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Seth Berner’s Tribute to L.D. Brodsky

I am very sorry to hear of the death of Louis Daniel Brodsky. My reaction to the news, I imagine, will be slightly different from most, for in addition to being a Faulkner fan I am a collector. And in trying to collect Faulkner I say of LD Brodsky what Flannery O'Connor said of Faulkner himself: nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down. Brodsky was to collecting Faulkner what Faulkner was to writing, and I, a very humble late-comer, knew that I would never outrun the Master.

One of my greatest moments as a collector came in one of the first years I gave a talk on collecting at the Ole Miss Faulkner Conference. Afterwards, Brodsky, who had been kind enough to sit in, complimented me on a point I had made that he considered both correct and not obvious. Junior collectors live for such moments.

The passing of LD is like the closing of the book on the golden age of Faulkner collecting. Before the internet put everything in reach of everyone, before skyrocketing prices lead people to comb attics and put on the market everything found, people wanting to build collections had to learn themselves what they wanted and figure out where they were likely to find it. Building a collection used to take more than money. James Meriwether was not a "collector" but he was the first to try to chronicle what had been published, by whom, when and where; and was instrumental in assembling the first Faulkner exhibition, at Princeton University in 1957. Linton Reynolds Massey assembled for the University of Virginia the first major exhibition of Faulkneriana, in 1959; and Man Working, the resulting bibliography, was for years the definitive text on Faulkner artifacts. They were the pioneers.

Brodsky and Carl Petersen were the greatest there ever was in Faulkner collecting, in or out of institutions. Fierce rivals, not always friends, but they had deepest respect for each other. William Boozer was the third, a somewhat less bright star but still important. William Wisdom's collection was not big but in including several manuscripts it mattered. Irwin Toby Holtzman was not a Faulkner specialist - he was, perhaps, the greatest collector of American literature generally, and the University of Michigan is proud to own his Faulkner holdings. With the passing of Brodsky the last of the giants has laid down.

Brodsky's contribution to the world of Faulkner studies was far more than simply as a hoarder. He was never just a hoarder. The published bibliographies of his collection are essential reference works. Brodsky himself wrote important articles on Faulkner's textual revisions. He spoke, he participated. And by placing his collection at Southeast Missouri State University he made available for public use one of if not the finest collections of Faulkner materials to be found in one place. The collection may stay on public display, but the loss of the knowledge and experiences of the one who did the hard work himself is irreplaceable.

What the loss of Brodsky means for collecting is sobering. The Universities of Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Southeast Missouri will likely continue to try to create worlds of Faulkner under one roof. Otherwise, there is no way of knowing if anyone is still pulling a wagon across the tracks. Not until Jack Ewing put his collection up for auction in 2007 was it known what a strong collection he had. There likely are other Jack Ewings quietly surrounding themselves with the author they love. But there is something wrong when I am now one of the leading individual Faulkner collectors. Calling me the Brodsky of this generation is grossly unfair to Brodsky, for he was the Dixie Limited and I a poor mule trailing in his slipstream.

Louis Daniel Brodsky will be greatly missed, by many people, for many reasons. As a collector, I pay tribute to him as the native people did to the nature and wilderness that shaped them and that even in death survives them (without intending any reference to venom, just to venerability): Ole, Grandfather. You were too big for mere mortals.

-Seth Berner


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