Christopher Benfey is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke. He is the author of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay.
 (April 2017)


Building the American Dream

An engraving of New Harmony, Indiana, the utopian community founded by Robert Owen in 1825 and dissolved in 1827

Man’s Better Angels: Romantic Reformers and the Coming of the Civil War

by Philip F. Gura

Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism

by Chris Jennings
On a sunny August afternoon in 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, after a picnic in the Berkshires and a leisurely smoke under the trees, decided, seemingly on impulse, to visit the Hancock Shaker Village, on the outskirts of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For Melville, who lived nearby, it was a chance …

Emily: The Quiet Earthquake

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s Poems As She Preserved Them

edited by Cristanne Miller

A Quiet Passion

a film directed by Terence Davies
“There are paths trodden to the shrines of solitude the world over,” Sarah Orne Jewett wrote in The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), “—the world cannot forget them, try as it may; the feet of the young find them out because of curiosity and dim foreboding; while the old …

The Long-Distance Reader

Lauren Bacall and Robert Gottlieb celebrating the publication of Bacall’s memoir, By Myself, which Gottlieb edited, New York City, January 1979

Avid Reader

by Robert Gottlieb
There is a special allure in learning the secrets of people who work behind the scenes, especially when their success—as diplomats, psychoanalysts, or spies—depends in large part on the invisibility of what they do. This is certainly true of book editors. The illusion they seek to promote is that the …


Ryder in the Darkness

Sailing by Moonlight, formerly attributed to Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1880s

Mark Rudman offered to push me around the Albert Pinkham Ryder exhibition in a wheelchair. This turned out to be a very good way to view art. The whole habitual rigmarole of wandering through an art museum is eliminated. The art is simply, emphatically, there, to be looked at, attentively. Everyone should see art in a wheelchair.

A Well-Ventilated Utopia

Paul Scheerbart: Nusi-Pusi, 1912

In a recent exhibition and accompanying catalog, the Berlinische Galerie has brought some of Paul Scheerbart’s most indelible images together with the graphic work of two artists he inspired: the modernist architect Bruno Taut (who built a pineapple-shaped glass dome building in Cologne in Scheerbart’s honor) and the little-known outsider artist Paul Goesch (killed by the Nazis in 1940, in their murderous purge of the mentally disabled), whose miniature and colorful architectural visions owe something to Scheerbart.

Master of the Unreal

Hercules Segers: Rocky Landscape with a Man Walking to the Right: First Version, circa 1625-1630

An air of unreality hangs over the astonishing exhibition of seventeenth-century Dutch etcher and painter Hercules Segers. One is grateful for the careful documentation in this cautiously staged exhibition, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of Segers’s working methods. Examples of needles, metal punches, copper plates, and the rest of the etcher’s difficult trade are on view, along with explanations of the steps required to produce an individual image. Now we have a clearer idea of how Segers cropped and recycled his imagery, and how the accidents sometimes produced by his exacting methods were seemingly welcomed.