The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays (Hardcover)

The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays By Joan Acocella Cover Image

The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays (Hardcover)


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A collection of the New Yorker critic's finest essays, which examine the books that reveal and record our world.

Joan Acocella was “one of our finest cultural critics” (Edward Hirsch), and she had the rare ability to examine literature and unearth the lives contained within it—its authors, its subjects, and the communities from which it springs. In her hands, arts criticism was a celebration and an investigation, and her essays pulse with unadulterated enthusiasm. As Kathryn Harrison wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “Hers is a vision that allows art its mystery but not its pretensions, to which she is acutely sensitive. What better instincts could a critic have?”

The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays gathers twenty-four essays from the final decade and a half of Acocella’s career, as well as an introduction that frames her simple preoccupations: “life and art.” In agile, inspired prose, she moves from J. R. R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf to the life of Richard Pryor, from surveying profanity to untangling the book of Job. Her appetite (and reading list) knew no bounds. This collection is a joy and a revelation, a library in itself, and Acocella is our dream companion among its shelves.

Includes 25 black-and-white images

Joan Acocella (1945–2024) was a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. She served as the magazine’s dance critic from 1998 to 2019. Her books include Mark Morris, Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism, and Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder, as well as the essay collections Twenty-eight Artists and two Saints and The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays. She co-edited André Levinson on Dance: Writings from Paris in the Twenties and edited The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. She received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Berlin, and the New York Institute for the Humanities, as well awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letter and the New York Book Critics Circle. She lived in New York.

Product Details ISBN: 9780374608095
ISBN-10: 0374608091
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: February 20th, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English

One of the best-read, most laconic and least pretentious cultural critics of her generation, from whom we are lucky to have this final volume of collected essays . . . Some critics are haters, but Acocella began writing criticism because she loved—first dance, and then much of the best of Western culture. She let life bring her closer to art . . . I can’t help feeling we didn’t appreciate Acocella enough when we had her. We thought she would always be there—and at least on our shelf she can be.” —Joanna Biggs, The New York Times Book Review

"Bringing together some of her smartest and most entertaining pieces on literature and language published between 2007 and 2021, the volume must now serve as a makeshift monument to Acocella’s career . . . The book’s 24 pieces offer not just an inventory of Acocella’s interests but also shining examples of what made her such a pleasure to read." —Charles Arrowsmith, Los Angeles Times

"As this posthumous collection shows, [Acocella] brought the same rigor, passion and insight to all the art she consumed. Whether her subject is genre fiction, “Beowulf” or Marilynne Robinson, Acocella’s knowledge and enthusiasm are hard to match. We will not see her like again." —The New York Times (Editors' Choice)

"There seems to be no subject that Acocella didn’t embrace . . . in an era when the words 'artificial' and 'intelligence' are paired without irony, there once existed a writer named Joan Acocella whose life of the mind was as incandescent as it was real." —Patricia Schultheis, Washington Independent Review of Books

"Essayist Acocella shines in this splendid anthology of literary criticism . . . Smart and accessible, this is a blast." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"From Gilgamesh and Beowulf to Elmore Leonard and Richard Pryor, a brilliant critic unpacks centuries of artists and their works . . . [Acocella's ] wit and insight make anything worth reading about . . . A top-notch collection full of information, elegance, and humor." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"There are a handful of perfect foods, like yuba, which possess all the essential nutrients (Buddhist monks took it on their pilgrimages.) Rarer, perhaps, are perfect mind foods, like The Bloody Nightgown, whose essential nutrients—wit, depth, variety, beauty, humanity—could sustain you even on a desert island. With each rereading, these essays surprise and reward you anew." Judith Thurman, author of A Left-Handed Woman

"Joan Acocella has always been one of our country’s sharpest critics. She manages to write at the highest intellectual level and make it read like fun. This collection is endlessly entertaining. It also grapples with the central issues of art, literature and life." —T. M. Luhrmann, author of How God Becomes Real