Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Noted literary critic and biographer of Henry James, Leon Edel was born in Pittsburgh.
Awards: Pulitzer Prize
American literary scholar and biographer, Joseph Leon Edel was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1907. Dr. Edel was a professor for over 25 years, starting at New York University and then traveling across the country to the University of Hawaii where he taught for six years. Edel’s writing on Henry James earned him a 1963 Pulitzer Prize as well as a 1963 National Book Award. Edel is most known for the writing of a five volume Henry James biography. Edel also completed biographies of two other literary figures, Willa Cather and Henry David Thoreau. Leon Edel passed away at age 80 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Joseph Leon Edel, biographer and philosopher of biographical literature and history, was born to Simon Edel and Fannie Malamud Edel on September 9, 1907. Shortly after birth, Leon and his family moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where he remained through his college years. Entering college at the age of 16, Leon not only received his Bachelor of Arts in 1927 from McGill University in Montreal, but he also acquired his Masters in 1928 with honors. Leon continued his education by writing a thesis on the writer Henry James. This was the beginning of the life-long connection between Edel and the works of Henry James.
Alongside his colleagues in Montreal, Edel help to found the McGill Fortnightly Review. Because of Edel’s excellence with his thesis on Henry James, he received a scholarship to study abroad. He chose to study at the University of Paris and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1931. His dissertation on Henry James, Les Années Dramatiques, would later be translated into English. A year after receiving his Ph.D., Edel took a position at Sir George Williams University in Montreal where he was an associate professor in the English department for three years. Edel first married in 1935 to Bertha Cohen, but was divorced by 1950. Upon the arrival of the Great Depression and World War II, Edel also worked in broadcasting and journalism in Canada because of the difficulty of getting jobs in American universities. His foreign degree also worked against his employment chances. Edel served in the U.S. Army where he was promoted to first lieutenant and received the Bronze Star for being a specialist in psychological warfare. Edel then moved on, becoming a journalist, first in Canada, and then in New York City. Shortly after moving to New York, he fell in love and married Roberta Roberts in 1950, but they later divorced in 1979. In 1953, Edel took the position of associate professor of English at New York University and that turned into a full professorship in 1955. Edel remained at NYU for 13 years before retiring to Hawaii and teaching at the University of Hawaii where he was named Citizen’s Professor of English in 1974. Edel married for the third time in 1980 to Marjorie Putnam Sinclair.
Edel’s most notable work would be those dealing with Henry James. After World War II, he began the biography, Henry James: The Untried Years, which was the first of a five volume set. In 1963, Edel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for two of the five volumes he wrote about Henry James. In the same year, he was also awarded the National Book Award for the same work. Edel would also write biographies of Willa Cather and Henry David Thoreau. Edel also won several other awards: from 1957 to 1959 he was national president of the American chapter of P.E.N., in 1972 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1973 he was selected to be the Vernon Visiting Professor of Biography at Dartmouth College, in 1977 he was awarded the Hawaiian Writers’ Award, and in 1981 he was designated a “Living Treasure” by the Honpa Hongwanji Temple.
Edel passed away on September 5, 1997, from a heart attack in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Henry James: Les Années dramatiques [Henry James: The Dramatic Years]. Paris: Jouve, 1931.
James Joyce: The Last Journey. New York: Gotham Bookmart, 1947.
Henry James. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1953-1972. (Volume I: The Untried Years, 1843-1870, 1953; Volume II: The Conquest of London, 1870-1881, 1962; Volume III: The Middle Years, 1882-1895, 1962; Volume IV: The Treacherous Years, 1895-1901 , 1969; Volume V: The Master, 1901-1916, 1972.)
The Prefaces of Henry James. Paris: Jouve, 1931.
The Psychological Novel: 1900-1950. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1955.
Editor of Works by Henry James
The Other House. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1947.
Selected Fiction. New York: Dutton, 1953.
The Sacred Fount. New York: Grove, 1953.
Selected Letters of Henry James. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1955.
The Portrait of a Lady. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956.
A Little Tour in France. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.