Life and career
Levin was born in Minneapolis, the son of Beatrice Hirshler (née Tuchman) and Isadore Henry Levin. His family was Jewish. Levin was educated at Harvard University (where he was a contemporary of M. H. Abrams). According to a biographical memoir by Walter Jackson Bate:
After graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1933 he was appointed Junior fellow in then new Society of Fellows, where he pursued in depth what were to become his three major interests: Shakespeare and the English Renaissance; modern literature generally; and the relation of English and American to other literatures, from Greek and Latin antiquity to the present, all of which are reflected in his early publications, giving him a perspective lacking in the ordinary specialist and scarcely matched in his later years by more than three or four scholars here or abroad. In the 1930s, junior fellows did not normally take a Ph. D., so that Harry, like his noted predecessor, George Lyman Kittrdge, remained an A.B., though he was in time to receive six honorary degrees, including ones from Oxford and the Sorbonne, and though he was, over the years, to supervise over ninety doctoral theses.
Levin began teaching at Harvard in 1939 and that same year he married Elena Zarudnaya. He was named Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard in 1960 and retired in 1983. He continued to live near campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until his death in 1994. He was survived by his widow Elena and their daughter Marina.
Levin's course in "Comedy on the Stage" inspired Leonard Lehrman to write the paper, "The Threepenny Cradle," comparing the Brecht-Weill Threepenny Opera to Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. In the fall of 1969, in a production of Cradle directed by Lehrman, Levin was the sole patron. In 1970-1971 he encouraged, advised, and became a patron for two other Harvard productions by Lehrman: the U.S. premiere of Brecht's The Days of the Commune, and a triple-bill in memory of Blitzstein, which was attended by Leonard Bernstein. It was at that production that Levin invited Bernstein to become Norton Lecturer at Harvard, which he did, a year later.
In 1985, the American Comparative Literature Association began awarding the Harry Levin Prize for books on literary history or criticism and in 1997, Harvard University endowed the new chair (position) of Harry Levin Professor of Literature.
- The Broken Column (1931), Harvard undergraduate essay published by Cambridge UP
- Ben Jonson, Selected Works (1938) editor
- James Joyce: A Critical Introduction (1941)
- Toward Stendhal (1945)
- The Portable James Joyce (1947) editor
- Toward Balzac (1947)
- Perspectives of Criticism (1950) editor
- The overreacher, a study of Christopher Marlowe (1952)
- Symbolism and Fiction (1956)
- Contexts of Criticism (1957)
- The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville (1958)
- The Question of Hamlet (1959)
- Irving Babbitt and the Teaching of Literature (1960) Inaugural Lecture
- The Scarlet Letter and other Tales of the Puritans by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1961) editor
- The Gates of Horn: A Study of Five French Realists (1963)
- The Comedy of Errors (1965) editor
- Refractions: Essays in Comparative Literature (1966)
- Playboys and Killjoys: An Essay on the Theory and Practice of Comedy (1988)
- Bate, W. Jackson (March 1996). "Harry Tuchman Levin". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (American Philosophical Society) 140 (1): 101–104. ISSN 0003-049X. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
- Walter Jackson Bate, “Harry Tuchman Levin (18 July 1912- 29 May, 1994), Proceedings, American Philosophical Society: 140: 1 (1996): 101.
- At Harvard University:
- Guide to the Papers of Harry Levin (with biography)
- At the American Comparative Literature Association:
- The Harry Levin and René Wellek Prizes (given in alternate years)