The New Oxford Book of English Prose by John Gross (ed) - review by John Bayley

John Bayley

A Pleasant Collection of Bits and Pieces

The New Oxford Book of English Prose

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Oxford University Press 1104pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

The Oxford Book of English Prose, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, appeared in November 1925, exactly twenty-five years after The Oxford Book of English Verse. The immense success of the latter, although it was far from being the first or the best of verse anthologies, explains why the editor was already Sir Arthur. Deservedly, no doubt. And the follow-up was equally successful. Since then there have been Oxford Books of practically everything, from Ireland to hamsters. But was the idea of a prose anthology really such a good one? Any poem is complete in itself; no prose extract can be.

The OUP thought it a good idea, or at least a financially sound one, and their new editor, John Gross, has tried valiantly to justify both the repeat and the original policy. In his admirable Introduction, he points out that the worthy scholastic intention, which must have been in Q’s

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