Parodies come in all shapes and sizes. There are broad parodies and subtle parodies, ingenious imitations and knockabout spoofs, scornful lampoons and affectionate pastiches. All these varieties, and many others, appear in this delightful new anthology compiled by master anthologist John Gross.
The classics of the genre are all here, but so are scores of lesser known but scarcely less brilliant works. At every stage there are surprises. Proust visits Chelsea, Yeats re-writes "Old King Cole," Harry Potter encounters Mick Jagger, a modernized Sermon on the Mount rubs shoulders with an obituary of Sherlock Holmes. The collection provides a hilarious running commentary on literary history, but it also looks beyond literature to include such things as ad parodies, political parodies, and even a scientific hoax. The collection includes work by such accomplished parodists as Max Beerbohm, Robert Benchley, Bret Harte, H. L. Mencken, George Orwell, James Thurber, Peter Ustinov, and Evelyn Waugh. And the "victims" include Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Poe, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Conan Doyle, A. A. Milne, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, Martin Amis, and many others. The first and longer of the book's two parts is devoted to English-language authors, arranged in chronological order, along with parodies that they have inspired. The second part includes sections on more general literary topics, on aspects of individual authors which transcend the format of the first part, and on a handful of foreign writers.
Parody can be the most entertaining form of criticism, and one of the most delicate, erudite, and allusive. The Oxford Book of Parodies captures a genre that is comical, scornful, witty, and subtle--and always a joy to read.
John Gross is a writer and reviewer. He was editor of the Times Literary Supplement from 1974 to 1981, on the staff of the New York Times from 1983 to 1988, and theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph from 1998 to 2005. His books include The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969; new edn. 1991), Shylock; A Legend and Its Legacy (1992), and a memoir, A Double Thread (2002). He has edited the Oxford Books of Aphorisms (1983), Essays (1991), and Comic Verse (1994), and The New Oxford Book of English Prose (1998). His anthology After Shakespeare appeared in 2002, and his most recent publication is The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (2006)