Brooke Allen has written a couple of books of critical essays (here and here); a book about the religious views of six crucial "Founding Fathers"; and most recently, and perhaps most unfortunately timed, a travel book about Syria. I have not read this last one, but it waits in my queue, and I suspect it may prove an important historical document about what was there (in Syria) before recent events. Almost surely what she writes about has been devastated. (Well, I notice one reviewer at Amazon writes, "Allen is a typical snivelling progressive who wants America to submit to Muslim 'dhimmitude.'" I doubt she would be so unnuanced as that.)
The latest New Criterion has a review up, of Muriel Spark's essays, headlined "The essays of slender means," a rather negative assessment of Sparks in her capacity of essayist, but a pleasant literary discussion of a writer I've never read. Hopefully, if the link still lasts, you can read it for yourself. There's an interesting discussion about the Brontes as teachers (about which Spark wrote an essay), general philosophizing on what it takes to be a good novelist vs. a good essayist--and very appealing quotes by Spark herself:
Especially now in the arts of drama and the novel we see and hear everywhere the representation of the victim against the oppressor, we have a literature and an artistic culture, one might almost say a civilization, of depicted suffering, whether in social life or in family life. We have representations of the victim-oppressor complex, for instance, in the dramatic portrayal of the gross racial injustices of our world, or in the exposure of tyrannies of family life on the individual. As art this can be badly done, it can be brilliantly done. But I am going to suggest that it isn’t achieving its end or illuminating our lives any more, and that a more effective technique can and should be cultivated. . . .
For what happens when, for example, the sympathies and the indignation of a modern audience are aroused by a play or a novel of the kind to which I have referred? I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that a great number of the audience or of the readers feel that their moral responsibilities are sufficiently fulfilled by the emotions they have been induced to feel. A man may go to bed feeling less guilty after seeing such a play. He has undergone the experience of pity for the underdog. Salt tears have gone bowling down his cheeks. He has had a good dinner. He is absolved, he sleeps well. He rises refreshed, more determined than ever to be the overdog. And there is always, too, the man who finds the heroic role of the victim so appealing that he’ll never depart from it. I suggest that wherever there is a cult of the victim, such being human nature, there will be an obliging cult of twenty equivalent victimizers.
Allen is a good essayist, and I'm always happy to turn my attention to whatever she's writing about, even though it generally falls outside of my relatively narrow sphere of interests. Novels do not beckon me—though as a lad I read some of the Brontes'—or Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, if you will. Unlikely as I am to return to them, they remain (along with Jane Austen) a touchstone in the early development of my English sensibility, and I remember fondly the days when I was able to devote myself so attentively to the fictional world of the novel. I have several on my "bucket list" (am I using that term correctly?), and hope one day to make headway into those goals. (Writing projects tend to take precedence, and I can't even fit those into my schedule these days.) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall bears the distinction of being one of only a handful of novels I've read twice—with a good decade or more in between occasions.
As I say, Allen is none too positive in her review; but she is fair, which is more important.