Literary scholarship frequently bewails the tyranny of periodization. Fortunately, no such tyranny impedes The Fairy Way of Writing. This book reminds us what a masterful critic can do with a broad historical sweep: point out the repeated appearances and evolution of an idea in works separated by centuries (and, in this case, by genres). The phrase “the fairy way of writing” came originally from John Dryden but was popularized in the eighteenth century by Joseph Addison’s Spectator essays about the imagination. Per Addison, the fairy way of writing is “a kind of Writing, wherein the Poet quite loses sight of Nature, and entertains his Reader’s Imagination with the Characters and Actions of such Persons as have many of them no Existence, but what he bestows on them. Such are Fairies, Witches, Magicians, Demons, and departed Spirits” (quoted on 1). This writing...

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