Frank Kermode, R.I.P.

America’s idea of a great critic is Harold Bloom. The UK’s is Frank Kermode. Need I say more?

Here is Kermode’s obituary in the Guardian and here is that in the New York Times. The man was 90, yet this is still a great loss. I can’t remember when I first became aware of his work; it could even have been way back in college, where I discovered the New York Review of Books. Whether there or in the London Review, he was one of the few writers I always made a point of reading even if I wasn’t interested in the subject; I knew I’d get a civilized engagement with the subject from someone who actually understood, in a quiet but forceful way, what literature has to do with life.

As for the subject of this blog, Kermode’s contributions are exemplary. Above all there’s his edition of The Tempest for the Arden Shakespeare, Second Series. The Arden Third Tempest is one of the best in the current series, but it doesn’t supersede Kermode’s. In addition, consider his lovely little The Age of Shakespeare, one of the better books you could give the Shakespeare-curious who don’t know where to begin, and his Shakespeare’s Language for the more advanced.

And I haven’t even mentioned any of his other major contributions, such as his work in Bible studies.

The overriding impression I have of Kermode from his work is that I—corroded cynic that I am, black sheep academic who’s seen it all—would have liked to have had him as my advisor. I can’t think of any higher praise for an academic; rest assured it is something I am not even capable of thinking about Harold Bloom.

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