Stanley Edgar Hyman

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Stanley Edgar Hyman (June 11, 1919 - July 29, 1970)[1] was an American literary critic who wrote primarily about critical methods: the distinct strategies critics use in approaching literary texts.


Hyman was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Moe Hyman, and raised as an Orthodox Jew. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1940, where he met Shirley Jackson. After reading one of Jackson's stories, Hyman declared that he was going to marry the author. They had four children together.[2] He was a staff writer for The New Yorker for much of his life, and although he did not possess a graduate degree, taught at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. From 1961 to 1965, Hyman was the literary critic of The New Leader. Although he admired his wife's writing, he did not believe in monogamy and had numerous affairs during their marriage, often with his students.[3] Despite his flaws as a husband, Hyman was a consistent supporter of his wife's work and bitterly resented the lack of recognition she received during her lifetime. He wrote, "I think that the future will find her powerful visions of suffering and inhumanity increasingly significant and meaningful, and that Shirley Jackson's work is among that small body of literature produced in our time that seems apt to survive."[4]

A year after Jackson's death in 1965, Hyman married Phoebe Pettingell, who had been a classmate of his daughter, Joanne, and his student at Bennington College. Three months after Hyman's death, she gave birth to his last child, a son named Malcolm (1970-2009), who became a research fellow in the Department of Classics at Harvard University and later at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

Although more likely to be remembered today as the husband of writer Shirley Jackson (he edited a posthumous collection of her work),[5] Hyman was influential in the development of literary theory during the 1940s and 1950s. Equally skeptical of every major critical methodology of his time, he worked out an early instance of a critical theory, exploring ways that critics can be foiled by their own methods. "Each critic," Hyman wrote in The Armed Vision, "tends to have a master metaphor or series of metaphors in terms of which he sees the critical function ... this metaphor then shapes, informs, and sometimes limits his work."[page needed][6] Hyman saw it as his own critical task to point out these overriding themes by which, tacitly, other critics organized their work and their thinking.

Hyman was also a noted jazz critic, who wrote hundreds of essays on the subject in addition to his career as a writer and teacher. He had an important influence on Ralph Ellison's career, but they had many disagreements.[7][8]


  • The Armed Vision: A Study in the Methods of Modern Literary Criticism. New York: Knopf, 1947.
  • The Critical Performance: An Anthology of American and British Literary Criticism in Our Century. New York: Vintage Books, 1956.
  • Poetry and Criticism: Five Revolutions in Literary Taste. New York: Atheneum, 1961.
  • The Tangled Bank: Darwin, Marx, Frazer and Freud as Imaginative Writers. New York: Atheneum, 1962.
  • The Critic's Credentials: Essays and Reviews. Ed. Phoebe Pettingell. New York: Atheneum, 1978.
  • Standards: A Chronicle of Books for Our Time. New York: Horizon Press, 1966.


  1. ^ "Stanley Edgar Hyman Is Dead; Critic, Author and Teacher, 51". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Klein, Annika (27 March 2019). "The Lives of Literary Wives". BookRiot.
  3. ^ Franklin, Ruth,. Shirley Jackson : a rather haunted life (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780871403131. OCLC 937452606.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Franklin, Ruth, (2017), Shirley Jackson : a rather haunted life, CNIB, ISBN 9780616950470, OCLC 1002687120, retrieved 2019-10-18CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Jackson, Shirley (1966). Hyman, Stanley Edgar (ed.). The Magic of Shirley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. LCCN 66-20163.
  6. ^ The Armed Vision. p. 8.
  7. ^ Ramspersad, Arnold (2008). Ralph Ellison: A Biography. p. 159.
  8. ^ Ralph Ellison: A Biography. p. 351.

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