Leo Braudy

Braudy is university professor and Bing Chair of English at USC and the author of several books, including "The Frenzy of Renown." Andrew Marvell's "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland, 1650"One of the great political poems in English. Unlike Shakespeare's history plays, it concerns itself directly with questions of executive authority not in the past but in the immediate and confusing present. Long before the birth of political parties and political science, Marvell delves into the complexities and compromises of power. Daniel Defoe's 1701 poem "The True-Born Englishman"Written in response to attacks on "foreigners" diluting the purity of the English nation, Defoe's poem uses slashing wit to point out that "we are all really foreigners ourselves": "A true-born Englishman's a contradiction, / In speech an irony, in fact a fiction." He concludes that generalizing about people on the basis of where they come from is nonsense: "'Tis personal virtue only makes us great." Anthony Trollope's "He Knew He Was Right"This 1869 novel is the story of a husband so jealously — and mistakenly — committed to believing his wife is unfaithful that he ruins his marriage and his life. It's a cautionary tale about the fallibility of one's own emotions and perceptions, and the tragedy that can result from trusting them too blindly. Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim"Conrad's 1900 novel tells the story of a young British seaman who in a moment of panic abandons a sinking ship filled with Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca. The ship is later rescued but Jim spends his life trying to atone for his moral lapse by doing good works. Joseph Heller's "Catch-22"No contemplation of the human ravages of modern warfare is complete without "Catch-22" (1961). Written about World War II, "Catch-22" crucially mocks the bureaucratic military world in which the ordinary member of "the greatest generation" had to live, and die. Even though Heller's airmen seem to be far above the action, the war damages them nevertheless. Heller's insights and his comic clarity are even more relevant today in an era of drones and other means of psychologically detaching combatants from warfare.
Philip Channing
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