On Essays: Montaigne to the Present

Research output: Book/ReportBook


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All students write essays, at school and university. But what is an essay, and how did it emerge as a literary form? It occupies an unsettling position, being both a form of literature and a style of knowledge. It is the fourth literary genre, long over-shadowed in literary history by fiction, poetry, and drama; yet it is also a way of writing about any subject which rejects the methodical languages of universities and professions. The essay is an ambassador between literature and knowledge, expertise and experience, and brings together all the various conversations which do not usually come into dialogue with one another. In the twenty-first century, essays have once again become a vivid part of the literary landscape, with essayists and writers of lyric prose such as Claudia Rankine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Maggie Nelson widely read and reviewed.

Perhaps because it is a form of writing against which literary scholarship has defined itself, there has been surprisingly little scholarship on the history of the essay. Not simply an academic history or companion, On Essays is, rather, a series of seventeen elegant essays on major themes in the history of the genre, written by celebrated essayists and scholars – essays which, taken together, form the most substantial book on the essay in English hitherto published.


Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOUP Oxford
Number of pages520
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


    Research areas

  • Essay, miscellaneity, theory of the essay, literary form, history of the essay, prose genres, the novel, association

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ID: 169998486

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