A World’s Beginning

One evening in 1922 Robert Graves, villager of Islip, Oxfordshire, unexpectedly entered the cottage of another villager, Dick Wilkinson, as the family were having their evening meal. “What’s for supper, Dick?” Graves asked, and on being told that there was bread, cheese, and pickles, pulled up a chair and joined …

Just Good Friends

Everyone with a serious interest in Samuel Johnson sooner or later reads not only Boswell’s Life but also the Anecdotes written by Hester Salusbury under her third surname, Piozzi. Hester was, of course, Johnson’s friend Mrs. Thrale, whose house at Streatham became a second home to Johnson between 1765 and …

In Johnson’s Bear Hug

Need we envy Boswell and Mrs. Thrale? Was there in Dr. Johnson’s conversation, his physical presence, even his oddities, some precious essence that is not in the writings he has left behind? Or should we, remembering Boswell’s warning that Johnson often talked for victory and said things he would not …

The Very Thing

There are times when one is as weary of the clutter of fiction as of the clutter of life: all that coming and going, those conversations and journeys and meals, all the concrete manifestations of our intent which fulfill it and at the same time spill over its edges. At …

Women’s Work

Jean Stafford’s stories have a wide social and geographical range; they are linked together by two strong threads—the presiding sensibility is always a woman’s and the attitudes are unmistakably American—but, beyond that, one has no idea what to expect. She writes about people whom loneliness has driven slightly mad, but …

Eating Fables

“Man must eat fables, or starve his soul to death.” So writes Edward Dahlberg, and he has a right to the oracular pronouncement, because it has been his consistent goal as an imaginative writer to transmute his own experience into fable. To this end he has taken his life, his …

Puppeteers

Probably not many literary people today would agree with my belief that self-consciousness more than any other fault spoils novels. The general feeling is that the novel is a form no longer entirely natural to our culture (any kind of audio-visual slop requiring the services of an army of technicians …

Trouble in the Family

Much of American writing at present is Jewish, and one of the probable reasons for this is that being a Jew gives one something definite to write about. The dissolving of beliefs and traditions has left modern life so flavorless that the flood of pornography we now endure was predictable …

The Way of Some Flesh

The conflict of generations is always a tempting theme for the novelist, and particularly so in a time of cultural disintegration, when the traditional framework of beliefs and attitudes (represented by the father) can be shown at the moment of being destroyed by modernity (represented by the son). In England …

Versions of Pastoral

I have never been to Brazil, know little of its history and literature, cannot read or speak Portuguese, and am therefore in a good position to fire off generalizations about Luso-Brazilian culture, secure in the knowledge that I cannot contradict myself. It is, for instance, obvious to my all-seeing eye …

The Insulted and Injured

Elie Wiesel, who as a child was deported to Auschwitz and survived only by a remote chance, has experienced in his own person the ravages of an evil so vile as to be almost beyond comprehension; and he has courageously set himself the task of comprehending it in literature. Wiesel …

A Singular Being

Of course Boswell is worth a biography. We know so much about him that the sheer welter of material demands to be pressed and shaped into a whole; it is like having a ton of clay lying idle in one’s back yard. Add the sheer number of famous men whom …

Making It New

Mr. Cohen, Señor Cortázar, and Mr. Burroughs all write about loneliness, and all employ an idiom which, though they use it with individual voices, could be said to be common to them. Here are three quotations which should be more illuminating than columns of discussion: (i) The Leader of the …

Dylan Thomas Today

When Dylan Thomas’s work first appeared and made its immediate impact, in the mid-Thirties, it was at once assimilated to “modernity” as the term was then understood: to the classic techniques of modern poetry from Le Bateau Ivre through The Waste Land, to the search for a language that acted …