Norman Fruman


Obituary: Norman Fruman was courageous in war and literature

  • Article by: JANET MOORE
  • Star Tribune
  • April 30, 2012 - 9:54 PM

Norman Fruman, a noted scholar and a longtime faculty member of the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, died of cancer on April 19 at his home in Laguna Beach, Calif. He was 88.

Fruman is perhaps best known for his 1971 book, "Coleridge, the Damaged Archangel," which exposed a pattern of plagiarism by beloved English poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The most famous works by Coleridge, a leader of the British Romantic movement, were "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan."

Fruman's book generated a storm of controversy in literary circles, but his careful research was beyond refute, said his friend Roy Winnick, an independent scholar based in Princeton, N.J. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award.

"Norman used to joke that the book made him both famous and infamous," Winnick said.

Born in New York City's Bronx borough in 1923 to Russian immigrants, Fruman was attending City College of New York when he was drafted in World War II. After attending Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to the war's front lines in Europe. At 21, he was the youngest combat platoon leader in the 42nd Infantry -- the famed "Rainbow Division."

In Europe, Fruman fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the Nazi's last major offensive against the Allies, where he was captured and became a prisoner of war. He survived a failed escape attempt from a German camp that was ultimately liberated in April 1945.

When his friend Felix Phillips, now a retired lawyer in the Twin Cities, recalled that when Fruman was asked what it was like to be in the heat of battle, he said "he wasn't terrified; a cold interest" came over him. "He was courageous in so many ways," Phillips said.

After the war, Fruman graduated from City College and went on to earn a master's degree in education from Columbia Teachers College. For a time, he supported himself as a writer and editor for the American Comics Group and as a freelance writer. He then received a Ph.D. in English from New York University. His dissertation on Coleridge would later serve as the foundation for his sensation-causing book.

Fruman taught at California State University-Los Angeles from 1959 to 1978 -- the year he arrived at the University of Minnesota, where he stayed until he retired in 1994.

In retirement, he taught as a Fulbright professor at the University of Tel Aviv, and as a visiting scholar at various universities in France. In 1994, he played a key role in founding the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, an organization that opposed the politicization of literary studies.

Friends remember Fruman as a charmer who was "interested in everything," Phillips said. "He never hesitated to stand up for what he thought was right, but he was a very tolerant person. He was just terrific. I will miss him forever."

Funeral services were held in California on Monday.

Fruman is survived by his wife of 53 years, Doris; by three children, Jessica, Sara and David; and by four grandchildren.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

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