Eleanor must figure large in any study of the 12th century in France and England, certainly as a politician of ability and perhaps as a patron of the arts. The difficulty springs from the wealth of evidence in the political sphere and the sparse and ambiguous evidence in the other. The best piece of historical thinking in this volume comes in Elizabeth A. R. Brown’s essay in which sober consideration of the evidence leads to the conclusion that the arts had little importance in Eleanor’s crowded and turbulent life. But the baleful influence of Amy Kelly’s romantically embroidered biography inspired Moshe Lazar’s fanciful and misguided essay on Eleanor and courts of love, and most of the other essays are rather longer on speculation than hard evidence. The most important scholarship of the past decade on the court of Champagne, John Benton’s study of Marie de Champagne as a patron, is simply ignored. There is, with the exception of the essays by Brown and Russell Hope Robbins, very little in this book that can be relied upon. A critical biography of Queen Eleanor is still much needed.
This volume of the definitive edition of Emerson’s Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks deals with the years 1848—1851. Emerson had returned from a successful lecture tour in England and a trip to Paris, and the texts contain some of his responses to this experience. But they include as well some of Emerson’s remarks—witty, wise, and serious—on politics, people, ideas, writing, and scholarship. He is not unaware of either the embarrassment or the fictions of literary men: “We postpone our literary work until we shall have more ripeness & skill to write, and we one day discover that our literary talent was a youthful effervescence which we have now lost!” Emerson’s effervescence can be tasted in some of these delightful overflowings of a fine mind.
“To explore the complex personality and works of Edna St. Vincent Millay,” writes Dr. Cheney, “I have chosen to write a psychological biography, hoping to catch the nuances of her essence.” Nuances of essences are notoriously difficult things to catch, especially when one carries the burden of a prose at once crippled and frenetic, a psychological understanding both na?ve and fatuous, and a narrative so disjointed and maundering that only a fanatic collector of literary trivia could stay its course.
Generations is more than an elegy or a personal memoir, It is an attempt on the part of one woman to retrieve, and lyrically to celebrate, her Afro-American heritage. Miss Clifton is one of the few for whom oral history has preserved a record of African descent. Her family traces its line back to the brave, unflinching “Mammy Ca’line . . .born among the Dahomey people in 1822.” With controlled irony, she tells the tale of slavery as though it were part of a family album. She remembers her Daddy’s lament: “Oh slavery, slavery. . . . It ain’t something in a book, Lue. Even the good parts was awful.” Through it all, the Dahomey women clutched to the roots of their ancestry. They kept their pride and their courage. Great-grandmother Lucy shot a carpet-bagger who had seduced and betrayed her; she was the first black woman to be hanged in the state of Virginia. Miss Clifton assures us that “our lives are our lives and we go on. . . . Things don’t fall apart. Things hold.” And so do memories. Pain lasts longer than pleasure. With Miss Clifton, we “witness and wait.” And we celebrate the collective heroism of those who survived a century of bondage.
Those readers of The Children of Pride who laid down that book with a sigh that it was ended may now pick up with equal interest and pleasure another collection of letters of the Jones family of Liberty County, Georgia. These are earlier letters, dating from 1850 to 1852. They begin with the Joneses in Columbia, South Carolina, where the Reverend Charles Colcock Jones was teaching in the theological seminary. The initial letters deal with death (of two valued old servants), destruction (the house they are living in burns, with everything in it), and student disorder (Charles, Jr. ‘s class at the university rebelled against an intransigent professor and the entire class was suspended). The Reverend Mr. Jones is offered—and after prayerful consideration accepts—a church post (corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions) in Philadelphia. The remaining letters (roughly 200) deal with the family’s life in Philadelphia, where they boarded, more or less satisfactorily, their travels, both to their plantation homes and on church business, and the two sons’ sojourn as students at Princeton, Joseph as a sophomore and Charles, Jr., as a junior. This volume closes with Charles’s graduation. Readers of The Children of Pride will recall that two years later Charles is studying law at Harvard, and becoming more and more strongly anti-abolitionist, and Joe is a student of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Of the more than 6,000 letters which the Joneses saved, often at the cost of losing other possessions, some 1,500 have now been published. Are there more family narratives to come, drawn perhaps from earlier letters? Did the compulsive Jones instinct to write and to preserve die after 1868? Mr. Myers has the answers.
