J.r.r. tolkien

From Mrs Dalloway’s West End to Tolkien’s Middle-earth

Professor David Damrosch, the director of Harvard’s Institute for World Literature, fell in love with ‘a fictional realm that I’d never imagined’ in 1968. His English teacher, Miss Staats, gave him Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. This horizon-stretching Manhattan educator turns up again in another light towards the end of this book. A long-term girlfriend of Saul Bellow, Maggie Staats prudently said no when the novelist proposed to her. At this point, Damrosch has just told us that the hero of Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King remembers having ‘dreamed at the clouds from both sides’, so planting an idea in the young Joni Mitchell’s mind. You get the drift. Despite its

How do we greet one another today?

One of the most striking, and lowering, aspects of lockdown has been the deprivation of human exchange, and especially conversation. We can talk to our immediate families but not properly to a wider range of humanity. The Zoom chat, with so many ordinary conversational features removed, is not the same thing at all. Conversation is fundamental to what we think of as our being, and I don’t believe we could go on long without it. In view of how vital it seems to be, it’s strange that we rarely consider it seriously. About its main substance — the words used — we make all sorts of assumptions, many of which