Once Upon a Time

The lure of the fairy tale. Joan Acocella Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on … Continue reading



when Baudelaire embarked on his literary career he wanted to make his mark not in poetry but in prose. In 1847 he informed his mother that he was going to commit himself to achieving commercial success in the newly dominant literary form of the novel:

From the beginning of next year, I’m turning to a new trade — by which I mean the creation of works of pure imagination — the Novel. I do not need to demonstrate to you here how grave, beautiful, and infinite this particular art is. As we are discussing material matters, all you need to know is that good or bad, everything can be sold: it’s just a question of assiduity.



What’s the big idea?

Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels? Jennie Erdal At St Andrews University in the early 1970s, philosophy was still a required subject for entry into an honours course. To leave the way clear for reading modern languages, I decided that the requirement … Continue reading

Rise of the Fictional Lecherous Prof.

Stephanie Bernhard He’s crusty, grumpy, aging, and set in his outdated ways. He’s a he. Mortality is on his mind, and his will to bed women a fraction of his age increases in direct proportion to his fear of aging and death. He is, of course, the Humanities Professor archetype, and he is everywhere these … Continue reading

What’s Wrong With the Nobel Prize in Literature

Tim Parks So the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer wins the Nobel prize for literature. Aside from a couple of long poems available on the net, I haven’t read Tranströmer, yet I feel sure this is a healthy decision in every way. Above all for the Nobel jury. Let me explain. There are eighteen of them, … Continue reading

Sagas of Icelanders

One of the great riddles of literary history Kathryn Hadley ‘During the 13th and 14th centuries on a sparsely populated, volcanic and inhospitable island at the edge of the Arctic Circle there was an outpouring of literary creativity unparalleled in the medieval world… How a tiny population of Viking settlers came to produce so many … Continue reading

Dawkins’ weasels v/s Anderson’s monkeys to Shakespeare’s work

John Timmer There’s a classic example of probability that focuses on the question of whether a million monkeys, given a million typewriters, could ever recreate a work of Shakespeare by chance. A programmer from Nevada is now giving virtual monkeys a chance, having them pop out random strings and matching the results against the complete … Continue reading

Killing American Lit.

Today’s collegians don’t want to study it—who can blame them? JOSEPH EPSTEIN The Editors of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" decided to consider their subject—as history is considered increasingly in universities these days—from the bottom up. In 71 chapters, the book’s contributors consider the traditional novel in its many sub-forms, among them: science … Continue reading

Literature Brings the Physical Past to Life

Scott Herring Recently, literary theorists have been making another of their occasional efforts to restore a trace of earthly reality to criticism. This time those efforts have taken the form of Darwinian literary studies, which attempt to relate the universal impulse to tell stories to human nature, as shaped by evolution. My guess is that … Continue reading