Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1857 novel, Melville's last, aside from the unfinished and posthumously published Billy Budd, takes place in a single setting—a Mississippi steamboat called the Fidèle—over the course of one day, April 1, All Fools' Day. It begins most mysteriously— At sunrise on a first of … Continue reading Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Jane Austen, Emma

Emma by Jane Austen My rating: 4 of 5 stars She knew the limitations of her own powers too well to attempt more than she could perform with credit; she wanted neither taste nor spirit in the little things which are generally acceptable, and could accompany her own voice well. —Jane Austen, Emma Jane Austen's … Continue reading Jane Austen, Emma

Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Machado de Assis, The Alienist

The Alienist by Machado de Assis My rating: 4 of 5 stars We could learn a lot, both about life and literature, from this 1882 novella by the Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Machado is only now becoming prominent in the Anglophone world with Liveright's publication last year of his collected short stories … Continue reading Machado de Assis, The Alienist

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe My rating: 5 of 5 stars Goethe's Faust, including Part One and Part Two, was written over the entire course of the author's adult life, begun when he was in his twenties and finished when he was in his eighties, at the threshold of death. Many dates can be … Continue reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane My rating: 4 of 5 stars A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation." —Stephen Crane The short-lived and hard-living American writer Stephen Crane exemplifies the aesthetic ambiguity of the … Continue reading Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Morten Høi Jensen, A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen

A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen by Morten Høi Jensen My rating: 4 of 5 stars I decided to pick up this appealing brief recent biography of Jacobsen after reading the 19th-century Danish author's masterpiece, Niels Lyhne (1880). While Jacobsen is not well-known today—I came to him through Nella Larsen, though … Continue reading Morten Høi Jensen, A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett My rating: 4 of 5 stars One recurring theme of my reviews is that classic literary works often defy or exceed their traditional historical categorizations. The -isms of literary history are a necessary organizing system: they help us to locate books in time and context … Continue reading Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1880 Danish novel was once immensely influential: it and its author were cited or praised by Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, and Rainer Maria Rilke. That is reason enough to read it for those interested in literary history, but it is … Continue reading Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Marble Faun (1860) is Hawthorne's last completed and longest romance—his term for the type of non-realist, symbolic, and psychological fiction he preferred to write. Composed during and after his and his family's travels in Europe following his political patronage appointment as American consul … Continue reading Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun