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His Generation

Keith Gessen: A Sad Old Literary Man

19 June 2008
Alfred KazinA Biography 
by Richard Cook.
Yale, 452 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 300 11505 5
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... AlfredKazin published his first and best book of literary criticism, On Native Grounds, in 1942, when he was 27 years old. It told, in highly wrought, dramatic prose, the story of American literature from what ...

Gorgon in Furs

D.D. Guttenplan: Paula Fox

12 December 2002
Borrowed Finery: A Memoir 
by Paula Fox.
Flamingo, 256 pp., £12, August 2002, 0 00 713724 9
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... those heartwarming stories of literary virtue rewarded. Her first book, Poor George (1967), generated considerable critical excitement. Desperate Characters (1970) was described as ‘brilliant’ by AlfredKazin and Irving Howe; Lionel Trilling called it ‘reserved and beautifully realised’. Six years later Karl Miller found The Widow’s Children ‘a compelling and satisfying book’. All those ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers

19 April 2017
... m not really at one with America, but I’ve always to some extent shared the romance of being a part of it in old New York. For me, the city didn’t just mean Frank Sinatra and Studio 54, it meant AlfredKazin and Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman and Susan Sontag. I loved its papers, the swagger of the contributors, the New York intellectuals, with their neuroses, their arguments, their marriages ...

A Conversation with Gore Vidal

Thomas Powers: Meeting Gore Vidal

30 July 2014
... and envy at Elaine’s, but he talked about Truman Capote and Norman Mailer as he did ten years ago – as rivals and enemies, coming back to them obsessively. Worst of all the New York crowd was AlfredKazin – ‘Saul Bellow called him the conductor on the gravy train. Wherever they were passing out money, honour, position, awards – there was Kazin. I didn’t read his memoirs. Well – I did ...

Enemies For Ever

James Wolcott: ‘Making It’

17 May 2017
Making It 
by Norman Podhoretz.
NYRB, 368 pp., £13.98, May 2017, 978 1 68137 080 4
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... In December​ 1963, the literary critic, essayist and lyrical memoirist AlfredKazin filed a field report from an after party for a Commentary magazine symposium ‘on the Negro’. (Symposia on the Negro were popular in the 1960s, helping to keep white liberal panellists occupied ...
16 October 1980
Three Honest Men: Edmund Wilson, F.R. Leavis, Lionel Trilling 
edited by Philip French.
Carcanet, 120 pp., £6.95, July 1980, 0 85635 299 3
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F.R. Leavis 
by William Walsh.
Chatto, 189 pp., £8.95, September 1980, 0 7011 2503 9
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... famed grace and wit come across, but so does a frank recognition of the defences and swerves forced on metropolitan intellectuals by events. Trilling’s story is told by other New Yorkers, including AlfredKazin, Irving Howe and Norman Podhoretz, who between them seem to muster a greater range of ages, backgrounds and perhaps professional experience than the Leavis contributors. The atmosphere is more ...
17 September 1998
Shadows on the Hudson 
by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated by Joseph Sherman.
Hamish Hamilton, 560 pp., £16.99, June 1998, 0 241 13940 6
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Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life 
by Janice Hadda.
Oxford, 254 pp., £22.50, February 1998, 0 19 508420 9
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... his Yiddish-speaking audience directly, he is revealed as being somewhat to the right of Senator McCarthy. Perhaps that is why he thought it prudent to consign his text to the shadowlands.’ For AlfredKazin it was a matter of social camouflage: Singer didn’t want his English-speaking Jewish audience to know how he had caricatured them in the novel. In his review of Shadows on the Hudson in the ...

The Sound of Cracking

Pankaj Mishra: ‘The Age of the Crisis of Man’

26 August 2015
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-73 
by Mark Greif.
Princeton, 434 pp., £19.95, January 2015, 978 0 691 14639 3
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Moral Agents: Eight 20th-Century American Writers 
by Edward Mendelson.
New York Review, 216 pp., £12.99, May 2015, 978 1 59017 776 1
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... the panic and emptiness which make their onset when the will is tired from its own excess’. With delicate precision, Mendelson traces similar private confusion and anxiety in Trilling’s coevals. AlfredKazin marvelled in his journals at his own social and intellectual eminence – its high-water mark a lunch invitation to the White House – and sexual success. Unlike Trilling, he sublimates self ...

