Wanted: Erudite, epigrammatic writers of easily-digested essays.
October 31, 2013 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Who are some erudite, epigrammatic essayists? I'm not just looking for "good" essayists: self-consciously "refined" diction is a must, as is the propensity for epigrams. Examples of who I'm looking for include G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, Pauline Kael, Christopher Hitchens, Will Self, and Theodore Dalrymple.
posted by Sticherbeast to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: Dorothy Parker, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace
posted by emmatrotsky at 6:46 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Thomas de Quincey, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry David Thoreau.
posted by zeri at 7:17 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you can tolerate modernity, try Tim Kreider's We Learn Nothing.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:20 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Gore Vidal's United States: Essays 1952-1992
posted by mojohand at 8:02 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: William Safire
posted by juggler at 8:05 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: M.F.K. Fisher.
posted by trip and a half at 8:07 PM on October 31, 2013


Borges
posted by empath at 8:13 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: Ben Franklin.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:17 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: William James. Emerson. Montaigne.
posted by shivohum at 8:19 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Orwell.
posted by pompomtom at 9:03 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


John Jeremiah Sullivan.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:04 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: Washington Irving
posted by greta simone at 9:20 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Epigrammatic? Essayist? The two are the opposite of one another. The answers are Fran├žois VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac and Friedrich Nietzsche.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:07 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: Joseph Addison's The Spectator isn't just an example of epigrammatic erudite essay-writing -- it influenced the genre for centuries to come. For example, here is Ben Franklin discussing how he learned to write:
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by for a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. I then compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them.
posted by yankeefog at 2:39 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Not mentioned already are Arthur Schopenhauer: more straightforward than refined, but with a knack for pithy aphorisms. And Walter Pater: erudite and refined but not notably epigrammatic.
posted by misteraitch at 3:18 AM on November 1, 2013


Best answer: Former editor of The American Spectator, Joseph Epstein, might fight the bill. I love his book Plausible Prejudices among others. He's erudite, epigrammatic, and often hilariously funny.
posted by cartoonella at 3:40 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: E.B. White
posted by Daily Alice at 3:56 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're open to satire of this sort of thing, John Hodgman.
posted by jbickers at 5:36 AM on November 1, 2013


I got this anthology as a gift and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of an extensive series, it would seem...
posted by jim in austin at 7:20 AM on November 1, 2013


Best answer: Mencken (H.L., not Alan), though he may infuriate you. When he gets on a tear about something he can be quite the blowtorch.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on November 1, 2013


Best answer: I haven't read widely of his work, but the essays I've read by Garret Keizer are memorable, especially this one from Harpers.
posted by queensb at 9:04 AM on November 1, 2013


For a cheap sampler of many of those listed above, I've found The Art of the Personal Essay one of the best bang-for-the-buck anthologies I've ever read.
posted by LucretiusJones at 11:06 PM on November 1, 2013


Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations, everyone! My cup runneth over.

Another essayist who comes to mind: Emil M. Cioran.

...

Epigrammatic? Essayist? The two are the opposite of one another.

"Epigrammatic" can mean "marked by or given to the use of epigrams."
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:32 AM on November 2, 2013


Oscar Wilde.
posted by thivaia at 9:33 AM on November 2, 2013


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