Len Gutkin

  • syllabi March 12, 2013

    The Anglophone Epistolary Novel

    Dearest readers,

    About a hundred pages in to Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), the titular heroine writes the following: “How many long letters has this one short fortnight produced!” This might be an axiom for the epistolary novel, which tends to assume that no sooner is life experienced than it is converted into letters, stamped, sealed, and addressed. The eighteenth-century epistolary novel is associated with the rise of realism—Samuel Richardson’s enormously popular Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is often considered a landmark text in this regard—but there is a sense in which the genre

  • culture September 28, 2012

    The Would-Be Bohemian

    Charles Baudelaire’s portrait of fictional poet Samuel Cramer in the 1847 novella Fanfarlo—a brief send-up of the artistic personality in the mid-nineteenth century—remains forcefully apropos: “He is at once a great lazybones, pitifully ambitious, and famous for unhappiness.” Fanfarlo satirizes Parisian bohemia with a light touch, far from the gothic grotesqueries and threatening chiaroscuro of Les Fleurs du Mal or the dark ironies of Le Spleen de Paris. Edward K. Kaplan’s brisk new translation of this early work nicely captures the book’s humor—airy but not without a certain reserved malice.

  • culture July 31, 2012

    The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes, with an afterword by Walter Mosley

    A young doctor drives through the California desert on his way to a family wedding in Arizona. He stops at a drive-in. A pack of teenagers taunts him. He’s more anxious than the situation seems to justify. Back on the highway, he passes a young girl, a hitchhiker. At first he ignores her, but qualms of conscience prompt him to turn around and pick her up. She says her name is Iris Croom. He wants to drop her in Blythe, but she finagles a ride all the way to Phoenix. She asks him to perform an abortion. He angrily refuses, slams the door in her face, hopes to be rid of her for good. Who might

  • culture April 06, 2012

    J R by William Gaddis

    The Recognitions, William Gaddis’s first novel, spent the two decades after its 1955 publication as an often out-of-print cult novel, read and discussed by a cadre of devotees who, as William Gass writes in his introduction to the 1993 Penguin Classics edition, “would keep its existence known until such time as it could be accepted as a classic.” For Gaddis fanatics, this history has become a kind of fable: how the great author, driven underground by critical ignorance and the neglect of his publisher, worked various corporate jobs until, in 1975, he would return to lampoon Wall Street in his