The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 2
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
self as soon as Dobie is measured by any yardstick other than regional.2
Both Eliot and Chandler were supremely well educated; Chandler in
English schools, Eliot at Harvard. Dobie came out of a patrician but de-
cidedly provincial culture in South Texas. His family valued learning,
sending all the children to college at a time when, early in the twentieth
century, most Texas families had neither the means nor the imagina-
tion to conceive of such an enterprise.
Dobie was perforce a provincial with a taste for a wider world. He
made several forays into that world, to New York for an M.A. at Colum-
bia, to western Europe during a tour of duty in Europe in World War I,
and to England for a celebrated year at Cambridge during the Second
World War. But most of Dobie's life, and nearly all of his imaginative
energy, was devoted to his native region, the Southwest. In that capac-
ity it can be said that he invented southwestern literature, or, rather,
the idea of southwestern literature, finding a historical precedent in the
English romantics who seized upon border ballads and the speech of
the common man to inform literature with a new spirit. He also tried to
create literature, and it is this phase of his long and influential career
that I wish to address upon the occasion of his centennial. Not forget-
ting his role as liberal spokesman, defender of civil liberties, influential
teacher, fierce advocate of the unfettered mind, pioneer in the study of
southwestern literature and folklore, I want instead to consider him as
a writer because in the long run, his writing is what will increasingly
have to bear the test and scrutiny of time.
To begin, I want to examine Dobie's response to the imaginative writ-
ing of the postwar Southwest. For it is there, in his reaction to the new,
that the essential Dobie aesthetic may be located. He was an avid reader,
and he had the library to prove it. Among Dobie's many books easily
the most influential was his Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest,
first published in 1943 and "enlarged in both knowledge and wisdom"
in 1952." It is a characteristic Dobie work because it is, in the purest
sense, bookish. Dobie was a bookman. Gertrude Stein saw through
Ernest Hemingway's manly pose and said that he smelled of the mu-
seum; well, Dobie, too, smelled of libraries. His Guide generated dozens
of courses in southwestern literature and, though unavoidably dated,
2Lon Tinkle, An American Original The Life of J Frank Dobte (1978; reprint, Austin- University
of Texas Press, 1983), 151-177.
"J. Frank Dobie, Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest (rev. ed ; Dallas: Southern Method-
ist University Press, 1952), li-li (quotation). The embryonic bibliography that eventually grew
into the Guide was a twenty-seven-page piece called "Life and Literature of the Southwest"; it
appeared in John William Rogers's Fznding Literature on the Texas Plazns (Dallas: Southwest
Press, 1931), 31-57.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/29/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.