Zachary Leader

Zachary Leader has edited The Letters of Kingsley Amis, and plays tennis with Martin.

Colson Whitehead’s first novel, The Intuitionist (1999), won several prizes and extravagant praise from American critics. Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer...



21 June 2001

There’s an amusing mistake in the second paragraph of my review of The Golden Age by Gore Vidal (LRB, 21 June). What got printed as ‘his father, Romley, claims’ was a mishearing of my telephone emendation ‘his father, wrongly, claims’. Oh well.

No Accident: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age

Zachary Leader, 21 June 2001

‘Of course I like my country,’ Gore Vidal has written. ‘After all, I’m its current biographer.’ With the publication of The Golden Age, the biography draws to a close. The novels which comprise it, to list them in order of the historical periods they cover, are Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976, of course), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), Washington, DC...

Daisy packs her bags: The Road to West Egg

Zachary Leader, 21 September 2000

Once upon a time authors were believed to improve their work in revision. Then editorial theory fell in love with first versions, stigmatising second thoughts as impositions. The old dispensation, in which rejected drafts and variants were seen as false starts happily rectified on the road to a work’s final form, which was an incarnation of the author’s final intention, became ‘The Whig Interpretation of Literature’. This belittling tag, coined in a 1988 essay of the same name by Stephen Parrish, general editor of the monumental Cornell Wordsworth, reflected two more widespread beliefs in literary theory: that ‘language is prior to thought’ and that authorial intention is ‘not only elusive and illusory, but irrelevant’. In the case of the Cornell Wordsworth such beliefs were used to defend the publication of early versions as reading texts (a host of ‘yellow’ daffodils, for example; ‘golden’, a second thought, is relegated to the apparatus). The first versions, Parrish proclaimed, contained ‘the real Wordsworth, the early Wordsworth, generally the best Wordsworth’. Today, a third position is in ascendance. Editors, Parrish included, no longer talk of best and worst: instead, the equal validity of all versions is asserted. This third or pluralist position grows out of and reflects several recent developments: the triumph of history in the study of literature in universities, the much-heralded new dawn of hypertext, and a near universal reluctance on the part of literary academics to make judgments of value. Where exactly the publication of Trimalchio, an early version of The Great Gatsby, fits into this admittedly crude narrative, is no easy question.‘

At the end of his review of my edition of The Letters of Kingsley Amis (LRB, 1 June) Ian Hamilton asks ‘a few small questions’. These include: ‘What has happened to Amis’s letters to Robert Conquest that are quoted from in Eric Jacobs’s biography of Amis (“May want to borrow your flat at times like the early evening, for an hour or two, to entertain a young lady"; “I used you as an alibi...

What is at risk of being lost amid all the turkey stuffing is that Saul Bellow was a witty writer, as much a snappy dresser in prose as he was splashed out in his slick duds, a cool operator and crafty...

Read more reviews

Bad Character: Saul Bellow

Andrew O’Hagan, 21 May 2015

Bellow was in charge of whatever facts he chose to be interested in, and his genius, which can’t be doubted, outstripped anyone’s claim to possess their own story.

Read more reviews

Self-Positioning: the Movement

Stefan Collini, 25 June 2009

Craig Raine recalls that when the former chairman of Faber, Charles Monteith, encountered the suggestion that one of Philip Larkin’s poems was indebted to Théophile Gautier, he was...

Read more reviews

Do you think he didn’t know? Kingsley Amis

Stefan Collini, 14 December 2006

Giving offence has become an unfashionable sport, but Kingsley Amis belongs in its hall of fame, one of the all-time greats. When Roger Micheldene, the central character in his 1963 novel, One...

Read more reviews

During the half-century since 1950, Lindsay Duguid writes in an essay in this collection, ‘the lady novelist turned into the woman writer,’ the historical novel became respectable...

Read more reviews

When Philip Larkin first met Kingsley Amis at Oxford in the early 1940s, he was appalled, he later said, to find himself ‘for the first time in the presence of a talent greater than...

Read more reviews

Floating Hair v. Blue Pencil

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1996

The time is almost past when writers copiously provided the curious, concerned as much with process as with product, with drafts showing corrections by one or more hands and interestingly...

Read more reviews

Is writing bad for you?

Frank Kermode, 21 February 1991

Writer’s block must be thought of as a disease even more specific to a particular occupation than housemaid’s knee or weaver’s bottom. You can have those without being a...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences