Ziff, Larzer 1927–
Ziff, Larzer 1927–
PERSONAL: Born October 2, 1927, in Holyoke, MA; son of Isadore Menden (a manufacturer) and Sara (Rosenbloom) Ziff; married Linda Geisenberger, March 21, 1951; children: Joshua, Oliver, Joel, Abigail. Education: Attended Middlebury College, 1945–47; University of Chicago, M.A., 1951, Ph.D., 1955.
CAREER: Education Testing Service, test constructor in English, 1951–52; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, lecturer in humanities, 1952–53, director of academic programs at University College, 1953–56; University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, began as assistant professor, became professor of English, 1956–73, chairman of graduate studies and vice chairman of the department of English, 1965–69, director of Education Abroad program in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1969–71; Oxford University, Exeter College, Oxford, England, university lecturer and fellow, 1973–78; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, professor of English, 1978–81; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, Caroline Donovan Professor of English Emeritus, 1981–, department chair, 1991–95.
Fulbright Professor and lecturer at University of Copenhagen, 1959–60, University of Warsaw, 1963, University of Sussex, 1964, and in Indonesia, 1993; John Hay Fellows Program, advisor, 1963–66; Modern Language Association, Literature and Society group chairman, 1965; English Institute, Criticism and History section chairman, 1966; National Council of Teachers of English distinguished lecturer, 1966–67.
Consultant to U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on provisions of Higher Education Act of 1966; member of State of California Commission on Teachers' Professional Standards; committee member of the American Studies International Exchange Persons, 1966; consultant in English to Mills College, Birmingham, AL.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, American Studies Association, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), Society of American Historians, American Antiquarian Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Huntington Library fellow, 1957; Ford Foundation lecturer, Universities of Poland, 1960; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1963–64, 1976; Newbery Library fellow, 1964; National Endowment for the Humanities senior research fellow, 1968–69; Christian Gauss Award, Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1967, for The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation; National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellow, 1967–68; National Book Award nominee, 1974; Guggenheim fellow, 1977–78; Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, 1986–87; honorary degrees from University of Oxford and University of Pennsylvania; fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
(Editor) Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1963.
The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation, Viking (New York, NY),1966.
Puritanism in America: New Culture in a New World, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.
Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
(Editor and author of introduction) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Essays, Penguin (New York, NY), 1982.
Upon What Pretext?: The Book and Literary History, American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), 1986.
(Author of introduction) Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Theo Davis, and author of introduction) Stephen Crane, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets; and Other Tales of New York, Penguin (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and author of introduction) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature and Selected Writings, Penguin (New York, NY), 2003.
Mark Twain, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor and author of introduction and notes) Benjamin Franklin, The Portable Benjamin Franklin, Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.
Editor of The Genius, by Theodore Dreiser, 1967; The Financier, by Theodore Dreiser, 1967; The Literature of America: Colonial Period, 1970; and Selected Writings of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin, 1979. Also editor, with Robie Macauley, of America and Its Discontents, 1971. Contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica. Also contributor of essays to Saturday Review and scholarly journals.
Member of editorial board, ELH, 1981–, American Quarterly, the Modern Language Review and Yearbook of English Studies, and William and Mary Quarterly.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A study of cultural reconstruction in the period of political Reconstruction following the American Civil War.
SIDELIGHTS: In his studies of American intellectual history, Larzer Ziff has attempted to synthesize the social and literary influences on American culture by focusing on literary works within their social context. "It is a pleasure to welcome a study in American cultural history that is at the same time a dissertation in that field and a contribution to it," observed a Times Literary Supplement contributor, referring to Ziff's The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation. "The old phrase about 'wearing one's learning lightly' suits … Ziff very well." In The American 1890s, Ziff examines the writing of several little-known but gifted writers of the last decade of the nineteenth century, including Kate Chopin, Harold Frederic, and Frank Norris, who struggled against the accepted literary standards of morality and artistic expression. According to New Republic critic Stanley Kauffmann, Ziff perceives these "morally and artistically revolutionary" writers to be "truly our lost generation—as against the celebrated lost generation of the 1920s who were in fact quickly and widely received. These earlier writers arrived too soon to overcome completely the prevailing attitudes both of the literary panjandrums and of society." Kauffmann, who found the book "exceptional" and Ziff's critical comments "perceptive," believed that "Ziff's thesis—well articulated—is that the expanding consciousness of the best writers of the 1890s was hindered, ignored, or combated." And according to Kauffmann, "Ziff's collation of his materials, including the developments in newspapers, the arty magazines of the time, and the differing forces in fiction … is skillful and enlightening."
