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About halfway through his essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” George Orwell offers a startling explanation for Leo Tolstoy’s notorious antipathy towards Shakespeare: Tolstoy is “trying to rob others of a pleasure he does not share.” Further, “Tolstoy does not know, perhaps, just what he misses in Shakespeare, but he is aware that he misses something, and he is determined that others shall be deprived of it as well.” As criticism of criticisms go, this one is nothing if not blunt. Is it possible that the basis of much of what we consider rational, disinterested critical discourse is really just a willful schadenfreude? That idea, in truth, is not too far from what masses of ordinary people have always believed: that cultural criticism and personal criticism are essentially the same and that to engage in either is merely to inflict pain under the pretense of honesty or concern.

Surely an idea as reductive as this needs no refutation. When in his essay “Charles Dickens” Orwell writes that Dickens’s whole message reduces to one “enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent,” he isn’t trying to stick it to Dickens lovers, is he? He isn’t, in short, doing to Dickens exactly what he accused Tolstoy of doing to Shakespeare? Certainly not. Unless he is. More… “Let Me Ruin This for You”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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Orhan Pamuk is one of the world’s best-known novelists. The Nobel Prize-winning author’s fictions often focus on the lives, times, and people of his native Istanbul. His latest novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, was six years in the writing and tells of the life of one street vendor in the city. TSS editor Richard Abowitz reached Pamuk by phone in New York where he teaches at Columbia University.

TSS: The title of your new novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, comes, of course, from a Wordsworth poem — a massive work, The Prelude — but I’m struck by the way you use it, because, you know, we think of Wordsworth as a poet that loved nature, and, while he was pre-industrial revolution, he wasn’t exactly a fan of what he saw coming. You use it, in your new book: “In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.” How did you think of applying Wordsworth to a city and as the title for your book? More… “5 Questions with Orhan Pamuk”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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Clayton tunnel, the site of an 1861 crash

Ah, Father Christmas, here you are again sir, and what is that you have with you, tucked under your arm? Why, a volume of Dickens, of course. Always Dickens at Christmas, right? And, if you’ve not yet gone to a production of A Christmas Carol, I’d bet you’re going soon, or else you’re going to be watching one of the many versions that will be on television here in the run-up to that greatest of days for some, and the hardest of days for others. Treat yourself right and go with the ’51 Alastair Sim effort or venture out a bit, and gather the family ‘round for a Christmas reading unlike any other. And no, I’m not talking the Carol. I’m talking about Dickens’ “The Signal-Man,” Christmas literature for how the other half lives. Not the denizens of Scrooge’s beloved workhouses (well, Scrooge pre-epiphanies… More…