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William Van O'Connor Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: 7 Feb 1996

Biographical History

William Van O'Connor (1915-1966) was an American literary critic, editor, educator, and author.

O'Connor was born in Syracuse, New York, on January 15, 1915, the son of Sarsfield and Violet Belle (McKnight) O'Connor. He attended Christian Brothers Academy and graduated from Syracuse University in 1936. After receiving an M.A. at Syracuse University in 1937, he attended Columbia University from which he earned his Ph.D. degree in 1947.

Prior to World War II, O'Connor taught at Ohio State University, 1940-1941, and at Louisiana State University, 1941-1913. A tour in the United States Army which included service in New Guinea from 1943-1946 saw him rise to the rank of Staff Sergeant. After being discharged, he taught at the University of Minnesota, 1946-1962, and at the University of California at Davis, 1962-1966, in the latter case as chairman of the English department. He received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, 1946-1947, acted as executive editor of American Quarterly, 1949-1951, served as Berg Professor of English and American literature at New York University, 1958, and was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Liel, Belgium, 1953-1954, and at the University of Hull, England, 1964-1965.

O'Connor was a prolific literary critic, writer and editor. To his credit are monographs entitled New Woman of the Renaissance (with his wife), 1942; Climates of Tragedy, 1943; Sense and Sensibility in Modern Poetry, 1918; The Shaping Spirit: a Study of Wallace Stevens, 1950; An Age of Criticism, 1900-1950, 1952; The Tangled Fire of William Faulkner, 1954; Modern Prose, Form and Structure, 1958; William Faulkner, 1959; The Grotesque, An American Literary Genre, 1962; A Key to American Literature, 1962; The New University Wits, 1963; Ezra Pound, 1963; Religion and American Literature, with Robert Wiggin and Joyce Cary, 1966. O'Connor also edited Forms of Modern Fiction: Essays Collected in Honor of Joseph Warren Beach, 1948; the six volume series Twentieth Century Literature in America (with Frederick J. Hoffman), of which his own An Age of Criticism was part; a three volume History of the Arts in Minnesota, 1958; A Casebook on Ezra Pound (with Edward Stone); and Seven Modern American Novelists, 1964. He also published a book of short stories, Campus on the River, 1950, and a volume of poetry, High Meadow, 1964.

On January 23, 1942, O'Connor married Mary Theresa Allen, and the couple subsequently became the parents of two daughters, Willa Van and Ellen Lee, and a son, Jewett Marion. O'Connor died at Davis, California, on September 26, 1966, at the age of fifty-one.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William Van O'Connor Papers consist of correspondence and writings.

Correspondence, 1943-1967, contains both incoming and outgoing. A complete index of correspondents is included at the end of this inventory.

In general, the correspondence reflects Mr. O'Connor's literary interests, although there are a number of letters of condolence to his wife following his death. Several of the British writers among his correspondents reply at length to his inquiries concerning their participation in the group called the "new university wits." A number of letters deal with the Ezra Pound controversy, and the large number of Lewis Mumford letters includes one expressing reaction to the use of the first atomic bomb. Of particular interest is the long run of letters from Karl Shapiro. Other significant correspondents include the following:

Other prominent persons represented in the correspondence by letters of lesser research significance include Louis S. Auchincloss, F. W. Bateson, Clive Bell, William Rose Benet, Eric Bentley, R. P. Blackmur, John Malcolm Brinnin, Van Wyck Brooks, Oscar Cargill, Bennett Cerf, Richard Chase, John Ciardi, Harold Clurman, Louis O. Coxe, Leon Edel, George Elliott, Francis Fergusson, Vardis Fisher, E. M. Forster, Robert B. Heilman, Irving Howe, Stanley Edgar Hyman, William Inge, Alfred Kazin, Clark Kerr, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, Joseph Wood Krutch, Stanley J. Kunitz, James Laughlin, Robert Lowell, Frederick F. Manfred, Klaus Mann, Josephine Miles, Arthur Mizener, Samuel French Morse, Wright Norris, Raymond Mortimer, Gorham Munson, Howard Nemerov, Aileen Pippett, Henry Rago, Philip Rahv, John Crowe Ransom, I. A. Richards, Mark Schorer, Allan Seeger, Wallace Stegner, E. M. N. Tillyard, William York Tindall, William Troy, Mark Van Doren, Peter Viereck, Jose Garcia Villa, Eliseo Vivas, Brom Weber, Theodore Weiss, Rene Wellek, Eudora Welty, Glenway Wescott, Oscar Williams, Leonard Woolf, and Louis Zukofsky.

Writings, 1960-1966, contain articles, books, drama, poetry and book reviews. The book category includes in several instances both a holograph and typed drafts of a work as well as galley proofs. Two of the books, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, and The Wild Swans, as well as the unfinished and untitled collection of literary reminiscences O'Connor was working on during the summer just prior to his death, are apparently unpublished. The two plays in the collection have been performed, but also apparently are unpublished. A small number of poems eliminated from the manuscript prior to publication are included in the materials relating to the poetry volume, High Meadow. The second poetry volume, Malade, a collection of verse in a lighter vein, does not appear to have been published thus far.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically, preceded by two folders of undated letters; the second of these contains those which are partially dated with a month and day but no year. Both folders of undated material are arranged alphabetically by name of sender.

Writings are subdivided by genre (drama, fiction, etc.). Each of the categories which contain more than a single item are further arranged alphabetically by title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Amis, Kingsley.
Gordon, Caroline, 1895-1981.
Mumford, Lewis, 1895-1990.
O'Connor, William Van, 1915-1966.
Shapiro, Karl, 1913-2000.
Tate, Allen, 1899-1979.
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975.
Warren, Robert Penn, 1905-1989.


American literature -- 20th century.
Critics -- United States.
Literature -- History and criticism.

Genres and Forms

Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William Van O'Connor Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of William Van O'Connor and the William Van O'Connor Estate, 1963-1969.

Table of Contents



Selected Index to Correspondence


Selected Index to Correspondence