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Leslie Aaron Fiedler (March 8, 1917 – January 29, 2003) was an American literary critic, known for his interest in mythography and his championing of genre fiction. His work also involves the application of psychological theories to American literature. His most renowned work is Love and Death in the American Novel (1960).

Leslie Fiedler
Leslie Fiedler (1967).jpg
Fiedler in 1967 (Photograph: Jac. de Nijs)
Leslie Aaron Fiedler

(1917-03-08)March 8, 1917
DiedJanuary 29, 2003(2003-01-29) (aged 85)



Early yearsEdit

Fiedler was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Jewish parents Lillian and Jacob Fiedler. "Eliezar Aaron" was his original Hebrew name. In his early years, he developed a strong connection to his grandparents,[1] Leon (originally Leib) and Perl Rosenstrauch.[citation needed] As Mark Royden Winchell writes in his 2002 book on Fiedler, "during Leslie's childhood, Leon and Perl Rosenstrauch were more like parents to Leslie than were his own father and mother"[This quote needs a citation]

At an early age, Fiedler's family moved from Newark to East Orange, New Jersey, a town that lacked a substantial Jewish community.[citation needed] Fiedler was forced to contend with anti-semitism from his fellow students who were Protestants and Catholics. The move to East Orange was short-lived and the family soon returned to Newark where Fiedler continued his education in public schools.[citation needed] Fiedler developed a resentment toward his teachers, who forced him to use standard English pronunciations instead of his ethnic dialect. While attending school, Fiedler also worked in his uncle's shoe store where his encounters with coworkers served as inspiration for some of the characters he created in his later work. At South Side High School, Fiedler began to express interest in socialism, which eventually led to him nearly getting arrested after a loud political rant on a soapbox on Newark's Bergen Street.[citation needed]

University educationEdit

Fiedler graduated from South Side High School in 1934. Because of his parents' poor financial condition, he was at first unable to attend college.[citation needed] He recalled sitting on the steps of his father's bankrupt drugstore, disconsolate, weeping that he "wanted to go to college".[citation needed] Eventually he received a small scholarship, but it was insufficient to fund his university education. He matriculated at the now-defunct Bronx, New York campus of New York University only after raising the money for tuition himself. Fiedler's flirtations with socialist ideology continued in his undergraduate career..[citation needed] He joined the Young Communist League and later aligned himself with Trotskyism. Fiedler did not gain admission to the elite eastern schools, but he received a scholarship from the English graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he earned his MA in 1939 and PhD in 1941.[citation needed]

Despite Fiedler's scholarship, his move to Wisconsin left him very short of funds. He reportedly had to survive on forty cents a day, while his avowed Trotskyist beliefs were opposed by the university's Stalinist contingent.[citation needed] One of the more prominent of the campus Stalinists was Margaret Shipley, who became Fiedler's girlfriend. Within a few months of knowing each other, Fiedler and Shipley decided to marry in 1939. Among his professors at Wisconsin, Fiedler developed a special fondness for William Ellery Leonard. Leonard oversaw Fiedler's MA thesis (a Marxist reading of Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde) and his dissertation (an interpretation of John Donne's poetry in relation to medieval thought).[citation needed]

Teaching career, research, and criticismEdit

First teaching appointment and Navy serviceEdit

In 1941, Fiedler was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Montana in Missoula.[citation needed] In February 1941 his first son, Kurt, was born two months prematurely.[citation needed] He elected to join the Navy Reserve after the United States entered World War II in December 1941 due to incipient fissures in his marriage and a previously unrequited thirst for adventure.[citation needed] Following enlistment, he gained admission to the Navy's Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado, where he was placed in an intensive fourteen-month course taught by a melange of Japanese American businessmen and missionaries.[citation needed] Initially suspected to be a security risk, Fiedler's lieutenant (junior grade) commission was delayed until the conclusion of a comprehensive background investigation; although Baxter Hathaway, a colleague at Montana, declared that Fiedler was a Lovestoneite, the investigator failed to pick up on the allusion.[citation needed]

