A Site by Beck & Stone
powered by Ecom solutions

Bruce Bawer


March 01, 1992

A small, still voice: the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald

Among the many symptoms of the American literary scene’s current infirmity is that stateside publishers have been slow to take on, and readers on these shores slow to discover, the English novelist of manners Penelope Fitzgerald. Though British critics have justly compared her to such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Barbara Pym, and Anita Brookner—all of whom have long enjoyed sizable readerships here —and though back home she has received one Booker Prize and been nominated for three others, two of her eight novels have yet to appear in U.

December 01, 1991

Columbia’s assault on the American novel

History has seen few more grotesque ironies. In the past several years—while brave people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, inspired largely by the example of American freedom and prosperity, have ousted the tyrannical Marxist regimes that enslaved and terrorized them for decades—a corps of Marxist humanities professors have carried off, here at home, a quieter but potentially no less momentous revolution of their own.

September 01, 1991

Literary life in the 1990s

In its essentials, I suppose it could be said that the literary life—outside the university, anyway—is pretty much the same as it has always been: a serious writer today spends most of his waking hours alone with words, his or other people’s, and every now and then gets together with a few colleagues to talk books and to exchange gripes and gossip and ideas. If by “literary life” one means contact with other people, then the term is something of an oxymoron, for when he is busy trying to create literature—or, for that matter, trying to say something useful about it —he doesn’t have much time or inclination to socialize, and might as well reside in Greenville, South Carolina, as in Greenwich Village.

February 01, 1991

Sylvia Plath and the poetry of confession

Back when America was careening from the Eisenhower era—the “tranquillized Fifties,” as Robert Lowell called them—toward the Age of Aquarius, American poetry was undergoing a dramatic shift as well. A period of highly controlled, formal, and impersonal poetry, dominated by the likes of Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht, gave way with surprising rapidity to one of unrestrained, exceedingly personal free verse, often about extreme emotional states, by such poets as John Berryman, Anne Sexton, and W.

September 01, 1990

Willa Cather’s uncommon art

If one doesn't come across Willa Cather's name as frequently as those of the other major American novelists of her time, a large part of the reason, one suspects, is that she suffers from an image problem. People who have never even read her—or who retain only the vaguest memories of having read her in school—tend to think of her as earnest, proficient, dully respectable; almost universally, it seems, her name conjures up drab images of Midwestern prairies and amber waves of grain, images which are likely to strike the typical reader as far less scintillating than, say, Hemingway's soldiers and toreros, Fitzgerald's flappers and romantic egoists, or even Dreiser's magnificently wretched Jennies, Carries, and Clydes.

December 01, 1989

Dispossession, dreams, delusions: the poetry of John Berryman

His real name was, of all things, John Smith, and he was born in 1914 in McAlester, Oklahoma, the elder son and namesake of a man who, after failing miserably both as a small-town banker in that state and as the proprietor of a modest Tampa, Florida, eatery, shuffled off this mortal coil in 1926 by means of a self-inflicted bullet wound. His death was followed hard upon—within ten weeks, in fact—by his canny widow’s marriage to the family’s landlord, a prosperous bond salesman named John Angus McAlpin Berryman; and it was not long afterward that the new Mrs.

October 01, 1989

Graham Greene: the Catholic novels

In his long and celebrated literary career— which I began to examine in the last issue of The New Criterion—Graham Greene has written some three dozen novels, “entertainments,” plays, essays, memoirs, short-story collections, and travel books. [1] But it is those books which, for want of a better term, we may call his Catholic novels (The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case) and his later political novels (The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul, and The Human Factor) that are generally acknowledged, for better or worse, to comprise the nucleus of his oeuvre.

January 01, 1989

Under the aspect of eternity: the fiction of Flannery O’Connor

It is a measure of her greatness, perhaps, that although she would be only sixty-four years old if she were still among us, Flannery O’Connor—who passed away a quarter-century ago in her native Georgia, at the age of thirty-nine—seems already to belong to the ages. Typically, an author’s literary reputation declines precipitously once he is no longer around to keep it going, but O’Connor’s reputation has grown steadily in the years since her death; her two extremely impressive (if ultimately unsuccessful) novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), have continued to earn the respect and interest of intelligent readers, and—far more important—a number of her three dozen or so short stories, the majority of which appeared originally in either A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) or Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), have deservedly attained the status of classics in the genre.

October 01, 1988

Léonie Adams, poet

When the poet Léonie Adams died last June at the age of eighty-eight, she had not published a book in thirty-four years, and had not been near the center of the literary action for over half a century. At one time her work had been included, as a matter of course, in the major anthologies of modern American poetry; by the 1980s, however, her name had virtually disappeared from the literary record: none of her poems appear in The Norton Anthology of American Poetry, and even David Perkins’s encyclopedic History of Modern Poetry, which finds room for everyone from Richard Hovey and Robert Hillyer to William Vaughn Moody and Alfred Noyes, manages to omit her.

September 01, 1988

The poetic legacy of William Carlos Williams

So conscious are we nowadays of the extraordinary influence upon postmodern American poetry of William Carlos Williams—the second and concluding volume of whose collected poems has now been published—that it can be easy to forget that, during the heyday of the modernist movement, Williams was widely regarded as, at best, a second-tier figure. [1] Even Ezra Pound, who had known Williams since their college days and had helped secure publication for much of the poet-physician’s early work, made it clear (to Williams’s chagrin) that his old friend’s poetic career interested him less than that of Pound’s fellow expatriate T.

