Patrick Parrinder

Patrick Parrinder is a reader in English at the University of Reading. His books include Authors and Authority and Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. A study of James Joyce has recently appeared.

To arms!

Patrick Parrinder, 20 March 1997

Is every fictional character a kind of doll? Thackeray presented his characters as puppets, which he took out of the box at the beginning of the novel, and shut away again at the end. E.M. Forster spoke of round and flat characters, as if they were two types of doll; the flat ones could be made lifelike by shaking them vigorously. The gulf between childhood toys and adult reading is bridged by fantasy tales such as Pinocchio, where the puppet comes to life, and Hoffmann’s ‘The Sand-Man’, in which the beautiful Olympia turns out to be a mechanical doll. Contemporary popular fiction swarms with robots, mannequins, genetically engineered androids and talking computers, not to mention human beings who behave in programmed and entirely predictable ways.

By an Unknown Writer

Patrick Parrinder, 25 January 1996

Italo Calvino was born in 1923 and came to prominence in post-war Italy as a writer of neo-realist and politically committed short stories, some of them published in the Communist paper L’Unità. A major social-problem novel set in contemporary Italy was naturally expected of him, but he found himself unable to write it. Instead, as he subsequently explained, he ‘conjured up’ the sort of books he himself would have liked to read – ‘the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic’. He began with stories strongly suggestive of traditional romance, and later published in a volume called Our Ancestors: ‘The Cloven Viscount’, in which both halves of the viscount chopped neatly in two by a Turkish cannon-ball return home separately to haunt one another, and the novel-length ‘Baron in the Trees’, where a 12-year-old aristocrat decides never again to set foot on the ground after a family row in which he refuses to eat up his plateful of snails. This fantasy of an 18th-century Tarzan is a form of modern pastoral, a highly sophisticated reminder of primitive and innocent reading experiences.’

Mannequin-Maker

Patrick Parrinder, 5 October 1995

A winter evening in Istanbul in the late Seventies. Political murders, disappearances and torture are daily events, and a military coup seems to be in the offing. Galip, a young lawyer whose speciality is defending political prisoners, returns home to find that his wile Rüya has left him. His instinctive response is to pretend that nothing has happened – Rüya is simply too ill to leave the apartment or come to the telephone. He then begins to scour the city looking for her.

Over-Indulging

Patrick Parrinder, 9 February 1995

Like his elder contemporary Henry James, Eça de Queirós belongs to the small and distinguished group of 19th-century novelists who wrote in exile. He was born in 1845 in a remote town of northern Portugal, but spent most of his working life in England and France. He liked to maintain that his novels were fundamentally French, and that he himself was French in everything but his fondness for ballad-singers and cod with onions. Certainly he was no Englishman, nor likely to become one, despite 14 years spent in the consular service in Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His sparkling Letters from England, contributed to a Brazilian newspaper, contain resounding denunciations of English chauvinism and of British Imperial policy in Egypt, Ireland and India. These were presumably ignored at the time by the English, just as they have ignored Portugal’s greatest novelist ever since.

Rachel and Her Race

Patrick Parrinder, 18 August 1994

When Lucy Snowe goes to the theatre in Villette, she is entranced by the performance of the great actress Vashti, a plain, frail woman ‘torn by seven devils’, a ‘spirit out of Tophet’ delighting her audience with a glimpse of hell. Vashti is easily identified as the tragedian Elisa Rachel, whom Charlotte Brontë had seen in London in 1851. Sarah Bernhardt may be better known today, but it was Rachel who haunted the English literary imagination throughout the 19th century. In James’s The Tragic Muse, the Jewish Cockney actress Miriam Rooth claims to be in the same style as ‘that woman’, and George Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth foolishly thinks of herself as destined for stardom because she is more beautiful than the ‘thin Jewess’.

Devil take the hindmost

John Sutherland, 14 December 1995

Among other certain things (death, taxes etc) is the rule that no work of science fiction will ever win the Booker Prize – not even the joke 1890s version. H.G. Wells’s The Time...

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Outside the Academy

Robert Alter, 13 February 1992

These two meticulous surveys of modern criticism in all its vertiginous variety lead one to ponder what it is all about and where it may be heading. The book by René Wellek, focused on...

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Post-Humanism

Alex Zwerdling, 15 October 1987

When the history of late 20th-century literary culture comes to be written, the extraordinary vogue of metatheoretical works will surely require explanation. What can account for the obsessive...

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Raiding Joyce

Denis Donoghue, 18 April 1985

Patience is a mark of the classic, according to Frank Kermode. ‘King Lear, underlying a thousand dispositions, subsists in change, prevails, by being patient of interpretation.’ It...

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