“Why, since life holds only so many hours, waste one of them on being lectured?” asked Virginia Woolf in her amusing 1934 essay “Why?”. The question could equally well be applied to the essay form itself: why? Why do novelists write essays? Why do we read them? Next month, a new imprint called Notting Hill Editions will be launched to publish great essays, past and present. Lucasta Miller, its editorial director, says: “In the 19th century, essayists such as Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt and Thomas De Quincey found a huge readership, as did George Orwell in the 20th. Now is the perfect time to reinvigorate the essay.” It’s already happening. In the past month, Hanif Kureishi’s Collected Essays, the sixth and final volume of The Essays of Virginia Woolf and The Inevitable, a collection of pieces on death edited by David Shields and Bradford Morrow, have all been published. Alongside these, Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany has assembled a collection of essays, On The State of Egypt, which is available now as an e-book and will be published in the UK in May. The essay in its modern, playful, discursive form dates back to Michel de Montaigne, who published his ground-breaking Essais (“attempts”) in 1580.
more from Carl Wilkinson at the FT here.