A.D. Nuttall

A.D. Nuttall’s books include Two Concepts of Allegory, A New Mimesis, Shakespeare the Thinker and Dead From the Waist Down, a study of the idea of the scholar in relation to sexuality. For many years a fellow of New College, Oxford, he died in January 2007.

This book opens with a resounding question: ‘Who are we?’ The many pages that follow, highly entertaining and richly informed as they are, never directly answer this question. Instead, they answer another question: ‘Who or what do we think we are?’ Perhaps the choice of the plural form – ‘Who are we?’ rather than ‘Who am I?’ –...

‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ William Blake wrote these words near the end of the 18th century and set going the idea that Paradise Lost, Milton’s epic justifying the ways of God to men, had a twofold force: an...

In the Teeth of the Gale

A.D. Nuttall, 16 November 1995

‘Traduttore traditore,’ the translator is a betrayer. In other words, every translation is an act of treachery against the loved original, a stab in the back. If this Italian proverb is right, the translation I have just offered of the proverb itself must be just one more betrayal. Indeed, the case against me is strong. The Italian phrase gets much of its force from the jingling assonance of the two words, but one finds swiftly that it is no good trying to reproduce this with the weaker assonances available in English: ‘translator traitor’ and the like. Yet by a bald rendering something is achieved: the point or burden of the proverb really can be set out in another language. One is tempted to draw a conclusion of premature simplicity: matter is translatable, manner not. Therefore, jokes, puns (apart from lucky accidents), allusive titles and, above all, poetry will translate less well than, say, motorists’ manuals, left luggage information and realistic novels. It has been said that the natural unit of the ‘transparent’ novel is the event, set in a sequence of other events, while the natural unit of the poem is the word, in association with other words. That is why Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are read all over the world while Pushkin, despite the efforts of John Fennell, Antony Wood. DM. Thomas and Vladimir Nabokov, remains primarily a writer for readers of Russian. The myriad imperfections of rendering in any translation of a novel do not seriously impede what looks like genuine literary enjoyment: we weep for Anna Karenina and tremble at Raskolnikov. Don Quixote found readers everywhere: centuries later Lorca remained trapped in the brilliant liberty of his native Spanish.

Art of Embarrassment

A.D. Nuttall, 18 August 1994

Humane, learned, un-showily stylish and at times moving in their tender intelligence, these essays by Anne Barton, ranging from a richly ‘mellow’ piece first published in 1953 – a period when even undergraduates wrote as if they were middle-aged – to the magnificent ‘Wrying a Little’, on Cymbeline, Jacobean marriage law and female desire, are nourishing to the spirit. Livy, Machiavelli, Ford, Dekker, Heywood and Jonson all figure in the book, but the main recurring subject is Shakespeare. It is, moreover, good to see the publication of this book marked by an accompanying Festschrift – a volume of essays on comedy by friends and colleagues of Professor Barton, ranging from American luminaries like Jonas Barish and Stephen Orgel to newcomers like Richard Rowland (who contributes a thumpingly good piece on Heywood). Shakespeare is still the most challenging object in the literary canon, the most generous with meaning and, at the same time, the most apt to find out folly in those who would interpret him. Anne Barton is, so to speak, a good listener to Shakespeare. She is the beneficiary of his generosity and survives the challenges better than most of us. She survives – but not quite unscathed, perhaps.’

A Kind of Scandal

A.D. Nuttall, 19 August 1993

Ovid was Shakespeare’s favourite poet. The fact is central to his genius, crucial to the understanding of his work. Shakespeare himself remains visible to posterity; Ovid is now, through the decay of Classical learning, almost invisible. The Shakespeare industry roars on, but the number of people for whom Actaeon, Adonis, Arachne, Echo, Narcissus, Philomel and Tereus are mere un-meaning names grows greater with each successive year. For Shakespeare (and Keats and Eliot) such names are like windows opening on another world, which is like and unlike ours. Each name involves a story and story begets story in a living system of extraordinary richness. To forget all this is to experience absolute loss.

A. D. Nuttall is probably the most philosophically-minded of modern literary critics, and he has the additional merit of assuming that at some level philosophical (or theological) problems are of...

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Getting Even

Adam Phillips, 19 September 1996

We wouldn’t think of anything as a tragedy if we did not have a deeply ingrained sense of order already there to be affronted. Tragedy in life, and as art, exposes by violation our mostly...

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Making a start

Frank Kermode, 11 June 1992

A.D. Nuttall is among the most erudite contemporary academic literary critics, at ease with the Classics, much given to philosophy. He is also disconcertingly bold and curious, and his latest...

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Talk about doing

Frank Kermode, 26 October 1989

Anyone presuming to review works of modern literary theory must expect to be depressed by an encounter with large quantities of deformed prose. The great ones began it, and aspiring theorists...

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Talking about Shakespeare

Frank Kermode, 28 September 1989

Barbara Everett’s book consists of her four Northcliffe Lectures, given at University College London in 1988, on Hamlet and the other ‘major’ tragedies, together with a number...

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Barbara Everett, 17 October 1985

Even Swift, who liked to think he was half author of the Dunciad, had trouble with its allusions and wrote grumblingly to warn Pope that twenty miles from London ‘nobody understands hints,...

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Transparent Criticism

Anne Barton, 21 June 1984

Erich Auerbach’s celebrated study of the representation of reality in Western literature, Mimesis, was published in German in 1946. Grounded on the analysis (mainly syntactic) of passages...

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Dear God

Claude Rawson, 4 December 1980

‘Imagine – if you can – God reading this poem.’ So begins this brief, stylish book, citing Herbert’s ‘Dialogue’ (‘Sweetest Saviour, of my soul...

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