Lawrance Thompson manuscripts
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- Thompson, Lawrance Roger, 1906-1973 (Person)
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Biographical / Historical
Thompson was born in New Hampshire in 1906. He attended Wesleyan University, graduating in 1928, and earned his doctorate at Columbia. Thompson taught at both these universities before he joined the English Department at Princeton in 1939, where he would work for the rest of his life. In addition to teaching, Thompson also worked as curator of the library’s rare books and manuscript collection and editor of its Chronicle. He died in 1973.
Thompson first met Frost while a student at Wesleyan in 1926 when Frost volunteered to critique student verses. The two gradually developed a friendship based on their mutual love of New Hampshire, and several years later Thompson curated a Frost exhibit at Wesleyan. In 1939, Frost invited Thompson to Ripton to discuss the appointment of an official biographer. Thompson suggested Mark Van Doren, Bernard DeVoto and Louis Untermeyer, men who knew Frost well and had established literary reputations. Frost rejected all three and then surprised the young Thompson by naming him, stating that his dissertation on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was evidence enough that Thompson was qualified.
Though both men considered abandoning the project at times, Thompson maintained his relationship with Frost for the next two decades, all the while taking notes for the biography. Frost died in 1963, and four years later in 1967, the first volume of Thompson’s work was published, Robert Frost: The Early Years 1874-1915. The second volume, Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, published in 1970, won him the Pulitzer Prize. His research was nearly completed on the final volume when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. With only months to live Thompson selected R. H. Winnick, one of his Princeton University graduate students, to assist him with the project. Less than a year later, after completion of the first draft, Thompson died. Using the draft, the insights of Frost's surviving friends and the knowledge of Frost that Thompson had shared with him, Winnick completed the work on Frost's final years as he believed Thompson would have interpreted them.
Thompson’s personal relationship with Frost became strained in his later years, and many have criticized Thompson’s work as being overly harsh and hostile towards the poet. Thompson was troubled by what he considered the excesses of Frost’s self interest at the expense of family and friends, and after hearing Frost recount the same stories over the course of many years, found them riddled with inconsistencies.
Thompson’s other works include Young Longfellow 1807-1843 (1938), Fire & Ice: The Art & Thought of Robert Frost (1942), Melville’s Quarrel with God (1952), Tilbury Town, Selected Poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson (1953), William Faulkner: an Introduction and Interpretation (1963), Selected Letters of Robert Frost (1964), and A Comic Principle in Sterne, Meredith, and Joyce (1969).
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