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What Plays Pizzicato on Ed Fuller’s Soul?

By Carol Brévart-Demm

Edward Fuller

Edward Fuller, College employee since 1975 and currently McCabe Library’s reference and video resources librarian, is a sweetly eccentric kind of fellow with doleful blue eyes and a devilish grin. You can spot him strolling across campus in a suit and one of his many hats, including a Navy blue beret (he loves Paris), a French boater, and various caps. The bulk of his wealth, he says, is carried in his shirt pocket, home to five or six expensive calligraphic fountain pens including a Mont Blanc and a Parker, both with solid gold nibs.

Fuller displays an “Old School” brand of etiquette, opening doors for female staff or students, some of whom, he complains, don’t appreciate his efforts. It upsets him that most students have never heard of Béla Bartók.

His relentless humor ranges from the corny to the wickedly irreverent to the utterly genial. And he has a photographic memory for quotes, the result—according to a neurologist with whom he once chatted at a party—of “bad wiring in my brain.” Once accused of being “so intellectual” for reading Wordsworth while taking a cigarette break outside the library, he murmurs dreamily, “Wordsworth is wonderful; remember those lines, ‘Nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass.’ That’s from his ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality.’” Fuller’s love of poetry, prose, drama, and classical music permeates his being.

What brought you to Swarthmore?
Hunger. I applied for a development-writing job and was asked by the interviewer whether I could stay forever. My answer—that this was an unpredictable variable—apparently was the crux of my rejection. Four months later, the head of personnel informed me of an opening in the library. Bells chimed, light bulbs went on, and I saw fireworks. So I bounded over to McCabe, and, for inexplicable reasons, got the job—sorting the mail and ‘other duties as required.’ After a series of swift but minor promotions, I entered library school at Drexel University as a nocturnal student.

How did you become a walking Bartlett’s?
I suppose it’s basically because I’m rather shallow. Rather than read an entire work, I try to extract some intellectual one-liners from it. Just the other day, reading the 18th-century French moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert, I picked up a very useful piece of wisdom: “Never cut what you can untie.’

What is the appeal of being a reference librarian?
Again, I’m a rather trivial and shallow person, with a lot of breadth but quickly out of my shallows. For example, I know a few basic facts about the French Revolution; but don’t start poking around about the social conditions in France or why they were the way they were. Did you know, by the way, that Robespierre, until he came to power, was against capital punishment?

Do you have a favorite book?
There are lots of works I’d read over and over. But maybe Hamlet is my favorite. I’ve read it about 15 times. As the poet Wallace Stevens would say, it “plays pizzicato” on my soul. But so do Mrs. Dalloway and The Master and Marguerita. Oh yes, and Vanity Fair, too.

Why do you love Paris?
I’m not sure, but the first time my wife, Gail, and I went there, we got off the plane and felt at home. We were homesick for Paris on the plane back to Philadelphia. We’ve been there 15 times in the last 10 years. I think the reason might be that there’s been a seriously destructive cultural shift in this country. For example, gangsta rap may be in the tradition of oral recitation, but when I’m forced to listen to it occasionally, I’m amazed at the pure barrenness of it—the laundry lists of obscenities punctuated by violence. The only time I heard loud music coming from a car in Paris, it was Mozart.

What was your favorite pastime as a child?
Avoiding my parents, getting out of the house. The greatest punishment in our house was being sent to bed with supper. Happy childhoods are the result of adults with bad memories—now that’s a Fullerism.

What would be your ideal job?
Probably commander of the British cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. You know, the Charge of the Light Brigade—“Cannon to the left of them, cannon to the right … ” Did you ever read Tennyson? Tennyson is wonderful. The job I currently have may not be the perfect job, but it is the best available compromise.

What constitutes the depths of despair for you?
Being deprived of people to talk to and things to read.

How about the heights of joy?
The feeling that the world might be a happier and better place because I’m here—just in a very modest way—in my immediate world.

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