This month the Legenda series publishes two volumes of selected essays by Malcolm Bowie, who was one of the UK’s best-loved and most admired literary critics. Bowie published numerous beautifully written books, articles and reviews for academic audiences and the wider public and was internationally acclaimed. He won the US Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism and was translated into European languages and beyond (Arabic, Korean and others). At the height of his powers, Bowie was shockingly struck down by cancer of the bone-marrow and died in 2007 at the age of 63.
From humble origins, Bowie was one of the millions who benefited from the 1944 Education Act, in his case spectacularly so. He was able to go to grammar school and university, and scored early and brilliant professional successes, such as his election at the age of 32 to the Chair of French at Queen Mary, University of London. His career culminated with the Oxford Marshal Foch Chair of French and then the Mastership of Christ’s College, Cambridge. But, as much as public honours, it was Bowie’s passion for inquiry and for the arts, and his personality, that made him a charismatic figure. He wrote not only on literature but also on music, painting, philosophy, psychoanalysis and cultural issues. It is particularly appropriate that Legenda should publish the Selected Essays, since Bowie was the imprint’s key founder in 1995, and guided its development as chair of the Editorial Board.
Bowie published almost everything he wrote. Radio 3 talks appeared in The Listener, lectures became articles or the material of reviews. His articles and reviews, however, had remained scattered. Bowie’s widow Alison Finch, herself a distinguished scholar of French literature, has now published them in a collection that reveals Bowie the delightful man as well as Bowie the unique intellectual. Like his books, the essays display his virtuoso writing and his irreverent yet subtle humour. Accompanying the collection is a short biography of Bowie by his Oxford successor Michael Sheringham, an appreciation by the renowned critic Gillian Beer, and an introduction by Finch.
Colin Davis, Chairman of the Legenda Editorial Board, commented: “We are proud and thrilled to publish the two volumes of Malcolm Bowie’s selected essays. Legenda owes its existence to Bowie’s vision and brilliance. The publication of these volumes continues our founder’s commitment to publishing the finest, most compelling scholarship and represents an ongoing confidence in the future of work in the humanities.”