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No Fear of Fanny

Marilyn Butler, 20 November 1980

Fanny 
by Erica Jong.
Granada, 496 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 246 11427 4
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The Heroine’s Text 
by Nancy Miller.
Columbia, 185 pp., £10, July 1980, 0 231 04910 2
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... Erica Jong’s Fanny has had a long gestation. In 1961, as an undergraduate, she was taught by the late Professor James L. Clifford, Johnson’s biographer, who had the admirable policy of inviting his class to imitate an 18th-century author instead of writing yet another academic paper on him. At the time, Ms Jong came up with a mock epic in heroic couplets in the manner of Pope, and a novella in the style of Henry Fielding ...

Walter Scott’s Post-War Europe

Marilyn Butler, 7 February 1980

Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination 
by David Brown.
Routledge, 239 pp., £9.75, August 1980, 0 7100 0301 3
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... Scott perhaps illustrates more clearly than other writers the gap between the ideas of the general educated reader and those of the professional academic. The non-professional thinks of him as the mildly spurious Laird of Abbotsford, the sentimental reviver of a heroic Border and Highland past, who was still in the early 19th century more than half a Jacobite ...

Julia Caesar

Marilyn Butler, 17 March 1983

The Prince and the Wild Geese 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 62 pp., £5.95, February 1983, 0 241 10894 2
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... The Prince and the Wild Geese is a story of 1832 told in words and pictures, the words almost all Brigid Brophy’s, the pictures by Prince Grégoire Gagarin, artist son of the Russian ambassador in Rome after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Graceful and witty, Gagarin’s drawings portray his social world much as Pope in ‘The Rape of the Lock’ portrayed his, in a spirit of satire touched with complicity ...

Amor vincit Vinnie

Marilyn Butler, 21 February 1985

Foreign Affairs 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 291 pp., £8.95, January 1985, 0 7181 2516 9
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... States, who has moreover on previous transatlantic crossings imbibed, at a conservative listing, Marilyn French’s Bleeding Heart, Malcolm Bradbury’s Stepping Westward and Rates of Exchange, and David Lodge’s Changing Places and Small World. Now, all around the large cabin, other refugees from Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only and from Gene Wilder in ...

Bloom’s Gnovel

Marilyn Butler, 3 July 1980

The Flight to Lucifer: A Gnostic Fantasy 
by Harold Bloom.
Faber, 240 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 374 15644 1
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... Harold Bloom of Yale has become strangely hard to avoid. Eloquent, prolific, charismatic, he is unmistakably one of the leading living mandarins of literary criticism. His manner of writing has not endeared him to the professional Establishment – his hyperboles, as he once remarked, have been unacceptable to the scholars of poetic tradition. On the other hand, there has been something in his matter which has made it difficult for non-hyperbolic scholars either to catch him out or to shake him off ...

Versatile Monster

Marilyn Butler, 5 May 1988

In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and 19th-century Writing 
by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 207 pp., £22.50, December 1987, 0 19 811726 4
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... The plot of Frankenstein, Chris Baldick points out, can be summed up in two sentences. ‘Frankenstein makes a living creature out of bits of corpses. The creature turns against him and runs amok.’ The mystery is why so many people know the plot of Frankenstein, and have known it, as this book ably demonstrates, since shortly after the work’s first appearance in 1818, without necessarily reading a line of Mary Shelley’s prose ...

Action and Suffering

Marilyn Butler, 16 April 1981

Ideas and the Novel 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 121 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 9780297778967
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... Why is the novel frightened of ideas? When did the dominant literary form of Western society turn away from dealing with large issues? Mary McCarthy’s 1980 Northcliffe Lectures begin by asking such questions with verve and elegance. Perhaps, she thinks, it is all the fault of the old maestro Henry James. As a critic, and even more as a practitioner, he got the public used to the doctrine of the novel as fine art, ‘a creation beyond paraphrase or reduction ...

Malvolio’s Story

Marilyn Butler, 8 February 1996

Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 461 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 00 215964 3
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... In ‘Resolution and Independence’, that great but mysterious poem, Wordsworth describes himself walking out on a moist, brilliant May morning. He is about to experience one of the numinous encounters for which he is famous – with another solitary walker, a derelict old man who makes his living gathering leeches from moorland ponds. Before that, his pleasure in the beauty of nature darkens when he remembers how other poets, young and strong, were reduced to wretchedness while still in their prime: I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous Boy, The sleepless soul that perished in his pride; Of Him who walked in glory and in joy Following his plough, along the mountain-side ...

