Category Archives: literary criticism

Amateur Hour: Alan Rusbridger, Play It Again

I first learned about Play It Again, Alan Rusbridger’s account of his quest to learn Chopin’s great Ballade No.1, from Robert Winter’s recent review in the New York Review of Books. It’s a convincingly positive review, which is why it sent me out to get the book, but as I worked through Play It Again I found myself thinking that Winter […]

“For the sake of the right”: Wilkie Collins, No Name

The first book I thought of when I read Ana’s announcement of Long-Awaited Reads Month was Wilkie Collins’s No Name, which has been sitting on my shelf at work for several years. I acquired it in a fit of professional diligence: I include examples of Victorian sensation fiction regularly in my 19th-century fiction classes and I have […]

“What was justice?”: Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes

Before the madness of the new term quite overwhelms me, I wanted to put up a few words about Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, which I finished a couple of days ago. I ended up enjoying Miss Pym Disposes a lot. Not as much as Brat Farrar (so far, still my favourite Tey that’s not The Daughter of Time), […]

This Week in My Classes: Term Limits and New Ideas

This was the last week of fall term classes for us, which means concluding remarks and exam review and conferences about term papers — and then, beginning Monday, an influx of papers and exams to be marked, final grades to be calculated, and everything to be filed away and tidied up. I have an exam […]

Weekend Miscellany: Huffing and Puffing and Toasting 19th-Century Novels

Anyone who has been to an academic conference is familiar with the “question” from an audience member the entire subtext of which is “You didn’t present the paper I would have written on this topic.” (Some of us may even have asked such a question — in which cases I’m sure we were all 100% justified, […]

“As if she were a governess in a book”: Elizabeth Taylor, Palladian

I can’t take any credit for interpreting Elizabeth Taylor’s strange, gloomily elegant Palladian as a pastiche of Austen and Brontë. Not only does the back cover of my Virago edition baldly state that the novel “examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre” and explicitly compare Taylor’s method here to Austen’s in Northanger Abbey, but […]

This Week in My Classes: My Waverley Intervention

My sincere thanks to everyone who weighed in, here or on Twitter, with advice about handling the classroom slump brought on by Waverley. Here’s an update on what I decided to do. First of all, I did decide to do something different, rather than just pressing on with my usual strategies. I had to admit to myself […]

Putting the Record Straight: Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae

When I’d finished puzzling over A Far Cry From Kensington, I decided I’d had enough Muriel Spark for now. There are just so many other books I really want to read, after all. But then I remembered that I’d picked up a copy of her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, from the public library’s discard sale (it’s shocking, really, what […]

The Reader as Writer: Giraldi and His Gratuitous Grumblings

I don’t teach creative writing classes or attend MFA workshops or writers’ conferences, so I have no first-hand experience of the lamentable species William Giraldi is so annoyed about in his recent essay at the Los Angeles Review of Books: wannabe writers with “no usable knowledge of literary tradition [who] are mostly mere weekend readers […]

Most Seriously Displeased! Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures

I was very restrained in Hager Books on my recent trip to Vancouver: I picked out a modest two books there. One, Gift from the Sea, I chose because I’d heard so much about it. The other, Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures, I chose for the opposite reason: I’d never heard of it at all! That may seem […]

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