Professor Mitchell’s definitive two-volume biography of Hamilton has provided the basis for this, his fifth book on the first Secretary of the Treasury. Although designed for the general reader and unencumbered by scholarly apparatus, this volume also offers new insights on Hamilton for the specialist. Of particular interest is a considerable amount of new material on Hamilton’s early years and family connections in the British West Indies. Mitchell covers compactly Hamilton’s service as Washington’s aide during the Revolution, his efforts during the Confederation years in behalf of a strong central government, and his organization of American finance during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. Mitchell’s Hamilton emerges again in this lively volume not as the spokesman for a privileged order but as the architect of a system to benefit a whole nation.
The young Harold Macmillan was a keen observer of the British political scene, and in this book he has given us the benefit of his youthful impressions of Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, and of course Winston Churchill. The result is curiously unsatisfying. Of Lloyd George’s more notorious escapades there is not a word; Churchill’s controversial tenure as Home Secretary in the 1920’s receives scant treatment. Better are the chapters on MacDonald and Baldwin, two of the lesser lights in the interwar period.
The importance of this work should go beyond the interest of historians who have made modern Spain their specialty. This is a work of interest to historians, political scientists, and anyone interested in the course of modern revolutions in general. Blinkhorn concentrates on the influence of Carlist thought in the Spanish Civil War. But his excellent study goes far beyond this. He is a scholar who knows the difference between totalitarian, authoritarian, and militaristic movements and the difference it makes. This enables him to understand not only the Carlist movement but also the Spanish Civil War, Fascism and Communism with more insight and wisdom than is common in much of the scholarship on these problems. Blinkhorn skillfully traces the origins of Carlism from its beginnings through the Civil War and concludes with an epilogue on Carlism today. This must be considered as one of the most significant works on the Spanish Civil War. A scholarly and lively account of the first order.
Haines, one of the finest writers on Plains Indian history, has produced here a slim volume which is both a superb introduction to the Plains cultures and an excellent scholarly summary of Plains Indian ethnohistory. There is meticulous piecing together of the many small migrations, cultural interchanges, and historic incidents that comprise the data, but the emphasis is on the major forces that shaped the cultural development of the Plains tribes, especially changing meteorological and ecological conditions and the introduction of horses and guns. Of course, Haines’ writing is as well-crafted, fluid, and interesting as ever.
When this work first appeared in Russian several years ago it was greeted with vigorous applause by those few students of American history who could make use of it. Now Elena Levin has given us a good translation, and our knowledge of the American diplomatic past, or one part of it anyway, is much the richer. Based upon extensive archival research in both the USSR and the United States, this book disproves the notion that America and Russia have always been “natural” enemies. No student of American history in the formative years of the Republic can afford to ignore this splendid work.
In 1788 in Paris, Philip Mazzei published this assemblage of information about the United States under the title, Recherches historiques et politiques sur les États-Unis de l’Amérique septentrionale. “Recherches” in this case would be better translated as “Inquiries.” As Professor Sherman states in her introduction, Mazzei wrote hastily without much research. The book is primarily a refutation of European authors whom Mazzei believed to have been misinformed about his adopted country. Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, encouraged this project to enlighten Europeans and recommended the book as “sensible,” but one suspects he would not have expected it ever to be translated into English. The translation is adequate; the introduction and editorial notes are not.
The title of the book is somewhat inaccurate for it covers the history of England from the time the Romans left in the mid 5th century until the Norman Conquest in the 11th, and thus is concerned with much more than the title suggests.
Much of the author’s material seems to come directly from the 9th-century “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” via direct translations, but this is to be expected. The book is well and interestingly written and illustrated, maps are adequate, and it provides the reader with a good although brief history of the period.
Not as scholarly as William St. Clair’s recent That Greece Might Still Be Free, this book tells essentially the same story in more easy-going and readable prose. The nationalist explosion in Greece early in the last century caught the imagination of contemporary Europeans, many of whom, like Byron, were cultural Philhellenes. Hundreds and even thousands went off to the Balkans, dreaming of restoring the glory that was Greece. They found pestilence, fratricidal warfare, poverty, and chicanery. It still made for a good story, and Mr. Howarth has told it well.
This is a likable first collection which achieves a well-developed individual voice, neither coy, mysterious, or self-consciously feminine. The poems analyze states of mind with wit and compassion, relying more on a broad intellectual background and a wry, self-effacing tone than on metaphor or lyricism. In many of the poems a puzzled but controlled narrator extracts moral implications from personal experiences, constantly trying to decide whether systematic beliefs of any kind are compatible with human behavior.
The volume as a whole lacks dramatic intensity or strong emotional appeal, but Miss Leet manages a disarmingly candid approach without getting uncomfortably private. Not a deeply moving book but an original and worthwhile direction.
