Becoming What One Is

Austin Warren
Foreword by Russell Fraser
An elegant and absorbing chronicle of one of the most important literary scholars of the 20th century


The late Austin Warren was one of the most distinguished literary scholars of the twentieth century, well known as a biographer, literary critic, and teacher. He retired from the University of Michigan English Department in 1968 after twenty years on the faculty. Warren's memoir ends at age forty, because, as he explains in the preface, the most interesting part of anyone's life is the formative years.

He begins with his childhood in Massachusetts and education at Wesleyan, Harvard, and Princeton, and ends with reflections on the problems of integrating his profession, teaching, with his vocation, writing. The journey in between is extraordinary, a re-creation of the scholar's search for identity, religion, wisdom, and a new vision of the role of a teacher.

Warren "forged his soul when others weren't looking," writes Russell Fraser in his foreword to the book. He grew up on a lonely New England farm, went to a school where he learned to hate even Shakespeare, and entered college without enthusiasm. But the history of his education, as is often the case, was one first of rescue by inspiring mentors, then of outgrowing those mentors, and finally of forging a vision of his own. By the 1930s he had shaken up classrooms by abandoning formal lectures and become an inspiration in his own right.

A singular personality who never stopped searching for meaningful spirituality and a wider intellectual world, Austin Warren was among the most important scholars of the twentieth century. His memoirs of "becoming" are an elegant and absorbing chronicle.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . continuously absorbing . . . His intellectual travels as student and later as teacher put us in touch with many important American presences. This is the reminiscence of someone who has lived in a consequential time and figured in it himself."
    —Russell Fraser, University of Michigan
  • "'The autobiography of a man whose business is thinking,' R. R. Collingwood sensibly noted, 'should be the story of his thought,' and Becoming What One Is is such a book. Conscientiously objective in its self-assessments and its judgments of others, this autobiography is much more than a history of the stages of Warren's academic progress. . . . [H]is was a scrupulously examined life, dismissive of complacent beliefs and final answers, attentive to its acts of becoming and thus captive nether to pastness nor futurity. . . . Becoming, the central theme of this autobiography, signifies the self-reliant individual's ongoing experiments with historical truths and practices and his consequent effort to envision life more authentically and to act more conscientiously."
    Modern Age: A Quarterly Review
  • "No less admired for the clarity and elegance of his prose than for his scholarly and critical rigour, Warren was—with Ransom, F.O. Matthiessen and Lionel Trilling—a leading mid-century American 'scholar-critic'. The publication of Becoming What One Is is a welcome reminder of Leon Edel's observation that Warren was 'one of our modern artists of the essay, one of our masters of meditated utterance'."
    —Myron Simon, Times Literary Supplement

Look Inside


1. Waltham     1
2. Stow     17
3. A College Education: Wesleyan     33
4. Graduate Studies: Harvard and Princeton     53
5. St. Peter's School: An Experiment in Community     67
6. Early Teaching: At Three Universities     83
7. Europe: A Year of Independence     97
8. Boston: A Yankee Apartment in an Ethnic City     111
9. Becoming a Professor     121
10. Becoming a Guest     131
11. Becoming a Friend     145
12. Becoming a Writer     159

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 200pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10287-7

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  • $74.95 U.S.