From the outset Updike, at work on his first novel, hoped to study with the novelist Albert Guerard and the poet Archibald MacLeish, both on the Harvard English faculty. Neither was impressed by Updike's submissions.

"I gave Mr. Guerard segments of my book to read," Updike informed his parents in his freshman year, "and when he held his little conference with me to determine my admittance into the course, he said 'I may be giving you much the same treatment Thomas Wolfe got here at Harvard.' Evidently Wolfe was not admired by the English Department at Harvard at that time when he was a student. Mr. Guerard went on to say, rather kindly and apologetic, 'You may be a fine writer, Updike, but at present I do not think it would be a good idea to have two people with such different notions of prose as you and I in the same course.' In short, I was firmly booted out." Updike conceded that it wasn't simply a matter of clashing sensibilities: "He called what I had written uneven and uncontrolled."

These rejections steeled Updike in his growing belief that American writers had grown infatuated with European modernists and should instead pay closer attention to their own time and place.

"We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled," Updike wrote to his parents in 1951, when he was 19. "This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic" -- a prescient formulation of what he would later achieve in the Rabbit novels and his Pennsylvania short stories. "Whatever the many failings of my work," he concluded, "let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born."

-- from John Updike's archive, by Sam Tanenhaus (via Ross Douthat)