Cover image for Twentieth-century attitudes : literary powers in uncertain times
Twentieth-century attitudes : literary powers in uncertain times
Allen, Brooke.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : Ivan R. Dee, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 241 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
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PR471 .A44 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In eighteen enlightening essays, the critic Brooke Allen explores the lives and work of some of the last century's most brilliant and eccentric literary talents. It was a century that apotheosized ideology and frequently demanded evidence of political engagement from its artists and intellectuals. Some of the writers considered in Twentieth-Century Attitudes found a spiritual home in the left (George Bernard Shaw, Christopher Isherwood, Sylvia Townsend Warner); others, like Evelyn Waugh, in the right; still others maneuvered the shifting ideological sands with a more measured skepticism. It was also a century during which the dictates of fashion, both social and intellectual, changed with unprecedented rapidity. A few of the writers Ms. Allen considers, like James Baldwin and Saul Bellow, struggled honorably but not always with success to reconcile their artistic intentions with intellectual fashion; others, like Colette and H. G. Wells, took an avid role in the drama of their historical moment and triumphantly communicated that sense of drama to their descendants. Really good writers, as Ms. Allen shows, do not write well in spite of the foibles, prejudices, and fallacies of their times; instead they crystallize these oddities into something universal. The writers in Twentieth-Century Attitudes embody in their very different ways the various attitudes of their contentious century and the success or failure of attempts to transcend these attitudes. Ms. Allen's essays, which combine extensive biographical information with new critical insights, richly illustrate the tenuous and often bizarre links between character and talent, between historical circumstances and individual vision.

Author Notes

Brooke Allen's critical writing appears frequently in the New York Times Book Review, the Atlantic Monthly, The New Criterion, the Hudson Review, and the New Leader. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Allen has all the academic credentials a literary critic can possess, yet she eschews an excessively text-oriented approach and writes out of passion and with panache (her opening lines are to die for). Although she is keenly conversant in the writings of the seminal twentieth-century figures she profiles, she is more concerned with writers' lives than with close readings of their work, saving her pinpoint analysis for literary biographies. Allen performs this uncommon and invaluable critical feat in her bracing and cobweb-eradicating portraits of Colette, perhaps the first truly twentieth-century writer, and Virginia Woolf, adamantly dismantling the cult of St. Virginia. Allen also writes discerningly about the concealed rivalries between detached and cerebral George Bernard Shaw and the highly emotional H. G. Wells, and Edith Wharton and Henry James. She is bitingly hilarious on the subject of Carson McCullers, and revelatory in her unique takes on Sylvia Townsend Warner, James Baldwin, and Grace Paley, creating a forthright and energetic collection of literary essays that will even delight readers who usually avoid them like the plague. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Book critic Allen, who regularly contributes to the New York Times Book Review and the Atlantic Monthly, here offers a collection of 18 engrossing essays that explore the work of some of the 20th century's most talented literary figures. These include universally celebrated authors like George Bernard Shaw, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and Saul Bellow as well as the ambiguously important like Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Angus Wilson. The collection opens with an essay on Colette, whose personal and literary daring in the early 1900s qualifies her as "the [feminist] voice of a new century." In each of the faintly personal but fair-minded essays that follow, Allen brings forth a wealth of information to support her argument that the last century produced "a wide variety of odd attitudes." The essays, usually about 15 pages long, are nicely edged, combining the right amount of literary criticism with biographical insight and social history. This unique and enlightening study of 20th-century American and English literature is recommended for academic libraries.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
The Voice of a New Century: Colettep. 3
A Socialist Rivalry: H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shawp. 21
Edith Wharton and the Rejection of Traditionp. 31
The Cult of Victimhood: Virginia Woolf and Modern Feminismp. 46
The Elusive Henry Greenp. 62
Evelyn Waugh--with All the Wartsp. 76
The Mitford Girlsp. 89
Sylvia Townsend Warnerp. 108
Brilliant Frivolity: Christopher Isherwood's Diariesp. 124
The Many Worlds of Angus Wilsonp. 131
Carson McCullers: The Story of an Emotional Vampirep. 147
Backstage at The New Yorkerp. 155
Iris Murdoch, Drawing-room Philosopherp. 171
The Better James Baldwinp. 183
Saul Bellow on Topp. 198
Cockeyed Optimist: Grace Paley and the Eternal Femininep. 211
John Barth: Scheherazade's Exhaustionp. 216
Rohinton Mistry: A Butterfly on the Dung Heapp. 222
Indexp. 230