Arranged chronologically, the chapters treat English poetry and culture at successive turns-of-the-century. The result is a rich picture of the ways calendar and culture affect one another. Even if we must pass through our own century's turn "unprotected", these pictures from the past provide an array of models that may prove useful: the book shows us portraits of the final decade as a radical invitation to political distribution (Braudy), as a prolonged kiss (McGann), as an assassin (Vendler), and even as an Hegelian reader,"curled up in an easy chair" wishing to exempt itself from the rest of the century (de Grazia). The number of great poets who wrote at their century's end - Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare - works to deepen our attention to the poetry now emerging in the 1990S.
Elaine Scarry is professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University. She is the author of 'The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World' and editor of 'Literature and the Body: Selected Papers from the English Institute', the latter available from Johns Hopkins.
"Counting at Dusk" ("Why Poetry Matters When the Century Ends"); 1590s - "Fin de Siecle Renaissance England", Margreta de Grazia; 1690s - "Unturning the Century - The Missing Decade of the 1690s", Leo Braudy; 1790s - "The Literal World of the English Della Cruscans", Jerome McGann; 1890s, 1990s - "Fin-de-Siecle Lyric: W.B. Yeats and Jorie Graham", Helen Vendler.