Hicks’ Town

In 1932, Marxist literary critic Granville Hicks and his wife, Dorothy, bought an eight-room farmhouse in Grafton, New York, a rural hamlet ten miles east of Troy, where Hicks taught English to the young engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  For three years, they lived as summer people, aestivating intellectuals, divorced from the community.  But when RPI fired Hicks for his Communist Party membership in 1935, he and Dorothy settled into Grafton for good—and for better, as it turned out.  Small Town (1946), which Fordham University Press has republished in a handsome edition graced by an informative, sympathetic Introduction by Warren F. Broderick, is Granville Hicks’ account of life in Grafton.

As a boy, Hicks had been something of a sissy, an unhappy New England Unitarian who “did badly in games.”  He was high-school valedictorian, but his neighbors “knew that I would be out and away—like all the other bright boys of the towns and the smaller cities of America.”  He believed in science, reason, progress: the whole progressive shebang that would give us such marvels of the modern world as Nagasaki, Fox News, and Melissa Etheridge’s test-tube baby.  Hicks was well on his way to peripatetic professorhood, a placeless existence in which he could theorize about the proletariat without actually having to meet any of it.

But Grafton...

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