Michael Dirda Articles

A Tragic Hero

Offscreen and on the battlefield with Audie Murphy.
Jul 06, 2015

It’s a Saturday afternoon in 1955, and I am sitting with my father in the Palace Theater in Lorain, Ohio. I am 7 years old, and we are waiting for the start of a war movie called To Hell and Back. It is, my dad tells me, a true story, and the hero is a real hero playing himself. His name, I learned that day, was Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of all time.

 Read more

The Horror, the Horror

Thirty-eight centuries of supernatural lit.
Oct 07, 2013

In Unutterable Horror, his deeply knowledgeable, lively, and unabashedly opinionated history of supernatural fiction, S. T. Joshi suggests that a taste for ghost stories and weird tales is far more than a slavering hunger for blood and grue. The most important supernatural fiction doesn’t merely aim to make our flesh creep. Through it, ambitious writers—and their readers—are able to explore the full range of human experience.

 Read more

Poet of Loss

Dead at 25, Keats is forever the passionate voice.
Apr 22, 2013

Oh, for ten years, that I may overwhelm / Myself in poesy.

So wrote the author of  “Sleep and Poetry,” composed in late 1816. Alas, John Keats was allowed only half that time, dying at the age of 25 in 1821.

 Read more

Symons Said

On the trail of a strange, elusive life in literature.
Dec 17, 2012

My quest for Symons—A. J. A. Symons, that is—began when, many years ago, I first read that strange novel Hadrian the Seventh (1904). Written by the so-called Baron Corvo, and admired by D. H. Lawrence, among others, the book opens with a magnificent description of a hack writer suffering from writer’s block:

 Read more

Funny Girls

The case for devouring two modern comic classics.
Dec 19, 2011

They wouldn’t have much to say to each other at a dinner party, but there are few more delightful young women in modern literature than Miss Lorelei Lee and Miss Flora Poste, the indomitable, and conniving, heroines of two of the best comic novels of all time, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) and Cold Comfort Farm (1932).

 Read more