Following his commissioning, Fiedler was assigned to Pearl Harbor as a translator of intercepted intelligence in 1943. He transferred to the flagship of the fleet sent to engage the Japanese at the Battle of Iwo Jima as an intelligence officer primarily responsible for POW interrogations in 1944. At Iwo Jima, he witnessed the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi and the photographed recreation that ensued.[citation needed] After subsequent assignments in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and China—the latter involving the repatriation of Japanese citizens following the resolution of the war—Fiedler was discharged from the Navy at his commissioned rank in early 1946; his certificate of discharge stated that he was "employed in a position of special trust and no further information regarding his service in the Navy can be disclosed."[This quote needs a citation]

Shortly before he completed the Japanese course in 1943, his wife gave birth to his second son, Eric.[citation needed] He had four more children: Michael in 1947, Debbie in 1949, Jenny in 1952, and Miriam in 1955.[citation needed]

"Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!"Edit

Fiedler was offered a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University by the Rockefeller Foundation.[2][3] He took a number of courses (including F. O. Matthiessen's graduate seminar on modern American poetry & a foray into Old Testament Hebrew) and became involved in the Harvard Poetry Society.[citation needed] Fiedler's first critical work appeared in 1948 and came about from his habit of reading American novels to his sons. The essay appeared in Partisan Review (enabled by Fiedler's recent acquaintance with Delmore Schwartz) and was the subject of debate.[citation needed] "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" argued a recurrent theme in American literature was an unspoken or implied homoerotic relationship between men, using Huckleberry Finn and Jim as examples. Pairs of men flee for wilderness rather than remain in the civilizing and domesticated world of women. Fiedler also deals with this male bonding in Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Waiting for the End (1964) and The Return of the Vanishing American (1968).[citation needed]

As Winchell wrote in his book on Fiedler, "Reading 'Come Back to the Raft' over half a century later, one tends to forget that, prior to Fiedler, few critics had discussed classic American literature in terms of race, gender, and sexuality".[citation needed] Fiedler emphasized the fact the males paired in these wilderness adventures tend to be of different races as well, which created an additional critical dimension. "Come Back to the Raft" not only caused a stream of letters of protest to be sent to Partisan Review, but it also was attacked by the critical community. For instance, Queer theorist Christopher Looby argues that Fiedler's claims were noticeably given from a 20th-century urban perspective and did not adequately address the time period in which Huckleberry Finn was written (i.e. the debate on the sexuality of Abraham Lincoln).[citation needed]

The Frontier, new criticism, and the 1950sEdit

After the end of his one-year tenure as a Rockefeller Fellow, Fiedler was offered jobs at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Montana. Fiedler decided to return to Missoula.[citation needed] Shortly after his return to Montana, he wrote a controversial article: "Montana; or the End of Jean-Jacques Rousseau."[citation needed] Also published in the Partisan Review, the essay deals with the development of the frontier. Fiedler's argument includes descriptions of Montanans that were thought to be offensive to the actual residents of his community.[citation needed]

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s Fiedler's work appeared in several journals.[citation needed] His literary work appeared in Kenyon Review; he was also named the 1956 Kenyon Fellow in Criticism. Even though the Kenyon Review was a journal often associated with New Criticism, Fiedler questioned the principles of New Criticism in his writing. Fiedler targeted New Criticism in his well-known essay "Archetype and Signature."[citation needed]

After a stint as a Fulbright lecturer in the universities of Rome and Bologna lasting from 1951 to 1953, Fiedler became the Chair of the Department of English in the University of Montana. He held this post from 1954 to 1956, during which time he fought against opposition to hire an African American professor.[citation needed] In 1955, Fiedler's book An End to Innocence was published; it was concerned with the necessity for America as a nation to move from a state of innocence to a state of experience (or adulthood).[citation needed]

