M.H. Abrams, literary scholar who edited Norton Anthology, dies at 102

4/23/2015

 

M. H. "Mike" Abrams, renowned scholar of Romanticism and founding editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, died on Tuesday, April 21, three months shy of his 103rd birthday. Mike Abrams was one of the most important literary critics of the twentieth century, revolutionizing our understanding of Romantic literature with landmark books like The Mirror and the Lamp and Natural Supernaturalism. He was also one of the greatest professors, teaching at Cornell for almost 40 years and nurturing stars such as Harold Bloom and Thomas Pynchon. He may, however, be best known for his role as the transformative teacher of generations of students through The Norton Anthology of English Literature. That landmark work, first published in 1962, quickly revolutionized the teaching of the survey course and "became the way many millions of students have been introduced to the range and breadth of literature in English," said Norton president W. Drake McFeely in a statement to the staff. The Norton Anthology of English Literature (or NAEL) also became the model for the other Norton anthologies, World, American, African-American, and Women’s literature courses, among many others.

Abrams saw the NAEL through seven editions, up until 2006, when he became Founding Editor Emeritus. He also published works of criticism with Norton, most recently The Fourth Dimension of a Poem, with a foreword by Harold Bloom, released in September 2012, when Abrams was 100 years old.

Upon the 50th anniversary of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, in 2006, a New York Times reporter asked Abrams, "Why study literature?" Abrams’s response was, "Ha — Why live? Life without literature is a life reduced to penury."

M.H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary ‘Bible’ (New York Times)

M.H. Abrams, literary scholar who edited Norton Anthology, dies at 102 (Washington Post)

(Photo credit: Dale R. Corson)