Feb. 17, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 10

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    Morrissette, Professor Emeritus in Romance Languages, dies

    Bruce Morrissette, a widely influential scholar and critic of 20th-century literature and cinema, died Sunday, Feb. 6, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. He was 88.

    Morrissette, the Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Romance Languages & Literatures, was one of the first American scholars to acknowledge the importance of the Nouveau Roman––the “New Novel“ that revolutionized French literature during the decades following the second World War.

    He is best known as the author of several works on the controversial novelist and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, including Les Romans de Robbe-Grillet (1963), Alain Robbe-Grillet (1966) and Intertextual Assemblage from Topology to the Golden Triangle (1979). Robbe-Grillet himself incorporated some of Morrissette’s insights into later works, marking a profound dialogue between the French author and his American critic.

    Morrissette received his B.A. from the University of Richmond, Va., in 1931. Soon after graduating, Morrissette traveled to Paris with lifelong friend Paul Bowles to join a growing set of American émigrés; their circle included Aaron Copland, Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson. When Morrissette returned to the United States to resume his studies in 1933, he and Bowles took up a correspondence that lasted until the latter died in November 1999.

    Françoise Meltzer, Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature, remembers Morrissette as “a humanist in the fullest sense of the word. Bruce was an intellectual of the avant-garde with a gentlemanly demeanor,“ recalled Meltzer. “He was both cultivated and extremely bright. There’s no doubt that his work was highly important for the development of contemporary studies in narrative structure––and that it did a tremendous amount to open greater channels of communication between French and American scholars,“ she added.

    Morrissette was named Docteur de l ’Université de Clermont-Ferrand in 1933 and went on to complete his Ph.D. in romance languages at Johns Hopkins University in 1938. He received his first appointment at Washington University, St. Louis, where he taught from 1938 until 1962, when he accepted a professorship in Romance Languages & Literatures at Chicago. Although he accepted emeritus status in 1979, he continued to teach and advise students for many years thereafter.

    His son, James Archer Morrissette, and his daughter-in-law, Mary Morrissette, survive him.