AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL: A Biography of J. Frank Dobie by Lon Tinkle

AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL: A Biography of J. Frank Dobie

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In addition to more than a score of books on the folklore and ethos of the Southwest, Frank Dobie wrote enough letters to recap his large life in his own words--and Tinkle almost lets him. Ranch-bred, in love with the land and with literature, Dobie (1888-1964) believed that ""Everything is kin to everything else"" and the promise of valuable links underlay his restlessness. He was a sometime-professor/cattleman/columnist/collector (books, artifacts, legends), and a part-time husband to Bertha McKee, who surely expected better when she ""sacrificed"" her own academic career to their marriage and Frank's work. His reams of romantic letters are so self-consciously, defensively adoring as to signal over-compensation for something that Tinkle, deferentially, doesn't confront--especially in view of the lengthy separations that characterized their (childless, some said unconsummated) union. Frank extended his stay abroad after World War I although Bertha was close to death at home, and he later returned to teach at Cambridge where he began to chafe at his own provincialism. As a full-time symbol (""Mr. Texas"") and ""partisan of the unorthodox,"" Dobie preferred the role of a maverick to competition on other people's terms: until the day he left his post at the University of Texas, he refused to undertake the doctoral study required of all senior faculty. Tinkle, who knew him and worked on this project with his ""valiant"" widow, seems to go out of his way to keep Dobie's image intact: he's too honorable to eschew unflattering references entirely, but he's not above neutralizing apparent flaws nor trying to hide an explosive in a single line (e.g., re Dobie's ""disavowal of his early race prejudice""). If Tinkle loses his balance in switching from wide-angle lens to the concentrated focus of Dobie's correspondence, the citations are usually justifiably enriching--as are the other primary-source passages and the recollections of friends, colleagues, and not least Bertha, who was both. Tinkle's thoroughness and affection are as unmistakable as his discretion; he of all people could have said more.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown