Monday, October 30, 2006

Adam Gopnik and A Hazard of New Fortunes

From The Christian Science Monitor:

The essay "A Hazard of No Fortune" wrings the requisite amount of humor out of the search for a habitable space in New York. Gopnik notes that looking for an apartment in New York is "potentially fatal, like scaling Everest." Adding an interesting literary twist to what seems to be an entirely contemporary real estate horror story, Gopnik harks back to the forgotten "A Hazard of New Fortunes," a William Dean Howells novel, to prove that looking for an apartment in New York was every bit as traumatic over a century ago as it is today.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Howells and Thomas Hardy

From the Sunday Herald (Scotland):

FEW great books have received such an initial withering reception as Jude The Obscure. To Thomas Hardy, then aged 55, it was like being booed off stage. “A titanically bad book,” wrote one critic; “a shameful nightmare,” offered another. Yet that was only part of the story. Even as they grimaced and howled, the critics seemed to appreciate that beneath what they saw as coarseness, vulgarity and indecency, were glimpses of Hardy’s genius. And once the furore following publication died down, more sophisticated voices began to surface.

According to William Dean Howells, the American man-of-letters, Hardy had produced “the greatest novel written in England for many years”. Heartened as Hardy no doubt was by the verdict of so eminent a judge, he was more exercised by the news that the Bishop of Wakefield had burnt his copy of the novel. It is a melancholy fact of literary life that bad reviews – even from an ecclesiastical source – have more impact than good ones.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Howells, Tennyson, and Radiohead

From the New York Observer:

To judge from What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, Michael Bérubé, a literature professor at Penn State, seems to be one of those strange academics who actually enjoys the undergraduates. While teaching William Dean HowellsThe Rise of Silas Lapham, for instance, he gets at the issue of social capital without help from Karl Marx or Pierre Bourdieu—instead, he heads straight for Thom Yorke.

If he wants to explain to his class that the novel’s protagonist “is displaying the fact that he knows enough to know the ‘right’ kind of thing to say about Tennyson in 1875 … basically saying, ‘I like his early work, but his recent stuff is kind of weak,’” Mr. Bérubé can translate the notion into an idiom his students will easily grasp: It’s like saying, “I liked Radiohead up until they released Kid A, but since then they’ve been spinning their wheels.”