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Frank Kermode

Mary-Kay Wilmers: On Frank Kermode

9 September 2010
... Papers speak through their writers. And of all the London Review’s writers FrankKermode was the one through whom we spoke most often and most eloquently. In all he wrote nearly 250 pieces for the LRB, the first in October 1979, a review of J.F.C. Harrison’s book on millenarianism, the ...
6 October 1983
The Name of the Rose 
by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 502 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 436 14089 6
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... Semiotics is a fashionable subject, but semioticians do not normally become international best-sellers, which is the fate that, in apparent violation of this familiar cultural assumption, has befallen the Professor of Semiotics at Bologna, Umberto Eco. Academic novelists aren’t rare, of course, but it’s hard to think of one who regards fiction as not only entertainment but material for the practice ...
6 December 1979
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... These letters are a partial record of a literary friendship; and they offer more than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different. ‘Literature’ was, as an ...

Memories of Frank Kermode

Stefan Collini, Karl Miller, Adam Phillips, Jacqueline Rose, James Wood, Michael Wood and Wynne Godley

23 September 2010
... Stefan Collini writes: ‘Yes, I’d like that very much. That really would be something to look forward to.’ Frank was already weakened and wasted by throat cancer, but my suggestion that we go to watch some cricket at Fenner’s did seem genuinely to appeal to him. There wasn’t much to look forward to by this ...
21 May 1981
... The conversion of Ford’s novel into a television play was an enterprise even more foolhardy than the BBC’s Golden Bowl some years back. The adapter must at once resign himself to the sacrifice of dozens of ambiguities and implications, for they are made possible by purely novelistic means – in this instance, by the taste of the narrator for seeming irrelevance, for digressions that do not digress ...
17 December 2009
... FrankKermode is too multifarious a writer to have anything as dogged as a theme for his critical work; too sane and stealthy to boast of anything as limiting as an obsession. But there are persistences ...
14 May 1992
Addressing Frank KermodeEssays in Criticism and Interpretation 
edited by Margaret Tudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £40, July 1991, 9780333531372
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The Poverty of Structuralism: Literature and Structuralist Theory 
by Leonard Jackson.
Longman, 317 pp., £24, July 1991, 0 582 06697 2
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Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory 
by Bernard Harrison.
Yale, 293 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 300 05057 7
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Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science 
by Mark Turner.
Princeton, 298 pp., £18.99, January 1992, 0 691 06897 6
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Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics 
by Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson.
Stanford, 530 pp., $49.50, December 1990, 0 8047 1821 0
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... These five books continue in then very different ways the intense debate about the purpose of literary criticism and its relation to ‘theory’. Addressing FrankKermode has its origin in a conference devoted to Kermode’s work. Five papers selected from those delivered at the conference are followed by a reply from Kermode himself; five more follow which ...
11 October 1990
An Appetite for Poetry: Essays in Literary Interpretation 
by Frank Kermode.
Collins, 242 pp., £15, November 1989, 0 00 215388 2
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... FrankKermode belongs to no sect of literary criticism, and he has founded no school. Like William Empson, whom he praises as a ‘genius’ of criticism, Kermode has always been more interested in a poetic than in a theoretic approach to the study of literature. He thinks that literature itself – rather than theories about it – is our best guide to how to ...

Certainties

Donald Davie

20 May 1982
In Defence of the Imagination 
by Helen Gardner.
Oxford, 197 pp., £12.50, February 1982, 0 19 812639 5
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... and bureaucrats of Public Education. And it’s inevitably something of a let-down that when the enemy is unmasked he should turn out to be ... other critics. The first to be identified is our own FrankKermode, whose argument in his 1973 Eliot lectures, The Classic, is in two sentences of the second lecture neatly travestied and so dismissed. He survives to fight another day, as we shall see. The ...

Young Marvin

Frank Kermode

24 January 1991
A Tenured Professor 
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 197 pp., £12.95, November 1990, 1 85619 018 8
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Shade those laurels 
by Cyril Connolly and Peter Levi.
Bellew, 174 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 0 947792 37 6
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... The author of A Tenured Professor is not only a famous tenured professor of economics but, unlike many of the breed, an elegantly witty writer. From time to time he demonstrates his versatility by turning out a novel. This one is, in part anyway, an unimpassioned satire on the recently fashionable school of economic thought that deals in Rational Expectations. The idea, I’m told, is that, generally ...

Playing the Seraphine

Frank Kermode: Penelope Fitzgerald

25 January 2001
The Means of Escape: Stories 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Flamingo, 117 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 00 710030 2
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... This is a collection of eight stories, the oldest first published in 1975, the most recent in 1999; so they punctuate the entire, brief career of a writer who never yielded to the temptation to go on until there seemed to be nothing more to say. Her novels are exactly long enough. They accommodate her unique ability to imagine and record all the necessary authenticating detail of her settings: Cambridge ...

At Tate Britain

Frank Kermode: William Blake

14 December 2000
... A great many people seemed willing to incur the expense, and the discomfort of prolonged queueing, to see the big Blake exhibition at the Tate.* Some, no doubt, were expert even in the most rebarbative of the Prophetic Books. Others perhaps only remembered some poems and some stimulating aphorisms glorifying Desire (‘the whole creation will appear infinite and holy … This will come to pass by an ...

England’s Troubles

Frank Kermode

17 October 1996
The Scent of Dried Roses 
by Tim Lott.
Viking, 275 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 670 86460 9
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... The author, now about forty, has long since shown how easy he finds it to be a success in the world. As magazine editor, television producer, businessman, he has made money without great effort. He is acquainted with grief in the predictable varieties that hardly anybody escapes, but he has also experienced a serious depression which almost drove him to suicide. Soon after he got over that his mother ...
19 April 1984
Small World 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 339 pp., £8.95, March 1984, 0 436 25663 0
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... Small World is in the author’s words ‘a kind of sequel’ to Changing Places, published nine years ago. The place-changers, Zapp and Swallow, are again central characters; the dreadful Ringbaum, whose competitiveness enabled him to win a famous game of Humiliation, though at the cost of his job, now turns up again in even more bizarre predicaments, urging his wife to have sex under blankets in ...

Under threat

Frank Kermode

21 June 1984
Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition 
by E.H. Gombrich.
Phaidon, 270 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 7148 2338 4
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... Sir Ernst Gombrich here collects various memorial lectures and memoirs of distinguished colleagues. He is a lecturer of high accomplishment – indeed I doubt if he has any serious rival in the shaping and illustration of an argument. Normally he uses not one but two magic lanterns. Some years ago he gave the Romanes Lecture and was denied the use of even one, but this did not deter him, for he simply ...

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