Saturday, November 3, 2012

Maximilian J. Rudwin

Maximilian J. Rudwin  (b. Międzyrzec, Poland, on or about 22 January 1885; d. Dayton, Ohio, 14 May 1946)

**entry revised 7 March  2019**

From the 1910s through the 1930s, Maximilian J. Rudwin produced some excellent pioneering scholarship on the European traditions of the fantastic in literature, especially as related to various manifestations of the devil.  Rudwin was an unusually peripatetic scholar, and virtually nothing has been written about him or his oeuvre. His trail has not been easy to follow, nor has it been simple to trace his origins. 

Rudwin was born Joseph (sometimes Josef) Maccabee Rubin in Międzyrzec in eastern Poland. He emigrated to the United States in 1906 to attend the University of Wisconsin, from which he received a B.A. in 1908.  He received an M.A. in Cincinnati in 1910. In 1912, when he became a naturalized U.S. citizen, he ceased using his birth-name and became Maximilian Joseph (sometimes Josef) Rudwin. In 1913 he received a Ph.D. in German Literature from Ohio State University, one of the very first students to be awarded a Ph.D. at that university. He taught for a few years at Purdue University (c. 1914-15) in Indiana, then at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (c. 1917-18), followed by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (c. 1919), and then he returned to school at Columbia University (c. 1920-22) in New York, where he received a second Ph.D in 1922. Rudwin then studied in France, and got another doctorate at L'Université de Montpellier in 1926. In 1925 he married Armelle Laura Lefevre, a young French woman nearly twenty years his junior.  They had two children, a daughter Genevieve Maximilienne Rudwin (1926-1963) and a son, Sylvere Rudwin (1927-1993).  The marriage did not last long, and the couple divorced in the early 1930s.  Armelle remarried, and raised her children with her second husband in Massachusetts.

Rudwin continued his drifting around in academia, teaching at Swarthmore College (c. 1922-24), and the University of Pittsburgh (c. 1925-26). In the later 1920s he certainly spent time in Kansas and Colorado, before stopping for a few years (c. 1929-30) at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and then moving on the the University of Texas at El Paso (c. 1932-33). Rudwin himself surfaces only sporadically after his divorce. From 1934-36 he was Associated Professor of Modern Languages at St. Bonaventure in western New York State, after which time he moved to New York City. In 1942 he was working for the U.S. Government Office of Censorship in New York. Rudwin was an interpreter at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, when he died in 1946.

Rudwin published widely in English, and sometimes in French and German. His first book was only thirty-seven pages, Die Prophetensprüche und -Zitate im religiösen Drama des deutschen Mittelalters [The Prophet and Disputation Scenes in the Religious Drama of German Middle Ages] (1913). His 1913 Ph.D. thesis from Ohio State University was published as Die teufelszenen im geistlichen drama des deutschen mittelalters [The Devil Scenes in the Religious Drama of the German Middle Ages] (1914), and expanded as Der Teufel in den deutschen geistlichen Spielen des Mittelalters und der Reformationszeit [The Devil in German Religious Plays of the Middle Ages and the Reformation] (1915). Other books include The Origin of the German Carnival Comedy (1920), A History and Bibliography of the German Religious Drama (1924); Bibliographie de Victor Hugo (1926), Romantisme et Satanisme [Romanticism and Satanism] (1927) and Les écrivains diaboliques de France [The Diabolical Writers of France] (1937)

A number of interesting essays appeared in the journal The Open Court, including “Sympathy for Poland in German Poetry” (June 1917), “The Gloom and Glory of Russian Literature” (July 1918), “The Satanism of Huysmans” (April 1920), “The Satanism of Barbey d’Aurevilly” (February 1921), and “Supernaturalism and Satanism in Chateaubriand” (1922), which was his Columbia University Ph.D. thesis.  It was intended to be the opening section of a planned book on The Devil in Modern French Literature, but no such title was ever published in English, and some of this material may have appeared in Les écrivains diaboliques de France. Other contributions to The Open Court include “The Supernatural in French Literature” (March 1927) and “The Supernatural of George Sand” (September 1927). An article on “Balzac and the Fantastic” appeared in 1925 in The Sewanee Review.  And an article on Gérard de Nerval, “Gérard’s Germanic Fantasies” appeared in volume 2 (1930) of the Todd Memorial Volumes: Philological Studies, edited by John D. Fitz-Gerald and Pauline Taylor. In the 1920s and 1930s Rudwin frequently reviewed books for Books Abroad.  

Rudwin’s two books so far unremarked are his most important: an anthology titled Devil Stories (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1921), and a critical study, The Devil in Legend and Literature (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1931).  Devils Stories collects nineteen tales dealing with the Devil.  It includes works by Machiavelli, Washington Irving, Wilhelm Hauff, Gógol, Thackeray, Poe, Baudelaire, Maupassant, Richard Garnett, Anatole France, Górky, and John Masefield, among others. Rudwin gives a nine page introduction to his splendid selection. It seems a real pity that this anthology did not sell well, for it was to be the first volume of a series of “Devil Lore: Anthologies of Diabolical Literature” to be edited by Rudwin.  Other books were to have been Devil Plays, Devil Essays, Devil Legends, The Book of Lady Lilith, Anthology of Satanic Verse, and Bibliograhpia Diabolica. None of these titles ever appeared.  

The Devil in Legend and Literature makes up for the loss of some of the aforementioned books. It is one of those classic works of romantic scholarship which is entitled to sit on the bookshelf alongside of Clark B. Firestone’s The Coasts of Illusion (1924), John Livingston Lowes’s The Road to Xanadu (1927), and Odell Shepard’s The Lore of the Unicorn (1930), among many others. Rudwin approaches the lore of the Devil from many sides and many cultures, covering belief in the Devil, the names and forms of various Devils, the legend of Lilith, the Devil-compact in tradition as well as in literature, and the Devil in literature and poetry. Illustrations by Dührer, Doré, William Blake and others complement the text.  Rudwin’s book is well-documented, with an unusually thorough thirty-five page analytical index which makes it very useful for reference. 

One other item is worth mentioning here: Rudwin’s lengthy and critical review of Dorothy Scarborough’s The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917), which appeared in 1918 in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology.  Scarborough’s book was the first to attempt to cover its field, and Rudwin was an unusually qualified reviewer for the subject matter.  His review is charitable, but points out many faults and areas for further study, noting that “it has only been within recent years that the literary status of supernatural personages has been made a subject of serious inquiry.  The harvest is great, and the laborers are few.  Dr. Scarborough’s wish that her book may lead others to pursue similar investigations will be endorsed by the men who have preceded her in this interesting field of work.”

Rudwin was a pioneering scholar of the fantastic, and his best work deserves to be read and remembered. 


    I remember discovering "The Devil in Legend and Literature" at my univeristy library while working on my undergrad and falling in love with the book. And when eventually I found my own copy in a dingy little bookstore, I fell in love again.

    His scope in the book is massive and hilariously tongue in cheek in many places. Few modern scholars of the Devil come close to what he managed to do. Brilliant, brilliant man.

  2. Glad to find another devotee, Aziraphale. Thanks for writing.