Nigel Dennis (1912–1989) was an English writer, critic and editor. His books include Boys and Girls Come Out to Play and An Essay on Malta.

The Illegitimate Theater

The subject of Jonas Barish’s large book is what he calls “antitheatricality”—a state of mind that ranges from a cold dislike of the stage to a furious desire to burn every theater to the ground and dispatch all actors to the flaming underworld. “These pages… propose no polemical thesis,” Professor …

No Holds Barred

This is a most difficult novel to review, not because it is a quarter of a million words long and a good deal shorter in quality, but because it is confusing in its intentions. It begins, for instance, with the narrator, an ancient queer named Toomey, getting kicked in the …

Smiles in the Dark

We are shown a provincial hardware store of the type every Briton loves. Founded early in the nineteenth century, with nooks and crannies showing “notches, cuts, grooves” in their beams from medieval days, and sprawling through the “lofts and attics, galleries, corridors” of one-time private houses and shops, the store …

The One That Got Away

I think that a personal approach to Günter Grass’s new novel is right because it is a work about which one is certain to be wrong. Grass read a couple of chapters from it aloud last year to a New York audience that included “most of New York’s German intelligentsia,” …

Infirmary Blues

The ideas behind this inflammatory broadside (it is only eighty-eight pages) are stated plainly on an introductory page: My subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of illness as a figure or metaphor. My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way …

Portrait of the Artist

This is the story: The child, Nadia, is the second of three children born in Nottingham to Ukrainian immigrant parents. The father is an electrical engineer, the mother a laboratory technician with a Polish Master’s degree in chemistry. Both go out to work. There is also a Ukrainian granny on …

Fabricated Man

Auberon Waugh says of his father’s diaries: “[They] show that the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novels did, in fact, exist.” The publishers have put this remark at the top of the blurb and deserve praise for seeing that it marks what is undoubtedly a striking fact about the diaries. When …

Smilin’ Through

One of the many interesting pieces in Essays of E.B. White is called “Some Remarks on Humor” and was originally the preface to an anthology of humor assembled by White and his wife and published in 1941. In it, White does his duty to the publishers like a man and …

Rigging the Lawrence Case

Some years ago, a retired inspector of police from Philadelphia wrote a memoir of the Criminals-I-Have-Known sort. One instructive part of it explained how helpful criminals are to detectives by signing their names to all their crimes. We all know about Adler’s “life style” today, but the inspector showed that …

How Not to Be a Critic

It is shameless to begin a book review by rolling out lines that have been quoted a million times: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! but they are quoted by Martin Green in his collection of essays Transatlantic …

Mad About the Boy

Noel Coward was “capable of entertaining anybody who would watch or listen to him from the age of three.” By exercising this ability unceasingly, he became entirely unique, for, his biographer asks, “What young man had ever before—or has since—attempted and succeeded in so many branches of theatrical endeavor? No …

Keeping the Secret

Lord Snow’s book only seems larger than it is. This is because it has been blown up, with dozens and dozens of black-and-white illustrations and many very handsome plates in rich color. Some of these are closely connected with Trollope, being period illustrations from his novels, or paintings of Trollope …

I Bite Everywhere

Uproar in the whorehouse! Angèle has accused Joconde of wearing a wig. “And then, hup! Without time to say oof!” she’s pulled a knife and plunged it into Joconde’s fanny. Screams ring through the room as Joconde, “squeezing her ass in her two hands,” races from pillar to post yelling …

Alienating Brecht

It is nice to see a new edition of Martin Esslin’s Brecht: The Man and His Work. This book has always provided the first essential of a critical biography, which is plain statements of fact about the life and work of the man concerned. When a biographer withholds such factual …

Original Sin and Dog Biscuits

A member of the Swedish Academy said of Samuel Beckett’s winning the Nobel Prize: “In the realms of annihilation, the writing of Samuel Beckett rises like a Miserere from all mankind, its muffled minor key sounding liberation to the oppressed and comfort to those in need.” Grove Press has made …

Pintermania

The question, What are Harold Pinter’s plays really about? has been a constant puzzle to Harold Pinter. Again and again he has done his best to explain himself to himself, but it has never come to much and there is little hope that it ever will. “I only formulate conclusions …

Marks of a Buddha

“I find no fault in this man,” said Pontius Pilate on a certain occasion, and I must follow him on the present occasion. I find no fault at all in the book under review; if it was not sent into this world to redeem man it was sent certainly to …

Color It Orange

“The rage for expressing everything in terms of something else is a disease traceable to college-catalogue English. From 1900 on a college course was hardly respectable if it did not offer to present literature in terms of its social effects, an author in terms of his influence on the development …

“Late Again,” He Groaned

“Declare your interest!” they shout in the House of Commons when an MP who owns a chain of hock shops omits to say so when orating hotly in favor of a bill to lower the tax on hock shops. So, book reviewers who also write books ought to declare their …

The Modern Theater

It is distressing to come to the end of a book that has been written with care and attention and feel such a peevish grudge against it that fair criticism seems impossible to achieve. Perhaps it is best in such a case to try to analyze the grudge rather than …