- MFS, Me, and Others (1954-1990)
"It Was Appropriate That The Best Typist of stencils should be named Editor," that special recognition should go to "the one man in the group capable of running the mimeograph without snaffling the machine," and that "an affable worry wart with a tremendous capacity for troublesome detail" was too rare to ignore. These are the somewhat facetious descriptions, but only somewhat facetious ones, of why three of the several founders of Modern Fiction Studies, respectively, Maury Beebe, Dean Doner, and I, were given, took, assigned, somehow assumed the initial roles we did assume when MFS was first started. This account of Beebe's, "Remembering the Beginnings," leads off the "medley of memoirs" I solicited in 1975 (21 [Autumn]: 340-357) for our 21st Anniversary Issue of the journal from original founders then alive and Margaret Church then Co-Editor.
Beebe's is properly the most extensive account of the people, the circumstances, the forerunners, the initial ideas, and the gathering, copying, and distributing of articles that made up the content of early issues in both mimeograph and printed form. Other memoirs of that beginning, by Dean Doner, Bill Bache, and Margaret Church, were all primarily concerned with other aspects of the founding. (My contribution, [End Page 325] "Remembering the Recent Past," was exclusively devoted to changes in the journal after Maury's departure for Temple University in 1969, fourteen years after the journal had been founded.)
Dean Doner, a retired Vice-President from Boston University who died in 1990, in "Remembering the Simplicities," recounts the cooperative simplicities of the earliest issues: typing the stencils, running them off on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine, assembling the pages as scads of us marched around tables, stapling, stuffing postal bags in the trunks of our cars, transporting them to the post office, and handling all subscriptions and other business affairs with nothing more complicated than a file of 3x5 index cards, some departmental letterheads, and a battered manual typewriter.
Bill Bache, still an active Professor here in the English Department at Purdue, contributed a vivid account of the approximately ten-year existence of the Modern Fiction Club, a highly informal group of young Purdue English Department faculty interested in modern fiction, whatever the subject of their more formal academic allegiances. It is significant, I think, that the idea for MFS and the Club is recorded in the archives as having happened simultaneously. Let me give you Beebe's precise and (as I remember it) accurate account of the event:
On Purdue's south golf course one day that summer (it had to have been the summer of 1954], as Welsey Carroll, Bill Stafford, Bill Bache, and I waited to tee off at one of the holes [in fact, it was #7], it was decided that we should try to bring together a group of our colleagues willing to meet every month or so at one another's homes in order to talk about fiction and the problems we shared teaching it. We asked Dean Doner and Mark Rowan to join us at an organizational meeting a few evenings later, and there it was decided that we would not only have something called the Modern Fiction Club, a highly informal group without officers, but that the Modern Fiction Club would have its own scholarly publication.
The charm of Bache's account of those early meetings is in his sensitivity and his candor, seeing so clearly our collegial enthusiasm and our somewhat naïve limitations. An example:
And we discussed everything—things of current as well as of real interest—Conrad, Cozzens, Faulkner, Ford, Green and Greene, Mann, everything. We debated literary theory; we scrutinized sections of Finnegans Wake. And, of course, we disagreed and fought. Typically an evening would end in little groups, still arguing, making points, clarifying differences. From the various members over the years we came to count on and to expect learned and earned responses and idiosyncracies. But there was little malice and no lasting animosity. But then I can't say that, after a while, anyone convinced anyone of anything. And, I mean, we said what we thought; and we...