WRB—Nov. 8, 2023
The appeal of novels
In the Washington Review of Books nothing is true except the exaggerations.
In Lithub, an excerpt from Juliette Wells’s book on the beginnings of Jane Austen criticism (A New Jane Austen: How Americans Brought Us the World's Greatest Novelist, October):
In keeping with his goal of helping each reader “form for himself an intelligent appreciation” of Austen, Adams presents Austen’s six novels in the order of their composition, as then understood: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. He precedes each excerpt from a novel with the work’s dates of writing, revision, and publication. Furthermore, Adams presents extensive excerpts from commentary on Austen’s novels. He states that he has chosen his “introductory matter . . . from the mass of material relating to Jane Austen, mainly with a view to present what was freshest and unhackneyed; and, in the cases of Mrs. Thackeray-Ritchie and Miss Keddie, with the purpose also of showing the estimate placed upon Miss Austen by novelists of her own sex.” Well beyond mere suggestions for further reading, which Blaisdell provided for Scott’s novels, Adams supplied what he termed a “partial bibliography.” He included therein full citations for J. E. Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870, 1871), Lord Brabourne’s 1884 edition of Austen’s letters, Tytler’s Jane Austen and Her Works, and Pellew’s Jane Austen’s Novels, plus briefer citations for several dozen reviews and articles from British and American periodicals (365–6).
In The New Criterion, Lincoln Jones on what dancing is, and what ballet is [I’ve seen Chris on the dance floor at a wedding. That’s dancing. —Steve]:
As fun as a well-executed Charleston may be to watch (or do), our attention will soon wane without some variety. Luckily, there are endless variations. We can make the dance bigger, kicking the legs up. We can get down low, or up on our toes; we can turn the knees inward and outward (all things that dancers have done with the Charleston). But we can take it even further: break up the rhythm, move across the floor, add interesting and complementary movements of the upper body, even utterly change the movements of the legs while using the same basic pattern of forward, back, back, forward. Just like a composer can turn a musical theme upside down or backwards, stretch it, compact it, break it up, or make any number of other changes to hold our interest, we can use basic movement themes to create a dance that is interesting for two minutes, twenty minutes, or longer. And when these steps and variations correspond to the motifs and structure in a musical piece of depth, the result can be transcendent. Dance can give visual form to the feelings that music inspires.
For the JSTOR blog, Harris Wheless on Ronald Johnson:
As was also the case for Lorine Niedecker, another modernist for whom recognition of her unique, innovative poetics came posthumously, Johnson’s ongoing rediscovery seems to be noticeably accelerating a few decades after his death. For new readers, his early poems answer certain crucial questions: Where did our modern collage aesthetic come from? What was its incipient form? What was collage before multimedia? And wherein lies the textual pastoral?
In Plough, Zito Madu on William Saroyan’s “interest in the lives of seemingly unimportant people”:
In a few pages, and with writing that’s stripped of everything unnecessary, Saroyan captures the cycle of a family. How conflict between parents can ripple through their children, even when the parents are unaware. How a child can make the hard decision to break away from an unhappy home, to choose himself and create his own destiny, even at the cost of leaving and hurting a sibling who adores him. And how a son can inherit the faults of the father, repeating the same mistakes that broke up his family. It is a cycle that many fathers and sons know, or will know.
In a way, these two poems are about the same subject: whether the price we pay for happiness is proportionate to the benefit. Every good thing in life—an empire’s peace, a happy marriage, a beautiful poem—is achieved only through years of training in self-discipline. There is no way of knowing in advance whether what we sacrifice in cultivating self-mastery will have any reward, much less a reward that makes up for what we have lost. But unless we are willing to forgo civilized pleasures entirely, we have no choice. Formalism was Hecht’s subject as well as his method.
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