Michael Wood is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton. His most recent book is On Empson.


Counting the Butterflies

Véra and Vladimir Nabokov, Montreux, Switzerland, 1966

Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov

compiled, edited, and with commentaries by Gennady Barabtarlo
Language has many forms of quiet kindness, refusals of stark alternatives. “Never” can mean “not always,” and “impossible” may mean “not now.” Insomnia may mean a shortage of sleep rather than its entire absence, and when Gennady Barabtarlo writes that “Nabokov typically remembered having his dreams at dawn, right before awakening after a sleepless night,” or indeed calls his own book Insomniac Dreams, we are looking not so much at a paradox as a touch of logical leeway. There is no need to go “beyond logic,” as Nabokov says one of the characters does in his story “The Vane Sisters,” but we do often need to bend it a little, ask it to relax.

Wonderful Chances

Robert Bresson and the donkey that starred in Au hazard Balthazar, 1966

Bresson on Bresson: Interviews 1943–1983

by Robert Bresson, edited by Mylène Bresson, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis, with a preface by Pascale Mérigeau

Notes on the Cinematograph

by Robert Bresson, translated from the French by Jonathan Griffin, with an introduction by J.M.G. Le Clézio
When asked why he had made so few films—thirteen features over a period of forty years—Robert Bresson invariably answered that it was hard to get funding for the sort of work he wanted to do. “Money,” he memorably said, “likes to know everything in advance.” Bresson, by contrast, wanted to …

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.