Young Dennis continues, in this second book, to comment on ordinary domestic circumstances in an ordinary flat American voice, with middling success. One is glad to go back to 23 of the 49 poems, though none really has the flame of fresh vision or force of authority. An occasional dream helps, but no tigers in red weather. Three out of every four poems show house/ home/room/windows/neighbors, and once in a while we get streets and trees. We get in an airplane once. We don’t get a whole lot to think about, though; it’s as if the ordinary things around us are, well, just there. Key to this quiet, respectable volume is the voice of the “talent inspector” who remarks to the poet: “What’s become of your talents? The sun begins to go down and you’re still in your room.” Editor Richard Howard’s remarks on the back are provocative, in the sense of a coffee-smeared road map about to blow out the window.
Anyone who knows a language can learn to trust himself to let language loose from its conventions and stock associations — to become, in short, for a moment, a poet. Witness the success of Poets-in-the-Schools programs. If around us Every-person is poet, we must learn to ask more from Masterpoet: not only perception but authority, his own place and ground but possession of others’ and opposites, voices infinite rather than the iterative and idolatrous personal. Mueller writes as fully of indestructible hope as of the shootings of spring 1970, understands the feelings of orchestral instruments, and catches the precise miracles above the treeline in Colorado. She speaks the truth about where forgiveness comes from and in four short stanzas satisfies us on biography as distortion. She seems to understand a great deal about herself, her world, and her language. She deserves her Lamont Prize for a second book of poems, ten mature years after her first.
In these partially unrevised poems from the last three years before her death, Anne Sexton’s creative powers and her absorption into despair are both evident. Two long sections, “Bestiary USA” and “The Divorce Papers,” contain good poems, reflecting her inventiveness and witty descriptions. The tender celebrations of love and rebirth one finds in her early books are understandably absent from this collection, but there is a noticeably greater interest in extending personal problems to a social level. Less cohesive and controlled than her early work, this collection retains a fierce intensity unmitigated by the sense of failure and hopelessness.
Bricuth’s poems are very much out of fashion. He is philosophical, witty, often rhymed. His poems, concerned as they are with questions of voice, can be highly abstract, a poetry of statement: “Appearance is real. I speak of what appears. / These reconstructions make long chains of sound. / Man is a thing among other things.” This is a “first book” of poems like no other that I have read. Bricuth’s writing is fiercely independent, solitary, unhurried, and beautifully accomplished. He has a wonderful facility for assimilating into his poetry terms from mathematics and philosophy. Bricuth’s poems can be incredibly intricate and, at times, beautifully successful, as in “The Verbal Emblem.” The main danger, the risk, with Bricuth’s poetry is that by virtue of being so deeply in touch with its own abstract premises, the poems at times lose touch with their emotional or narrative base. But there is also great range to be found in this marvelous book of poems, from the outrageous humor in “The Story of Sam Bass: An Aria” and “A New Model of the Universe” to the moving, sad poem, “Laurel and Hardy.” Despite an overdone introduction by Harold Bloom, who can’t seem to learn that inflating a tire until it’s ready to pop won’t give a smoother ride, Bricuth’s book is important, stunningly accomplished, and demonstrative of great talent. This is a remarkable book of poems.
For more than 20 years, Larry Rubin has elaborated a unique poetic instrument. Among the first of his generation to explore private pain and the juncture of dream and reality in an undisguisedly personal manner, he has resolutely carried out his probe without sacrificing the technical or rhetorical discoveries of his immediate predecessors. Nowhere is his success more evident than in this, his third (and best) collection. Text after text invites favorable comparison with early Lowell, Roethke, or late Plath, yet none echoes their distinctive voices or characteristic strategies. Such is Rubin’s originality: that of a poet who has made his influences so completely his own that he can transform them into what they are not, what they could never be.
Shapiro’s latest collection contains a fairly wide assortment, as the title suggests, of poems ranging from the interpretation of public events and satirical thrusts at popular culture to translations and myth, Shapiro uses traditional ingredients of stanza form, meter, and rhyme adeptly. His wit is too heavy-handed at times, but he is occasionally tender and perceptive or bright and buoyant. The tone is ironic, especially in the treatment of American consumerism and academia. A few memorable poems in this volume are “The Sense of Beauty”—on the perverseness of man and art—and “The Heiligenstadt Testament,” a long monologue of the dying Beethoven. The book ends with two translations from Catullus and a retelling of the Philomela myth.
