November 4, 1974
Delivering the Class of 1928 Lecture, provocative literary critic Leslie Fiedler, Samuel Clemens Professor of American Literature at the State University of New York at Buffalo asked, "What Was Literature?" Fiedler "repeatedly voiced his objection," Joan Mooney '75 noted in The Miscellany News, "to the view that a book is of poor quality if it is read by a large number of people. 'I'm coming out of the closet,' he said, when he admitted he liked much of what is now labelled 'low' literature, such as Rider Haggard's She and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.... He urged his audience to 'get it out of your heads' that the essential pleasure of literature lies in hard work.' When a questioner protested that he got more out of reading a book that required hard work, Prof. Fiedler said, 'We seem to be on the old argument of grace versus works. Literature is free grace,' a release from consciousness and rationality, a 'temporary moment of insanity.'"
Widely known for such works as An End to Innocence: Essays on Culture and Politics (1955), No! In Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature (1960) and Love and Death in the American Novel (1966), Fiedler published What Was Literature?: Class Culture and Mass Society in 1982.