Critical Essays Archive

The Innocents Ashore: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore Turns Forty

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Forty years ago, a little-known British writer published a slim volume that went on, miraculously, to win the Booker Prize. Its lucid, almost stringent prose, coupled with its curious subject matter—the lives of houseboat dwellers living on the Thames—brought the work of Penelope Fitzgerald to wide attention.

The Position of English

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Jhumpa Lahiri’s work in Italian is reminiscent of liturgy books with Koine Greek on the left side and English on the other. That she includes the “little brother,” a moniker she’s given Italian, in her 2015 book—and on the left side—is a reversal of the norm.

The Manipulation of Time in Salvatore Scibona’s The Volunteer

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Descriptions of rumination demonstrate how to pause and reflect in order to get to something more essential in the character’s psyche, something that couldn’t be expressed with either action or dialogue—or couldn’t be expressed as powerfully.

Literary Canons and the Reckoning of National Heritages

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In both France and the United States, literature has always been a prime site for these struggles over memory—what gets remembered, and how.

The Structure of Trauma

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What is interesting about trauma narratives, despite their abundance, is how writers shape them, allowing their stories to transcend the act of recounting.

Women’s Voice in Assia Djebar’s Fantasia

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Djebar’s compelling 1985 novel is not only a crucial historical contribution from the Algerian perspective, but one that comes from an intersectional lens, giving voice to the often silenced and overlooked participation of women in struggles for independence and making space for these histories in the current global conversation.

The Journey to Motherhood in The Art of Waiting and The Rules Do Not Apply

Where are all the books about miscarriage and assisted reproduction, about experiencing the loss of something you never had to begin with?

This Land is My Land, Not Yours

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Hernán Díaz returns to the California Gold Rush in his 2017 novel, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He shows an America in transition, fixated on the promise of prosperity, power, and property.

The Poetics of Orientation

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Sally Wen Mao’s new collection repeatedly pushes against the notion that a state of being “othered” is necessarily a fixed point of marginalization.

George Eliot and Wagnerian Opera

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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