Alison Lurie is the author of ten novels; a book of stories, Women and Ghosts; two memoirs, V.R. Lang and Familiar Spirits; and two collections of essays on children’s literature. Her most recent book is The Language of Houses. (April 2016)


Thomas Hardy: The Romantic Episode

Thomas Hardy, 1924; photograph by Ottoline Morrell


by Christopher Nicholson
From time to time, instead of creating characters, writers have kidnapped real people and imprisoned them in novels. In the last century the preferred method was to write a roman à clef. You collected a group of relatives, acquaintances, friends, and enemies, gave them new names and sometimes different physical …

In the Air of Baxter’s Bridge

Charles Baxter, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2014

There’s Something I Want You to Do

by Charles Baxter
For over thirty years Charles Baxter has been not only a remarkably good writer, but a professional teacher of writing. To understand what this really means, let us assume that he has maintained a very modest schedule, giving only two fiction workshops a year, with an average of ten students, …

The Triumph of Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon, circa 1985


by Fay Weldon


by Fay Weldon
The image of an English woman writer of the first rank, for well over a hundred years, has been of a sensitive, well-bred, well-read person who is nevertheless somewhat nervous and unhappy, prone to mental and physical ailments and in extreme cases to self-destruction. Though she feels deeply, this woman’s …

The Revolt of the Invisible Woman

Claire Messud, Amsterdam, 2005

The Woman Upstairs

by Claire Messud
One common tactic of totalitarian regimes is the designation of certain ethnic, economic, or religious groups as “nonpersons” or “former persons.” These unfortunate individuals are then automatically deprived of the rights of citizenship; they can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, mistreated, and in some cases even …

‘Something Wonderful Out of Almost Nothing’

One of Maurice Sendak’s original drawings for We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, 1992; from the exhibition ‘Maurice Sendak: A Legacy,’ which will be on view at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, June 10, 2012–May 26, 2013
Only a few people have been both great writers and great illustrators of children’s books. In the nineteenth century there was Edward Lear, and in the twentieth Dr. Seuss and—perhaps the most gifted of them all—Maurice Sendak. Sendak’s best-known work, Where the Wild Things Are (1963), shocked some adult readers at first; later it was recognized as a brilliant breakthrough. It gave graphic expression to what every parent knows—that kids are sometimes angry and even violent; and it proposed that these impulses could be explored and enjoyed rather than repressed and denied.

Who Is Peter Pan?

Mia Farrow pointing the way to Neverland in a television production of Peter Pan, 1976

The Annotated Peter Pan

by J.M. Barrie, edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar
A few writers have the kind of power that believers attribute to gods: they create men and women and children who seem to us to be real. But unlike gods, these writers do not control the lives of their most famous creations. As time passes, their tales are told and retold. Writers and dramatists and film-makers kidnap famous characters like Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes, and Superman; they change the characters’ ages and appearance, the progress and endings of their stories, and even their meanings.

Master of the Downbeat

Michael Redgrave as Jack Worthing and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, 1952


by Julian Barnes
In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) Miss Prism says of her three-volume novel, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” When Miss Prism composed this work—presumably at least twenty-eight years earlier, before she unfortunately left it in a perambulator, and the …

Comedy in Bloom

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood and Greg Wise as John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, 1995

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

by Cathleen Schine
Even the best comic writers have had difficulty being taken seriously. Tragedy always wins more prizes and generates more serious literary analysis—though possibly fewer readers. This has not always been so: in the nineteenth century an important novel was expected to end happily for its central characters, though often after …