In a New York Times review of Puritanism in America: New Culture in a New World, Alden Whitman suggested that Ziff's "brilliantly argued and elegantly written book directly challenges" the idealistic interpretation of Puritanism. "Ziff tries to recover the human ground of Puritan experience, variously qualified by status and occupation, and subject to the external and internal stresses created by trade, Indians, the French wars and changes in England's colonial policy," wrote Quentin Anderson in the New York Times Book Review. A Nation reviewer indicated that Ziff "has very sensibly avoided treating ideas as if they enjoyed lives independent of daily experience, rooting them instead in material contexts." Although wishing that Ziff had made a greater use of more recent studies of Puritanism which offer a broader scope and which "could have provided him with keener insights into Puritan social structure, belief and character," the reviewer acknowledged that "few scholars have so successfully made Puritan experience concrete. Ziff moves skillfully among various levels of economic, political, intellectual and social structure in Puritan America, showing where those elements intermeshed." Whitman thought that Ziff "subjects the data of history to a scrutiny that is skeptical of received authority." Similarly, in the Yale Review, Edmund S. Morgan noted that despite Ziff's almost exclusive dependence on literary sources, "he has nevertheless written a book that helps us to think about Puritanism. And that is quite enough."
A concern for a synthetic understanding of culture also marks Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America, in which Ziff examines the literature of the period from 1837 to the Civil War, when, according to Paul Zweig in the New York Times Book Review, a "handful of isolated masters … declared America's literary maturity to a country that wasn't listening." In a Nation review, Jackson Lears commented: "The book focuses on the relationship between great writers and their social milieu—in this case, the link between the classic American writers (Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman) and the wave of democratic nationalism that crested during the period of their greatest work, the 1840s and 1850s. Ziff wants to show that these writers were the products and articulators of a new democratic culture that was just then declaring its independence from European tradition." Ziff examines specific literary works within their cultural-historical setting. "He interweaves the analysis of texts with sweeping, often brilliant perceptions of American social reality," stated Zweig, who found that "overall, the wealth and variety of … Ziff's insights prevail, making a particularly fine example of literary and intellectual history." Lears considered Literary Democracy to be "an exciting, provocative book, the most challenging reading of our classic literature that has appeared in recent years." New York Times critic John Leonard lauded the book as a "splendid exercise in cultural history," concluding that it "deserves every prize they give."
Writing in the New Nation: Prose, Print, and Politics in the Early United States continues Ziff's exploration of literacy and society in American history. The book received highly favorable reviews and became a staple in college courses throughout the country.
In Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing, 1780–1910: American Travel Writing from Exploration to Art, Ziff presents an analysis of the travel writings of John Ledyard, John Lloyd Stephens, Bayard Taylor, Mark Twain, and Henry James. His central thesis, as New York Times Book Review contributor Michael Gorra put it, is that "any description of a foreign place also provides an account of one's home." Ziff shows that these writers brought unique American sensibilities to their writings about travel, and that their journeys in turn influenced their perspectives about the United States. "In pursuing [this] thesis," Gorra wrote, "Ziff manages to chart both the development of a literary culture in America and the changes in the new nation's relationship to the world outside its borders." In his review of Return Passages in the New Republic, Nicholas Howe faulted Ziff for failing to discuss the relationship of American travel writers to "writers from elsewhere," including those, like Charles Dickens, who wrote about the United States. Ziff seems "to be pressing a case for the exceptionalism of American writers that renders them less interesting than they would be if placed in an international context," Howe noted. Yet the critic appreciated the book as a "major contribution to our understanding of American travel writing," and concluded that it "reminds us that travel writing on an expansive scale—even an epic scale—was very much a part of nineteenth-century culture." Gorra, too, saw the book as a major work. "Ziff's scholarship may float as lightly as a good silk scarf," he wrote, "but Return Passages still manages to hit every important issue that the study of travel literature has raised … No work of criticism I've read in recent years has offered such a combination of instruction and delight."
