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StevenFrye Preface In August of 1991,my wife and I drove through Crawfordsville and approached Lafayette from the west. The rain showered the cornfields in a torrent unlike any we had seen, and our entry intoa new town seemedan ominousone. Shehad been ill, sufferingfrom an untimely case of strep throat that nearly stopped us in Gallup, and our journeywasmademoredifficultbecauseshehad to driveour midsizedsedan with our little beagle-a misbehavingand hyperactivetransitionalobjectpacing the back window. I drove the seventeenfoot U-Haul towing the other car on a trailer.Her stoicismstood in stark contrastto my trepidation. It seemeda peculiar requirement that I arrive on the twelfth or lose my teaching assistantship,no exceptionsallowed.We arrived at the apartment I had selected a few months before, and as she inspected the closets, her polite smile suggested shewaslessthan satisfied.Stillshesaidnothingbut only began unloading the boxes.We drove to the localgrocerystoreas the weatherseemed to clear, but the car radio announced a tornadowatch.We didn’tknow the differencebetween a watch and a warningand lookedat eachother with expressions of abject fear. There was no distress in the other drivers,sowe pressed on. We made our initial adaptations, unpacking the kitchenboxes,situatingthe living-roomfurniture , and settingup the office. I quicklyprepared to begin my first week at Purdue with graduate student orientations and TA training sessions. I wasa provincial.My trajectoryinto aPhDprogram was a strange one-an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from California State University, Northridge,afewmiserableyearsworking in the private sector,and a master’sdegree in English from the same institution.I had no pedigree , no posh undergraduate credentialsfrom an elite institution, no study-abroadprogram at an eminent European university, no fellowships or grantsthat had takenme anywherebeyond home. I came to my PhD program only with a crude if mercurial ambition and a vague idea of making literature my life, whatever that meant. Walking the campus of one of the largest research institutions in the country, hearing the testimonies of graduatestudentsnearing the completionof their degrees, perusing the libraries and reading the workswrittenby my professors-these onlyadded to my anxiety. My first semester offered no relief. The classesI took were not in my area and were challengingbut doable.What was lacking I didn’t know and only discovered later. In the second semester, I met Eric Link in an excellentseminarin earlyAmerican literature taught by Cheryl Oreovicz. We quickly became friends, and one of the first experiences he recounted was of a coursein the American romance taught by G.R. Thompson.He was animatedashe described the course-debates revolving around definitionaltermsin genre,German romanticaesthetics , narratological issuesand questions,and a rich arrayof beautifulworks. But I had heard Dick Thompson’s name before. As one of two senior specialistsresponsible for directing and teaching in the doctoral program in earlyAmerican literature , Dick was known for his critical acumen and his exacting and incisive examinations. To some students, most of whom were as yet undecided regardingspecialization,he was a professor to be respectedand sometimesfeared. The preliminaries cowritten by Dick Thompson, Len Neufeldt, Cheryl Oreovicz, and Bob Lamb were seen as the real thing-they were “attritionmechanisms” designed not only as a formal part of the degree process but as very real tools for separating the vi Poe Studie.s/DarkRomanticism burgeoning expert from the novice,the committed from the uncommitted. Like all graduate-school hallway rumors, they contained the tellingfeatures of an oral tradition; they were distorted, but underneath the layersof embellishmentwas a potent seed of truth. Dickwas one ofjusta few dissenting voicesresponding to a revision of an examination system he felt might undermine the qualityof the program, and though he came later to value the new system, it was because he managed to work within its framework and brand it with his own identity.There was an aura built into his reputation that encouraged only those firmly committed to the study of the authors and poets of the antebellum period. As I came to know him, both socially and in the classroom, I learned that he was aware of his reputation and comfortable with it but a bit sensitive to it as well. Sensitivity,in fact, came to be the word that defined him. Eric encouraged me to introduce myself to Dick and to begin...


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