RANDALL JARRELL: A Literary Life by William H. Pritchard


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A workmanlike assessment of the life, poetry, and criticism of American poet Randall Jarrell, by the author of Lives of the Modern Poets (1980) and Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered (1984). Never quite in the top drawer of American poetry, but somehow permanently fixed in American letters, Jarrell is one of those peculiar literary figures whose reputations consistently exceed the scope of their work. The evidence here suggests a powerful personality whose energy, contacts, and well-regarded criticism kept a reputation afloat in some of the best literary journals of Jarrelrs generation, despite the weaknesses of his poetry. Born in 1914, Jarrell grew up in Nashville, distinguished himself as a smart-alecky and intimidating student at Vanderbilt, and, following a stint in the army during WW II, went straight into academe. Despite the mysterious circumstances of his death--it was never resolved whether it was suicide, homicide, or accident--Jarrell's life was relatively uneventful, organized around the rituals of university life and the low heat of literary debate. As in Lives of the Modern Poets, here Pritchard blends biographical detail with literary analysis to arrive at a balanced account of this minor poet's life and work. Drawing on recently published letters--but few other primary sources--Pritchard, to his credit, never goes overboard in his reassessment, taking a common-sensical view of Jarrell's verse and, inescapably, reaffirming his subject's talents as a superb critic. A generous but necessarily uninspiring probe into the damp haunts of the academic man of letters.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux