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.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine