Peter Brooks has written several books on narrative and the novel, including Reading for the Plot. A new book, Balzac’s Lives, will be published next fall. He is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale.
 (January 2020)


The Story of the Story of the Story

Walter Benjamin; portrait by Maira Kalman, 2007

The Storyteller Essays

by Walter Benjamin, edited and with an introduction by Samuel Titan and translated from the German by Tess Lewis
Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov,” rich in aphorism and vatic utterance, has for many years been a point of reference I return to when thinking about narrative and why its various forms play such an important part in our lives. Like all …

Noble Memories

Memoirs from Beyond the Grave: 1768–1800

by François-René de Chateaubriand, translated from the French by Alex Andriesse, with an introduction by Anka Muhlstein
One might start with his tomb, which he had built on the islet of Grand Bé, just off the Breton port of Saint-Malo, facing the tempestuous sea that was the companion of his first years. He was adamant that it should have no inscription, no name, no date, only a …

Something Grander Than a Novel

Victor Hugo on the terrace of Hauteville House, Guernsey, where he wrote Les Misérables, 1868

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables

by David Bellos
Is Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, as David Bellos would have us believe, “the greatest novel of the nineteenth century”? A number of titles in that greatest century of the novel can surely lay claim to this accolade: War and Peace, Madame Bovary, The Brothers Karamazov, Middlemarch, maybe also The Charterhouse …

Flaubert: The Tragic Historian

Gustave Flaubert, circa 1860; carte-de-visite portrait by Étienne Carjat


by Michel Winock, translated from the French by Nicholas Elliott
“The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” That’s Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, paying homage to Gustave Flaubert as James Joyce’s literary godfather. In Flaubert’s …

On the Track of Evil in Dublin

Even the Dead

by Benjamin Black
“Death,” writes Walter Benjamin, “is the sanction of everything the storyteller has to tell.” And also: the storyteller “borrows his authority from death”; the endstop of death creates the meaning of a life recounted. The classic detective story shares this belief. It starts from a dead body. As the story …

‘The Mysteries of Paris’

Eugène Sue; portrait by François Gabriel Guillaume Lépaulle, 1837
On June 19, 1842, readers of the staid Journal des Débats discovered installment one of The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue on the “ground floor” (the bottom quarter) of their daily newspaper’s front page. Over the following months, the story unfolded in 150 breathless episodes, reaching its end only …


From Egypt to Paris: An Artist Prized for His Travel Sketches

Dominique-Vivant Denon, the subject of my piece in the November 19, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books, is known above all as the first Director of the Louvre—which, under his guidance, became the first encyclopedic public museum. But he was also an artist prized for his travel sketches and engravings. Since I could only touch on this aspect of his career briefly in my piece, I offer here some further notes and selections from his work.