Brander Matthews

James Brander Matthews was an American writer and educator. He was the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university and played a significant role in establishing theater as a subject worthy of formal study in the academic world. His interests ranged from Shakespeare, Molière, and Ibsen to French boulevard comedies, folk theater, and the new realism of his own day.Matthews was born to a wealthy family in New Orleans, grew up in New York City, and graduated from Columbia College in 1871, where he was a member of the Philolexian Society and the fraternity of Delta Psi, and from Columbia Law School in 1873. He had no real interest in the law, never needed to work for a living (given his family fortune), and turned to a literary career, publishing in the 1880s and 1890s short stories, novels, plays, books about drama, biographies of actors, and three books of sketches of city life. One of these, Vignettes of Manhattan (1894), was dedicated to his friend Theodore Roosevelt. From 1892 to 1900, he was a professor of literature at Columbia and thereafter held the Chair of Dramatic Literature until his retirement in 1924. He was known as an engaging lecturer and a charismatic if demanding teacher...An English professorship in his name still exists at Columbia.Matthews' students knew him as a man well-versed in the history of drama and as knowledgeable about continental dramatists as he was about American and British playwrights. Long before they were fashionable, he championed playwrights who were regarded as too bold for American tastes, such as Hermann Sudermann, Arthur Pinero, and preeminently Henrik Ibsen, about whom he wrote frequently and eloquently.He lived for the theater and made clear his belief that theater was a performance art, first and foremost, and that plays as literary texts should never be viewed in the same light. Yet in the classroom he was an exacting guide to stage craftsmanship.Matthews was a prolific, varied, and uneven writer, author of over thirty books. His own novels and plays are undistinguished and long-forgotten (the claim to fame of one of his plays is its footnote status in Theodore Dreiser's novel Sister Carrie: it is the melodrama, A Gold Mine, Carrie attends which leads her to consider a career on the stage). Some of his surveys of American literature and drama sold very well as high-school and college texts. Yet one of his earliest books, French Dramatists of the Nineteenth Century (1881), is deemed to be an excellent scholarly study of the subject and was revised and reprinted twice over two decades, while his 1919 autobiography, These Many Years, is likewise deemed a deftly-told story of an education in the arts by a man who lived a rich and productive life. It also offers an interesting evocation of life in Manhattan c. 1860-1900. Matthews additionally published a biography of Molière in 1910 and a biography of Shakespeare in 1913.- Wikipedia
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