Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Critic or Coroner?

We all need good novels.

Leo Tolstoy
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Novel, Who Needs It?, by Joseph Epstein, Encounter Books, 152 pages.

The novel, having been abroad in the world for centuries, has fallen on hard times with the reading public, and everyone has a theory why. Joseph Bottum a few years ago blamed the collapse of Mainline Protestantism. Philip Roth said in 1961 that a novelist couldn’t hope to compete with the fever of real American life on the nightly news. In 2009, fifty years and 25 novels of his own later, Roth blamed short attention spans. For Jules Verne in 1902, it was the newspaper. Lionel Trilling, after the war, declared a crisis of the bourgeois imagination. It’s fascism or communism, or both. It’s the internet, it’s disenchantment, it’s the movement of history—it’s modernism, in the library, with the candlestick.


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