On a wintry Saturday afternoon recently I was sitting in the Anspacher Theater at the Public. It is a soaring, two-tiered room, the old atrium of the main reading room of the Astor Library. It rises on painted, cast-iron columns to a congregation of domed skylights. A weak, milky light filtered down more in sadness than in hope. The spindly chamber (what ceremonies of civic and cultural virtue had it witnessed? did Henry James know it? I must look up American Scene when I get home) was drafty; the bold gusts of wind were scarcely impeded by the thirty or so people huddled in the middle of the room. I had bought the TLS for the subway ride down and had been reading in it of Alan Hollinghurst’s new translation of Racine’s Bajazet as performed at London’s Almeida Theatre. I was keenly tempted to take the journal out of my pocket and continue reading. I remembered there was something on Bismarck; a new...


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