Three feet on the ground

Marilyn Butler, 7 July 1983

William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision 
by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Oxford, 496 pp., £25, February 1983, 0 19 812097 4
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William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Grandeur and of Tenderness 
by David Pirie.
Methuen, 301 pp., £14.95, March 1982, 0 416 31300 0
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Benjamin the Waggoner 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Paul Betz.
Cornell/Harvester, 356 pp., £40, September 1981, 0 85527 513 8
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... One evening, declares Jonathan Wordsworth as he begins his new critical book, a poet happened to be walking along a road, when the peasant who was with him pointed out a striking sight:         ’Twas a horse, that stood Alone upon a little breast of ground With a clear silver moonlight sky behind. With one leg from the ground the creature stood, Insensible and still; breath, motion gone, Hairs, colour, all but shape and substance gone, Mane, ears, and tail, as lifeless as the trunk That had no stir of breath ...

Moments

Marilyn Butler, 2 September 1982

The New Pelican Guide to English Literature. Vol. I: Medieval Literature Part One: Chaucer and the Alliterative Tradition, Vol. II: The Age of Shakespeare, Vol. III: From Donne to Marvell, Vol. IV: From Dryden to Johnson 
edited by Boris Ford.
Penguin, 647 pp., £2.95, March 1982, 0 14 022264 2
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Medieval Writers and their Work: Middle English Literature and its Background 
by J.A. Burrow.
Oxford, 148 pp., £9.95, May 1982, 0 19 289122 7
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Contemporary Writers Series: Saul Bellow, Joe Orton, John Fowles, Kurt Vonnegut, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Pynchon 
by Malcolm Bradbury, C.W.E. Bigsby, Peter Conradi, Jerome Klinkowitz and Blake Morrison.
Methuen, 110 pp., £1.95, May 1982, 0 416 31650 6
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... It is a current preoccupation on the Left, more fashionable now among many students of English than Post-Structuralism, that English Literature as an academic subject is a conspiracy of the Establishment. The message coming out of the polys is that the minds of students and (more disturbingly) of schoolchildren are being insidiously moulded by the classics they study at O and A Level ...

Priapus Knight

Marilyn Butler, 18 March 1982

The Arrogant Connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight 1751-1824 
edited by Michael Clarke and Nicholas Penny.
Manchester, 189 pp., £30, February 1982, 0 7190 0871 9
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... Richard Payne Knight was an important English intellectual of the era of the French Revolution. He flourished from the 1770s until his death, perhaps by suicide, in 1824. Most of that time he wielded great influence in the art world, as a leading collector, connoisseur and aesthetician, but as the theorist of potent subjects like myth and symbol he mattered almost as much to the poets ...

The Verity of Verity

Marilyn Butler, 1 August 1996

Essays in Appreciation 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 363 pp., £25, March 1996, 0 19 818344 5
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... Christopher Ricks’s new book makes available many of his distinguished lectures given in the Eighties and Nineties. The essays retain a sense of occasion, and of a star performance on Ricks’s part, while the book has been designed with the aggressive sobriety that signals a class act. Presumably it was the author who decreed that the title, in defiance of commercial logic, should give no clue to the contents, and who dispensed with routine enticements such as a subtitle and Preface, so that there’s no short-cut to finding what the book is about ...

Wordsworth and the Well-Hidden Corpse

Marilyn Butler, 6 August 1992

The Lyrical Ballads: Longman Annotated Texts 
edited by Michael Mason.
Longman, 419 pp., £29.99, April 1992, 0 582 03302 0
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Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Literary Possession 
by Susan Eilenberg.
Oxford, 278 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 19 506856 4
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The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries 
by Nicholas Roe.
Macmillan, 186 pp., £35, April 1992, 0 333 52314 8
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... The best-known publication date in English literature,’ says Michael Mason of 1798. But the terse, intelligent Introduction to his new edition of the Lyrical Ballads seems out to disperse the sense of unique significance sticking to the year. Mason points out that the original version of 1798, which was anonymous, caught on less well than the second (1800), twice as long, and firmly attributed to Wordsworth alone ...

The Education of Philip French

Marilyn Butler, 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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... three. We belonged to the Meritocracy, products of the school system set up in 1944 by the Butler Education Act. The ‘Honest Men’ of French’s title flourished in the atmosphere of grammar-school sixth forms, and some pessimists are suggesting that there is little market for their type in Britain any more. Philip French has produced an effective ...

Laundering Britain’s Past

Marilyn Butler, 12 September 1991

The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 1095 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 297 81207 6
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... Paul Johnson’s thousand-page book is geared to the present age of long print runs and mass marketing. It is one of the currently popular narrative histories written by Britons who position themselves mid-Atlantic, in order to address the American reader. At a thousand pages Johnson’s book is longer than Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, 1988 (subtitle, ‘Economic Change and Military Conflict, 1500-2000’), or Simon Schama’s Citizens, 1989 ...

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