American Literature, Antioch Review, First-Rate Literature, Robert Fogarty, Second-Rate Literature
From the Summer 2015 issue of The Antioch Review.
Revisiting Kipling, the Brontës, Denver, and Martha’s Vineyard
By Robert S. Fogarty, editor
It is a sound literary practice to revisit writers who have fallen from notice because of shifting political, social, or literary currents. Some years ago I taught a course titled “Studies in American Literature: Second-Rate Literature” wherein I chose some works that I was sure students had probably never heard of (and some classics) with an eye toward examining texts like The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic that Edmund Wilson wrote admiringly about in The New Yorker. Frederic was a New York journalist turned novelist, a member of the bohemian “Savage Club” in London who became a cause celebre on his death because his mistress, a Christian Scientist, tended to him in his illness as a lay practitioner and was charged with manslaughter.
The title of the course was, of course, tongue in cheek, but with a serious purpose namely to probe that perennial question: What is first rate and why should we read it? In the syllabus I wrote that the course was specifically designed for: a) students who sign up for courses with jazzy but irrelevant titles; b) students who think that Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn is first-rate; c) students who enjoy reading and are willing to work at what they read; d) second-rate students.
This is by way of introducing the essays in this issue beginning with the lead piece “The Unsentimental Education of Rudyard Kipling” by Mukund Belliappa about an author who is little read these days except by parents to their children despite the fact his short stories are, in particular, various in their choice of subject, theme, approach and it is no wonder that for many twentieth-century writers he a prose stylist of the first order. The list of his admirers is long (Henry James, Jawaharlal Nehru) and the contemporary view of him is either cautious or dismissive. One of the best introductions to his work can be found in a 1987 volume A Choice of Kipling’s Prose edited by Craig Raine, the former poetry editor at Faber & Faber and Oxford don who carefully grappled with the many sides of Kipling’s prose. We follow on with an essay on the Brontë sisters who are still read, but in Kenneth King’s view need to be reread in the light of their obsessions, their interest in spiritualism and other sublime matters.
Maureen McCoy revisits Denver, Colorado in the 1970s when Larimer Street was still a place for the down and out and the dispossessed and the city sat on the edge of the Front Range with real country between it and Boulder rather than large congeries of suburban homes clustered around interstate highways. She sketches her job in the city and the characters that constituted a world akin to the one found in Nathaniel West’s Hollywood.
Finally we have Kenneth McClane who revisits a dock ferry at Martha’s Vineyards Island where he encountered “Thomas,” who became a pivotal figure in his life despite the fact that “Thomas” was “reprehensible” and “incoherent” and McClane a middle class, black college student at a summer job. Our fiction has some returning veterans including Paul Christiansen, Kent Nelson, and Glen Pourciau and some fresh new writers to our pages like Pia DeJong. They, like the poets are revisiting people, places and memories. Our “From the Archives” takes us back to 1996 when Warren Bennis was at the high point of his distinguished career as a business analyst and trend maker who was always looking ahead. His crystal balling about what questions organizations should ask themselves are as valid today as they were twenty years ago.
So dear reader as St. Augustine proclaimed at the moment of his conversion: “Take up, read! Take up read! “
Robert Fogarty has been editor of The Antioch Review since 1977. Author and editor of eight books, with articles, and essays in the Nation, TLS, Missouri Review, Manoa, and Boulevard, among others. Recipient of the PEN/American Center Nora Magid lifetime achievement award for magazine editing 2003, Fulbright Distinguished Roving Lectureship in Korea; Visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford; New York University Institute for the Humanities; Newberry Library; Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Recent publications include: Duty and Desire at Oneida (2000); “Literary Energy” in Editors on Fiction (1995); Special Love/Special Sex (1994).
© 2015 The Antioch Review