The Art of the Personal Essay. Philip Lopate ed.

Lopate, Philip ed. The Art of the Personal Essay. Anchor New York 1995.

Anthology; 3/11. I bought this after reading the editor’s introduction to Emily Gordon’s book of personal essays (see above). Of course I didn’t know what I was getting into. There are 79 essays starting with Seneca and Plutarch and ending with some contemporary Americans including the editor. I read about 60% of them, dropping several after the first few paragraphs. Favorites: Robert Louis Stevenson, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Turgenev, E. M. Cioran, Natalia Ginzburg, Robert Benchley, M.F.K. Fisher, James Baldwin, Adrienne Rich, Edward Hoagland, Joan Didion, Lopate.


When (Nature) set about her chief masterpiece, the making of man, she should have thought of one thing only. Instead, turning her head, looking over her shoulder, into each one of us she let creep instincts and desires which are utterly at variance with his main being, so that we are streaked, variegated, all of a mixture; the colors have run. Is the true self this which stands on the pavement in January or that which bends over the balcony in June? Am I here, or am I there? Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give the rein to its wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves? – Virginia Woolf

(following a caning at a hideous English public school, for bed-wedding) I knew that bed-wetting was (a) wicked and (b) outside my control. The second factor I was personally aware of, and the first I did not question. It is possible, therefore, to commit a sin without knowing that you committed it, without wanting to commit it, and without being able to avoid it. -George Orwell.

There is some stunningly great writing, and some very strange stuff. E. M. Cioran takes misanthropy and despair to an extent I hadn’t thought possible. The above quote doesn’t do justice to Orwell’s story of his youth. Etc.

All I can really say is that I’ll track down more by some of these writers. Can’t really rate an anthology because of course it’s all over the place.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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