They don’t say that about Idi Amin

Andrew O’Hagan: Bellow Whinges

6 January 2011
Saul Bellow: Letters 
edited by Benjamin Taylor.
Viking, 571 pp., $35, November 2010, 978 0 670 02221 2
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... it, the ongoing blush of self-courting, the precisely invigilated examination of the ways in which the world accepted him. ‘I suppose I shall have to take my pannings mercifully,’ he writes to AlfredKazin in 1944, before reassuring the burgeoning critic that he belongs ‘in our camp’. Later: ‘The reviews are incredibly vulgar, so why read them?’ One can applaud a novelist for not reading ...

In a Boat of His Own Making

James Camp: Jack London

24 September 2014
Jack London: An American Life 
by Earle Labor.
Farrar, Straus, 439 pp., £21.99, November 2013, 978 0 374 17848 2
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The Sea-Wolf 
by Jack London.
Hesperus, 287 pp., £9.99, August 2013, 978 1 78094 200 1
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... and the corollary ideal of the Self-Made Man.’ Labor’s bland subtitle, ‘An American Life’, may be meant as a riposte to previous biographers. ‘The greatest story Jack London ever wrote,’ AlfredKazin said in On Native Grounds, ‘was the story he lived.’ But his afterlife has been uneven. Irving Stone was the first to tackle it, in Sailor on Horseback (1938), in which he more or less ...


Stephen Fender

19 January 1989
Landscape and Written Expression in Revolutionary America: The world turned upside down 
by Robert Lawson-Peebles.
Cambridge, 384 pp., £35, March 1988, 0 521 34647 9
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Mark Twain’s Letters. Vol. I: 1853-1866 
edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael Frank and Kenneth Sanderson.
California, 616 pp., $35, May 1988, 0 520 03668 9
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A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature 
by Alfred Kazin.
Thames and Hudson, 240 pp., £15.95, September 1988, 0 500 01424 8
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... the West presented economic and social, as well as physical, hazards. For most of the writers represented in Lawson-Peebles’s study, too, the confrontation posed problems of style. Only in Kazin’s wide survey are American writers at ease in their surroundings. A common response to the unexpected is a retreat to a hardened form of the familiar. Faced with landscapes that seemed to dissolve ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography

2 November 2000
Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... Humboldt’s Gift. And can it be said that Bellow’s feelings about Trilling are of a piece with some more particular animus towards Jewish literary academics, eventually extending to admirers like AlfredKazin and Leslie Fiedler? And why is this animus particularly pronounced when its targets are Jewish literary academics who teach in Ivy League universities like Columbia and Harvard? It is perhaps ...

Mganga with the Lion

Kenneth Silverman: Hemingway

2 September 1999
Hemingway: The Thirties 
by Michael Reynolds.
Norton, 360 pp., £9.95, October 1998, 0 393 31778 1
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Hemingway: The Final Years 
by Michael Reynolds.
Norton, 416 pp., £19.95, July 1999, 0 393 04748 2
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True at First Light 
by Ernest Hemingway.
Heinemann, 319 pp., £16.99, July 1999, 9780434008322
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... his writing skill with it. When Across the River and into the Trees appeared, in 1950, he had not published a book in ten years. And the novel turned even some sympathetic reviewers into hangmen. AlfredKazin reported feeling ‘embarrassment, even pity, that so important a writer can make such a travesty of himself’. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the next year a ...
2 February 1984
The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, criticism was an essential component of a literary career. And for the critics, the obverse was true: Lionel Trilling wrote fiction, Harold Rosenberg wrote poetry, AlfredKazin wrote his memoirs. They weren’t just critics: they were writers. With the rise of mass education after World War Two, the demand for English professors grew, more university presses were ...

Short is sharp

John Sutherland

3 February 1983
Firebird 2 
edited by T.J. Binding.
Penguin, 284 pp., £2.95, January 1983, 0 14 006337 4
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Bech is Back 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 195 pp., £6.95, January 1983, 0 233 97512 8
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The Pangs of Love 
by Jane Gardam.
Hamish Hamilton, 156 pp., £7.50, February 1983, 0 241 10942 6
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The Man Who Sold Prayers 
by Margaret Creal.
Dent, 198 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 9780460045926
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Happy as a Dead Cat 
by Jill Miller.
Women’s Press, 120 pp., £2.50, January 1983, 9780704338982
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... bitchery. The rave notices of Bech’s novel, for instance, surely risk libel prosecution (or at least physical battery and certainly some come-uppance reviews) by burlesquing such mandarins as AlfredKazin, Gore Vidal, Benjamin de Mott and – at inordinate length – George Steiner in the New Yorker (a bite at the hand which has, most famously, fed Updike): ‘An occasion to marvel once again ...

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