Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Quentin Anderson papers, 1935-2003, bulk 1960-2000

Summary Information


The papers document the life and work of author, Columbia University professor, and literary critic, Quentin Anderson. This collection contains his personal and professional correspondence, his writings and research notes, documentation of his professional involvements, and some personal materials.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0032
Bib ID 5410361 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Anderson, Quentin, 1912-2003
Title Quentin Anderson papers, 1935-2003, bulk 1960-2000
Physical Description 19 linear feet (33 document boxes 7 index card boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



Arranged in four series.



The Quentin Anderson papers provide a record of Anderson's academic and professional life from 1935 until his death in 2003. The first two series of Anderson's correspondence and writings make up the bulk of the collection, and provide insight into Anderson's various roles as a serious intellectual, celebrated colleague, and admired mentor. Formats include correspondence, typewritten and printed items, and written research notes on both letter-size paper and index card files. The third series documents Anderson's professional career at Columbia University and within the literary community through correspondence, printed materials, and his own notes in preparation for class lectures. The final series holds items of personal significance such as journals, a record of his Broadway performance in his later years, and materials gathered by his wife Thelma Anderson, which are related to his death and memorial service.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1937-2003

    Series I is comprised of correspondence between Anderson and his professional and personal contacts, including mentors, colleagues, students, family, and friends. Many files also contain examples of the professional work of the individual, such as essays or reviews. The correspondence chronicles how Anderson's numerous professional relationships became long lasting friendships over time. They also illustrate the many friendships Anderson established with his students that continued long after they graduated from Columbia, some of whom eventually became his colleagues. This series is arranged alphabetically by the individual's last name.

  • SeriesII: Writings, 1937-2001

    The second series of the collection holds Anderson's writings and notes. It has been divided into four subseries according to the original order of the materials. Many of the writings exist as drafts, as well as in final form. Notes and research undertaken in preparation for some of the writings contained in the first three subseries can be found in the fourth subseries.

  • Series III: Professional Career, 1935-2002

    Series III, a record of Anderson's professional career, is divided into three subseries, remaining true to the original order of the materials. This series offers details of Anderson's career at Columbia University while a professor and illustrates his continuing involvement with the University post-retirement. It also documents his time spent as a visiting professor abroad, as well as his professional activities in academia.

  • Series IV: Personal Materials, 1937-2003

    This small series offers some documentation of Anderson's personal academic history, such as transcripts and examination booklets from Columbia University and Harvard University. Materials related to the publication of Emerson and His Legacy, the festschrift celebrating Anderson's professional career, can be found here, as well as a few examples of Anderson's own musings on his personal history and academic interests. Of particular note are the folders which document Anderson's involvement in projects related to the centennial celebration of Kurt Weill, the composer. Weill was a personal friend of the Anderson family as a result of his professional relationship with Anderson's father, Maxwell Anderson, the playwright. Mrs. Thelma Anderson gathered materials related to Quentin Anderson's death in 2003 to include in this collection; those items which include condolence letters to the Anderson family and items from the memorial service held at St. Paul's Chapel on the Columbia University campus are also contained in this series.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Quentin Anderson papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

Diana Trilling Papers, 1921-1996, MS# 1421; Lionel Trilling Papers, 1899-1987, MS# 1256


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Mrs. Thelma Anderson. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--June 2004 (with a subsequent addition in May 2005).

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Jillian Cuellar 2008.

Finding Aid written by Jillian Cuellar March 2008.

Revision Description

2009-01-20 File created.

2009/02/04 xml document instange created by Patrick Lawlor

2009/05/05 xml document instance edited by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Articles Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Card files Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drafts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Essays Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lectures Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reviews (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
American literature -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anderson, Maxwell, 1888-1959 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anderson, Quentin, 1912-2003 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Criticism -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Education -- Study and teaching -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
James, Henry, 1843-1916 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lionel Trilling seminars Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Literature and society Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Quentin Anderson, literary critic, cultural historian, and professor emeritus, began his long relationship with Columbia University as a student in 1934, after a brief enrollment at Dartmouth. Anderson received his B.A. from Columbia in 1937, then matriculated to Harvard, obtaining his M.A. in 1939. He returned to Columbia to begin teaching in the Department of English and Comparative Literature in 1939, earning his Ph.D. in 1953, attaining full professorship in 1961. In recognition of his exceptional service to the University, Anderson was appointed the Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities Emeritus in 1978. Upon his retirement in 1981, Anderson continued to be actively involved in his field, both as an author and as a participant in several scholarly organizations.

Anderson was born in 1912 in Minnewaukan, North Dakota, the eldest son of author and playwright Maxwell Anderson. The Andersons bought a house in Rockland County, New York, and the family traveled back and forth between there and a home in Manhattan. As a young man, Anderson gained experience in the theater, working on a few of his father's plays as an assistant stage manager and acting in minor roles. After a marriage to Margaret Pickett ended in divorce, Anderson married Thelma Ehrlich in 1947. He had one daughter, Martha, and two sons, Maxwell and Abraham.

While an undergraduate at Columbia, Anderson studied with Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun as a student in their colloquium on great books. These initial mentors would later become colleagues and lasting friends. While at Harvard, Anderson studied under F.O. Matthiessen and Perry Miller, both renowned scholars in American literary and historical criticism. This experience, coupled with his earlier exposure at Columbia to Romantic and Victorian literature, helped define Anderson's primary research interests. Trilling, a sponsor of Anderson's dissertation, was an especially influential force; Anderson touched on many of the same themes and subjects as Trilling in his scholarly work. Anderson came to be considered a leading authority on 19th century American literature and culture; his research had a particular emphasis on the American authors Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Much of his work focused on literary figures and the formation of cultural identity in 19th century America. Anderson examined the work of American authors in light of their European antecedents, while also considering the cultural influences that help define an individual's identity. His first book"The American Henry James" (1957), explored the family and work of the novelist. His second"The Imperial Self" (1971), studied James, Emerson, Whitman, and their contemporaries, and the impact of their works on American literature and culture. Anderson's last book"Making Americans: An Essay on Individualism and Money" (1992), examined a wider range of American authors, considering the extent to which cultural history influenced the American literary experience. In addition to his three books, Anderson contributed scholarly essays and book reviews to numerous journals and publications, including "The New York Times Book Review" and the "Times Literary Supplement".

Anderson's roles as author and critic did not prevent him from taking an interest in his students and the University; he was actively involved in campus affairs throughout his career at Columbia. He served as the English Department's representative in Columbia College from 1961 to 1969, and as chairman of the Joint Committee of Disciplinary Affairs in 1968, formed in response to the campus uprising that spring. Anderson's profound intellect coupled with his towering physique was said to intimidate some of his students. He was at once imposing and welcoming, characteristics that led one student to remark in a student course guide that Anderson was "one of the most pompous, friendly men" on campus. Yet, it is clear that he was genuinely committed to their academic and professional success. Several of his former pupils went on to become accomplished academics, and Anderson maintained friendly and professional ties with many of them as they transformed from student to colleague.

Anderson remained a revered member of the academic community throughout his lifetime. He was regularly invited to deliver lectures and participate in discussions at academic institutions and conferences both in the United States and abroad. During the 1960s, he was the recipient of two Fulbright grants which allowed him to accept invitations to act as a visiting professor at two universities overseas, and consequently participate as a guest lecture at institutions across Europe. Anderson was granted a senior fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1973-1974, and was awarded a fellowship at the National Humanities Center in 1979-1980. He became a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities in 1980, continuing his involvement with NYIH until 2000. One of the lasting legacies of Anderson's time at Columbia is the Lionel Trilling Seminars. Anderson, a close friend of both Lionel Trilling and his wife Diana, was a member of the founding committee that established the lecture series in 1976, the year after Trilling's death. The Lionel Trilling Seminars, a bi-annual event that serves as a forum for intellectual discussion, continues to attract the participation of renowned scholars. Anderson remained actively involved on the seminar committee, even after his retirement. It was one of the many contributions that characterized his career. A festschrift"Emerson and His Legacy", that celebrated those contributions and academic achievements was published in Anderson's honor in 1986.

In the last years of his life, Anderson revisited two subjects that were of personal and professional significance during his youth and at the beginning of his career. In 2000, he performed in a theater production celebrating the centennial of the composer Kurt Weill, a family friend and collaborator of his father Maxwell Anderson. It was a chance for Anderson to relive his experiences of performing onstage while reminiscing about his childhood as he recounted memories of Weill's visits to his childhood home. At the same time, Anderson was working on what would be his last published work, a scholarly essay entitled"Why R.P. Blackmur Found James's Golden Bowl Inhumane." Here, Anderson returned to the subject of his dissertation and his first major work: "Henry James". The essay, published in 2001, added further proof of Anderson's expertise on the American author and provided an appropriate final note to the end of a long and distinguished career. Anderson died two years later in 2003.