Monday, August 8, 2011

Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky

Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky (b. Wisconsin, 29 February 1916; d. Boynton Beach, Florida, 26 September 2002)

Dorothy Grobe was born of English parents who divorced before she was four. She grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Little is known of her life. Her sole published book is Derleth: Hawk . . . and Dove (Aurora, Colorado: The National Writers Press, dated 1997 but not published until mid-1998), a vanity-published biography of the Wisconsin author, editor, and publisher August Derleth (1909-1971). In the summer of 1964, Litersky was one of the four founders of the School of the Arts at Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin.  Derleth became a regular writer-in-residence at the Rhinelander program, and it was at this time that Litersky decided to write Derleth's biography, a task that would take her thirty years to complete.  According to her acknowledgements in the published book, she nearly died twice before completing it, and one must consider it remarkable that she, in her eighties and in poor health, did so. However, that cannot excuse the many problems of the work itself.  Much of it is based on the vast archive of Derleth's papers--itself incomplete--that was given to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin after his death, and so the story it presents is mostly Derleth's own view, warts and all.  Litersky says that Derleth "wanted a portrayal of the whole man, free of the closet of lies he had been forced to hide in throughout his lifetime" (p. ix). And while Litersky succeeds in presenting Derleth as a egotistical, conceited, manipulative, omnisexual and voracious cad, she fails on the other hand to show why anyone might have admired or even liked either the man himself or his writings, and Derleth's literary work in particular gets short shrift.  Litersky's own poor writing is no match for her subject, and she shows little understanding of nuance, which gives rise to a large number of slight misstatements of fact and outright errors. In presenting everything from Derleth's point of view she gives no context to frame or analyze his perspective.  Her method of footnoting and sourcing quotations is abominable.  Nevertheless one comes to feel that the basic, unattractive portrait of Derleth that emerges is at the least authentic to those sides of his character. Until such time as someone attempts a true scholarly biography, this may be all we have to weigh-in against simple and more common adulatory fan criticism.

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