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The second collection of Woody Allen’s short stories and satirical essays, the title is taken from Emily Dickinson’s rather intractable aphorism:

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”

This collection of sixteen pieces draws primarily from Allen’s work at The New Yorker, what he flippantly referred to as his “casuals”. However, selections are also drawn from other sources, Playboy, The New Republic and The New York Times. In the order that they appear:

  1. Selections From The Allen Notebooks
  2. Examing Psychic Phenomena
  3. A Guide To Some Of The Lesser Ballets
  4. The Scrolls
  5. Lovborg‘s Women Considered
  6. The Whore Of Mensa
  7. The Early Essays
  8. A Brief, Yet Helpful, Guide To Civil Disobedience
  9. Match Wits With Inspector Ford
  10. The Irish Genius
  11. Fabulous Tales And Mythical Beasts
  12. But Soft… Real Soft*
  13. If The Impressionists Had Been Dentists*
  14. No Kaddish For Weinstein
  15. Fine Times: An Oral Memoir
  16. Slang Origins*

* Appeared in Without Feathers for the first time.

It has been argued that Allen’s particular brand of cerebral humour was suited far better to the printed page that the silver screen. His use of fantastic comic flights and knowing asides that many find so infuriating about his cinematic works seem effortless in his prose. Freed of the limitations of the camera lens, he is able to express his comic ideas directly to his audience, without needing to contrive a way to present them visually. Some of his finest and most well-known prose, including The Whore Of Mensa and Match Wits With Inspector Ford, is included. What is most interesting for Allen cognoscenti is that the writing seems to reflect Allen’s transition a humorist. Published in 1975, it charts his growing comic maturity, from the absurdism that inspired the likes of Bananas and Take The Money And Run, growing into the irreverent philosophising of Love And Death. There is no trace of the morose, self-effacing neurosis that many would latter identify with his work. He reels of gags at an almost unstoppable pace, tearing through his themes with abandon.

It is unsurprising that it is most influenced by the style that defines The New Yorker magazine, and the choice of subject matter is particularly reminiscent of cartoonist Jules Feiffer (then of The Village Voice). At times, it can verge on being overly referential, although this is no surprise, considering its intended audience of New York intelligentsia. Allen also addresses “Jewishness” at great length, in both theme and style. As is often the case for him, the issue is addressed with both derision of his caricatured Jewish stereotypes, and a somewhat paranoid martyrdom about his own race. He ruthlessly mocks his Jewish characters, at the same time putting them on a higher level than those around them.

This book is now more widely available as a part of The Complete Prose Of Woody Allen (1991), which also contains the anthologies Getting Even and Side Effects. For reasons too mysterious to fathom, Without Feathers is printed before Getting Even, despite the latter being published four years earlier. In spite of this chronological oversight, it remains a tour de force of light comic reading.