When Fiedler left Missoula -- under some pressure -- he sold his house to the UU Fellowship, hoping that they would be scary to the neighbors. There's more. A bit of literature in that house. I'll keep the stories coming.
Leslie Fiedler Dies at 85; Provocative Literary Critic
JAN. 31, 2003
Leslie Fiedler, the maverick man of letters whose best-known book, ''Love and Death in the American Novel,'' attempted to tear away traditional masks of literary discourse and engage the deeper autobiographical and psychological considerations that might motivate the critic, died on Wednesday at his home in Buffalo. He was 85.
''I have, I admit, a low tolerance for detached chronicling and cool analysis,'' Mr. Fiedler once wrote in a negative book review. ''It is, I suppose, partly my own unregenerate nature. I long for the raised voice, the howl of rage or love.’'
His shout reverberated in ''Love and Death'' (1960, Criterion). Mr. Fiedler developed the book from a provocative essay that appeared in Partisan Review in 1948, ''Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey,'' which, far from suggesting some hanky-panky going on between Huck and Jim on the raft, as many accused him of doing, instead highlighted the important roles of race and male bonding in American literature.
Morris Dickstein, reviewing ''Fiedler on the Roof: Essays on Literature and Jewish Identity'' (1991, David R. Godine) for The New York Times Book Review, summed up the achievement of ''Love and Death'': ''This hectoring but brilliant book had prophetic overtones of sexual liberation borrowed from Freud, Reich and D. H. Lawrence. The author, with his gift for melodrama and phrase-making, tried to expose the sexual duplicities of American fiction.’'
Mr. Dickstein continued, ''Soon Mr. Fiedler was eagerly identifying with the 'new mutants' of the nascent counterculture, who appealed to his urge to thumb his nose at the bourgeoisie.’'
Leslie Aaron Fiedler was born on March 8, 1917, in Newark. He worked his way through New York University selling women's shoes, earning a bachelor's degree in 1938. He completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. During World War II he served in the Navy as a cryptologist and a Japanese-language interpreter. He witnessed the United States Marines and a Navy combat medic raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima in February 1945.
Mr. Fiedler married Margaret Ann Shipley in 1939; they divorced in 1972. The next year he married Sally Andersen. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons Kurt, Eric and Michael; his daughters Deborah, Jennie and Miriam; and his stepsons Soren and Eric Andersen.
Mr. Fiedler taught throughout his career, first at the University of Montana, from 1941 through 1964. He served as chairman of the English department from 1954 to 1956. He went to the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1965, and became the Samuel Langhorne Clemens Professor of English. He also taught at Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Indiana University, the Sorbonne and the universities of Wisconsin, Vermont, Sussex, Paris, Rome, Bologna and Athens.
Yet he never ceased writing and publishing and acting out the role of literary provocateur. Among his better known books were ''The Return of the Vanishing American'' (1968, Stein & Day); ''An End to Innocence: Essays on Culture and Politics'' (1955, Beacon Press); ''The Last Jew in America'' (1966, Stein & Day), a collection of short stories; and ''The Stranger in Shakespeare'' (1972, Stein & Day).
In 1969 he published ''Being Busted,'' about how police officers raided his Buffalo home in 1967, found hashish and marijuana, and arrested him along with his wife and five other family members. The book was half about the event and half a meditation on Mr. Fiedler's past. After a five-year legal struggle, charges against him were thrown out by the State Court of Appeals.
Mr. Fiedler was always more concerned with his relations to American culture than to the law. He thrived in the 60's, a decade that began with Norman Mailer's ''Advertisements for Myself'' and his own ''Love and Death'' and ended with Philip Roth's ''Portnoy's Complaint,'' and an era that Mr. Dickstein in his review called one of ''transgression and rebellion'' that spoke to Mr. Fiedler's emotional needs. Mr. Fiedler went on to rebel against high culture, particularly the triumphant modernism that he and other New York intellectuals had long expounded. In a series of essays he pledged his allegiance to the popular culture he had devoured in his youth, from ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' and ''Tarzan of the Apes'' to comic strips and horror films. In 1978 he published ''Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self'' (Simon & Schuster, 1978).
In his later years he dissected his role as a Jew in America, half celebrating his freedom from orthodoxy, half lacerating himself for using his religion to promote his career. In ''Fiedler on the Roof'' he wrote that he had ''profited from a philo-Semitism as undiscriminating as the anti-Semitism in reaction to which it originated.'' He concluded, ''And to make matters worse, I have shamelessly played the role in which I have been cast, becoming a literary Fiedler on the roof of academe.’'
In 1997 the National Book Critics Circle gave him the Ivan Sandrof Award for his contribution to American arts and letters.
A few days before he died, Mr. Fiedler dictated part of an essay on D. H. Lawrence and sat for a magazine interview during which he reminisced about accompanying O. J. Simpson and Allen Ginsberg to a Bob Dylan concert in Canada.