Professor Emeritus Norman Fruman, scholar of Coleridge and Wordsworth, and erstwhile comic book writer, died April 19, 2012.
Norman Fruman, an educator and scholar best known for his biography of the English poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a long-time member of the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, died April 19, 2012, at his home in Laguna Beach, California, of cancer. He was 88.
Professor Fruman's Coleridge, The Damaged Archangel (George Braziller, 1971) revealed a darker side of the so-called "Sage of Highgate" than had previously been known. Although many scholars and other readers were shocked by Fruman's portrait of the revered Coleridge as a liar and plagiarist, his findings were too well-documented to be dismissed or ignored. Among the book's 100 mostly favorable reviews, many of them in non-academic publications, The Times Literary Supplement called it the most important Coleridge study since John Livingston Lowes' The Road to Xanadu (1927).
Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1923, Fruman was the son of Russian immigrants, attended Townsend Harris Hall, a free, three-year high school for gifted boys, and then the City College of New York. In 1943, about to begin his senior year at CCNY, he was drafted into the army as an infantry private. A year later, he attended Officer Candidate School, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and was sent to Europe as the youngest combat platoon leader in the 42nd Infantry, the famed "Rainbow Division."
As such, in late 1944, Fruman, just turned 21, took part in the Battle of the Bulge, the last great German counteroffensive in the West. Fruman's unit was ordered to defend an Alsatian town 30 miles north of Strasbourg, and to hold the line there at all costs. He and his men did so until they ran out of ammunition, then became prisoners of war. The survivors of his unit, many of whom died in a failed escape attempt along with most of their would-be rescuers, were finally liberated in April 1945.
Back at City College by year-end, Fruman graduated in 1946, received his MA in Education from Columbia Teachers College in 1948, and--after a three-year stint as a writer-editor at The American Comics Group, and later as a freelance writer--a PhD in English from New York University in 1960. The Coleridge biography grew out of his work on his doctoral dissertation.
In addition to his years at the University of Minnesota (1978-94), Professor Fruman taught at California State University, Los Angeles (1959-78), where he won the Outstanding Professor Award; as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Tel Aviv; and as a visiting scholar at various universities in France, while also writing many article-length studies and reviews. In 1994, he was one of the leading initiators of the organization now known as the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW). For many years he also served on the board of the National Association of Scholars, and was the cofounder of its Minnesota affiliate. But in an interview in 2010, Professor Fruman acknowledged that it was the Coleridge book for which he was likely to be best remembered: "It made me both famous and infamous."
Professor Fruman is survived by his wife of 53 years, Doris, three children, Jessica, Sara, and David, and four grandchildren.
Adapted from an article by Roy Winnick in Literary Matters (2010).