William Gass

William Gass is director of the International Writers’ Center at Washington University in St Louis.

Flattery and Whining: Prologomania

William Gass, 5 October 2000

Alasdair Gray has opened his Book of Prefaces with what he calls an Advertisement and followed that with an essay ‘On What Led to English Literature’. Since he deliberately does not distinguish between the various sorts of front matter a volume may contain, both might be characterised as prefaces. I encountered this laxity with some dismay, although I understand it. The editor did...

A Book at Bedtime

William Gass, 10 November 1994

We all know about Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba, the rook’s egg, the thieves’ cave. There’s a rule which requires us to begin our lives as children. We will have seen or heard and thereby passed a Night or two, in some pop or papped-up version, even if we have never leafed the picture book or read Burton’s luxuriant prose. Splendid stories eminently suitable for children – that’s the line. Yet these tales were originally told, not by a campfire, in some mom’s soothing voice, or listened to in the lap of dearest daddy, but – instead of the once customary cigarette – enjoyed during the calm following copulation, after lengthy and enervating love-making: the man a murderer of his mistresses, the woman a willing but ofttupped victim, while a third, the belaboured lady’s sister, naps beneath the bouncing bed where she’s been staying out of love’s way until tale-time comes and she can clear her throat to request a bit of post-coital edification and escape.’

If it’s hard to tell what’s going on in William Gass’s fiction that’s because Gass himself doesn’t always know exactly what he’s set in motion. ‘As a...

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