The Moral Baby
March 14, 2005
Wodehouse: A Life By Robert McCrum (W.W. Norton, 530 pp., $27.95) I.Deliberately unserious writers are very rare in literature; even most children's books are dark with agenda. Sheer play is much rarer than great seriousness, for nonsense demands from most of us an unlearning of adult lessons, a return to childhood--which anyway, being a return, lacks childhood's innocent originality. P.G. Wodehouse, who was always described by those who knew him best as an arrested schoolboy, must be the gentlest, most playful comedian in the English novel.
On The Making Of A Durable World
March 04, 2005
Looking up at the towering, massive, early twentieth-century skyscraper that is the Municipal Building, I saw the names of my beloved city carved in Roman letters in a continuous line in blocks of stone: NEW AMSTERDAM MDCXXVI / MANAHATTA / NEW YORK MDCLXIV. Manahatta--what a beautiful name, I thought, so much more lyrical than New Amsterdam or New York or our present-day Manhattan, a name so lyrical that Whitman had written a lovely ode to it: I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city; Whereupon lo!
Matter of Taste
December 10, 2004
"Raphael: From Urbino to Rome" is now on exhibition at the National Gallery in London. It is a show I truly long to see not only because there are so few Raphaels in America that it is difficult to experience firsthand the oft-described transcendent force of "the immortal Raphael," as Vasari called him, but also because for a number of years now I have been working on a book in which the place of Raphael in the aesthetic imagination has become a central concern of my story.
February 23, 2004
In Ruins By Christopher Woodward (Pantheon Books, 280 pp., $24) Click here to purchase the book. For travelers who have experienced the grandeur and pathos of ruins that were once the glory of ancient Athens or Rome, it comes as a surprise to learn that what we are seeing today are tidied-up--its critics would say sterile--archaeological sites that are only as old as the last century.
February 09, 2004
The Rules of Engagement By Anita Brookner (Random House, 273 pp., $23.95) ANITA BROOKNER IS THE great chronicler of a particular sort of female loneliness. Her typical heroine spends most of her novel exhausted “with the tiredness of one who has too little rather than too much to do.” Someone has left her money, and so she does not work, or she works at something mostly solitary, such as translating or archiving. Her few friends are scattered, and during her rare moments among them she usually feels uncomfortable and unworthy, “like a humble petitioner, seeking an hour of their time, in wine b
That Cruel Guest
April 07, 2003
In the Land of Pain By Alphonse Daudet Edited and translated by Julian Barnes (Alfred A. Knopf, 87 pp, $13) The language requirement in American high schools has always been something of a curricular curiosity, and the abolition nowadays of the hopeful competence that it once proposed is but another sign of the withering away of the state of literary studies.
America in Thick and Thin
January 05, 1998
Civic Ideals: Conflicting Views of Citizenship in U.S. History by Rogers M. Smith (Yale University Press, 719 pp., $35) A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case called Lorelyn Penero Miller v. Madeleine K. Albright, and some of the drama of the case is encapsulated in the petitioner's name. Twenty-seven years ago in the Philippines, Lorelyn Penero Miller was born out of wedlock.
Open the Door
March 31, 1985
Chuck Lane: The case for embracing immigration.
Mr. More and the Mithraic Bull
January 01, 1970
The Great Man remembers T.S. Eliot.
The Historian, the Novelist, and the Faith
December 06, 1948
The fortunate few who can afford Fortune were treated in the November issue to an essay by John Chamberlain on "The Businessman in Fiction." Preaching in Henry Luce's tabernacle for the already converted, Chamberlain made a fervent plea for faith in the businessman not only as the source from whom all our blessings flow, but also as a beneficent force in the culture and an admirable family man and community-conscious citizen who has been treated villainously by the ingrate novelists. Chamberlain's discussion of the novelists from William Dean Howells and Frank Norris to Norman Mailer and Hiram