Joanna Kavenna

The Long & Short of It

Essayism

By

Fitzcarraldo Editions 138pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Let us turn, dear reader, to the essay. What is it? Sometimes people claim it is dead, but then people claim literary forms are dead all the time and they stagger on, nonetheless, for further centuries or millennia. Aldous Huxley described the essay as ‘one damned thing after another’; Virginia Woolf argued that its sole purpose is to ‘give pleasure’, leading to the inevitable caveat that one person’s pleasure might be another person’s agony, and so on. Yet Woolf also meant that the essayist must be deeply solicitous of the reader, like a charming dinner party guest. More recently we have seen the rise of the ‘personal essay’ – like a dinner party guest who tells you in great detail about their favourite sexual positions or, worse, their recent loft conversion. With the personal essay, everything must be ‘true’ or the writer may be found out and rebuked. To add to the fun, we have also recently witnessed the rise of fictional essays or essayistic fictions, in which nothing must be ‘true’ at all. Thus we might join Edward Hoagland in denouncing the essay as a ‘greased pig’ and leave it at that.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,