The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes by Donald Hall (ed) - review by James Campbell

James Campbell

Drinking and Rivalry and Sex

The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes


Oxford University Press 360pp £8.95 order from our bookshop

Literary anecdotage has a claim to being the highest form of gossip, although it is more often a pretty low form. It is all the better for that, of course: at its worst, a literary anecdote portrays nobility in its subject; at its best it reveals something humorous or eccentric or slightly wicked. For example (not included here): Auden, on being asked by a worried friend if homosexuality might after all be a sin, ‘Of course it is, my dear, but we shall just have to hope that Miss God will forgive us.’ Fortunately, Donald Hall’s anthology contains many of the latter sort of story and few of the former.

The literary anecdote is really a minor literary form in itself (a fact attested to by the existence of this anthology) having its own set of procedures and rules. One such is that the fact of a story being untrue should present no obstacle to its being told. Many of

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