Frank MacShane, Another Loss
Frank MacShane was one of a dozen O'Hara experts recorded in 1998 by WVIA-FM in its year-long retrospective on the Master.
Frank MacShane, a literary biographer who specialized in applying the highest standards of criticism to popular novelists like Raymond Chandler and John O'Hara who had been ignored by other academic critics, died on Monday at a nursing home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He was 72.
Dr. MacShane, a former professor of writing at Columbia University, moved to Massachusetts seven years ago after the onset of Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Nicholas.
As recently as the 1960's and 70's, despite occasional efforts by Edmund Wilson, W. H. Auden and others, academic literary critics largely dismissed Chandler as a mere mystery writer, O'Hara as an undisciplined hack and Ford Madox Ford as a purveyor of glossy junk, none of them worth the time of serious students of literature.
Dr. MacShane's biography ''The Life of Raymond Chandler'' (1976), in which he identified Chandler as one of the originators of the hard-boiled detective story and compared him to Joyce, Tolstoy, Chaucer, Twain and Conrad, helped change all that.
Reviewing the book on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, Leonard Michaels said that Chandler ''emerges from the book as a very powerful and psychologically interesting figure.''
Newsweek called the book ''an exemplary biography,'' and Richard R. Lingeman, in a review in The New York Times, said it was ''valuable and fascinating.'' John Simon, on the other hand, wrote in Book Week that the biography lacked ''critical acuity.''
The Chandler biography was followed by studies of O'Hara and James Jones. Previously, Dr. MacShane had written a biography of Ford Madox Ford.
Discussing his career in 1981, Dr. MacShane told an interviewer for Columbia Library Columns that he had concentrated on the study of writers who had ''substantial followings and many enthusiastic champions'' but who were not ''automatically accepted into the highest literary rank.''
Dr. MacShane was also a dedicated teacher who focused his attention on nonfiction and translation. He taught at the Hotchkiss School, Vassar College, the University of California at Berkeley and Williams College before founding the graduate writing division in the School of the Arts at Columbia in 1967.
From 1972 to 1973, Dr. MacShane served as dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia, but then he returned to teaching in the writing division.
He was born on October 19, 1927, in Pittsburgh, the only son of a newspaperman who became publisher of The New York Journal-American, the Hearst flagship.
He graduated from Harvard in 1949, and received a master's degree from Yale in 1951 and a doctorate from Oxford in 1955.
In addition to his son, Nicholas, of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Dr. MacShane is survived by a sister, Jean Fraser-Harris of Bristol, England, and two grandchildren.
The above article was written by William H. Honan.