The nonfiction of Cynthia Ozick includes many surrogate father figures, including Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, and Elie Wiesel. These towering presences have been refashioned by Ozick in what she calls her “literary essays,” which she regards as a model of unrestrained creativity as championed by James. Ozick characterizes the literary essay as a gendered “secret self,” with a unique persuasive power, which she depicts as an extension of her novel writing. Many of Ozick’s essays return these male authority figures to a time when they were unknown, humiliated, and impoverished so that she can encounter them as equals, given her own rejection as a Jewish woman writer in the 1950s and ’60s. But Ozick’s nonfiction also includes didactic essays that engage with particular topics or events and do completely different kinds of work when compared to their literary counterparts. The tension between these two modes of nonfiction is explored with reference to these father figures, and especially to the Holocaust, which exposes, for Ozick, the limits of the literary essay.

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