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Homage to Marginality

Tony Tanner, 7 February 1980

Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives 
by Frederick Karl.
Faber, 1008 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 571 11386 9
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... This book – which aims at monumentality and certainly achieves size – deserves to be examined with care. There has been no biography of Conrad since 1960, when Jocelyn Baines published the result of many years of painstaking research. But a considerable amount of biographical material has emerged since then: the indispensable Conrad’s Polish Background, edited and introduced by Zdzislaw Najder (to which I think Professor Karl is indebted for much of his Polish material); the minute and meticulous tracings of Conrad’s every movement by Norman Sherry, who not only told us when Conrad was in, say, Bangkok, but on which side of which streets he walked along; the more contentious but informative work of Jerry Allen; the Jungian account of Conrad by Gustav Morf; the psychoanalytic biography by Bernard Meyer; the impeccable edition of Conrad’s letters to Cunninghame Graham by C ...

Not Rough Enough

Tony Tanner, 19 October 1995

Bret Harte: Selected Stories and Sketches 
by David Wyatt.
Oxford, 332 pp., £5.99, February 1995, 9780192823540
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... In 1911, George Santayana gave an address to the Philosophical Union of the University of California in which he sought to identify and define what he called, in his lecture title, ‘The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy’. Santayana had a bracing view of what it was ‘to possess a living philosophy’ (‘to have a distinct vision of the universe and definite convictions about human destiny’), and in this talk, he outlined a schematic division, or opposition, in American philosophy, or ‘mentality’, which was to have a profound influence on subsequent American attempts at cultural self-analysis ...


Tony Tanner, 22 April 1993

The Correspondence of William James. Vol. I: William and Henry 1861-1884 
edited by Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley.
Virginia, 477 pp., £39.95, January 1993, 0 8139 1338 1
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Henry James: The Imagination of Genius 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 620 pp., £25, November 1992, 9780340555538
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... I take up my pen once more after this long interval to converse with my in many ways twin bro.’ Thus William James to Henry in 1873. We might put against this comments from earlier letters. ‘Our ways are so far apart that I doubt if we ever really get intimate’ (1867). But then again, a year later: ‘I feel as if you were one of the 2 or 3 sole intellectual & moral companions I have ...

Anxiety of Influx

Tony Tanner, 18 February 1982

Plotting the Golden West: American Literature and the Rhetoric of the California Trail 
by Stephen Fender.
Cambridge, 241 pp., £15, January 1982, 0 521 23924 9
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Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The 19th-Century Response 
by Lee Clark Mitchell.
Princeton, 320 pp., £10.70, July 1981, 9780691064611
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... Of course Empire took its way westward, what other way was there but into those virgin sunsets to penetrate and to foul? Pynchon: Gravity’s Rainbow Near the end of The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway suddenly says: ‘I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all.’ It is a comment which might be made about American literature as a whole: writing about America turns out to be, in one way or another, writing about ‘the West ...

Arctic Habits

Tony Tanner, 25 May 1995

Emerson: The Mind on Fire 
by Robert Richardson.
California, 668 pp., £27, June 1995, 0 520 08808 5
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... To a person inquiring about his life, Emerson wrote: ‘I have no history, no fortunes that would make the smallest figure in a narrative. My course of life has been so routinary, that the keenest eye for point or picture would be at fault before such remediless commonplace. We will really say no more on a topic so sterile.’ Not so, responds Robert Richardson; we will say 670 pages more on the topic ...

Voice of America

Tony Tanner, 23 September 1993

Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices 
by Shelley Fishkin.
Oxford, 270 pp., £17.50, June 1993, 0 19 508214 1
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Black Legacy: America’s Hidden Heritage 
by William Piersen.
Massachusetts, 264 pp., £36, August 1993, 9780870238543
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Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism 
by Kenneth Warren.
Chicago, 178 pp., £21.95, August 1993, 0 226 87384 6
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... Was Huckleberry Finn black? Of course he wasn’t. By today’s accredited categories he was poor, male, white trash. So what – besides a desire to be arresting – lies behind Professor Fishkin’s clearly tendentious title? Mark Twain, Clifton Fadiman wrote, is ‘our Chaucer, our Homer, our Dante, our Virgil, because Huckleberry Finn is the nearest thing we have to a national epic ...

