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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Fame & Folly

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase Fame & Folly

Title: Fame & Folly
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1996
Length: 289 pages
Availability: Fame & Folly - US
Fame & Folly - UK
Fame & Folly - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : strong, interesting collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 3/5/1996 Anthony Day
The New Yorker . 13/5/1996 James Wood
The NY Times A+ 7/5/1996 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 9/6/1996 Brooke Allen
Wall St. Journal A 22/5/1996 Dan Hofstadter
World Lit. Today A Winter/1997 Leslie Schenk

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, though almost all quite enthusiastic. A number of the reviews are purely descriptive rather than critical.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Her literary essays, 17 of which are presented here, indeed display an elegant power." - Anthony Day, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Each essay, to be sure, shimmers with intelligence and idiosyncratic apercus, but Ms. Ozick is less judgmental, less dogmatic here than she has been in the past. (...) In this volume, Ms. Ozick presents the reader with a fistful of marvelous essays that live up to her own exacting standards of what an essay should be. In these pages, Ms. Ozick gives us history, argument and, yes, illumination." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Ms. Ozick's many original insights are marred by farfetched and sometimes dubious assertions. (...) And she has an unfortunate affection for stylistic preciosities and purple patches. (...) And Ms. Ozick is limited by her lack of humor, a handicap that insures that however impressive the intellectual equipment she may bring to bear upon her subjects, an essential element of their imaginative world must forever remain beyond her grasp." - Brooke Allen, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Her pieces take the fence at full tilt. Confronting the question posed by all rhetorical ambition, whether to bemuse the listener with the refinements of one's perplexity or to excite him with a mad dash at the truth, Ms. Ozick usually chooses the latter, pulse-quickening alternative. It's a matter of temperament -- and of talent, too." - Dan Hofstadter, Wall Street Journal

  • "Ozick writes so well that we forget how well she writes and simply follow her argument rather than her expression of it. Until she wobbles, that is, for sometimes she does. (...) It must be said, however, that these wobbles are few, and can easily be forgiven a writer who remains forever mind-provoking and most gratifyingly active in engaging the reader in her ponderings over ideas." - Leslie Schenk, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       By the time this volume -- her third collection of essays -- was published Ozick had firmly established herself at the forefront of the American literary world, her essays taken as seriously as her prize-winning fiction. Fame & Folly collects seventeen essays and book reviews, ranging in length from four to almost fifty pages. Old standbys -- Henry James, Saul Bellow, a variety of Jewish themes, personal reminiscences -- can be found here, as well as some surprising new material.
       The pieces have been published before. This batch includes essays first published in Commentary, The New Criterion, Partisan Review, and The New York Times Book Review, among others. Unfortunately, unlike the previous two volumes (Art & Ardor and Metaphor & Memory), this volume does not give the provenance of the pieces. (This and the absence of an index -- missing in all four volumes of collected essays -- is among the few great disappointments of this book.)
       The collection begins with a long piece, "T.S.Eliot at 101", an excellent overview of the poet and his work. Ozick also returns to Eliot elsewhere in the book, most notably in a not entirely successful little imagined piece on "Helping T.S.Eliot write better".
       "Alfred Chester's Wig" is Ozick's longest piece to date on her NYU classmate and fellow writer Alfred Chester, a figure who has appeared in previous reminiscences. The precocious Chester was once a promising author, and Ozick knew him even before. She writes again of her early Washington Square College/NYU days -- her radical jump from her high school to the unfamiliar terrain of Manhattan, and to a college filled with G.I.s just returned from the war (it was 1946). There Ozick found in Chester an intellectual and a talent that appealed to her, also too young, also out of place. His was a talent that would ultimately go largely to waste: Chester had some successes, but the name is, indeed, "no longer resonant in literary circles". This piece is an interesting introduction to the unusual man, with Ozick well aware of both his talents and his limitations, well worth reading even if one has never heard of him before.
       Among the most interesting pieces in this collection is "Mark Twain's Vienna", an interesting account and analysis of Twain's extended stay in Vienna, Austria, and specifically his story, "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and the controversial piece "Concerning the Jews". It is often forgotten that Twain lived in Vienna for twenty months, an odd and surprising presence there. Ozick does a nice job of discussing his life and his work there, especially in the larger context of the Vienna and the Europe of that time.
       Ozick also writes of Trollope, Isaac Babel, George Steiner, Salman Rushdie. She offers an homage to bibliophile Seymour Adelman. She ponders "What Henry James knew", focussing on one of James' great failures -- his play, Guy Domville -- and the aftereffects of that public humiliation.
       "Against Modernity" looks at the failures of the American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1918 to 1927, the Academy an institution that could not accept or embrace modernity despite the richness of what was being created at that very time.
       The pieces vary in quality and ambition, but almost all are worthwhile. There are occasional annoying simplifications, and various pronouncements that are not entirely convincing, but Ozick's ideas are always interesting, even when she wanders astray. Equally important, the writing itself is very good throughout.
       A very good collection, with some classic pieces. Recommended.

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Fame & Folly: Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous works of fiction, as well as several collections of essays. She has been awarded a number of prizes and honors, and she has received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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