Fame and Folly Essay - Critical Essays

Cynthia Ozick

Fame and Folly

Beginning with its first essay—a forty-seven page meditation on “T. S. Eliot at 101,” which deservedly attracted a good deal of attention when it first appeared in the NEW YORKER—it is obvious that FAME AND FOLLY contains essays that are fundamentally different from those in Ozick’s earlier collections ART AND ARDOR (1983) and METAPHOR AND MEMORY (1989). While her earlier essays were written on assignment, these grow out of her own interests, and their lengths have been determined by her rather than by editorial constraints. The effect has been liberating, so that in FAME AND FOLLY her particular passions and persistent concerns are placed in bold relief.

Cynthia Ozick is a self-consciously Jewish American writer. She is also a connoisseur of failure and disappointment, whose every essay is an exercise in disguised or undisguised autobiography. The ones that stand out in FAME & FOLLY—on Eliot, Alfred Chester, Anthony Trollope, Henry James, Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie, and Saul Bellow—all seem inspired by a peculiar, occasionally discomfiting, combination of envy and sympathy. The careers of other writers—their ascents and declines, fame and infamy, wisdom and folly, success and neglect—obviously fascinate her, particularly because it seems she cannot help but compare them to her own.

One other piece in this collection deserves special mention. “The Break” is a moving fictionalized confession in which Ozick’s obsession with literary reputations and with the status of her own achievement in relation to that of other writers is painfully raw and undisguised.

Like her earlier collections of essays, FAME AND FOLLY is an important part of her continuing claim on the public’s attention.

Sources for Further Study

Boston Globe. May 8, 1996, p. 50.

Chicago Tribune. September 1, 1996, XIV, p. 3.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIV, March 1, 1996, p. 357.

Library Journal. CXXI, June 15, 1996, p. 66.

Los Angeles Times. May 3, 1996, p. E10.

The Nation. CCLXII, February 26, 1996, p. 34.

The New York Times. May 7, 1996, p. 17.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, June 9, 1996, p. 32.

The New Yorker. LXXII, May 13, 1996, p. 88.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, April 1, 1996, p. 65.

San Francisco Chronicle. April 28, 1996, p. REV3.

The Wall Street Journal. May 22, 1996, p. A20.