Tony Schwab taught writing at Rutgers University until 2018. The Victorian Web has been wonderfully inviting and supportive of his work which has led to meeting other scholars of nineteenth century British thought. In 2021 he contributed a chapter on the affinities of Dickens and Darwin to The Theological Dickens edited by Ayers and Maier and in 2022 their Routledge Handbook to Victorian Scandals in Literature and Art will contain his article “The Darwin Scandal.” In 2022 Tony will also direct a production of his new musical Zoom written with composer David Gopoian, about five women friends from the high school Class of ’68: “When the world is going to hell in 2020, Zoom renews their everlasting bond and reshapes their lives.”

Tony was born in 1950 and grew up in Mamaroneck, NY where he got a good education. Growing up in a family that spoke often about books, movies, art, and ideas and receiving a subscription to the NY Review of Books when he was 14 from his maternal grandfather was Tony's starter kit for becoming an intellectual. But then Tony discovered a talent for acting and did that seriously and with great joy throughout high school. He remembers fondly that his parents wanted him to play the Eli Wallach lead role in Rhinoceros by Ionesco in his senior year so they told him to suggest the play to his director; he did so, she accepted it and he played it. A memorable line was, "I will not capitulate!"

Tony went on quickly to play leading roles with the downtown Circle in the Square in New York in the early '70s and kept an eye on the career of his role model Dustin Hoffman as Dustin rose from off-off Broadway and PBS to Hollywood. But it wasn't for him. He tried to parley his acting credits into jobs in LA, but it was hard and not satisfying so he and his wife Deborah left Hollywood and Tony started teaching drama to young people as well as writing plays. All this time he was reading and reading, chiefly the nineteenth-century canon but all of Bellow and Updike and a lot of Philip Roth. Once after an audition, he sped to the LA library to pick up his reserved copy of PopePride and Prejudice and not wanting to hide it.

Living as an intellectual requires passion as strong as an actor’s but less obvious, less animated. If one doesn't want to let it go it just grows. Reading all of Dostoevsky, Eliot, Austen, and Dickens sticks with us; in fact, we go back for more throughout the years. The news of the world starts to be filtered through the lens of what we have been inspired to think by reading these men and women. It changes everything.

Along the way Tony completed his Masters in phenomenology and its relation to teaching. He had become a high school teacher in 1989 in an alternative public school in the South Bronx, and this was another revelation. How teachers experience kids and vice-versa was his thesis. Tony moved to teach English in Manhattan in 1996 and, to get a parking space on West 63rd St., drove from NJ at 5:30 every morning, had waffles and strawberries in a nice diner and read Upton Sinclair, Zora Neale Hurston, Native Son and the wonderful Toni Morrison.

Tony retired in July, 2017 as Principal of New Alliance Academy in Paramus, New Jersey, a high school for students with anxiety and depression which he had been able to shape from its start with his colleagues. Every morning before work he read, mostly from the nineteenth century. In 2012 he read Martin Chuzzlewit and was struck by how different and troubled this novel was than Dickens’s other work. It seemed to be written with a hand tied behind the author's back. And when Tony read the critics, they seemed like a swarm of bees riled up over it. Something was wrong with this picture. Tony wrote the essay, “A Bad Trip,” and then a play about Dickens and his biographer John Forster called Dickens Loses His Way. Often Tony’s plays will incorporate nineteenth century characters interacting with moderns and asking a lot of questions (there is a great opportunity here for hypertext in the printed versions). Tony paints a lot too using a host of google images and photos from his life.

Once an intellectual always an intellectual, and to find readers on the Victorian Web with whom one can speak is a joy. Tony lives in New Jersey with his wondrous wife Deborah. They have five grandchildren. The story goes on.

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Created 11 October 2017

Last modified 8 March 2022