Music is represented in Barnes’ novel, a fictionalized biography of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as a means of propaganda and control, a means of subverting that propaganda, and as a pure art form, free from the petty politics of history.
The social cost of the fiction of genius, which upholds the elite few as inherently more brilliant than everyone else, regardless of underlying biases and inequalities, is unknowable. Helen DeWitt nevertheless captures a sense of this loss across her novel with equal parts fire, humor, and grief.
From her earliest encounters with Richard Wagner, George Eliot engaged critically with his work. She praised his mythological themes, his use of leitmotif, and his vision for the future of opera, but admitted to finding his works overlong, and her own musical ear ill-tuned to finding pleasure in his
There is something incredibly patronizing about “readability” being the exclusive domain of the “common reader,” and about the way it continues to inform aspects of literary criticism.
In the tradition of all good historical fiction, the past is a mirror to the problems and preoccupations facing its contemporary audience, and in the case of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, one of those problems is Europe.