Michael Wood is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton. He is the author of Yeats and Violence and Literature and the Taste of Knowledge, among other books. (December 2016)


Finding Hardy at Last

‘Mr. Thomas Hardy composing a lyric’; drawing by Max Beerbohm, 1913

Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner

by Mark Ford
To call Thomas Hardy half a Londoner may sound rather like suggesting that William Faulkner was something of a New Yorker. Didn’t Hardy invent the English realm of “Wessex,” or at least rescue it from a thousand years of disuse? Wasn’t he a native of that place, born in a …

Looking for Citizen Welles

Orson Welles on the set of Chimes at Midnight, 1964

Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane

by Patrick McGilligan

Orson Welles: One-Man Band

by Simon Callow
There is a special risk in writing about Orson Welles. The dimensions may get a little out of hand, as if they had to mime the physical size and imaginative reach of the subject.

Discovering Orson Welles

Orson Welles, 1967

Too Much Johnson

a film directed by Orson Welles in 1938

My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles

edited and with an introduction by Peter Biskind
In a famous sequence in the 1941 knockabout film Hellzapoppin’ the comedians Olsen and Johnson walk through a series of different movie sets, magically changing costumes as they go. As they leave the last set (an igloo on an icefield, fish displayed beside it), Johnson bumps into a small sled …

The Question of Shakespeare’s Prejudices

‘Man Clasping a Hand from a Cloud’; miniature, thought by some to show William Shakespeare, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1588

Shakespeare, Sex, and Love

by Stanley Wells

Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets: A New Commentary

by Don Paterson
Toward the end of his recent book The Tainted Muse, Robert Brustein quotes the opening of a famous poem about Shakespeare: Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge. The bard had managed, Matthew Arnold continued, to “walk …

The Victorious Servant

‘Carolina parakeet,’ 1811; illustration by John James Audubon from Audubon: Early Drawings, published by Belknap Press/Harvard University Press

Parrot and Olivier in America

by Peter Carey
“I admit that I saw in America more than America,” Tocqueville wrote: “J’avoue que dans l’Amérique j’ai vu plus que l’Amérique.” He saw less than America too, in certain ways. He saw the image of a survivable democracy and a lesson for the rumbling, leveling future of Europe. But he …

The Fat Man’s Vengeance


by Ian McEwan
“He had it coming,” we read on the second page of Ian McEwan’s new novel. This is the character’s line of thought, a self-accusation, not an authorial verdict, and he returns to it eagerly a little later. “Yes, yes, he had been a lying womanizer, he had had it coming.” This is the least of what he has been, and at the end of the novel he still has it coming, it’s almost upon him, in the shape of two women about to tear him apart, a dangerous melanoma on his wrist, and what promises to be a series of lawsuits that will last his lifetime.

A Passage to England

Zadie Smith, New York City, 2009

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

by Zadie Smith
Changing My Mind is a very good title for a collection of essays, a genre in which one is supposed to be trying things out or trying things on. But the intimation is not as simple as it seems. “I’ve changed my mind” is a phrase that often implies stasis, …

What Happened at Gordita Beach?

‘Eternal Summer: A “Retired” Caddy Hearse Greets Daybreak at a Beach Surf Shop’; illustration by Darshan Zenith, from the cover of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

by Thomas Pynchon
Inherent Vice doesn’t look like a historical novel. It looks like a shaggy detective story parodied by Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps like a moderately baggy Thomas Pynchon novel parodied by a devotee of the detective story. But it recreates a particular piece of the American past in considerable if often …