Literature & Criticism

Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus and the Ghost (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4)

Henry and Hamlet

Barbara Everett

22 February 2024

A work of art is what it is, even more than what it says. The only real way of seeing how Hamlet differs from Henry is to perceive the great difference in the plays that hold them, a mature tragedy and an early history.

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On A.K. Blakemore

Lola Seaton

20 October 2022

The narrator​ of A.K. Blakemore’s first novel, The Manningtree Witches (2021), is a 19-year-old woman called Rebecca West. She lives with her tough, rowdy mother, the Beldam West, and their cat, Vinegar . . .

On Jamaica Kincaid

Ogazielum Mba

8 February 2024

Elaine​ Potter Richardson changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid in 1973. She was 24 years old and had decided that ‘Jamaica’ was more stylish. More important, a new name would allow her to publish . . .

Origins of the Gay Novel

Tom Crewe

8 February 2024

When​ we happen across a gay man in the 19th-century novel, we do just that. We are made suddenly aware of him, standing in sharp relief against the busy background, apparently having very little to . . .

On Enheduana

Anna Della Subin

8 February 2024

The​ earliest known author was married to the moon. In the 1920s, in the shadow of an anti-colonial uprising against British rule in Mesopotamia, the archaeologists Leonard and Katharine Woolley dug . . .

Malfunctioning Sex Robot: Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women.

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Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun.

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Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.

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Le pauvre Sokal: the Social Text Hoax

John Sturrock, 16 July 1998

Way back in the pre-theoretical Fifties, a journalist called Ivor Brown used to have elementary fun at the expense of a serial intruder on our insular peace of mind, a bacillus known as the LFF,...

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The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

One day early in the 1590s a clown came onto a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string was a dog. The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to...

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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Diary: On the Booker

Julian Barnes, 12 November 1987

The only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer.

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Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

Hard-bitten, aggressively up-to-date in the way it took cognisance of the fallen contemporary landscape, yet susceptible also to the pristine scenery of an imaginary Anglo-Saxon England, Auden’s original voice could not have been predicted and was utterly timely.

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Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

So the working fairy does at least half a mile a second, probably two-thirds, and the cruising royalties can in effect go as fast as her, if they need to. Puck claims to go at five miles a second, perhaps seven times what the working fairy does. This seems a working social arrangement.

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Space Aria: On Samantha Harvey

Adam Mars-Jones, 8 February 2024

There’s no boredom in Samantha Harvey’s Orbital and no pulse of adrenaline either. To be in orbit, after all, is to be held in a balance of forces. Any acceleration would nudge things out of kilter.

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Toxic Sausages: ‘Life Is Everywhere’

Chris Power, 25 January 2024

Are we being told that to seek truth in books is dangerous? Perhaps. But Lucy Ives also seems to be saying that books are things we pour meaning into as much as they dispense it. ‘A novel is a medicine...

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The Secret Life: On the poet Molly Brodak

Patricia Lockwood, 25 January 2024

You do walk through the world with some people. You don’t know anything about them, but you walk through the world; if they die, you do not get used to it.

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Hooted from the Stage: Living with Keats

Susan Eilenberg, 25 January 2024

Keats was deeply interested in suffering. He came by it naturally and also medically; sometimes it appeared as an impulse towards poetic tragedy. He wants what he has always wanted, to soothe pain. If...

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Emvowelled: Muddy Texts

Thomas Keymer, 25 January 2024

For early audiences, the thrill of the chase was part of the fun, and it was better to travel down the byways of interpretation, individually or through social consultation, than to arrive at a fixed conclusion....

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First-person narration is a rich medium in which difference can simply be suspended, without the need to announce the fact. For readers of a novel, the question ‘What is the gender affiliation of this...

Read more about Camden Town Toreros: ‘Corey Fah Does Social Mobility’

How to Hate Oil: On Upton Sinclair

Edmund Gordon, 4 January 2024

The modernity of Upton Sinclair’s California is at odds with his style. He had no time for recent developments in literary technique and his primary models were Zola (from whom he learned the importance...

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Wheatley’s writing was the supposed product of her leisure time rather than her enslaved labour. She imitated white aesthetics while drawing attention to her Blackness in ways that mixed humility with...

Read more about Victory by Simile: Phillis Wheatley’s Evolution

In discussions of translation, we hear a lot about difficulty, impossibility, loss, riches, invention, triumph – all justified and interesting avenues. But texts may suggest something else: agreement,...

Read more about Break your bleedin’ heart: Proust’s Otherness

Getting the Ick: Consent in Shakespeare

John Kerrigan, 14 December 2023

Consent could mean, as now, agreement to a proposal, but Shakespeare’s plays reflect social conditions in which consent between lovers depends on the consent given by friends and family. As Petruchio...

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Paper Grave: On Scholastique Mukasonga

Kevin Okoth, 14 December 2023

The Hutu authorities​ in Rwanda, Scholastique Mukasonga writes in The Barefoot Woman, portrayed the Tutsi as ‘inyenzi, cockroaches, insects it was only right to persecute and eventually exterminate’. Mukasonga’s...

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On Mary Ruefle

Emily Berry, 14 December 2023

American poets have never tired of the wonders of refrigeration. Ever since William Carlos Williams pilfered plums from the icebox there have been songs in praise of fridges and their contents – and...

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The structural jumps and awkward sutures of time in The Fraud are part of its argument. They give additional force to its wider project of showing how the novels of the period 1840-80 were structurally...

Read more about Crushing the Port Glasses: Zadie Smith gets the knives out

This Other Eden is loosely based on what happened on Malaga Island, Maine in 1912, the same year that the first international congress on eugenics was held in London, at which Leonard Darwin, son of Charles,...

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Chairs look at me: ‘Sojourn’

Alex Harvey, 30 November 2023

Amit Chaudhuri’s Sojourn is interested in our relationship to the history we are living through, conscious that no one is fully aware of living in an historical epoch, perhaps as fictional figures can’t...

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Slimed It: On N.K. Jemisin

Francis Gooding, 30 November 2023

H.P.Lovecraft’s name rarely appears today without the requisite condemnation. Yet nobody is really suggesting that we stop reading him, cancel Cthulhu and de-platform the Great Old Ones.

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Water on the Brain: Spurious Ghosts

Dinah Birch, 30 November 2023

Spiritual guidance is rare in Vernon Lee’s stories. Her ghosts are usually the undoing of those who encounter them; they represent compulsive desires rather than fears, and the glamour of history more...

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His Own Dark Mind: Rescuing Lord Byron

Clare Bucknell, 30 November 2023

Byron took from Milton the idea that the mind, being ‘its own place and time’, could be its own hell. Torment in the tales and other ‘dark’ poems may be both a physical space – a dungeon, a set...

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