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 II, Song Man, presents shorter pieces, including Bowie’s essays on song and music criticism. They explore important cultural issues such as anti-Semitism, images of gender, and ideas of the nation. Among composers and writers figuring in this volume are Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Judith Butler, Borges, Leroy Ladurie and Edward Said; reviews cover films, plays, and operas as well as books.
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
‘Bowie’s style appeals both to generalist and specialist readers; his clarity makes it possible for all to follow the argument even in his more technical writings, while the sharpness of his insights make his pieces for general audiences appealing to specialists as well. His writing always strikes a balance between sophistication and accessibility, often with a dose of wit (see especially his delightful self-review of Proust Among the Stars [II: 203-6]), allowing us to travel with him through our own areas of expertise and amateur interest.’ — 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 II: Song Man (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013)
First footnote reference:35Selected Essays of Malcolm Bowie II: Song Man, malcolm Bowie (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013), p. 21.