- Hardcover: 289 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 30, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679446907
- ISBN-13: 978-0679446903
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,753,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fame and Folly: Essays 1st Edition
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In this collection of essays, fiction writer and critic Cynthia Ozick has chosen to take on an important topic for all writers: how the lives and works of authors fit in with the times. It is a task she manages with more than a healthy helping of wryness. As Ozick describes it, the subject of this collection is "famous literary figures in our famously rotten century who have been associated with one sort of folly or another." With that in mind, she offers a wide-ranging set of essays on Isaac Babel; H. G. Wells and Henry James; Anthony Trollope; the American Academy of Arts and Letters' early-century disdain for modernism; and more.
From Publishers Weekly
Ozick is a spectacular essayist. In that most difficult and often self-indulgent of forms, she can make readers feel as if whole new vistas of ideas have been opened, analyzed and communicated. The first piece in this collection, "T.S. Eliot at 101," will remind college students of the 1960s of how much the poet meant and of how intently they listened to his voice. Eliot ignored and no longer taught-how can that be? Ozick is equally amazing when she spoofs literary pretension in "Helping T.S. Eliot Write Better," a piece one wants to copy and fax to friends. But like all serendipitous collections, this offering is frustratingly uneven, with fictional riffs and meetings with bibliophiles and long-dead writers adjacent to disquisitions on Henry James and attacks on the shortsighted American cultural establishment. At the risk of feeling ungrateful, the reader will wish to have encountered these pieces one at a time, in different seasons. All the same, however bumpy the ride in this collection, Ozick's insights and observations on writers such as Eliot and Saul Bellow and her intense awareness of the implications of this post-Holocaust world cannot be duplicated.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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A first- rate collection for anyone for whom the literary essay is dear.
Ozick is also a skilled and affecting memoirist, one who wins this reader's affection by tackling the great subject of the self without ever being noxiously self-centered. 'Alfred Chester's Wig', an essay that provides a very moving portrait of a tortured soul and a perceptive look at the fifties literary and social scene, is as good a 'literary essay' (as opposed to just an essay about literature) as you are likely to read.
There are, however, some occasions where Ozick's high-style takes control and she appears to be writing simply on auto-pilot. 'Of Christian Heroism', for example, makes the point that people are fundamentally and in the main self-interested rather than good or bad and that this makes those who harboured and assisted the Jews through the persecutions of the thirties and forties exemplars rather than oridnary specimens of goodness. I think that this position is entirely defensible, even commonsensical. Yet she comes to this conclusion so messily and with so many empty rhetorical flourishes and redundancies, showing off rather than working through the counter-arguments, that she destabilizes her whole argument.
That caveat aside, however, this collection should be required reading for anyone interested in the fate of literary culture. Cynthia Ozick is one of the few modern writers who is adding to our store of literary wealth and safeguarding what has come down to us.
In this volume we find a touching portrait of Alfred Chester-a writer who might have been great; the first writer of her own generation Ozick meets; the man who (in many ways) gives her a hand up the ladder, even as he begins his own descent into death. Here we find the warning to our generation because we are too ready to celebrate the Now at the expense of history and culture (a warning that follows on the heels of a smile-inducing history of the Temple's fight against Modernity).
And then there are some frankly personal essays. "Helping T.S. Eliot Write Better" will make any editor cringe; "Of Christian Heroism" is as much a personal rumination on human nature as it is an ode to Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
But no essay in this volume is impersonal. There are some themes that run through them, of course: anti-totalitarianism, anti-racism, anti-sameness, an abiding admiration for Western culture and literature and an even greater one for the creative spirit. But the author of these essays is ever present.
In "Isaac Babel and the Identity Question", Cynthia Ozick decries the lack of "a valid biography of Babel." In this volume of essays, she has (I think) begun to write her own.
It is extremely frustrating that someone would dismiss Ozick as "mildly-talented" because of her refusal to compromise her artistic integrity. Ozick does not care about "hanging out" with the popular kids, nor does she toss out her Jewish heritage in light of its being "not completely feminist."
In these essays, as well as in her fiction, Ozick sets high standards for male and female writers alike. Her writing is Modern in its style, Classical in its sensibility. And never dull or uninspired.
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If you are not familiar with her writings, do yourself a favor,
buy her book.