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Charles Lamb, Elia, and essays in familiarity
chapterposted on 27.05.2021, 11:27 by Felicity James
Charles Lamb helped develop the familiar essay genre through his Essays of Elia (1823) and Last Essays (1833). Highly popular through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he faded from view through the twentieth century thanks to New Critical scorn. This chapter restores the Elian voice to contemporary conversations about the essay, tracing Lamb’s influence and afterlives in the work of later writers from Anne Fadiman to David Foster Wallace. More broadly, the chapter uses Lamb to open up the many nuances of the familiar essay, and to trace its origins and debts. From conversation to letter-writing to the work of the Romantic poets and the strange persona of Elia himself, it explores the many meanings and histories of the familiar mode.