53. (Flannery O’Connor)

Irony, so common, sets her apart. She is ironic without archness, without super-subtlety, without glib or coy superiority, without contempt, without cynicism, even without skepticism, and without self-satisfaction. Her irony does not flash out from of history’s tragedies; neither does it peek from life’s more curious byways. It is neither tragic nor comic. Even accepting that irony is everywhere in literature, hers is unlike that … Continue reading 53. (Flannery O’Connor)

45. (Vladimir Nabokov)

In his or her one or two or possibly three successful novels, the really great novelist manages to place before us the simultaneous horror and absurdity of the world, balancing pity and judgment, revulsion and laughter. Nabokov makes a curious exception to this; there are two or maybe three successful novels, it is clear, and the greatness of powers is rarely in doubt when reading … Continue reading 45. (Vladimir Nabokov)

40. (Henry James)

Henry James’ critical perception of others didn’t depend on his seeing himself in their words; but he might have been stirred to self-reflection in articulating a discovery (or discovering an articulation) about Tennyson: It is poised and stationary, like a bird whose wings have borne him high, but the beauty of whose movement is less in great ethereal sweeps and circles than in the way … Continue reading 40. (Henry James)

35. (Henry James)

Propriety and property, position and possession: the late James, James of The Golden Bowl, evolved an entire style to brace these against one another, to give each its due and record the toll each takes on the other.  That novel, with its Italian prince, its London imperium, is an intimate epic, concerned to be, as epics can be, both the justification for and cautionary tale against … Continue reading 35. (Henry James)

34. (Robert Browning)

Apt that an Italian would assist with placing Browning plain before the eyes. Franco Moretti (once again), but this time on realist prose in The Bourgeois: Between Literature and History (Browning, a poet between literature and history, suits the title too): It is at once the most ‘natural’ and most ‘un-natural’ way of observing the world, this unfaltering attention to what is: natural, in that it … Continue reading 34. (Robert Browning)

33. (Stendhal)

Minor characters blaze into majority; major events are subordinated to asides; the tempo feels all wrong, the climax abrupt, the plot strands remain untied, are dropped, cut; love expends stretches of the narrative in perplexed clashes of feelings, owned, disowned, cauterized, and occasionally revealed to be false, but then true pages later. He saw that art is sometimes at odds with life, that to get … Continue reading 33. (Stendhal)

14. (John Ruskin)

The twentieth-century author most often summoned as the sibylline guide to the depths of Ruskin’s oeuvre is Proust. Guy Davenport, who might also be called on for a tour of those often dead-end, more often unstably provisional Ruskinian labyrinths, writes  of the French Master and the Victorian Sage: Ruskin may have also shown Proust, by bad example, how to write an enormous book into which everything … Continue reading 14. (John Ruskin)