Philip Horne

Philip Horne teaches English at Cambridge.

It’s just a book

Philip Horne, 17 December 1992

Paul Auster is an amphibious writer whose eclectic methods and influences make one unsure by which end to try and grasp him. His early self-exile to an apprenticeship in Paris as a poet and translator, absorbing the lessons of the ‘high’ aesthetic rigorists – Beckett, Blanchot, Jabès, Celan – was an unexpected preliminary to his return to America and, after several years, his dark, formally self-conscious entry onto the scene of the American novel with The New York Trilogy, an elaborate anti-detective volume full of Hawthorne, Melville and Thoreau. Despite its grand title it had been rejected 17 times before a publisher brought it out in 1985; yet it became, at the chic end of the market, a ‘best seller’, and established Auster as a figure to be puffed or sniped at, as some blankly indulgent and huffily impatient receptions of Leviathan have again shown.’

Making sentences

Philip Horne, 21 November 1991

Forty-one years after F.O. Matthiessen’s suicide, and 44 after his big book The James Family: A Group Biography, here is R.W.B. Lewis, Matthiessen’s pupil at Harvard, with one on the same subject, nearly as big. Its very title twists a touch awkwardly to avoid repeating that of its precursor, to which Lewis acknowledges a large debt.

Making faces

Philip Horne, 9 May 1991

What do coincidences mean? As I was reading Nicholas Salaman’s elaborately-patterned historical paranoia novel The Grimace, in which all the women the cracked narrator encounters are called Johanna, I came across the phrase ‘visions of Johannas’. It gave me a shock to realise that the song ‘Visions of Johanna’, by Bob Dylan, at which Salaman nods just this once, was at the same moment playing quietly on my stereo, which it does perhaps once a year. I didn’t bother to try to compute the odds against this happening, and left it as a sharp earful of what Paul Auster calls ‘the music of chance’.

Henry Hill and Laura Palmer

Philip Horne, 20 December 1990

One of the strongest and strangest moments in David Lynch’s unsettling TV serial Twin Peaks, part of the dream of wholesome investigating agent Dale Cooper, comes when he is kissed full on the mouth by the figure of Laura Palmer, who was a ‘wild girl’ but is now dead and whose murderer he has come to town to detect. The story exerts its spell over television viewers through a combination of gruesome invention, deadpan quirkiness and hyperbolic intensity characteristic of Lynch (in Eraserhead, for instance, and this year’s Wild at Heart): but also through the tracing of sinister secret networks within the placid small-town community, the revelation not just of illicit sex but of drug-dealing and ritual murder underlying the ordinary goodness of pie and coffee. The deathly kiss Cooper receives in his nightmare from a girl ‘filled with secrets’ could stand for the ghoulishly thrilling intercourse between the lawful and the wild, for the impulse to get down to human nature’s bottom line.


Philip Horne, 30 August 1990

Edith Wharton is known, among other things, as the teller of the most devastating of the anecdotes displaying Henry James’s incapacity to communicate efficiently. The story told in her 1933 autobiography, A Backward Glance, has James, late one evening, attempt to ask a doddering Windsor pedestrian how their car can find its way to the address they want. After a page of repetitious parenthetical irrelevancies from James, which leave the old man ‘dazed’, she loses patience and insists James ‘ask him where the King’s Road is’. This, a little less elaborately, he does, and the old man says: ‘Ye’re in it.’

Peaches d’antan: Henry James’s Autobiographies

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 11 August 2016

Henry James​ liked to represent himself as hopelessly lagging behind his older brother, but he was also very good at turning childish inadequacy to imaginative account. A year after...

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‘I thirst for his blood’: Henry James

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 25 November 1999

Henry James was a generous correspondent in more senses than one, but his fellow writers may have found some of the Master’s letters rather exasperating. ‘I read your current novel...

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Taking it up again

Margaret Anne Doody, 21 March 1991

Why do they do it? Why would they ever want to? Why do novelists revise novels? The very thought of revising one is daunting. Yet of course novelists do revise their printed works, on occasion,...

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