Life Sentences: Literary Essays

Joseph Epstein, Author, Joseph Epstein, Introduction by W. W. Norton & Company $25 (347p) ISBN 978-0-393-04546-8
Epstein, the editor of the American Scholar and author of Plausible Prejudices, Partial Payments and Pertinent Players, may have run out of alliterative titles, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to do what he does best: gambol through the gardens of literary greats--with an occasional investigation of that ominous sinkhole above the septic tank. Whether he believes a writer to be rather overrated (Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell), a magnificent failure (Robert Musil), a disconcerting old satyr (Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Tynan) or a Great Man (Joseph Conrad, Michel de Montaigne), Epstein combines the same mix of literary appreciation and biographical thrubbing. He has certain recurring interests, such as the extent to which writers manage their public personae, and which writers are motivated by ""ideas"", by a philosophy, by a program (Musil, Dos Passos and Solzhenitsyn are; Bishop and Lowell aren't; Conrad transcends). He is fond of quoting Ortega y Gasset's ""Create a concept, and reality leaves the room."" But for the most part Epstein isn't trying to break new critical ground. Instead, these are the thoroughly enjoyable results of wide reading and felicitous, often funny, writing (""La Rochefoucauld,"" he writes in a Will Cuppy-ish sort of way, ""sided with Queen Anne, which was the wrong, because the losing, side.""). Epstein paraphrases William Hazlitt saying ""that true taste is demonstrated by enthusiasm""--and enthusiasm Epstein certainly has. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 348 pages - 978-0-393-33339-8
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