Henry James

The Freedom to Bumble
July 13, 2011

The Free World By David Bezmozgis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 356 pp., $26) To call a short-story writer Chekhovian is among the worst of the book reviewer’s clichés, a lazy shorthand that no longer means anything other than that the person writes very good short stories. But what is often forgotten amid the contemporary adulation of Chekhov as the master of the form—in fact he was the master only of a certain kind of short tale—is that, after a couple of early attempts, he declined to write novels.

Franklin: When Will Gay Marriage’s Time Come in Literature?
June 28, 2011

It is a truth now occasionally, if not yet universally, acknowledged: that a single man, whether or not he possesses a good fortune, could be in want of not a wife, but a husband. The passage last weekend of New York’s historic same-sex marriage bill, which made the state the largest to join the gathering movement, was thrilling to all supporters of equal rights.

Visionary Materialism
May 19, 2011

Illuminations By Arthur Rimbaud Translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton, 167 pp., $24.95) I. Arthur Rimbaud wrote the texts known as Illuminations between around 1873 and 1875. In those years he lived in London, and in Paris, and at home with his mother and sisters in northern France, and in Stuttgart. In London, George Eliot was writing Daniel Deronda; in Paris, Henry James was writing Roderick Hudson. The majestic Nineteenth Century was everywhere.

Beyond Idolatry
March 03, 2011

Foreign Bodies By Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 255 pp., $26)  I. ‘There is no swarming like that of Israel when once Israel has got a start, and the scene here bristled, at every step, with the signs and sounds, immitigable, unmistakable, of a Jewry that had burst all bounds. ...

Lasting Man
February 10, 2011

Saul Bellow: Letters Edited by Benjamin Taylor (Viking, 571 pp., $35) How easy it is, and plausible, to regard a collection of letters spanning youth and old age as an approximation of autobiography: the procession of denizens who inhabit a life, the bit players with their entrances and exits, the faithful chronology of incidents—all turn up reliably in either form, whether dated and posted or backward-looking. Yet autobiography, even when ostensibly steeped in candor, tends toward reconsideration—if not revisionary paperings-over, then late perspectives, afterwords, and second thoughts.

Facebook Visigoths
November 30, 2010

How, I asked my husband as much in disbelief as in indignation, do the guards at the Louvre allow this? I wasn't referring to the hordes of chattering tourists of all description who, when they visit the museum, apparently think it is a good idea to press and elbow and jostle against one another in order to get into position to snap a picture—blinding flashes from every direction—of the long-suffering, overexposed Mona Lisa.

Edith Wharton’s War
September 06, 2010

Edith Wharton is not a writer most of us probably associate with war. With the frosty, treacherous, yet bloodless drawing-room battles of Gilded Age New York, yes. With the stink and smoking gore of a trench on the Western Front, no. And yet there Wharton was in France, for the duration of World War I: working vigorously on behalf of numerous charities and relief organizations, sending dispatches from the front back to American readers, publicly and privately making the case for the United States to join the fight.

Edith Wharton’s War
September 06, 2010

Edith Wharton is not a writer most of us probably associate with war. With the frosty, treacherous, yet bloodless drawing-room battles of Gilded Age New York, yes. With the stink and smoking gore of a trench on the Western Front, no. And yet there Wharton was in France, for the duration of World War I: working vigorously on behalf of numerous charities and relief organizations, sending dispatches from the front back to American readers, publicly and privately making the case for the United States to join the fight.

The Look of Time
August 06, 2010

I was telling my friend I was planning to write about how we see time. This was on my mind because of some pictures I saw in The New York Times of the remains of an eighteenth-century wooden ship that had been unearthed by construction workers at the World Trade Center site 30 feet below ground.

Alone, With Words
June 09, 2010

Writers write in order to be read. This is obvious. But the speed with which words, once written, are now being read—a speed shaped by technological innovations long before the Internet turned the quick turnaround into the virtually instantaneous turnaround—has set me to thinking about the extent to which writing, for the writer, ought to have a freestanding value, a value apart from the reader. There is too much talk about the literary marketplace, the cultural marketplace, and the marketplace of ideas.

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