As in previous collections by this Pulitzer Prize winner, many of these poems are dramatic monologues on artists and writers. Howard proves himself a master of these ingenious impersonations, though it is necessary to have some familiarity with their lives and work to appreciate the allusions in the vignettes. Among the figures explored in this volume are Auden, Crane, Jarrell, Browning, Proust, Cornell, and Magritte. A prolific translator and critic as well, Howard has been aptly called a “literary archeologist of scholarship;” his poems seem both researched and personal, the academic enlivened by comic and perceptive twists. The language throughout is witty and animated. Howard’s method attempts to portray, as he says in “Again for Hephaistos,” “not a world of emotion. . . . but the emotion of a world.” The only weakness of the book is that historical details sometimes narrow the accessibility of the poems.
The editor of this collection has written one of the most important books on Russian formalism, and this selection of 20th-century Russian literary criticism was eagerly awaited. It is, therefore, disappointing to report that the selections are often abridged, that the choice is often questionable, and that the omission of any theoretical articles gives a very limited view of literary criticism. None of the work of the cultural semiologists led by Juri Lotman is included, although a brief mention is made of this group as “neostructuralists.” The publication of previously untranslated essays by such critics as Eikhenbaum, Aldanov, and Ginzburg is valuable for those interested in Russian criticism. But the possibility of appealing to a broader audience has been overlooked.
This critical edition is already beginning to elicit gasps of astonished admiration and screams of outrage from students of the poem. Both responses are justified. The edition is an extraordinary feat of patience, intelligence, and industry: two men have done the work of an academy. Nevertheless, there are warts and blemishes, some more than skin deep. Kane and Donaldson argue that the common exemplar behind all of the surviving manuscripts of the B text was itself remarkably corrupt, and as they set out to edit a poem and not a text, they resort to comparison with the other versions, to knowledge of the tendencies to scribal error, to alliterative regularity, and to conjecture. Some emendations are clearly happy, others almost equally clearly infelicitous. And without critical notes the reader cannot always be sure what reasoning prompted the editors to choose one reading over another. However, the brilliantly argued introduction largely justifies their method, and if they succeed in nothing beyond alerting literary critics to the necessity of becoming textual critics, at least in medieval texts surviving in multiple manuscripts, the edition will be a landmark.
This handsomely printed and intelligently illustrated little book was not written for publication in this form. The distinguished British historian died before the study was completed, and M. M. Postan has performed an act of pietas in collecting these lectures, rewriting as necessary, and providing notes and bibliography. The chapters were originally lectures written for popular audiences, and though learned, witty, and informative, they do not offer the coherent and developed statement implied by the title.
At the turn of the century, women writers consciously set out to shatter the prevailing stereotypes of females in literature. Dorothy Richardson first introduced the stream-of-consciousness technique into British fiction, and other women authors adapted the style to portray the complexities of the female psyche. Sydney Kaplan is to be commended for her discussion of such little-known writers as Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair, and Rosamond Lehman as well as for her treatment of Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing. Kaplan’s work traces the development of feminine consciousness in literature through the 20th century. The emergent woman is tormented by the conflict between traditional female behavior and the new roles implemented by political and social change. Minds alter more quickly than emotions. Women believe in an egalitarian society, but they seem to be haunted by residual ghosts that are slow to depart from the collective mind.
In The American Eve, Ernest Earnest reminds us that fiction is not fact; nor is it necessarily an accurate index of social reality. Most American novelists were so fascinated by the myth of the “womanly woman” that they persistently actualized the ideal in fiction. The 19th-century “sentimental” heroine was helpless, vapid, and humorless. Memoirs, diaries, and biographies all suggest that her historical sister exhibited incredible stamina and vivacity. When contrasted with fictional heroines, “the real girls and women were earthier, more physically active, much better read, and far wittier—in other words, more interesting as human beings.” Fiction “saw through a glass darkly” and ignored the activities of women crusaders, suffragists, reformers, and abolitionists.
Green investigates the effects of World War I on the intellegentsia of England, particularly writers. He divides the reactors against the paternal, adult world which produced the Great War into three types: the dandy, the na?f, and the rogue, each emulating a different aspect of adolescence. He follows the growth of the movement and traces its decline in the hard realities of World War II and the period following. Green has written a fascinating book for anyone with an interest in the times, even if one does not agree with all his judgments, both personal and critical.
Eight essays, preceded by an introduction and followed by “An Essay in Bibliography,” help to bring Ellen Glasgow up from the dull depths of the patronizing to which she has unfortunately been subjected. The essays, written by men and women of letters who appreciate the accomplishment of Virginia’s finest novelist, deal with the woman, the novels, and the ideas, and do partial if not complete justice to all. The descriptive essay in bibliography can be especially recommended.
