Isaac Babel’s Palette

by Mara Naselli The Soviet writer Isaac Babel is well known for his relentless scrutiny in revision. He and his young wife retreated to the mountains to work on the stories that would become The Red Cavalry, published in 1926. “Achieving the form that he wanted was endless torture,” writes Nathalie Babel. “He would read…

Art as Action: Readings and Misreadings in the Letters of William and Henry James

by Mara Naselli Around 1860, shortly after the James family returned from Europe to Newport for William’s painting apprenticeship, Edward Waldo Emerson (Ralph Waldo’s son), came for a visit. He experienced firsthand the vigor of a Jamesian family debate over dinner, hands gesticulating and brandishing dinner knives: “Don’t be disturbed, Edward,” Emerson recalls Mrs. James…

Looking at Rembrandts

by Mara Naselli Rembrandt in America, an exhibition shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a couple years ago, displayed several portraits by Rembrandt as well as works painted by Rembrandt's students and contemporaries. Curators had posted labels that highlighted the provenance of the paintings, many of which have been collected in the United States…

On Not Getting the Joke: William Faulkner’s Wild Horses

by Mara Naselli In an introduction to a seminal collection of Faulkner’s work, published in 1946, Malcolm Cowley called William Faulkner’s story “Spotted Horses” “wildly funny”—“the culminating example of American backwoods humor.” The collection resurrected Faulkner’s career and made his work teachable, part of the American canon. Nearly forty years later Cowley called it the…

George Eliot’s Earthly God

by Mara Naselli Narrative omniscience in storytelling has often been described as God's point of view, but we can hardly take for granted God's existence anymore, let alone what we know of God's scope of vision. If we cannot imagine God's all-seeing, all-knowing perspective, then what becomes of the nature of omniscience in storytelling? There…

We Be Monsters: Montaigne and the Age of Discovery

by Mara Naselli Montaigne's essays are famously voluminous. He didn't cut text; he added it. The book is a monster. He said so himself: “What are these Essays if not monstrosities and grotesques, botched together from a variety of limbs having no defined shape, with an order, sequence, and proportion which are purely fortuitous.” Despite…