206. (Vladimir Nabokov)

Coming to grips with Dostoevsky at all means coming to grips with the other half of the burden of art, philosophy, the study of history. I’ve always found his novels extraordinarily painful to read, and been inclined to think Nabokov’s assessment must be in part right, even while recognizing that Nabokov was being insolent and disingenuous in not going further than he does in examining … Continue reading 206. (Vladimir Nabokov)

32. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

A short phrase binds an entire ream of Tennyson criticism: “the art of the penultimate.” That Tennyson’s art looks forward with foreboding, that it does so with a burden of what has come before, is the spine supporting almost all major Tennyson criticism from the past forty years (and more). But what if the phenomenon the phrase fits were to be fitted from another angle? … Continue reading 32. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

20. (Marcel Proust)

Still reading, slowly, the second volume of Recherche. I’ve leapt from the Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright to the new James Grieve translation without wincing. Reading today, I came to a passage that seemed at first to go against what I’d written earlier, in post 14. (John Ruskin), about Proust and the hearts of others. There, I’d quoted the narrator blissful in the thought of absorption into his grandmother’s heart, … Continue reading 20. (Marcel Proust)

5. (D.H. Lawrence)

V.S. Pritchett, introducing his edition of the Oxford Book of Short Stories, admits that he admires D.H. Lawrence most as a master of that form–short narrative–rather than as a novelist or poet ( a claim he makes elsewhere, in his 1980 review of a Lawrence biography for the NYRB). For fine criticism of the stories, we can turn to R.P. Blackmur–an ironic place to look, since … Continue reading 5. (D.H. Lawrence)

4. (Henry James)

A friendly debate this afternoon about late Henry James and consciousness: what late Henry James does to, makes of, or conjures of consciousness (each verb representing a distinct position that a critic might take) is one of the intractable problems of literary criticism; it’s a wonder of his work that he can create characters as vividly as he does (whether they seem like vivid people … Continue reading 4. (Henry James)