With this book, the critical fog which has for so long obscured the landscape of Restoration drama shows some signs of lifting. Mr. Hume provides an account of the English drama from 1660 to 1710 that possesses critical sophistication (which earlier surveys generally lack) and completeness (more than 500 plays are covered). The first section divides the plays of the period into two groups—”comic” and “serious”—and describes several types within each group. The second section is a. chronological discussion of the plays. In the past, students of this drama have been willing to make generalizations based on a very small number of plays, some of which are unrepresentative. Many of the false impressions created by such a narrow approach are successfully challenged and corrected by Mr. Hume’s careful analysis. Though not without flaws (the author’s own generalizations, because they attempt to account for so many factors, at times lack focus), this work raises our understanding of a crucial period in English drama to a new level and establishes a solid foundation upon which later commentators can build.
A substantial number of Yd plays have now appeared in European languages; in English, the translations by Liu Jung-en and Cyril Birch are easily available in paperback. Few people realize that the number of Yuan plays, 171 in all, is some four times the total number of classical Greek dramas. It constitutes a corpus to the study of which Professor Shih has devoted this impressive volume. It is definitely not for the general reader but stands as an invaluable aid for those whose interest in Chinese literary history and comparative dramatic traditions needs supplementation by an expert.
Kissinger tapped, St. Clair hedged, Garment and Buzhardt plotted, Nixon wept. These were the final days of the Nixon presidency—days filled with the likes of Baruch Korff, Rose Mary Woods, Bebe Rebozo, Father John McLaughlin, Alexander Haig, and Ron Ziegler. Years from now people will wonder where these individuals came from and how they became involved in the running of a superpower. Today we remember all too well. The Final Days is first-rate journalism: a detailed portrait of the government as we wish never to see it again.
Blackmer and Tarrow have edited a collection of papers presented at an October 1972 conference by a group of specialists in European and Communist affairs. The result is a remarkably coherent and informative analysis of the development of the Italian and French Communist Parties, their electoral strategies, and involvement at various levels of government. The focus of the study appears to be the attempt of these parties to adapt to democratic political systems while retaining adherence to the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism—in effect, to avoid becoming social democrats. The conclusions seem ambiguous at best, indicating that the “democratization” of these parties may depend less on their electoral activity and political creativity than on the basic strengths of the constitutional systems and non-Communist parties within France and Italy.
Although Kaiser’s book is weak on the political, economic, and military power of Russia, his study is an engaging and fresh account of the character of the Russian people. The daily life of Soviet Russia’s subjects from peasant to bureaucrat to intellectual is neatly drawn in a masterpiece of journalistic reporting. Kaiser is strongest as an observer and narrative writer. His attempt to draw political conclusions, however, strikes the reader as shallow, as do his hints at policy recommendations. Nonetheless, his study is a fascinating and objective guide to Soviet society.
In this provocative, passionate, broad-gauged, and, at times thoroughly wrong-headed essay, Henry Fairlie reasserts the “American Idea” and decries what he sees as tendencies to betray it. In brief, the “Idea” entails the supremacy of reason and rational discourse, of consent and experimentation, of individualism and equality. He is an unabashed admirer of Jefferson and the American enlightenment and an unrelenting critic of contemporary counterrevolution, whether it emanates from conservative or liberal “Bourbons” who would fix men’s station or freeze the American experiment. In the course of his polemic, he flits over the landscape of Western thought from Augustine to Rousseau to Nietzsche to Irving Kristol and Daniel Moynihan—and in the process engages in breath-taking simplifications and distortions. Nonetheless, the basic theme is worthy of thoughtful consideration in this Bicentennial season.
J. Anthony Lukas has written what is to date the most complete account of the covert intelligence and “dirty tricks” campaigns which culminated in the Watergate affair. The book does not constitute a thorough analysis of the whole political complex of the Nixon administration. It concentrates single-mindedly, as the subtitle indicates, on the dark side of the Nixon government. As a result, it provides a clear-cut and powerful indictment. In terms of more general interpretation, however, it is clearly weaker both in insights and style to Theodore White’s Breach of Faith. Nonetheless, the Lukas study does constitute a work of impressive research, comprehensiveness, and narrative skill.
