Thumbs up for The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner by Sandra Newman. Literary criticism.
I adore this book. If you are considering getting an English Lit degree, why not just memorize this instead? You’ll save time, you’ll laugh more, and you’ll still be able to chat knowingly about Restoration Drama when it comes up (as it does). Oh, did I mention you’ll laugh? You will. A lot. I sometimes strongly disagree with Newman—and you probably will too—but (as should be clear from my blog) I prefer literary criticism with personality rather than some ridiculous pretense of objectivity. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough, to those who are interested in this sort of thing.
The other Jamesian keynote is the convoluted sentence. These sentences are a sort of literary Great Wall: while other, similar, structures exist, none are quite so long with so little apparent reason. (In fact, some sentences in The Golden Bowl can be seen from space.) Multiple feelings and perceptions are layered in each of them, in a syntax that seems to flow in every direction but forward. To give you an idea, here’s one from The Ambassadors: “Nothing could have been odder than Strether’s sense of himself as at that moment launched in something of which the sense would be quite disconnected from the sense of his past and which was literally beginning there and then.” You will never catch Henry James writing “The dog barked.” It will always be: “Had the dog not been, from the moment at which she entered the room in the perplexed flush of expectation in which she had been left by the hints of Mr. Westcott, barking…”
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