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A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

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While canonical literary history has generally told the story of 20th Century British fiction as the story of men, with some exemplary women here and there, we have enough distance now to see that while the men were certainly the grabbers of headlines and awards, their canonicity was less a matter of merit than of their control of the culture industry. The men ate up all the air in the rooms of litchat. Meanwhile, by and large it was women who wrote the fiction that has survived the years the best, and which remains most readable and interesting today. This is especially true around midcentury, where we can speak of Rebecca West (1892-1983), Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978), Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999), Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), Anna Kavan (1901-1968), Stevie Smith (1902-1971 [best known as a poet, but author of 3 interesting novels]), Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), Muriel Spark (1918-2006), Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), Doris Lessing (1919-2013) — and many others, both well-known …

Wild Nights with Emily

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A few years ago, I declared a movie about Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, to be "one of the worst movies I've ever seen". It remains so.

Madeleine Olnek's Wild Nights with Emily is everything A Quiet Passion is not: lively, irreverent, joyfully artificial, poetic without being "Poetic", exuberantly cinematic, intentionally funny, and, in the end, quite moving. And while it is occasionally anachronistic, frequently campy, definitely uninterested in nuanced (or balanced) (or even fair) portraits of historical figures, and sometimes just flat-out bonkers, it's also a bit more accurate to Dickinson's actual life — and vastly more accurate to her legacy — than A Quiet Passion was.

But Wild Nights with Emily is more than a biopic. It's a movie about literary history, about how stories of writers (and artists of all sorts) get told and received. It says that even with truths in plain sight, most people prefer legends, because legends are soothing an…

Poetry in the Streets

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Sunday, February 9 is J.M. Coetzee's 80th birthday. I have written about Coetzee frequently — you'll find plenty here at this site (including one of the oldest posts: 2003's "Genre, Imagination, and J.M. Coetzee", written by a callow youth), as well as in my new book Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form: Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee at the Limits of Fiction. There are already various tributes being published; one I particularly enjoyed was Angelo Frick's for the Mail & Guardian, as Frick was once Coetzee's student, and writes well about Coetzee as a teacher and the value of studying literature.

At this moment, trapped in New Hampshire a few days before the Democratic primary, feeling deluged by desultory politics, I keep thinking back to some passages in Coetzee's Summertime, a book about a character named John Coetzee, a writer with a life story somewhat like his own, a writer who is dead and whose friends and acquaintances are being intervie…

Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form

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My new book Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form: Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee at the Limits of Fiction is now available from Bloomsbury Academic.

I don't mind if you don't buy it. The retail price is absurd. This hardcover is aimed at the academic library market, even though academic libraries (at least the ones I know) have shrinking book budgets. I've been told that in 12-18 months, a less expensive paperback will be released (though by "less expensive", something in the range of $40 is probably what we can expect — a price higher than the average trade hardcover). There is an ebook edition, but it's currently going for $99 at Amazon; Bloomsbury will sell you an ePub or PDF for $79.20. Those prices for an ebook are not ones anybody I've ever met would pay, and indicate a publisher that doesn't want people to buy ebooks.

I don't point out the absurd prices because I am mad at Bloomsbury. I've had an excellent experience with them, and ev…