Professor Liska of Johns Hopkins University has presented in this study one of the most creative and provocative studies of the diplomacy of Henry Kissinger yet devised. He compares the Secretary of State’s conceptions and policies to what Liska sees as three modal-types—the diplomacies of Kaunitz, First Minister of Maria Theresa, Metternich, and Bismarck, These ministers perceived their countries as dealing from different positions of strength which in turn governed the way in which they evaluated friend and foe and alternative alliance possibilities. Although Kissinger would reject many of Liska’s judgments, he would undoubtedly admire his historical approach. However, the problem with the study is the same as with most of the learned professor’s analyses. While at times providing useful insights, the author, it appears, deliberately attempts to enhance the sense of profundity concerning his commentary by unnecessary abstraction and obfuscation. Indeed, Liska must rank among the greatest enemies of clear English exposition in the field of political science—no mean accomplishment.
Mr. Hull’s book is probably the only thorough analytic study of the Irish conflict. He examines the historical, political, socio-economic background of the problem and then brings to bear the legal questions bearing on the subject. Most interestingly, he analyzes the international dimensions of the conflict and their implication for settlement. Although his general analysis is impressive, his proposals for an international peacekeeping force and school integration seem both unlikely and inadequate to resolve the myriad of difficulties.
Essentially an apology for North Vietnamese policy and a relentless attack on the motives and methods of the United States, the book argues that the United States caused the war in Vietnam and was at all times the obstacle to peace. Mr. Porter has proved selective in his choice of data and imbued with ideological fervor and righteous indignation. He simply ignores the complex and difficult issues raised in such expanded studies as the four-volume work, The Vietnam War and International Law, and seeks not to understand or present the perspective or problems of the American principals. As a result, his fervor and lack of objectivity destroy the credibility of the case he attempts to make. A balanced appraisal of the end of the Vietnamese conflict remains to be written.
This is an intelligent, though theoretical, book which describes the relationship between the president and the White House press corps and is written by a representative of the latter. Herbers, who reported from the White House for the New York Times during the second Nixon term and the first months of Ford’s tenure, is highly critical of the whole manner of reporting of presidential activity. He details the growth of chief executive press-agentry, the excessive attention to form rather than substance, and the reportorial habits—such as deference and deadline-racing—which tend to magnify such problems. The book is flawed in its lack of a scheme within which the exposed problems can be placed; thus no reforms are suggested, and the book concludes with a pessimistic appraisal of the future. Nevertheless, this provides a useful counter to the recent glamorization of the role of the reporter in the wake of Watergate.
Strangely enough, the most convincing and interesting character in Miss Walker’s novel about a young black woman coming to consciousness is not Meridian, the central character, but a minor character—a white woman who marries a black man and who lives with him in the South— whose anguish transcends any mere black-white problem.
The novel is about people who exploit and who are exploited, and the efforts some of the characters undertake to change the balance. Structurally, Miss Walker is indebted to Faulkner, but unfortunately she is also indebted to melodrama: scenes which start out convincingly deteriorate when the situation is over-developed or when contrivances are added on. (Consider, for example, the enigmatic “Wile Chile” who has no home, feeds off garbage, becomes pregnant, and is captured and bathed by Meridian, and who later flees, to be killed immediately by a car.)
There is some good writing (often in the shortest, most succinct dramatic sections, which suggests that Miss Walker might be more comfortable with writing stories, as she also does), and the author obviously understands and feels strongly about her subject. Her mistake is in beating the reader over the head, when, with the evidence she amasses, we would have been knocked over with a blade of grass.
This flawless novel is a character study of a mother (a New York lawyer, bright, dedicated, not-so-bright, the value of her dedication at times questionable) and her daughter Renata, whose drifting leads her back to her mother, to what she despises and relies on. She brings with her a baby daughter, one of the most convincing children in contemporary fiction.
Just as the baby cleverly plays one woman against the other, the author divides the novel into sections turned over to mother and daughter. The volleying effect works brilliantly: as soon as we understand one, the next steps in and slightly adds to or tempers our perceptions. The characters are convincing and complex, and relentless in analyzing themselves and each other. At the end of the novel, at a picnic at Torora State Park, scene of the disaster to come, Gerda, Renata’s mother, asks, “Must one climb to see these waterfalls, Renata?” Her daughter’s response is that “One . . . lowers oneself inch by inch.” It is a perfect, subtle statement of their differences: one believes in achieving by rising, the other that one must lower oneself to understand. But what each understands comes apart, and the sense of desperation and of irrevocable loss at the end is both brilliant and numbing.
