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Borderline essays

Too many histories of literary and intellectual culture are stuck in the elegiac mode. Stefan Collini avoids this trap in this bracing collection. He is one of the finest essayists we have

Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics by Stefan Collini (Oxford University Press, £25)

Surveying the “railway stalls” where the modern reader bought his literature in 1855, Walter Bagehot observed that a large space was filled by the “review-like essay and the essay-like review.” The best examples of this genre were couched in an unbuttoned, digressive style, more like the “talk of the man of the world” than the “lecture of a professor.”

As Stefan Collini points out in Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics, itself a collection of review-like essays and essay-like reviews, Bagehot’s attitude to “review writing” was actually more ambivalent…

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