Malcolm Bowie (1943-2007) was described by A.S. Byatt as ‘one of our best living critics. He writes beautifully, subtly and lucidly about very difficult subjects.’ Bowie was Marshal Foch Professor of French at Oxford (1992-2002) and Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge (2002-2006). He received numerous honours, was invited to speak all over the world, and in 2001 won the international Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism for his Proust Among the Stars. His books were translated not only into other European languages but also, for example, into Arabic and Korean. His essays and reviews, however, have hitherto been far less easily located, and these volumes bring together a wealth of material which will be new to almost all of his readers. Ranging across literature, art, music, and psychoanalysis, they offer fresh insights into topics tackled in Bowie’s books, and discuss many others.
Volume I, Dreams of Knowledge, presents essays on memory, Proust, modern poetry (Mallarmé, Valéry, Eluard), and psychoanalysis. Bowie explores the uncertainties of knowledge, the relationship between fantasy and experience, and the ways great writers, artists and thinkers represent these.
The Selected Essays of Malcolm Bowie are edited by Alison Finch, Senior Research Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.
‘Only someone with Bowie’s exquisite powers of expression and formidably focused, well-stocked mind could home in so closely on the multilevelled play of thought in some of the most difficult modern writers, and especially on the places where their work crosses aesthetic boundaries... It is therefore a huge treat to be able to revel in the publication of his Selected Essays, impeccably edited by Alison Finch and beautifully produced by Legenda... Even in the space of a short review, Bowie’s writing offers both pleasure and intense mental stimulation. For readers old and new, there are marvels in store in these two magnificent volumes.’ — Michael Sheringham, French Studies 68.3, July 2014, 422-23
‘These two volumes can only add to our sense of [Bowie's] importance... Criticism like this is clearly so much more than criticism: it is an engagement with the act of creation that is brought back to creation itself. These two volumes are full of brilliance and insight and deftly communicated and thus infectious pleasure.’ — Patrick McGuinness, Times Literary Supplement 5805, 4 July 2014, 21
‘His readings are always marked by a resistance to easy answers that would attempt to reduce or deny the complexity of the text under analysis; the role of the critic is to illuminate that complexity, giving close attention to the way the text functions and how it guides the reader to a range of potential interpretive moves. While he is a highly trustworthy guide through the intricacies of the text, as he himself writes in an essay on Mallarmé, 'somehow the passage through imbricated levels of utterance towards some final state of achieved propositional clarity is never quite the point' (I: 152).’ — Joseph Acquisto, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 43.1-2, 2014
‘How Verdi moves Shakespeare’s Othello around the globe, finding the mental ‘fingerprint’ in Winnicott, introducing Judith Butler, deciphering Stéphane Mallarmé, exploring brevity in Proust (yes), Liszt’s relationship with Wagner, ‘that most exhausting of sons-in-law’: these are just a few of the subjects considered with such zest by Malcolm Bowie, who was a critic of immense talent.’ — Edward Hughes, Times Higher Education Supplement 1 January 2015, 63
‘Evidence abounds in these pieces of Bowie’s keen appetite for intrinsically difficult subject-matter. Indeed, his ability to sustain his critical nerve in the handling of complex material was to become a hallmark of his achievement... Yet alongside this intensity of engagement with serious subject-matter, we also see the poise and panache of a critic who was so evidently at home with textual composition.’ — Edward J. Hughes, Modern Language Review 111.1, January 2016, 228-29 (full text online)
Bowie, Malcolm, Selected Essays of Malcolm Bowie I: Dreams of Knowledge (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013)
First footnote reference:35Selected Essays of Malcolm Bowie I: Dreams of Knowledge, malcolm Bowie (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013), p. 21.