By Clarice Stasz
Professor Emeritus of Spanish from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Hensley Woodbridge passed away following a long illness on January 10. Anyone with an interest in London owes an enormous debt to Hensley.
His interest in London was, as it was for many of us, unexpected, a matter of time and place. In the late 1950s he was librarian at Murray State College (later University) in Kentucky. One of the English faculty there, Clell Peterson, suggested they produce a bibliography of Jack London. Peterson proved too busy to stay with the project, but Hensley persisted. Two others joined on: John London, a book dealer, and George Tweney, a book collector. But Hensley was the primary editor and force behind the project, as his first position on the title page indicated. Jack London: A Biography was published by Talisman Press in 1966.
The significance of the bibliography quickly spread among scholars, collectors, and dealers. A humble man, commited to accuracy and thoroughness, Hensley welcomed the many additions and corrections sent to him subsequent to the publication. The result was a revised and expanded edition published by Kraus-Thompson in 1973.
What is extraordinary about these two editions is their inclusiveness. WLT, as he liked to call it on the basis of the authors' last initials, demonstrated his librarian's training through its incorporation of such subcategories as Spurious Works by JL, Motion Pictures, Anthologies in English, Reviews of Books in Foreign Languages, and more. The section on London's books provides details on the first edition's cover and copyright information, reprint editions, and foreign editions. The foreign magazine and newspaper articles about London include such sources as Estonian, Icelandic, and Portuguese along with the expected German, Russian, and French. Thus, throughout this volume one immediately grasps the significance of London's place in worldwide literature. The result was also to acknowledge an international community of interest, which no doubt fostered the global collegiality of those studying London today.
For those interested in London's life, the Articles in English section remains essential. Here one finds virtually all the newspaper and magazine articles written about London's everyday matters while he was alive, the bulk from Bay area papers that are not indexed, and firsthand reminisces from friends and associates. Determination to dig out the obscure is evident in listing stories from California Highway Patrolmen, Our Dumb Animals, and Hungarian Studies in English.
The paperwork and organization creating WLT leaves one awestruck. This was before the PC and efficient database programs. Just how did he manage to keep everything straight, and minimze errors in so detail-ridden a work? One imagines pile after pile of index cards and boxes, double checking of dates and Polish orthography, then having to do the frightful copyedit of the galleys. I have used WLT for twenty years and discovered only one error, that of a page number, in the process.
Desiring to continue updating WLT, Hensley started the Jack London Newsletter in 1965. This was totally a labor of love, which became the leading journal publishing information about Jack London and his works. He published articles by scholars, students, and fans, and works published elsewhere translated into English. His beloved wife Annie, translated from the French, and daughter Ruby Susan, from the German. It encouraged novice scholars by publishing the writings of undergraduate and graduate students both here and abroad.
JLN's significance was not matched by its subscribers, which topped at 200, mostly libraries. This accounts for the frustration of school children I hear from regularly who discover JLN citations but can not locate the copies. But the scholars knew, and spread the word, and depended upon JLN when other literary journals, ostracizing the subject and not the quality of the critic's remarks, rejected important commentary. Were it not for Hensley, it is possible the enormous JL renaissance would not have occurred, certainly not so rapidly.
Hensley's warmth and welcome to all is evident in his editing. He was never an elitist—quite the contrary. He made friends with many of his contributers, which in many cases required an epistolary relationship. I was a beneficiary of such, and felt from him a grandfatherly concern that I had never known. He wrote easily of his family, as though I had met them, and allowed me to participate in their life vicariously. But he was also a man with clear principles and unafraid to state them. He developed a friendship with Joan London during her final years, and those letters are filled with frank and often feisty criticism of others in the Jack London community.
One would wish an easy end for such a man, but it was not to be. Several years ago, Annie died, and grief took its toll. He wrote to me then of two people in the JL community who were especially kind to him, and became like family members. One was Susan Nuernberg, who lived in Wisconsin but would travel to visit him, the other, in Carbondale, was Tony Williams, who provided the daily assistance of a good neighbor as Hensley's health failed. Developing blindness and a series of strokes led to periods at a convalescent institution. His latest Christmas letter admitted that the pain was difficult to handle, but those nearby remarked upon his continued kindness to those caring for him.
Let this memory from Hensley stand as the best closure. "When I once queried someone in charge of seating arrangements at a Jack London Birthday Banquet as to my being seated at the head table, she replied, 'Because you are you. Part of me has been the JLN and the WLT." Ah, but the other part was so wonderful too, Hensley!
