Marina Warner tells me that when she was first asked by Jenny Uglow, her editor at Chatto & Windus, whether she would like to publish a collection of her essays, it made her feel 'as if I had died'. Other people – Jacqueline Rose, Tom Paulin – put out collections fairly regularly, as a way of communicating what they are thinking and feeling at this precise moment, or at least in this particular year. But Warner, with the casualness of the always-writing, admits that she had never got round to collecting her own past work, which has appeared in everything from Prague to the London Review of Books by way of History Today. So bright young people were dspatched to track down and pull together her vast output over the past thirty years, and it was from this 'heap' (her word) that Uglow, with Warner's anxious collaboration ('I'm not keen on rereading because it feels as if one is being fixed'), made the final cull for Signs and Wonders, published this month.
About two-thirds of the essays here are what you might expect Gom Warner, who is best known as an acute and erudite commentator on the work of myths, fairy tales and religious iconography in our everyday lives. But although these occasional pieces are organised into sections with familiar-sounding titles like