For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms. Distinguished from the detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward candor and self-disclosure, the personal essay seizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities, fashions, foibles, oddballs, seasonal rituals, love and disappointment, the pleasures of solitude, reading, taking a walk to offer insight into the human condition and the great social and political issues of the day. The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the last four centuries, editor Phillip Lopate, himself an acclaimed essayist, displays the tradition of the personal essay in all its historical grandeur, depth, and diversity.
Essayist Lopate ( Against Joie de Vivre , Poseidon Pr., 1991, among others) has selected and introduced some 75 personal essays, covering over 400 years, from the East as well as the West, in an attempt to show the development of the genre. The result is a fascinating overview that could be useful in teaching situations. Given the personal nature of the pieces, it may also appeal to general readers who enjoy biography and autobiography. Lopate considers the personal essay to be a sort of friendship based on ``the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience.'' He devotes extensive space to Montaigne, ``the patron saint of personal essayists,'' but we also hear from unfamiliar voices, such as a tenth-century Japanese court lady, and from special branches of the essay, such as the American humorists. Of interest to both academic and public libraries.-- Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.