Artine Artinian

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New York Times Dec. 11, 2005

Artine Artinian, a noted manuscript collector and scholar of French literature who was immortalized as a fictional character by two of the most prominent American writers of the 20th century, died on Nov. 19 at his home in Lantana, Fla. He was 97 and had lived for many years in Palm Beach.

Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post

Artine Artinian and his wife, Margaret, circa 1998, at their penthouse.

Professor Artinian's son, Robert, confirmed the death.

At his death, Professor Artinian was emeritus professor of French at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where he had taught for nearly 30 years. An authority on Guy de Maupassant (1850-93), he translated and edited what is considered to be the definitive English-language edition of Maupassant's short stories.

An immigrant from Bulgaria who began his working life as a bootblack, Professor Artinian amassed such a valuable collection of French literary manuscripts that he was able to quit teaching in his 50's. He devoted his retirement to collecting more manuscripts, as well as an unusual array of portraits. He donated a significant collection of manuscripts and art to Bowdoin College and contributed artwork to several universities and museums.

Perhaps because of his expansive nature (he spoke eight languages and seemed to know everyone), perhaps because of his wonderfully alliterative name, Professor Artinian made his way twice into postwar American letters. He was enshrined by his Bard colleague Mary McCarthy in the novel "The Groves of Academe" (1952) and by his friend Gore Vidal in the play "The Best Man" (1960).

He also had the misfortune to brush up against one of academia's least savory characters, the eminent Belgian deconstructionist Paul de Man.

Artine Artinian was born on Dec. 8, 1907, in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria, to Armenian parents. In 1920, the family came to the United States, settling in Attleboro, Mass. There, Artine worked as a shoeshine boy, learning English from the conversations eddying overhead.

Sponsored by a group of prominent townspeople whose shoes he shined, Artine went to Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1931. He earned a diploma from the University of Paris the next year, a master's degree from Harvard in 1933 and a doctorate from Columbia in 1941.

By this time, Professor Artinian, who joined the Bard faculty in 1935, had already embarked on his multifaceted career:

There was Artinian the scholar. In 1955, he published "The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant" (Hanover House), which includes a number of stories not previously anthologized. It also excludes 65 stories, long attributed to Maupassant, that Professor Artinian and other scholars had found to be spurious.

There was Artinian the literary character. In "The Best Man," he is Dr. Artinian, a psychiatrist. In "The Groves of Academe," he is Aristide Poncy, an absent-minded professor of languages at Jocelyn College, a thinly veiled Bard stand-in.

There was Artinian the accumulator, so skilled a trader that on a professor's salary he assembled a collection of original letters and manuscripts that included the work of Maupassant, Flaubert, Zola and Proust.

The collection featured an unpublished manuscript by Proust, which Professor Artinian had discovered, with a dealer's help, in 1958. A handwritten study of the French poet and art critic Robert de Montesquieu, the manuscript was long presumed lost.

Professor Artinian retired from Bard in 1964, after selling part of his collection to the University of Texas. In later years, he also collected portraits of famous subjects, including Jules Verne, Marcel Marceau, Thomas Mann, the pianist Ignace Paderewski and the poet Rabindranath Tagore.

He was such a diligent hoarder that four decades after the fact, he was able to supply documentary evidence of de Man's ill-fated years at Bard to the writer David Lehman, who had just published a book about him. (In 1987, four years after his death, de Man was discovered to have written more than 100 articles for pro-Nazi publications during World War II.)

Largely on McCarthy's recommendation, Professor Artinian had helped get de Man hired at Bard in 1949. Two years later, he helped get him fired: de Man had turned out to be, among other things, a liar, a thief and a bigamist. He was also a deadbeat, as Professor Artinian discovered to his chagrin after he left to take up a Fulbright fellowship in Paris and rented his house to de Man.

Professor Artinian's account of de Man's time at Bard formed part of the afterword to the paperback edition of Mr. Lehman's book "Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man" (Poseidon Press, 1991).

Among Professor Artinian's other books is "Maupassant Criticism in France, 1880-1940" (King's Crown Press, 1941). With his son, Robert Willard Artinian, also a scholar of French literature, he published "Maupassant Criticism: A Centennial Bibliography, 1880-1979" (McFarland) in 1982.

Besides his son, of Lake Worth, Fla., Professor Artinian is survived by two daughters, Ellen Artinian Strickland and Margaret Artinian Laske, both of Pittsburgh; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Professor Artinian's wife, the former Margaret Willard Woodbridge, whom he married in 1936, died earlier this year. They had met as graduate students at Columbia.

"She was studying Flaubert, and I was studying Maupassant," the professor told an interviewer in 1999, "so we were a natural pair."

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