Source: Williams, James. Jack London Journal, (Number 7 2000)
By Tony Williams
We owe much to Hensley Woodbridge for his pioneering work in Jack London Studies. During those grim decades of the 60s and 70s when any scholarly work on Jack London was regarded as taboo and unfit for consideration within any scholarly publication, Hensley started The Jack London Newsletter and ran it for nearly twenty years. Despite its title, the publication was more of an academic journal than anything else. It contained articles on Jack London from all parts of the globe and often provided the first stages for many who would later become established scholars.
Yesterday, Professor James Giles of Northern Illinois University asked me to convey his deep sorrow over this great loss. He often remarked on how Hensley published his first academic article on the significance of the Jim Hall character in Jack London's White Fang. Over the years, The Jack London Newsletter often published the first articles of figures such as Clarice Stasz, James Williams, Earle Labor, Jacqueline Taverioer-Courbin, and Jeanne Reesman. Throughout the years, Annie Woodbridge often provided invaluable support.
Hensley was never one to embody that disreputable mode of behavior which Sigmund Freud would have termed the "psychopathology of academic life" had he ever turned his attention to those men (and women) "behaving badly" within the ivory tower. He offered friendship to many people and never engaged in backbiting and exclusionary activities so typical of academia. Hensley would often be found in the library every day looking up some new piece of information.
When I first arrived in Carbondale for interview in 1984, the then-Chair of Cinema and Photography asked me if I would like to see anybody after my two-day interview schedule. I instantly replied that I would like to meet the person whom I had corresponded with since 1983. Hensley and Annie both made me feel at home. He offered me a "Dr. Pepper" (which I had never heard of at the time)and took me to dinner in the Happy Reunion Chinese Restaurant in Carbondale. It was the first of many pleasurable social occasions.
Kathleen has asked me to add that unlike many retired professors, Hensley still pursued his research daily as well as providing friendship and support to all who needed it. I do not exaggerate in saying that the present renaissance in Jack London scholarship would have been impossible without him. Hensley offered support to all who asked him and never discriminated against anyone. Although he finished his "tour of duty" editing The Jack London Newsletter, he provided the basis for The Jack London Journal whose editor, Jay Williams, is in the audience today.
Hensley was a giant of a man in terms of his humanity, friendship, and scholarship. He is a person who has no equal and whose warm genorous humanitarian nature will never again see its equal in the world of scholarship.
We all owe him a lot.
Source: Williams, James. Jack London Journal, (Number 7 2000)
By Susan Nuernberg
The World of Jack London lost a dear friend on January 10, 2001 with the passing of Hensley C. Woodbridge, Professor Emeritus of Spanish from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Hensley had been ill for over two years after suffering two strokes but remained in good spirits and kept his sense of humor.
Hensley will always be fondly remembered for having compiled along with George Tweney and John London the first major bibliography of Jack London's works. Still considered the authorative source for many today, Jack London: A Bibliography (published by Talisman Press) appeared in 1966, one decade before the centennial celebration of London's birth. A revised and expanded edition was published by Kraus-Thompson in 1973. Used copies of this book are extremely hard to find making it virtually priceless.
Hensley's second contribution is related to the first. Many people continued to supply Hensley with information and essays on London after he had compiled the Bibliography. He saw the need for a forum devoted to London and single-handedly edited the Jack London Newsletter from 1967-1988. In its pages he published articles by scholars, students and fans of Jack London in the USA as well as translations of articles published elsewhere on London. Hensley often corresponded for years with contributors before meeting them in person; some of them he never met. There are many of us today whose first work on London was published by Hensley or read their critical essay on London in the pages of the Jack London Newsletter.
Hensley was the epitome of a kind, generous and friendly person. He regularly attended the (Foundation) birthday banquets and the Society's symposia, he served on the Advisory Boards of the Foundation and the Jack London Society, and he traveled to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada to deliver a keynote address on the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1997.
Hensley was born in 1923 in Champaign, Illinois and raised in Williamsburg, Virginia, where his father was dean of the Law School at the College of William and Mary. He was extremely well educated. He earned a B.A. at William and Mary, a M.A. at Harvard, a Ph.D. and a M.S. in Library Science at University of Illinois. He leaves one sister, Julia Oxrieded of Williamsburg, VA, one daughter and one son-in-law Ruby Susan and Jim Jung of Carbondale, IL.
Source: Nuernberg, Susan. Jack London Foundation Newsletter, (April 1, 2001)