March 01, 1988

“Voices and Visions” on PBS

Thirty-five years have passed since Randall Jarrell complained, in the lead essay of his book Poetry and the Age, about the indifference of the American public toward the American poet, and it is safe, I think, to say that the situation has not changed appreciably since. Indeed, for all the poetry workshops and little magazines that have proliferated in the intervening decades, Americans have, if anything, grown steadily more uninterested in poetry.

December 01, 1987

Passage to India: the career of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Probably most Americans who recognize the name of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala know her mainly as a screenwriter, one third of the celebrated international movie-making team whose other members are the Indian producer Ismail Merchant and the American director James Ivory. In this country, at least, Jhabvala and her partners are known almost exclusively for three recent films that were based upon major modern novels: The Europeans (1978) and The Bostonians (1984) both derived from works by Henry James, and A Room with a View was an adaptation of one of E.

October 01, 1987

Reading Denis Donoghue

Denis Donoghue is one of that small company of transatlantic men of letters who have established reputations as distinguished critics of both English and American literature. An Irishman by birth, Donoghue has taught at University College, Dublin, at Cambridge University, and (currently) at New York University, where he occupies the Henry James Chair of Letters, and since 1959 has published a dozen volumes, including studies of Yeats, Swift, Emily Dickinson, modern verse drama, modern American poetry, and “the poetic imagination”; he is professionally concerned with the subject of Irishness (his last book, a selection of essays on his native land and literature, was entitled We Irish), and his new collection, Reading America[1]—a gathering of twenty-seven reviews and essays about American writers from Emerson to Ashbery—testifies to his equally serious interest in the question of just what it is that makes American literature American.

April 01, 1987

John Fowles and his big ideas

Contemporary English novels, as a rule, are modest things—modest in their themes, their manner, their physical dimensions. If many an American, Continental, or Latin American novelist attempts, in each new book, to embody a startlingly original vision, to be formally innovative, to stage a linguistic fireworks display, and to make major statements about love, death, history, the nature of reality, man’s life in society, and the function of art, the typical postwar English novelist seeks rather to relate a relatively unambitious story about the subtle pains and pleasures of a single unremarkable life.

December 01, 1986

“The Story of English” on PBS

This fall, television viewers in both America and Britain were presented with a nine-part series entitled The Story of English, co-produced by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions and the BBC. Though the series was purportedly a joint American-British endeavor, was hosted by the anchorman of an American news program, Robert MacNeil, and was funded principally by an American corporation (General Foods) and an American foundation (the Andrew W.

September 01, 1986

Salinger’s arrested development

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. ” —I Corinthians 13:11 Though his only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is one of the sturdiest best-sellers of the post-World War II era—a staple of high-school English courses, and a standard according to which every newly published tale of tortured adolescence is inevitably judged—Jerome David Salinger is probably as famous for his elusiveness as for his work.

April 01, 1986

Dylan Thomas: the poet in his letters

The first thing that may occur to one, upon learning of the imminent appearance of a nearly thousand-page edition of the complete available letters of Dylan Thomas, is that there is hardly an aching need for such a compilation. Who, after all, in this world full of good books that most of us will never get around to reading, is really clamoring for an exhaustive account of the life and times of this archetypal postwar “celebrity” poet.

February 01, 1986

The fictive music of Wallace Stevens

Thirty-one years after his death, more people than ever are reading the sublime poetry of Wallace Stevens, and his critical reputation—which has grown steadily since 1950, the year he was awarded the Bollingen Prize —has never been greater. But even today, in the minds of many readers who feel perfectly at home with his contemporaries Eliot, Yeats, and Williams, the name of Stevens is, beyond all else, synonymous with enigmatic symbolism and abstruse epistemology.

January 01, 1986

“My dear, dear Sister”: the life of Dorothy Wordsworth

In these days of literary trend-chasing, when every publishing season yields yet another widely acclaimed “Voice of a New Generation,” it seems little short of remarkable that the most influential movement in the history of English literature made its way in a relatively hype-free manner. The first generation of Romantic writers based their operation in the remotest part of England, avoided London literary society, and set their work before the public without unseemly haste or self-promotional fanfare.

September 01, 1985

Doris Lessing: on the road to “The Good Terrorist”

In the constellation of post-World War II fiction, Doris Lessing shines with a most peculiar light. To describe her as a novelist and short-story writer (and occasional essayist, playwright, scenarist, and poet) seems, somehow, to be misleading; like Ayn Rand, she is an author many of whose most fervent devotees have been drawn less by the plangency of her prose or the charm of her characters than by the unabashed fervor with which she has polemicized on behalf of an idea.

June 01, 1985

Capote’s children

Truman Capote, who died last summer at the age of fifty-eight, was one of a handful of American novelists who became famous at a very early age in the years following the Second World War. Perhaps the three most celebrated of these writers were Gore Vidal (whose Williwaw appeared in 1946, when he was nineteen), Norman Mailer (whose The Naked and the Dead was issued two years later, when he was twenty-five), and Capote (who published Other Voices, Other Rooms in 1949, at the age of twenty-three).