Guy Davenport Biography


Guy Davenport was born on November 23, 1927, in Anderson, South Carolina. His father, Guy Mattison Davenport, spent most of his working life as a shipping agent in Anderson. His mother, Marie Fant Davenport, was a housewife. Although Guy Davenport kept his private life very private, he seemed to have had a happy childhood and recalled with pleasure summer days when he and his father scoured the South Carolina forest looking for Indian arrowheads.

Davenport attended Duke University, where he studied literature and languages, including French, Latin, and Greek, graduating with honors in 1948. He then moved on to Oxford University’s Merton College as a Rhodes Scholar and earned a B. Litt. degree in 1950. He subsequently served in the United States Army Airborne Corps for the following two years. He taught at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1952 to 1955, moving on to further graduate studies at Harvard University from 1956 to 1961. He earned a Ph.D. in modern literature from Harvard in 1961. He taught at Haverford College in Philadelphia from 1961 to 1963 and accepted a permanent position at the University of Kentucky, where he remained for the rest of his academic career. He retired from Kentucky in 1991 after receiving a prestigious MacArthur Grant.

Besides teaching at the University of Kentucky, where he taught courses in modern literature, Davenport traveled extensively throughout Europe, especially France, gathering material for his stories and his scholarly essays. In addition to his many literary essays and more than sixty short stories (some the length of novels), he wrote literary criticism and book reviews for many journals and magazines. He reviewed books for National Review for eleven years and also for Life, The New York Times Book Review, Hudson Review, Poetry, Book Week, The New Criterion, and the Los Angeles-New York Times Book Review Service. He died in early 2005 of cancer.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Guy Davenport’s fictions are variations on the theme of the loss of innocence—the Fall from a childlike vision of the world into the adult world of experience and knowledge. The villains are always the mechanistic and dehumanizing forces in Western society, which continually threaten to eradicate the joyous and childlike sense of the marvelous that transforms boredom into celebration. The source of that energy has always existed and resides in the continuous rediscovery of the archaic—that is, of the wisdom found in the great art and literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Davenport wanted nothing less than a new Renaissance, imitative of the fifteenth century one that transformed Europe from a dark ages society into one of the greatest and richest civilizations in existence.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Guy Mattison Davenport, Jr., was born on November 23, 1927, in Anderson, South Carolina, to Guy Mattison, an express agent, and Marie (Fant) Davenport. He earned a B.A. from Duke University in 1948. He then attended the University of Oxford, Merton College, on a Rhodes scholarship, receiving a B.Litt. in 1950. After spending two years in the military (1950-1952), he taught for several years at Washington University in St. Louis. Having finished his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1961 in classical literature, he taught at Haverford College in Philadelphia until 1963. He then accepted a position in the English department at the University of Kentucky, where he taught until 1992. Davenport died January 4, 2005 of cancer at the University of Kentucky Cancer Center.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Guy Mattison Davenport, Jr., is accomplished as a short-story writer, essayist, and translator and is successful and appreciated as a critic, lecturer, editor, poet, and scholar. He also qualifies as an illustrator and draftsman and has written libretti. He was born to Guy Mattison Davenport, an express agent, and his wife, Marie Fant Davenport. As a youth, he was studious and interested in classical literature. After completing a B.A. at Duke University in 1948, he was a Rhodes Scholar and earned a B.Litt. at the University of Oxford in 1950; he then served in the U.S. Army for two years, after which he taught English at Washington University in St. Louis. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1961 and began a long teaching career at the University of Kentucky in 1963.

That Davenport has never owned or driven an automobile suggests his independence from prevailing norms—a quality that is evident in his writing as well. His most significant contribution to the arts is assuredly his short fiction. Despite the variegated nature of Davenport’s fiction, his stories share certain common features: They are experimental, modernist, and learned. Davenport’s stories dispense with much of the machinery of the traditional short story; often as not, the reader cannot initially discern who the speaker is, and there is little in the sense of action, character, or development that can be read as plot. A typical Davenport story might juxtapose narratives set in different centuries, with no explicit connection, asking the reader to intuit the relation between them. Such devices clearly identify Davenport as a modernist. At the same time, he fills his works with allusions—particularly classical ones—from history, religion, art, and science, such that his scholarship is a bedrock of the fiction. Some reviewers have found fault with the conspicuous erudition of Davenport’s stories, but this conclusion is presumptuous and lazy, for the very learnedness of his stories provides the foundation that sustains them.

Davenport himself has described his...

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