In 1956, Fiedler's defense of native rights was recognized by the Blackfoot Indian tribe. He was honored with the name "Heavy Runner" and made a chief.[citation needed] From 1956 to 1957, Fiedler was the Christian Gauss Lecturer at Princeton University.[citation needed] During his time at Princeton, Fiedler frequently travelled to New York City and forged connections with the editors of Esquire magazine.[citation needed]

Fiedler's controversial short story "Nude Croquet" was published in Esquire in 1957. It was deemed offensive to the point that issues of the magazine had to be withdrawn from newsstands in Knoxville, Tennessee.[citation needed] In his book on Fiedler, Winchell describes the nature of the eroticism described in the story:

If we define pornography as that which excites lust, Leslie's story is decidedly anti-pornographic in its almost clinical obsession with the sexual indignities of middle age.[This quote needs a citation]

Love and Death in the American Novel and the 1960sEdit

In 1960, Love and Death in the American Novel was published. It reconsiders the concept of the "great American novel" and how it is both derivative of, and separate from, the established European novel forms. The book offended many because of the manner in which Fiedler discusses the American literary tradition. A massive text of well over 600 pages, Love and Death in the American Novel eventually underwent revision by Fiedler.[citation needed] He produced a more streamlined, toned-down version of the book which was published in 1966.[citation needed] In 1961, Fiedler became a Fulbright lecturer again, this time in Athens.[citation needed] His journey to Greece gave him the opportunity to see his brother Harold, who was the American consul in Istanbul. Fiedler's first novel, The Second Stone, was published in 1963.[citation needed]

In a move to create an exceptionally staffed English department, Albert Spaulding Cook, chairman of English at the University of Buffalo, attempted to recruit various writers and critics from across the country in 1964.[4] Fiedler was signed on to teach summer school in 1964 and was then offered a teaching position for a year. Even though he had been with the University of Montana for two decades, Fiedler moved on to the University at Buffalo's "all-star" teaching staff in 1965.[citation needed]

After an involved police surveillance operation, Fiedler was arrested in 1967 on the charge of maintaining premises where banned substances were being used.[citation needed] Following six weeks of surveillance, the narcotics squad obtained a search warrant. With only one day left in the warrant, the police raided the house and "found" small quantities of marijuana and hashish. Marsha Van der Voort later testified under oath that she had planted the illegal substances just prior to the entrance of the police.[citation needed] Even though they had no direct evidence that Fiedler himself had used them, the evidence was sufficient for an arrest. The scandal was disastrous for Fiedler; his home insurance was canceled by two different providers, and the University of Amsterdam reversed their decision to have him as a Fulbright lecturer. While the legal case was ongoing, Fiedler managed to secure a position as visiting professor in the University of Sussex.[citation needed]

Fiedler wrote Being Busted (released in 1969 and dedicated to his first grandson, Seth) about this experience (and his life as a whole); sales of the book helped him to pay his increasing legal expenses. In a trial on April 9, 1970, Fiedler was found guilty. After multiple appeals, the drug conviction was finally reversed in 1972. In the same year, Fiedler also divorced his wife, to whom he had been married for 33 years.[citation needed] A year later, he married Sally Smith Anderson.[citation needed]

The 1970sEdit

Fiedler steadily produced publications through the 1970s including The Messengers Will Come No More (1974), In Dreams Awake (1975), Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (1978), and The Inadvertent Epic (1979).[citation needed] Throughout the decade, however, he also began to expand his horizons into the realms of television and Hollywood. He had appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, Today, Donahue, Tomorrow, and William F. Buckley, Jr.'s show, Firing Line.[citation needed] He was even cast in the low-budget fantasy film When I Am King (1978) that was never released. Fiedler was invited to Hollywood parties through his connections and met Burgess Meredith, Carroll O'Connor and Shirley MacLaine among others.[citation needed]

