Category Archives: Literary criticism

From the Archives: Pondering the ‘Utilitarian’ Humanities

I’ve been thinking about this old post a lot lately because it’s hard to escape the discouraging conclusion that — despite having plenty of data on our side — humanists aren’t doing well convincing people that a humanities major is a perfectly practical choice. (I’m glad people are doing research on why better evidence against […]

The Case for “Intelligent, Bloggy Bookchat By Scholars”: How’s It Looking?

On Thursday I participated in a Twitter Q&A with the members of Karen Bourrier‘s University of Calgary graduate seminar on Victorian women writers. The students had been assigned my JVC essay on academic blogging (anticipated in my 2011 BAVS presentation, which you can see the Prezi for here, if you aren’t one of those people […]

“Haunted still by doubt”: Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel

No one will ever guess the burden of blame I carry on my shoulders; nor will they know that every day, haunted still by doubt, I ask myself a question which I cannot answer. Was Rachel innocent or guilty? Maybe I shall learn that, too, in purgatory. My Cousin Rachel is more understated than Jamaica Inn […]

Liking and Disliking: Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

Lately I can’t seem to stop quoting Henry James’s remark that “nothing, of course, will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ‘liking’ a work of art or not liking it: the more improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate, test.” However much we try as readers and critics to […]

Shhh! It’s (Still) A Library!

One of my favorite souvenirs from my trip to Oxford a few years ago is a pair of coasters from the Bodleian Library that say “silence please.” I love these because they speak for me: so often I crave silence so that I can concentrate on my book. Reading, for me — at least serious […]

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 […]

“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 […]

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