Born 27 March 1903, Canton, South Dakota; died 21 December 1964, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Daughter of Anthony G. and Ida Larsen Tuve
With a father who was president of Augustana College and a mother who taught music at the same institution, Rosemond Tuve lived her entire life in the climate of higher education. She earned her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1924 and her M.A. from Bryn Mawr in 1925, studied at Johns Hopkins (1926-28) and Oxford the next year, and completed her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr in 1931. Tuve taught at a number of American colleges and universities; she was a professor of English at Connecticut College for Women for 28 years.
A Democrat, Tuve spent three summers teaching at the Bryn Mawr School for Women Workers in Industry and was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was a member also of many professional and literary organizations and the recipient of honorary degrees and awards. She contributed incisive articles on Spenser, Chaucer, Ramus, and other medieval and Renaissance authors to scholarly journals and wrote several books. Characteristic of her perspective is the stress on the importance of historical scholarship as opposed to "criticism without footnotes."
Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery: Renaissance Poetics and 20th Century Critics (1947) distinguishes between imagery as defined by Romantic criticism and Symbolist poetics, and the theories and practices of Renaissance poetry. Citing "modern man" as "surely the timidest host any century has produced," Tuve emphasizes that Renaissance poets, who saw their art as concerned with truth and directed to the reasoning mind of humankind, produced "imagery such as no period since has matched…images of such profound reach that our own more self-conscious attempt to 'be suggestive' cannot rival them in penetration." Her style is clear, forceful, and quietly witty, as when she comments that "no one who leaps to his feet to announce a critical error ever sits down without adding some new one."
In the words of medievalist Dorothy Bethurum, Tuve's next book, A Reading of George Herbert (1925), "rescued Herbert from the Freudian critics and returned the study of his poems to their traditional background of liturgical symbolism." "What kind of readers do we make," Tuve asks, "whom circumstances have intervened to make ignorant of what every literate man once knew?"
Tuve's Images and Themes in Five Poems by Milton (1957) focuses on earlier poems rather than on the great epics or Samson Agonistes. In 1958 Tuve gave a BBC talk ("Rosemund Tuve on John Milton," Listener, 1958) in which she explains that works of art are "irrevocably born one of a kind," and that "the way peculiar to him in which a great poet uses a common archetypal image or a familiar symbol is part of that uniqueness."
Essays by Rosemond Tuve (1970) gathers previously published essays into one convenient volume: three on education, seven on Edmund Spenser, two on George Herbert, and two on John Milton. There is also a bibliography of all of Tuve's articles and reviews and all books, except for the unaccountable omission of Allegorical Imagery: Some Medieval Books and Their Posterity (1966) a posthumously published book based on an almost complete manuscript.
The value of Tuve's work lies in her constant faith in the importance of literature, her particularized onslaughts on modern arrogance and ignorance, and her patience in teaching students how to rise above the problems surrounding the art of reading well. Her disciplined studies made her not only the foremost authority on the subject of Renaissance imagery but also a leading exponent of the relationship between pictorial and verbal imagery and of the significance of which books an author had read and how the author had read them.
Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Poetry (1933). Palingenius' "Zodiake of Life" (Introduction by Tuve, 1947).
Roche, T. P., Jr., Introduction to Essays by Rosemond Tuve (1970).
CA (1964). NYT (22 Dec. 1964). PMLA (June 1960). TLS (5 Sept. 1958, 9 Sept. 1958, 26 Sept. 1958).
—VIRGINIA R. MOLLENKOTT