Colm Tóibín

  • To Have and Withhold

    Henry James did not wish to be known by his readers. He remained oddly absent in his fiction. He did not dramatize his own opinions or offer aphorisms about life, as George Eliot, a novelist whom James followed closely, did. Instead, he worked intensely on his characters, offering their consciousness and motives a great deal of nuance and detail and ambiguity.

    James was concerned with his privacy, burning many of the letters he received. Most of the time, he conducted his own correspondence with caution and care. But at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth,

  • culture July 20, 2017

    The Class Renegade

    Although it explores a childhood in a northern France blighted by poverty, misery, and prejudice, The End of Eddy differs from the work of Ernaux and Eribon because it is not a return home during a middle age tempered by literary success; it is not replete with emotion recollected in tranquility. It is written in the white heat of recent experience. (Louis was born in 1992.)

    Although it explores a childhood in a northern France blighted by poverty, misery, and prejudice, The End of Eddy differs from the work of Ernaux and Eribon because it is not a return home during a middle age tempered by literary success; it is not replete with emotion recollected in tranquility. It is written in the white heat of recent experience. (Louis was born in 1992.) But it connects with the other two writers in the urgency and honesty in its tone as it attempts to shatter the image of French refined manners and social equilibrium. It connects with Eribon also because it links the

  • Love in Wartime

    In a time of insurgency or civil war, the literary text has a way of seeking out shadow and unease to protect itself from political rhetoric or easy drama, as though avoiding gunfire or shrapnel. In Ireland, for example, in the period between the 1916 Easter Rebellion and the end of the civil war, W. B. Yeats wrote poems filled with inwardness, with self-questioning and ambiguous tones. The violence made him wonder (“Was it needless death after all?”). And made him unwilling to celebrate the heroism or the sacrifice (“Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart”).

    In fiction that

  • Native Son

    In Washington Square, Henry James created a great bullying father who sought to control his daughter's destiny and prevent what he saw as a foolish marriage. In viewing his daughter as dull, Dr. Sloper missed what the reader of the novel began to see—Catherine Sloper was not merely sensitive but also deep, even passionate. Thus the book dramatized a matter that concerned James profoundly in both his life and his art—control and dominance within his own family and then within the families that he began to imagine during his long career as a novelist.

    Henry James's brother William wrote that

  • The Ties that Bind

    In A Legacy, first published in 1956, Sybille Bedford writes about a Germany in the years before the First World War that had almost disappeared even as it seemed to be in full bloom. This world of privilege and entitlement and eccentricity is presented as normal and natural and at a stage of rich development for those who inhabited it. But the author knows, and the reader too, that it is doomed.

    The book is written in a style that is darting, confident, brisk, and brittle. The dialogue is close to that used by the English novelist Anthony Powell, who allowed his upper-class or socially