Ziff's 2005 publication on the life of Mark Twain is divided into chapters that discuss the legendary writer as a celebrity, novelist, tourist, and humorist. In a review of the biography for the Journal of Southern History, contributor Jan Wordby Gertlund acknowledged the extensive research Ziff conducted for this volume and noted that the author "masters the art of communicating his findings." However, Gertlund felt that Ziff should have commented more on Twain's continuing popularity in the twenty-first century, adding: "I hope Ziff will now go the rest of the way and place Twain in our postmodern time." BookLovers Review critic Michael Pas-tore felt that Ziff's candid look at one of America's most-beloved literary figures "brings us fresh insights, a deeper understanding, and a renewed passion for Twain's best-known and lesser-known works."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, April, 1993, Robert F. Sayre, review of Writing in the New Nation: Prose, Print, and Politics in the Early United States, p. 558.
American Literature, December, 1992, Christopher Looby, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 811.
American Studies International, October, 1993, Robert Combs, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 109.
Booklist, December 1, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing, 1780–1910: American Travel Writing from Exploration to Art, p. 689; September 15, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Mark Twain, p. 195.
Choice, March, 1992, J.D. Wallace, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 1082; May, 2001, J.K. Weinberger, review of Return Passages, p. 1633.
Christian Century, October 21, 1981, review of Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America, p. 1072.
Early American Literature, winter, 1993, Everett Emerson, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 79.
English Studies, August, 1990, Edward Margolies, review of Literacy Democracy, p. 378.
Hudson Review, winter, 1981, review of Literary Democracy, p. 622.
Journal of American History, June, 1982, David S. Reynolds, review of Literary Democracy, p. 152; September, 1992, Kenneth Cmiel, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 630.
Journal of the Early Republic, spring, 1992, James Tagg, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 98.
Journal of Southern History, November, 2005, Jan Wordby Gertlund, review of Mark Twain, p. 916.
Library Journal, May 15, 1981, review of Literary Democracy, p. 1080; December, 2000, Linda M. Kaufmann, review of Return Passages, p. 138; September 15, 2004, Charles C. Nash, review of Mark Twain, p. 58.
Modern Philology, May, 1994, Laura Rigal, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 509.
Nation, July 5, 1975, review of Puritanism in America, p. 24; October 17, 1981, Jackson Lears, review of Literary Democracy, p. 382.
New England Quarterly, September, 1991, Michael J. Colacurcio, "The American-Renaissance Renaissance," p. 445; September, 1993, Pattie Cowell, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 488.
New Republic, December 3, 1966, Stanley Kauffmann, review of The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation, p. 22; August 6, 2001, Nicholas Howe, review of Return Passages, p. 34.
New York Review of Books, May 18, 1967, review of The American 1890s, p. 26.
New York Times, December 29, 1973, Alden Whitman, review of Puritanism in America, p. 23; July 14, 1981, John Leonard, review of Literary Democracy, p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, December 16, 1973, Quentin Anderson, review of Puritanism in America, p. 4; August 23, 1981, Paul Zweig, review of Literary Democracy, p. 12; September 12, 1982, review of Literary Democracy, p. 55; March 4, 2001, Michael Gorra, review of Return Passages.
Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1981, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Literary Democracy, p. 74.
Times Literary Supplement, February 1, 1968, review of The American 1890s, p. 106; May 10, 1974, review of Puritanism in America, p. 497; May 22, 1992, David Bromwich, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 13.
Village Voice, July 22, 1981, review of Literary Democracy, p. 36.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1974, review of Puritanism in America, p. 148.
William and Mary Quarterly, January, 1993, Robert A. Ferguson, review of Writing in the New Nation, p. 226.
Yale Review, March, 1974, Edmund S. Morgan, review of Puritanism in America, p. 78.
Yankee, October, 1981, Geoffrey Elan, review of Literary Democracy, p. 265.
BookLovers Review, http://www.bookloversreview.com/ (March 9, 2006), Michael Pastore, review of Mark Twain.
John Hopkins University Web site, http://www.jhu.edu/ (March 9, 2006), "Department of English: Larzer Ziff."