254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

Thackeray’s Vanity Fair doubles that charge: the novel is braced by a simultaneous awareness of Regency and Victorian foibles, of Regency and Victorian hypocrisy, and Regency and Victorian euphemism (I shorten early-mid Victorian to “Victorian” throughout; I refer to the Regency and also the rein of George IV as “Regency”). In that double-ness lies its singularity: a sense for the history of satirical judgment itself, … Continue reading 254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

251. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

Vanity Fair asks that we accept the affection that the novelist-narrator feels for the creatures of the Fair, animated as they are by his hand, as more than exemplars and object lessons. Thackeray’s novel is an argument that shallowness and hypocrisy do not preclude deep feeling and suffering; anyone can be a victim and it is not, on its own, a guarantee of moral status, … Continue reading 251. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

247. (Stendhal)

  Stendhal is exhausting and bracing because his energy is relentless and directed relentlessly to one end: the refusal of “style.” It is sometimes said that was painfully aware that he was incapable of style; I think it likely he realized it to be an achievement. To say Stendhal has no style might seem to echo Arnold’s remark about Wordsworth. It is vastly different in … Continue reading 247. (Stendhal)

245. (Stendhal)

Stendhal’s romanticism has been described by Erich Auerbach in terms of “atmosphere,” a unifying relation of place, person, and time that we find in the works of Walter Scott and the medievalism of Coleridge and Keats; it is in fact a new conception of history, a sense that different peoples breath different atmospheres and are formed by the air that they breathe. Describing Balzac, with … Continue reading 245. (Stendhal)

244. (Stendhal)

Stendhal’s narration is a perpetual mystery of European literature; it goes hand in hand with his characterization (as narration usually does). How might the mystery be approached?  Here, as a touchstone, is an example, from the end of Chapter 15, “The Cockrow,” immediately after Julien has first seduced Madame de Renal:             Some hours later, when Julien emerged from Madame de Renal’s room, one might … Continue reading 244. (Stendhal)

220. (Willa Cather)

It’s not only re-reading Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House at the same time as reading the final volumes of Proust’s novel that brings the one into proximity of the other. It is also passages like the following: To this day St. Peter regretted that he had never got that vacation in Paris with Tom Outland. He had wanted to revisit certain spots with him: to go … Continue reading 220. (Willa Cather)

217. (Ishmael Reed)

Even though it is frequent in contemporary fiction, present-tense narration is not easily justified. People and place are no more immediate in present than in past tense; time progresses and spins out, back on itself, and suddenly forward, in any tense. The present tense, maybe, pretends that something is not settled, that the fixity of the past has been surmounted by the possibilities carried along … Continue reading 217. (Ishmael Reed)