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Artistic License: Three Centuries of Good Writing and Bad Behavior
Synopses & Reviews
Brooke Allen's sparkling new collection of essays considers the dysfunctional and apparently destructive nature of great talent. Ms. Allen shows how the incendiaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were, in real terms, far more daring and more disturbing to the moral and ideological systems of their time than is the modern mutineer, who stages his rebellion within a social framework that condones--or at least pretends to condone--rebellion. She finds it surprising that so many writers held on to artistic rectitude in the face of all-but-insuperable personal failings.
"From Henry James's alleged contribution to Constance Fenimore Woolson's suicide to Bram Stoker's 'mutually parasitical' friendship with the actor Henry Irving, Allen (Twentieth-Century Attitudes) digs up the dirt on some of the best writers of the English canon. Her collection of 18 smart, gossipy essays-many of which were previously published in the New Criterion, the Hudson Review or the New York Times Book Review-takes a bemused look at the naughty behavior of our most revered writers. 'The Western literary tradition,' she quips, 'seems to have been dominated by a sorry collection of alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, manic-depressives, sexual predators and various combinations of two, three, or even all of the above.' Only a pedagogue, she writes, 'could have turned this rogues' gallery of weirdoes into the dim procession of canonical 'dead white males' that now sends college students to sleep.' Allen does recognize that it is often better to read literature without delving into the dirty process of its making, but she nonetheless gleefully chronicles such juicy bits as Lord Byron's 'grisly' marriage, Sinclair Lewis's inferiority complex and Hans Christian Anderson's 'incessant craving for praise and attention.' And with chapter titles like 'Boswell: A Quivering Jelly' it's difficult to resist the temptation of joining her for the post-mortem. Readers looking for reverent discourse on the genius of Thackeray or meticulous explication de text won't find it here. But anyone in the mood for a refreshing, lighthearted and, ultimately, enlightened look at the nature of art and the flawed characters of the people who make it will be hard pressed to find a more entertaining volume than this." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Allen reprints 18 essays that have appeared in The New Criterion, The Hudson Review, the New York Times Book Review, and as introductions to editions of the novels whose authors they examine. Pepys, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, and William Saroyan are among them.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Brooke Allen's sparkling new collection of essays considers the dysfunctional and apparently destructive nature of great talent. Her brief but pungent profiles help enrich our understanding of the writers' works.
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