Not until the end of this novel does the author reveal that the story he has presented is one that has been passed down through generations of his own family. The clues to this, however, are found throughout the book in its faithfulness to detail and believability of characterization. This is a novel of the Tennessee frontier both before and during the Civil War. It is, in every sense of the term, an epic novel— grand in scope, manner, and belief in itself. Ford writes in sentences which emphasize nuance and emotion, though not at the expense of action and excitement. In lesser hands, this kind of material might turn to pulp. Ford brings it alive.
As has already been noted, all happy families are alike. All ordinary ones are not: some have extraordinary things happen in them. The extraordinary events here include the death of one son and the attempted suicide of the other. The focus is on 17-year-old Conrad, who struggles to understand himself, which necessitates coming to terms with his brother’s death.
It is not a very good novel. At times the dialogue is unconvincing; it is almost always trite; one senses, always, the sun ready to shine through the storm. The best writing concerns Conrad’s mother, who damns others as she damns herself. There are painful scenes, very convincingly done, between husband and wife over the way to handle their son. He, alas, remains too much the stereotyped troubled adolescent for us to pay too much attention to. With everyone else trying so hard to help and understand, the reader guiltlessly dissociates himself.
Is Robert Young looking for a new TV series?
From all indications this is a semi-auto-biographical novel depicting the life of a South Carolina girl (Miss Howar actually is a Raleigh product) caught up in the Washington whirl of Kennedys, LBJ, TV, divorce, affairs, and the strain of “normal” day-to-day living . . .sort of a high class Mary Hartman making her own way as best she can, aided by Scotch, an acid tongue, and considerable brass. Making Ends Meet is adequately readable and occasionally witty, especially in the opening sequences. But therein lies the problem. It is a veritable bouquet of sequences, vignettes, and episodes interlaced with so much flashback material that the reader becomes hopelessly confused and begins to thumb his way through the final pages, not in a race to get to the end so much as to be certain that an end exists. Once there he discovers that Lilly Shawcross, the heroine—or at least the central character— has just pulled the kitchen clock from the wall and flung it into the trash preparatory to a night on the town with her two pre-teen youngsters. Since Lilly has displayed no sense of time in the previous 367 pages, it is most unlikely that this passionate act (presumably brimming with symbolism of some sort) will inconvenience her in any sequel which might be forthcoming.
It is a measure of our civilization, or the lack of it, that the novel has replaced the blood feud. Cross a Washington bureaucrat, and off he or she goes to write the story of the sordid mess our government is supposed to be. John Ehrlichman has it in for everybody from Kennedy to Nixon to Hoover to Helms to . . .everbody. His “fiction” is so transparent as to be embarrassing, and to make matters worse he really does not know how to write the King’s English. In short, this is a petty, vindictive piece of drivel that may help pay the author’s legal bills. It is too bad he did not continue instead with that civics lecture he began on television a couple of years ago.
George Feifer’s hero drinks and womanizes (to put the kindest possible interpretation on his actions) his way through Moscow, and his creator tries to convince us that, in so doing, he has found that elusive entity, the “soul” of Mother Russia, that certain elusive “Russianness” that many remark and none explain. It just is not so. This alcoholic and sexual romp through an alien culture is mildly diverting, like Feifer’s earlier The Girl from Petrovka, but for all its “Russianness” it might have been set in Galveston.
This is the story of Ben Flesh, Elkin’s symbol for all that is wrong with the United States. Flesh spends all of his time driving from city to city checking up on his business investments in hamburgers, income tax advice, overnight accommodations, one-hour dance lessons, and one-day dry cleaning. If this is Tuesday, it must be Colonel Sanders Fried Chicken. Sound interesting? Of course not. The book may be a bomb, but it’s a bomb with class: even the jacket blurb is boring.
Readers who have attempted to decipher Nabokov’s recent works can attest that the author’s best writing was done long ago. Many of his earlier pieces, especially the novels, have a controlled sentimental cast that was—and is—affecting in a particularly original way. The 13 stories of this collection stem from that early period, yet have only recently been translated by the author. While it is problematic that the translation is an accurate reflection of the style and substance of that early period, one might guess that it is not. The gushing emotions and banal plots are a bit too familiar to support a guess to the contrary.
The author of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has “discovered” another of Dr. Watson’s manuscripts. This one concerns murder in London’s West End theatre district in the year 1895. Holmes is asked by his friend Bernard Shaw to investigate the death of a prominent drama critic, and he and Watson become involved in a sequence of events that leads to another murder and the macabre death of the murderer. A great deal of ingenuity has gone into assigning the motive for the crimes, but much of the plot is overly contrived: for example, the assaults on Holmes, Watson, and Shaw and the long conversation Holmes has with the culprit at the end. Mr. Meyer’s attempts to portray several of the leading literary and theatrical figures of the day (Ellen Terry, Oscar Wilde, Gilbert and Sullivan), though interesting, are decidedly amateurish.
