The Blagger's Guide To...The Return Of The Essay

'The perfect size and shape for brilliant ideas'

*Launched on Thursday by Tom Cramer and Lucasta Miller, a former deputy literary editor of The Independent, Notting Hill Editions is a new publishing imprint that plans to do nothing less than bring about the return of the essay.

With the first UK publication of Roland Barthes's Mourning Diary, about his day-to-day life after the death of his mother, along with George Perec's essay series Thoughts of Sorts (introduced by Margaret Drabble) and six other titles, the imprint plans to "cover an ever- changing spectrum of topics" in essay form.

*So what is an essay? Dr Johnson's dictionary described it as "a short, undigested piece", although this is a narrow definition. Originally, the word comes from the French "essayer", meaning "to try". An assay, in chemistry, is the analysis of an ore or drug to draw conclusions about its components. Essentially, then, an "essay" is a trying out of ideas.

*"Essays are the perfect size and shape for those brilliant self-contained ideas that don't fit into longer books," Margaret Drabble tells the Blagger. "They are like extended newspaper columns but without the need for topicality. They can be timeless and as eccentric and personal as they like. Georges Perec's essays are wonderfully eccentric and peculiar, as are his novels. He is fascinated by objects and lists and the strange little places and spaces that nobody else notices. He was a great gamesplayer – he did jigsaws, invented crosswords for a newspaper, played word games. His essays are a treasure house of very French oddities."

*The form had its heyday in the late 19th century, when the periodical press offered space for the likes of De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Carlyle's Signs of the Times, or Arnold's Culture and Anarchy. In 1992, the late John Gross wrote about the demise of the essay in the late 20th century. "The demands of journalism have pushed writers who might once have set up as essayists further and further in the direction of reportage, travel-writing, instant comment," he wrote. "There is less and less time and scope for the essay." However, Lucasta Miller denies that the essay is in the doldrums, pointing out the popularity of work by John Lanchester, Adam Phillips, Alain de Botton, Geoff Dyer, Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureishi.

*The essay is perhaps the only literary genre to be directly attributable to one person: Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who published his Essais in 1580. Essentially his personal thoughts on his life and times, he initially thought of his "essays" as chapters of a book.

*The earliest essay in Notting Hill Editions' online essay library (for which it is calling for suggestions for additions) is On Old Age by Cicero, written in about 45BC. The most recent is Geoff Dyer's What You Can Do With a Hat, which was published in 2005.

*Readers of the Blagger's Guide can enjoy a special discount on books from Notting Hill Editions, paying only £10 per copy by following this link: www.nottinghilleditions.com/independent. You can also read Jonathan Keates's essay on his passion for beautiful old travel guides, The Portable Paradise, on our website, here: http://ind.pn/joe1jo.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world