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“The mind cannot conceive or bring forth its offspring unless it is washed by a vast river of literature.

-Petronius

A Postmodern Eighteenth-Century Novel: Jacques the Fatalist

We tend to think of experimentation with form and meta-narratives that call attention to their artificiality as the exclusive traits of postmodernism. But if we glance in the rearview mirror of history, we can sometimes find works from the past that also employ these same storytelling strategies. Joe Bray suggests that the eighteenth century is…

Sailing From Byzantium: A Meditation on Encountering History

Once out of nature, I shall never take/ My bodily form from any natural thing,/ But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make/ Of hammered gold and gold enamelling/ To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;/ Or set upon a golden bough to sing/ To lords and ladies of Byzantium/ Of what is past, or passing,…

Is there Anyone Who Does Not Dream?

“Is there anyone who does not dream? Who does not contain worlds unimagined?” -Neil Gaiman, World’s End I’ve been working on a couple of new essays I hope to post soon. Plato’s Earth and Ephrem’s Pearl will explore the value of reading ancient literature. I also take a humorous approach to the issue of meaning in A Hardboiled Literary…

Measure in Everything and Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing shows us the poet at the height of his creative powers. His verse had yet to find that deeper timbre we later hear in Macbeth and King Lear. But as Swinburn expresses it, “for absolute power of composition, faultless balance, and blameless rectitude of design, there is no creation of Shakespeare’s that will bear comparison…

Shall I Project a World? A Meditation on The Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon has a reputation as a difficult novelist. If we come to his fictions fresh from the tradition of American Naturalism, we may be lulled by their humorous, jokey tone into a belief that all is most conventional. The writer is obviously just poking a little fun, engaging in a bit of satire. We…

The Rhetorical Kingdom of E.R. Eddison

“But Juss answered and said, ‘Know that not for fame are we come on this journey. Our greatness already shadoweth all the world, as a great cedar tree spreading his shadow in a garden. But the great King of Witchland, practising in darkness in his royal palace of Carce such arts of grammarie and sendings…

Escaping the Dungeon: Addison on Imagination

“A good poet will give the reader a more lively idea of an army or a battle in a description, than if he actually saw them drawn up in squadrons and battalions, or engaged in the confusion of a fight. Our minds should be opened to great conceptions and inflamed with glorious sentiments by what…

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o: A Review

In his first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes, “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of…

A Letter to Virginia Woolf On To the Lighthouse

Dear Virginia, For a long while, I’ve wanted to write to you to express my admiration and sheer delight in your novel To the Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful book that always seems fresh each time I open it. I can think of no better definition of a classic, and I hope you’ll not mind if I…

Dark Designs: Reading and Misreading Milton

In his 1820 essay The Defense of Poetry, Percy Shelley wrote, “Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.”1 This bold deconstruction of a staunchly Christian poet may have…

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