Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In the foreword to Dear Shadows, John Wain explains the purpose of his book: to honor a number of people who are no longer alive except in his memory. Because they concern the lives of others, these essays can be classified as miniature biographies; because their treatment of Wain’s subjects is limited to the influence which they had upon him, however, the effect of the essays is to some degree that of a memoir of Wain himself. At the conclusion of his foreword, Wain suggests that perhaps this book might even be considered a sequel to his autobiography, Sprightly Running: Part of an Autobiography (1962), which dealt with the first thirty-five years of his life.

If Dear Shadows were a sequel to the earlier volume, however, it would certainly begin with the 1960’s. These essays are not limited to the later years of Wain’s life. “Arnold,” for example, is the life story of Wain’s father, beginning with his birth during the reign of Victoria, ninety-one years before the essay about him was written. Wain came to know the subjects of other essays, such as Nevill Coghill, Richard Burton, Conway, and the fascinating Julia, during World War II. Some of the chapters in Dear Shadows reach into the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the last two essays reach into the 1980’s, with the deaths of the subjects.

In the final essay, “Summer, and Shakespeare, and a Welsh cadet,” Wain begins with the news of Richard Burton’s death in 1984. From that point, Wain moves back to the 1940’s, when he and Burton participated in the Shakespeare productions at the University of Oxford, under the direction of Nevill Coghill, which had been mentioned in the first essay of the book. In the first essay, Coghill had been the central figure; in the final essay, the focus is on Wain’s friend Burton and, to a lesser degree, on...

(The entire section is 762 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Berry, Neil. “Leisurely Older Man,” in The Times Literary Supplement. April 25, 1986, p. 445.

Blishen, Edward. “Dr. Johnson’s Footsteps,” in The Times Educational Supplement. June 20, 1986, p. 25.

Encounter. Review. LXVII (July/August, 1986), p. 30.

Hague, Angela. “Picaresque Structure and the Angry Young Novel,” in Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal. XXXII (Summer, 1986), pp. 209-220.

Kermode, Frank. “Past-Praiser,” in London Review of Books. VIII (June 5, 1986), p. 10.