Book: Fame & Folly

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Fame & Folly: Essays

Author: Cynthia Ozick
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

From one of America’s great literary figures, a new collection of essays on eminent writers and their work, and on the war between life and art. The perilous intersection of writers’ lives with public and private dooms is the fertile subject of many of these remarkable essays. Written with wit and passion, they touch on the inmost identity of literature and the literary artist—with biographical, historical, and psychological overtones. T. S. Eliot sympathizes with fascists, Isaac Babel rides with Red Cossacks—yet both are luminous shapers of modernism. Modernism itself is resisted by the American cultural establishment. Henry James, magisterial psychologist, remains at the mercy of his own mysterious psyche. Anthony Trollope’s masterliness is obscured, first by charges of writing too much and too fast, and then by cultism. Salman Rushdie’s gifts are assailed amid bitter contemporary controversy. And the secret pulse of ambition (and loss) is exposed in the brokenhearted waywardness of the once-celebrated and now nearly forgotten writer Alfred Chester.


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.

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