Yawning and Screaming

John Bayley, 5 February 1987

Jane Austen 
by Tony Tanner.
Macmillan, 291 pp., £20, November 1986, 0 333 32317 3
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... with Dickens and the Romantic poets, and it is now happening with Jane Austen. Not that Tony Tanner’s study is wilfully abstract or – except for his use of the unnecessary term ‘discourse’ – filled with modern jargon. It is, on the contrary, one of the most readable books yet to appear on Jane Austen, as well as the most interesting ...

In Praise of Vagueness

Richard Poirier, 14 December 1995

Henry James and the Art of Non-Fiction 
by Tony Tanner.
Georgia, 92 pp., £20.50, May 1995, 9780820316895
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... recondite Venice Desired, on the literary figurations of that city since the 18th century, Tony Tanner has shown a rare degree of excitement and curiosity about the workings of literary style, the way words come to life in response to the performative presence within them of a novelist or a poet. This new book, made up of his three Averett ...

Fine Chances

Michael Wood, 5 June 1986

Literary Criticism 
by Henry James, edited by Leon Edel.
Cambridge, 1500 pp., £30, July 1985, 0 521 30100 9
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Henry James: The Writer and his Work 
by Tony Tanner.
Massachusetts, 142 pp., £16.95, November 1985, 0 87023 492 7
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... tormented enough, or that it has too narrowly, cosily chosen its torments. ‘With Henry James,’ Tony Tanner says in his thoughtful and well-paced little book, ‘English writing about the theory of the novel comes of age.’ I’m not sure whether it’s grown older or younger since. Tanner’s Henry James was ...

Novels about Adultery

Frank Kermode, 15 May 1980

Love and Marriage 
by Laurence Lerner.
Edward Arnold, 264 pp., £12, August 1979, 0 7131 6227 9
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Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression 
by Tony Tanner.
Johns Hopkins, 383 pp., £9.75, April 1980, 0 8018 2178 9
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... than furious or sullied – the Prince de Clèves, for instance, and Karenin, Ford’s heroes and Tony Last. The drama seems better suited than the novel to the treatment of the pathology of jealousy, perhaps because it has a primitive association with pollution; after Shakespeare, it’s hard to know what more could be said on this subject. Laurence ...

Short Cuts

Christopher Tayler: The School of Life, 19 May 2011

... of tea and a 40-minute chat with a well-read former bookseller who’d studied Henry James with Tony Tanner. She sent me some promising recommendations – William Maxwell, Rohinton Mistry – but I wondered if nearly £2 a minute wasn’t pushing it. (Phone consultations, at £40, are cheaper.) I asked a friend who’d taught a class there about the ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers: Brussels, 29 July 1999

... who I was and considered themselves obliged to tell tales. ‘In the devious world of Villette,’ Tony Tanner said of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, most of which is set in Brussels, ‘everyone spies on everyone else, the watcher is watched with a minimum of eye-to-eye contact. It is a very voyeuristic world.’ Baudelaire, who also noted the spying, said ...

Whisky out of Teacups

Stefan Collini: David Lodge, 19 February 2015

Quite a Good Time to Be Born: A Memoir, 1935-75 
by David Lodge.
Harvill Secker, 488 pp., £25, January 2015, 978 1 84655 950 1
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Lives in Writing: Essays 
by David Lodge.
Vintage, 262 pp., £10.99, January 2015, 978 0 09 958776 7
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... of American formalism such as Wayne Booth. He shared interests with near contemporaries such as Tony Tanner while his literary doppelgänger (and closest friend) was Malcolm Bradbury. Like Kermode and Tanner, Lodge was initially receptive to new theoretical ideas coming from Europe, particularly Russian formalism in ...


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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... fix him eventually in his own particular place, which is in fact a substantially different matter. Tony Tanner observes suddenly that Thomas Pynchon’s most meaningful context is that of a literary tradition going back to Rabelais. Peter Conradi offers a dense study of John Fowles, some of it allusive and difficult for the audience aimed at, which ...

Look here, Mr Goodwood

John Bayley, 19 September 1996

Is Heathcliff a Murderer? Puzzles in 19th-Century Fiction 
by John Sutherland.
Oxford, 262 pp., £3.99, June 1996, 9780192825162
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... in a review more or less contemporary with the novel, Mrs Oliphant took the same view. But in 1968 Tony Tanner took both social injustice and Sophoclean irony for granted, observing that ‘she who is raped lives to be hanged.’ Sutherland makes the permissible retort that she who was seduced in 1892 has become she who is raped in the permissive ...

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