The 1980s and beyondEdit

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Fiedler began to seriously undertake the enterprise of pop culture criticism, with an emphasis on science fiction.[citation needed] Fiedler even wrote a book devoted to the critical assessment of science fiction in 1983: Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided and recruited critic and science fiction author Samuel R. Delany to teach at SUNY Buffalo. In 1988, Fiedler was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and in 1989, he received the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal.[citation needed]

In the 1990s, Fiedler's output decreased and new material was sporadic. In 1994, Fiedler received the Hubbell Medal for lifetime contribution to the study of literature. In 1998, Fiedler was given the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. On January 29, 2003, a month before his 86th birthday, he died in Buffalo, where he is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery.[5]


  • "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" (1948)
  • An End to Innocence: Essays on Culture and Politics (1955)
  • Whitman (1959) (editor)
  • The Jew in the American Novel (1959) Herzl Institute pamphlet
  • No! In Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature (1960)
  • Love and Death in the American Novel (1960)
  • Nude Croquet (1960) (stories, with others)
  • The Riddle of Shakespeare's Sonnets (1962) with R. P. Blackmur, Northrop Frye, Edward Hubler, Stephen Spender, Oscar Wilde
  • Pull Down Vanity (1962) stories
  • The Second Stone: A Love Story (1963) novel
  • A Literary Guide to Seduction (1963) with Robert Meister
  • The Continuing Debate: Essays on Education for Freshmen (1964) with Jacob Vinocur
  • Waiting for the End: The American Literary Scene from Hemingway to Baldwin (1964)
  • Back to China (1965) novel
  • The Last Jew in America (1966) stories
  • The Return of the Vanishing American (1968)
  • O Brave New World: American Literature from 16001840 (1968) editor with Arthur Zeiger, City University of New York.
  • Being Busted (1969)
  • Nude Croquet: The Stories (1969)
  • The Art of the Essay (1969) editor
  • Cross the Border–Close the Gap (1972),
  • Unfinished Business (1972) essays
  • Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler (1972)
  • To the Gentiles (1972)
  • The Stranger in Shakespeare (1972)
  • Beyond The Looking Glass: Extraordinary Works of Fairy Tale and Fantasy (1973) editor, with Jonathan Cott
  • "Rebirth of God, The Death of Man", an essay in Salmagundi: A Quarterly of the Humanities & Social Sciences, Winter, 1973, No. 21, pp. 3–27.
  • The Messengers Will Come No More (1974)
  • In Dreams Awake: A Historical-Critical Anthology of Science Fiction (1975, editor): a "historical-critical" anthology with "provocative introduction and commentary" (Scholes[6])
  • A Fiedler Reader (1977)
  • The Inadvertent Epic: From Uncle Tom's Cabin to Roots (1978) Massey Lecture
  • Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (1978)
  • English Literature: Opening Up the Canon, Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1979, New Series #4, edited by Leslie A. Fiedler and Houston A. Baker Jr., Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
  • What was literature?: Class Culture And Mass Society (1982)
  • Buffalo Bill and the Wild West (1982)
  • Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided (1983)
  • Fiedler on the Roof: Essays on Literature and Jewish Identity (1991)
  • The Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996)
  • A New Fiedler Reader (1999)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cronin, Gloria L.; Berger, Alan L. (2015-04-22). Encyclopedia of Jewish-American Literature. Infobase Learning. ISBN 9781438140612.
  2. ^ "Leslie A. Fiedler | American literary critic". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  3. ^ "Leslie A. Fiedler". Poetry Foundation. 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  4. ^ Jackson, Bruce (1999-02-26). "Buffalo English: Literary Glory Days at UB". Buffalo Beat. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  5. ^ Find A Grave Retrieved 2013-10-27
  6. ^ Scholes, Robert; Rabkin, Eric S. (1977). "Bibliography I: History and Criticism of Science Fiction". Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision. London: Oxford University Press.


  • Mark Roydon Winchell (1985) Leslie Fiedler
  • S. G. Kellman and Irving Malin, editors (1999) Leslie Fiedler and American Culture
  • Mark Roydon Winchell (2002) "Too Good to Be True": The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

External linksEdit