews with Vidal and his friends, recounts a life that has been largely defined by privilege and controversy, hard work, and extravagant socializing. Vidal's maternal grandfather was an Oklahoma senator, and his father a West Point graduate who is considered a pioneer in aviation. He is related by blood or marriage to prestigious and powerful American families, including the Kennedys and the Gores. Growing up in a mansion on the Potomac, Vidal expressed an interest in writing at an early age. In the course of his long and prolific career, he has tried nearly every form of literary expression, including a profitable stint in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. Vidal's open homosexuality and outspoken political views once caused commentator William F. Buckley to denounce him during a television interview. His ongoing feud and competition with Norman Mailer has taken on legendary proportions in literary circles. Vidal has run for public office twice, both times unsuccessfully. Since 1971 he has lived as an expatriate at his villa in Ravello, Italy. His many friends and acquaintances have included Princess Margaret, Anais Nin, Claire Bloom, Christopher Isherwood, and Tennessee Williams. "The way Fred Kaplan tells it in his enormous new biography," stated a writer for the Economist, "it sounds like an enviable life."
Critical reaction to Gore Vidal varied greatly. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Kaplan "showcases erudi-tion at the expense of selection, and the book drowns in encyclopedic detail." The Economist writer found Kaplan's account to be indiscriminate in its praise of both Vidal's work and his friends, "plodding and not wholly reliable." Yet Brad Hooper, writing in Booklist, described Gore Vidal as an "edifying portrait," and praised Kaplan for "his ability to weave considerable information into a smooth, interpretive account." David W. Henderson of Library Journal deemed the book to be "wide-ranging and thorough … a fascinating account."
Kaplan beards another lion of formidable literary stature in The Singular Mark Twain. Beginning with a play on words that highlights the dual personages of Twain the writer and Samuel Clemens the man, Kaplan's "readable and sympathetic work celebrates Sam Clemens … over the celebrity figure of Mark Twain, even as he asserts their ultimate unity," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In what Library Journal reviewer Jaime Anderson called a "vividly detailed account" Kaplan turns to Twain's tumultuous family history, his many friends, and his celebrated world travels to create a dense and thorough biography of Twain. He examines, among other periods in the writer's life, Twain's years as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi river; his time as a Nevada silver miner; his determination to succeed as a writer and the rarified literary circles that welcomed him; and the failed business ventures, illness, debt, and family tragedies that marred Twain's later years. Kaplan also points out contradictions in Twain's behavior and personality. Twain, for example, had little regard for religion, but was eager to publish a biography of the Pope. Despite his shrewd intelligence, Twain had a love for money, and could be convinced to invest his resources unwisely, leading him to sometimes being victimized by the dishonest and larcenous. His friends and readers were loyal, however, and even today, his legacy remains strong. Booklist reviewer Bryce Christensen concluded that "this book will enlighten specialists and delight general readers." A Kirkus Reviews critic mused, "No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, March 30, 1999, Robert Plunket, "Vital Vidal," p. 76.
Biography, fall, 2000, Richard Davenport-Hines, review of Gore Vidal: A Biography, p. 829.
Booklist, December 1, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of The Essential Gore Vidal: A Gore Vidal Reader, p. 646; September 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Gore Vidal, p. 196; January 1, 2000, review of Gore Vidal, p. 813; September 1, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of The Singular Mark Twain, p. 2.
Contemporary Review, June, 2001, review of Hard Times: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism, p. 381.
Economist, December 11, 1999, "American Literature: Comeback Kid," p. 78.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of The Singular Mark Twain, p. 1113.
Library Journal, February 15, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of Dickens: A Biography, p. 189; June 1, 1999, review of Gore Vidal, p. 2S10; October 15, 1999, David W. Henderson, review of Gore Vidal, p. 71; October 15, 2003, Jaime Anderson, review of The Singular Mark Twain, p. 69.
Maclean's, April 17, 1989, John Bemrose, review of Dickens, p. 60.
National Review, May 3, 1999, "Hard-Core Gore-Christopher Caldwell," p. 51.
New Statesman, November 1, 1999, Andrew Biswell, review of Gore Vidal, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, January 8, 1984, Donald Thomas, review of Thomas Carlyle: A Biography, p. 14; November 13, 1988, Gillian Beer, review of Dickens, p. 3; April 29, 1990, review of Dickens, p. 37; February 14, 1999, Paul Mattick, "Inventing History," p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1992, review of Henry James, p. 84; November 30, 1998, review of The Essential Gore Vidal, p. 58; October 25, 1999, review of Gore Vidal, p. 65; September 1, 2003, review of The Singular Mark Twain, p. 73.
Smithsonian, November, 1989, Bruce Allen, review of Dickens, p. 243.
Village Voice, February 21, 1984, Maureen Corrigan, review of Thomas Carlyle.
Beatrice.com, http://www.beatrice.com/ (November 1, 2006), Ron Hogan, interview with Fred Kaplan.
City University of New York Web site, http://www.gc.cuny.edu/ (November 1, 2006), biography of Fred Kaplan.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (November 18, 1999), Craig Offman, "Pummeled Vidal Biographer Licks His Wounds," review of Gore Vidal.