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 Pelican livery, Damrosch’s lockdown project is no sobersided textbook.