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The End of the Beginning

Continued from Wednesday’s entry… When John Baines, the voiceless, invalid patriarch of The Old Wives’ Tale, expires in a moment of familial neglect, the omniscient narrator intones: Mid-Victorian England lay on that mahogany bed. Ideals had passed away with John Baines. William Boyd makes room for a related observation when the every-man protagonist of Any […]


On Narrative and Prophecy

Continued from Monday’s entry… Of the twelve works dealt with this year, it’s no accident that eight were novels. Even as history continuously struggles to establish itself as unalloyed nonfiction, historians and novelists share a meaningful preoccupation with narrative. The novel, an old art form, but one that reached a kind of zenith during the […]

Dawn of the Century

Inventors of the 20th Century

In 1896, the historian commonly known as Lord Acton gave a speech to the Syndics (officials) of the Cambridge University Press, in which he expressed a conviction that, in the coming years, “we can dispose of conventional history…now that all information is within reach, and every problem has become capable of solution.” The spirit evident […]


1909: Futurist Manifesto

Just a few years ago, museums and publications around the world marked the 100th anniversary of Futurism, a movement born as a manifesto written and published on the front page of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro in 1909. The author and proponents of the Futurist Manifesto, F.T. Marinetti and friends, did not so much predict […]


Making Literary History, Part II

Writing in The Bookman, Professor William Lyon Phelps expressed his appreciation for Gene Stratton-Porter’s work, but he also made plain his sense of its limitations. It’s not “idealism” that mars her novels, he writes, but “sentimentality,” which reigns over the average human breast even as it revolts the “elite” minority. Phelps did not consider Stratton-Porter […]

Golden Multitudes

Making Literary History, Part I

Among the authors assembled on these pages over the last eleven months, Gene Stratton-Porter’s name may be the most obscure to all but those contemporary readers who stumbled upon her work in their youth (such as myself) or came to her later in life by way of a book club or a latter-day fondness for […]


Tough and Tender

While David Lodge’s earlier novel Author, Author takes as its anchor the friendship between Henry James and George Du Maurier (better known as Rebecca’s grandfather), in A Man of Parts, Lodge imagines H.G. Wells deeply engaged in a series of dialogues – with himself as well as the many, many women who passed through his […]


The Skeptoptimist, Part II

On Monday, we left the title character of H.G. Wells’s 1909 novel in prison, after she joined a suffragette raid on the British parliament. An experience so often characterized in literature as having a radicalizing effect does no such thing for Ann Veronica. Instead she finds herself “in a phase of violent reaction against the […]


The Skeptoptimist

In The New Yorker, the writer Adam Kirsch refers to Ann Veronica as a “topical” novel, by which he appears to mean a novel that can be summed up in fewer words than one hand has fingers – “about the suffragette movement” – but it is really nothing of the sort. No matter the paucity […]


Friday Fun: H.G. Wells and Orson Welles

In 1940, both H.G. Wells and the man he referred to as his “little namesake” Orson Welles were interviewed together on KTSA radio. Orson Welles was, at the time, 25 years old and had begun making Citizen Kane. They spoke about the panic caused by Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of Wells’ The War of the […]