Roger Lathbury: an Introduction



Lathbury in Office.jpg



The photograph above, by Evan Cantwell, pretty much captures the real me (if you care; no reason you should): pleasant, slightly skeptical, obliging, mildly humorous, lover of neckties and books. Both of those tastes have been on display at George Mason since I began teaching in Thompson Hall, in 47 B. C. E. (actually June 1973).


At Mason, I taught a variety of courses in American literature (not the early, Colonial stuff—that was the province of others). I often offered a course in “Development of the American Novel to 1914,” where the titles changed—except that we always read Moby-Dick, one of the great novels of the world, which everyone should read annually. Breach to the sun!





I also sometimes had classes in specialty areas: modern British poetry, especially that of W. H. Auden; Larkin and the “drabs”; nonsense literature (Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll); and a course in editing and publishing. (Drawing from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and photo of Auden below.)






Although I regard myself as a feminist, I have no sense of political correctness and can be scabrous. Irony, even as broad as that in, say, the comic strips of Tom Tomorrow, is for the civilized and supple, not for the patently dumb ninny or the woodenly unimaginative. It can be missed by the niave or (willfully?) ignorant, the tone deaf, those blinded by an agenda, or the irremediably stupid.


Basically my orientation to literature derived not from those who would make novels and poems into a platform for this or that social position, but from Oscar Wilde and his 1890’s acolytes who affirmed art for art’s sake. Here is Max Beerbohm’s great caricature of the great Wilde.





I found new criticism, for all its faults, a gateway to richer reading; and many of my classes, as well as those of my peers, I believe, depend upon it.


Outside of the university, I am best known for one of my failures. In 1996 my publishing company Orchises Press had a contract to put out a one-sided epistolary novella by J. D. Salinger, Hapworth 16, 1924. The deal did not materialize. You can read about it in an article I wrote for New York magazine. ( However, I have published many good books at Orchises. If you e-mail me at the press I will send a list of them.