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Index: The Fortnightly Review of Books

A brief guide to Oxford’s ‘Very Short Introductions’.

Michelene Wandor: The first ‘Very Short Introduction’ appeared in the mid-1990s, and now there are nearly 300 books, which have sold over three million copies, and been translated into over twenty-five languages. The virtue is unadorned: A ‘Very Short Introduction’ contains all you need to know in order to decide if you need to know more. The recipe is a tough call: a ‘Very Short Introduction’ must necessarily historicise, provide an epistemological guide to the subject, analyse its conceptual and ideological issues, and wrap it all up – for now.

Charles Dickens in the editor’s chair.

Percy Fitzgerald: There is one view of Dickens which has scarcely been sufficiently dealt with, namely, his relations with his literary brethren and friends, as editor and otherwise. These exhibit him in a most engaging light, and will perhaps be a surprise even to those abundantly familiar with his amiable and gracious ways.

Poetry of ‘a detailed curiosity’.

Alan Wall: Although radically different books, both Michelene Wandor’s writing and Myra Sklarew’s exhibit a detailed curiosity regarding the minutiae of existence, whether itemising seventeenth-century trade or arachnid encounters. The threads that tie dissimilarities together, whether gossamer or memories of Lithuania, hold the poems together with an alert gracefulness.

Some belated gratitude for Ruth Stone.

THE BUSINESS OF LIVING early and working late seems like a New England virtue. Certainly, it is one that Ruth Stone, a Yankee poet, mastered perfectly. It’s not surprising that for a poet whose work – and not her celebrity – makes her “major”, it took most of us a lifetime to catch up to […]

Coleridge as a poet.

Edward Dowden: Coleridge broke with tradition in the vulgar sense of the word; he broke with tradition in theology, philosophy, politics; yet he did so in a spirit more truly loyal to the past than was the common orthodoxy in theology or philosophy, or the common Toryism in politics.

On Brownjohn Land.

Anthony Howell: With Quietism, form fits content as water fits a jug: it’s an abstract fusion that appeals to creative people who value the plastic properties of their medium. In poetry, its focus on familiar experiences or tasks that usually go unremarked, such as breaking eggs, is equivalent to a painter’s preoccupation with still-life. Significance is downplayed, but something is ‘brought to life.’

• The forgotten work of Ainsworth, the ‘footnote’ Gothic novelist.

This is the dark side of those progressive Victorians we all know about, with their trains and telegraphs, their technological advances and their scientific discoveries, their liberal politics and their enlightened scepticism.

Anthony Trollope’s ‘English tale, on English life, with clerical flavour’.

Lucy Sheehan: Even as Trollope’s maps produce a comforting image of self-contained local communities, they also expertly trace lines of power, grafting social networks onto spatial locations to provide a cartography of social and political influence.

• The South Tower: Cool, not disengaged, but slightly detached.

“I asked him to name two actors that from his viewpoint represented the two towers,” said Toth. “One of the names he gave me was Gary Cooper. I was dancing around the Internet and somehow came upon Cary Grant. It all just fit together and answered itself and gave a little bit of a human persona to it.”

• First Trollope Prize-winning essays announced.

The judges noted that Lucy Sheehan’s essay successfully “enters the current critical conversation about the nature and effects of space and place in Victorian literary texts, especially how portrayals of space represent or embody ethical positions,” and praised it as a “well-researched, readable, and insightful” text.

What happened to the game?

Geoffrey Norman: Pointless and depressing to run through the scandals and the tawdry revelations about the game, every one of which has its own book. Too much is known about steroids, gambling, loveless sex and the rest. Too little about the games. There are no Red Smiths who can make you care about the sport. We are invited, instead, to ponder the wreckage of, say, José Canseco.

Screeds, Part 1.

Stephen Wiest: I wish it, without evocation, or appeal, this desire;
Sans a mutable sign turning this bright zodiac
miming obsession’s coiling serpent; only the simple question,
Will you listen, just listen?

Marcel Proust as heterosexual Christian moralizer.

Elliott Coleman: ‘I think it may be shown that Proust is more Christian than anything else. And further, it seems to me that in his unflagging and almost undeviating search for meaning, reality, and rightness of interpretation, his work becomes highly moral, judged by any system of affirmative morality: peculiarly so in the Western sense of the truth’s making us free, illumined, whole, and productive. For Proust the process was this: remembrance, contemporaneous realization, then art.’

John Ashbery’s illumination of a mercurial adolescent.

Martin Sorrell: The translations made by an American octogenarian of a mercurial French adolescent bring us as close as we are likely to get in English to the wellspring of his genius. The distance in age and place between poet and translator is a happy irony. Ashbery’s Illuminations are set to become classic.

Elliott Coleman: the American poet from Augustland.

This portfolio of work by and about Elliott Coleman contains two of Coleman’s poems, an appreciative essay by poet and essayist Myra Sklarew, and comments from others who studied in the Writing Seminars before the days of the MFA.