‘The Rise And Fall Of The Man Of Letters: English Literary Life Since 1800’ By John Gross

9781566630009Firstly, so glad that I read this book. Incredibly interesting and shines a light on a fascinating aspect of literary history. This book is not about the Charles Dickens of the world. It is about the editors and publishers who published Dickens’ novels in serial form in Victorian magazines and papers. It is about the critics who shaped the tastes of the reading public. In a book like this, the towering figures are men like Matthew Arnold, not Tennyson.

But… the early stages are a lot more interesting. Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, and Charles Lamb. The milieu of Gissing’s New Grub Street. I was reminded of the frenetic literary world that I read about in Balzac’s  Lost Illusions. But as it got more contemporary, it got less appealing to me. And, unfortunately, I took a long time to read this book. Not for lack of interest, but because, for some reason, it became a fall back book. I would take it with me and read bits of it on the metro or while waiting for a doctor or, yes, in the bathroom. I didn’t sit down and plow through it in a brief period. Which means, that my memory of the best bits is fuzzier than my memory of the other bits.

But don’t let me turn you off from this – I can guarantee that you’ve never read this side of English literary history.

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