The Essay: Montaigne, Addison, Johnson, Lamb, Hazlitt, Woolf, Orwell, and more...


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
Here's a place to tell the world about an essay you relished or didn't like or that prompted you to go and write one yourself.*

Here too we might begin to compile a list of particular essays that we'd encourage others to read. I recommend that we reserve this subforum for essayists and works that are established -- whatever that might mean -- as such. Thus, commentary on essays by living author Ian Frazier (Gone to New York, etc.) would be appropriate here; an essay you saw in your newspaper's editorial pages, by the paper's editors or readers, probably would not. Perhaps someone will help to refine the statement of this limitation.

In his Introduction to The Oxford Book of Essays, editor John Gross says that "Essays come in all shapes and many sizes. There are essays on Human Understanding, and essays on What I Did in the Holidays; essays on Truth, and essays on potato crisps.....[The essay] can shade into the character sketch, the travel sketch, the memoir, the jeu d'esprit."

Essays can provide much satisfaction, but are often overlooked, so here's a place to improve that situation.

*Essays that we ourselves have written should not be published here unless on the topic of an essayist or essay belonging to the title of this subforum. I recommend that this rule be observed, if perhaps not too stringently. Otherwise, essays by a Chrons person should be published in the Aspiring Writers forum -- or anyway that would be my recommendation!
Hmm...speaking as one of the moderators and member of this forum I think your suggestion holds some merit. As to how wide the net is cast I'm less clear on but suggest we begin posting some items here and see how it progresses.

Certainly there are a lot of fine 'literary' essayists both modern and prior who are worth looking into. I would add off the top of my head and I would recommend any of these:
Umberto Eco
Gunter Grass
Stefan Zweig
W.G. Sebald
Italo Calvino
A.S. Byatt
James Wood
W.H. Auden
Martin Amis
David Foster Wallace
Gore Vidal
Flannery O'Connor
Maria Vargas Llosa
Orhan Pamuk
Jorge Luis Borges
Clive James
Thomas De Quincey

Night all.
Here is a recommendation -- Victorian poet Coventry Patmore's "The Point of Rest in Art," from Principle in Art.;view=1up;seq=26

Once you have read this short essay, you will have received a tool for literary and artistic awareness that may really make a difference. My belief is that Patmore's essay provides a key to the significance of Tom Bombadil (to mention a work that should be familiar to everyone). The essay is far more enlightening than a great deal of what passes for academic literary discussion these days.

Anybody want to read it and comment here?

It should be noted that we have threads elsewhere for discussion of some memorable Dickens essays:
I'd be interested to know where journalism ends and essays begin.

Off the top of my head, how about:

"Supernatural Horror in Literature" by Lovecraft (although it goes on a bit)
"The Simple Art of Murder" by Raymond Chandler
"Stories I have Tried to Write" by M.R. James (very light and short)
Pretty much any of Orwell's journalism (although "Inside the Whale" is rambling and messy - "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" should be made compulsory reading for British citizens)
Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley, which is a collection of essays
And Clive James

I have a book of Margaret Atwood's essays, which I found pretty impenetrable.

I also rather like Nick Cohen's work, although this is also because I often agree with what he says.

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