The strength of this first novel (Conroy’s earlier best-seller, The Water is Wide, is non-fiction) is its realism. The dialogue, anecdotes, and family atmosphere are pure Marine and probably autobiographical. At the heart of the book is the search of the 18-year-old son to find himself while learning to understand and love his rigidly authoritarian Marine father, the “great Santini.” A good novel and enjoyable reading, though the descriptive writing is somewhat juvenile. As usual, when one reads a first novel so heavily autobiographical, one wonders if the author has exhausted his experiences and if a second novel will be inferior.
He who has read only Lolita has seen but the emerald edge of a vast, lush continent. One of the living wonders of Nabokov’s Nova Zembla is this huge scholarly miracle in four volumes, as entertaining as Rabelais, as dependable as the O.E.D., and more important for Russo-American relations than the SALT talks. For what Nabokov has done is to throw a bridge between Russian and American culture, a bridge built out of his all-informative commentary and agonizingly honest translation.
Zoe’s Book is a breathless, literary puzzle whose surprises are easily anticipated by the reader. Its anti-syntactical method of writing compounds its disastrous effect, while its plot, involved though it is, is not strong enough to redeem it.
With this book, Solzhenitsyn begins an account of his projected multi-volumed study of Russian revolutionary history by examining a critical period, 1914—1917, in the development of its central character— Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Lenin emerges not as the superhuman hero of the Bolshevik revolution but as a man beset by doubts and disillusionments. This latest book by the Nobel Prize winner is less pontifical in tone than earlier works and, ironically, more novel-like in character than some of his novels. The impact, however, is much the same—a growing awareness of the incredible banality which underlies great— and monstrous—events.
Mr. Holzer, a professional ghost hunter, describes his pursuit of the spirits of 1776. Obviously they are sick of being hounded and exploited in this Bicentennial year, for they provide Holzer with an incredible amount of misinformation. Of course, after 200 years their memories just may be faulty.
A passionate plea for a re-examination of our utilization of the sea and its resources, The Drama of the Oceans is less about the sea itself than about the multifaceted inter-relationship of men and oceans and of the political and social changes that must occur if both man and ocean are to survive. Borgese’s impressionistic prose is aptly fluid and dramatic, but the writing is often overwrought with metaphors and seems self-consciously pretentious. The many photographs are uneven in imagery and quality of reproduction—from the finest aquarelles to scenes that have the sentimental look of greeting card art.
When one begins to read a text by an especially good writer, one’s pleasure is doubled for, in addition to gaining whatever the value of the book may be, one also gains the splendid experience of the author’s unique style. So it is with Travels, a series of essays which range from the travels of others to a present-day examination of Hong Kong. Rather than giving a list of facts, as in a guide book, Miss Morris gives the essence of a place or a journey and, as with all well-furnished minds, a newly polished image emerges.
A practical guide designed to instruct the amateur and refresh the professional in the mechanics of film-making. Included are chapters on scripting, lighting, sound, editing, and the use of cameras, lenses, and special effects. It is difficult to recall a similar volume that covers as much technical ground in so intelligent and readable a manner.
Volume I of Mr. Cork’s major two-volume work traces the background and pre-World War I activity of Vorticism which introduced the English public to the modern development of a native abstract art. The wealth of previously unpublished documentation complemented by superb and copious large-format illustrations brings into focus a seminal art movement hitherto neglected by modern scholarship. Wyndham Lewis, who coins the term Vorticism as well as founds the movement’s periodical, Blast, quite properly dominates the book. An analytical examination of the role played by Ezra Pound, the exhibition of Cubist and Futurist works in London, student unrest at the Slade, dissension at the Omega Workshops, and the identification of a rebel group of artists by 1913 set the stage for artistic revolt which reaches a climax in 1914 with Blast’s publication, of the Vorticist manifesto. A discussion of Jacob Epstein and chapters on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, T. E. Hulme and David Bomberg, Filippo Marinetti and Christopher Nevinson are especially illuminating. Mr. Cork’s text is clear and straightforward. His masterful organization of the material allows it to speak for itself, frequently providing witty entertainment. Volume II, subtitled Synthesis and Decline, examines the triumph of Vorticism under the cloud of World War I, the devastating aftermath of which causes the movement’s premature demise.