Focusing on the twin areas of cancer and TB, this provocative essay explores cultural attitudes toward disease and the use of illness as a social referent. Illness as Metaphor, however, is more than an exercise in literary and cultural criticism. It is an intellectual cry of pain and an act of exorcism by the author who protests against the internalizing and psychologizing of cancer. Images like, “Cancer is a demonic pregnancy,” are riveting. This emotional force and Sontag’s creative insights more than make up for the looseness of some of the arguments. Short enough to be read in one sitting, this is a book you will not want to put down.
Sensitive equally to shades of morality and passion, Cockshut’s brief discussions of the novel from Richardson to Djuna Barnes testify to the truest mark of a great critic: the ability to see clearly important matters that most readers, even most second readers, either miss or dismiss. Cockshut’s first chapter contains a fine account, drawn from a few telling incidents in the novel, of what is wrong with the morality of Tom Jones; his last two chapters manage some of the best literary criticism of novels on homosexual themes to date. At once familiar and new, Cockshut’s many insights please the more for the keen elegance with which all are expressed.
In his magnificent Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow derides Koestler as a “purveyor” of Big Ideas. Indeed, Koestler seems to have a new big idea ready for each new book, something that can make a big impact in a short review. The big idea in this book, which is a kind of compendium of Koestlerian speculation, is that all mental and physical existence may be composed of Janus-faced “holons,” structures which relate us to both individual and collective reality. Fine.
Javitch traces the rise and decline, 1580-1600, of the idea of courtliness in manners and in poetry; he explains how, when the methods of the courtier became suspect, the mantle of arbiter of manners and morals passed from courtier to poet. His most original discussion is a comparison of the conduct taught in Castiglione’s Courtier to the poetic stances and devices recommended in Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie. Although Javitch is too ready to extend to the verse of all periods the kinds of indirection, irony, and dissimulation typical of his courtly poets, his study opens an important new route to the understanding of Renaissance rhetoric and poetics.
It was a good idea to collect Eudora Welty’s nonfictional writings: her comments on specific writers, like Katherine Anne Porter and Willa Gather, her reviews (a mixed lot), some personal pieces, and her critical essays on writing fiction. It was not a good idea to let her tinker with those essays, cutting out and switching about at will.”Place in Fiction” does not suffer too much: only five paragraphs were omitted. But some of the others have been spoiled, although presumably Miss Welty thought that she was improving her work.”Looking at Short Stories” is not as good as the original essay on “Short Stories”; “Writing and Analyzing a Story” cannot compare with the earlier “How I Write.”
In this first of a two-part study of Virginia Woolf’s life and work, Jean O. Love “develop[s] the history of her family as milieu and context of her early years and her history until she was about twenty-five.” One of Dr. Love’s theses and her main conclusion is that Virginia Woolf’s “madness and her art emerged from common ground, and although they were complexly interrelated, neither gave rise to the other.” In the second part, she hopes to show how Virginia Woolf “realized those [paradoxical] tendencies [of her personality] and lived out the paradox as long as she was able to convince herself to live at all.” If the second part measures up to the first, it will be worth waiting for.
Hart is the finest literary critic to join the ranks of those who recently have begun to reexamine the Scots contribution to British literature. His history is built rather around readings of particular novels and novelistic currents (Gothicism and the Blackwood’s writers; the Kailyard school) than on social history, of which more would have been very helpful; and though his discussions persistently assume previous familiarity with a broad range of materials, The Scottish Novel contains the best available readings of many texts both famous and unfamiliar. The sections on Smollett and Sir Walter Scott (a reversal of Hart’s position in his earlier study of Scott’s Novels) are both important contributions to their fields.
Despite the mention in this book’s title of “transformations,” Prescott traces only what was said by English poets great and small about Marot, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Desportes, and Du Bartas. She traces reputations in the manner of a kind of scholarship once common (one thinks of Columbia dissertations of the 1930’s) and now happily quite rare. Prescott’s topic is potentially a fruitful one; her treatment of it, however, is pedestrian and her book dull.
Geoffrey Tillotson’s death in 1969 extinguished, among other projects, a volume on the Victorians for the Oxford History of English Literature. His wife Kathleen here publishes eight nearly finished essays on individual authors, as well as an introductory essay on “Earnestness” and a brief appendix on Thackeray’s Esmond. To give the volume unity, she omits finished essays which we may hope are published elsewhere soon, such as a chapter on Victorian travel literature. Even in its present form, however, Tillotson’s book is just what his readers have learned to expect: it is persistently insightful and an unalloyed pleasure to read.
Those of us who have been waiting for Professor Wasiolek to follow his splendid Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction with a similar study of Tolstoy are now rewarded for our patience. His readings of the works are always thorough and fresh, not relying on accepted views. I particularly enjoyed his treatment of the famous epigraph to Anna Karenina and its significance for the novel’s total meaning and also his lucid exploration of Tolstoy’s theories on free will and determinism in history and human behavior. Wasiolek’s book will be enjoyed by neophyte and specialist alike. Although he wears his erudition lightly, his book is fully annotated and has a valuable bibliography. Beautifully written.
It is no criticism of Colby to say that he has always been too honest for his own—-and perhaps the country’s—good. We know him today as the former embattled head of the CIA, who defended the agency before congressional committees and the press, admitted some unsavory past episodes, and promised that there would be none such in the future. It was a sad show; when Colby was relieved by President Ford, even his enemies must have been glad to see him get a breather. Colby carries on his defense in this lucid, entertaining, and ultimately shallow book. We learn a very great deal about Colby himself, from his family background through his World War II years in OSS and on into the CIA. But we learn nothing whatsoever about the CIA, and that is a pity, Colby recognizes that intelligence services in democracies have special constraints and limitations; philosophically he accepts them, but on a practical level it is clear that he—like his predecessor Helms—resents them bitterly. Because this is his position, the level of discussion is not elevated by the publication of his autobiography.
To anyone even remotely interested in television news as a crucible of personalities, values, and historical forces, Air Time is required reading. A former CBS-TV news writer with special access to documents and key figures of the crucial post-Kennedy years, Gary Paul Gates delivers neither a puff nor a putdown. The vision and craftsmanship of the reporters, the writers, and even the executives are never discounted; but neither are their mercenary retreats from excellence or the journalistic effects of their infighting, gamesmanship, and monumental egotism.
Because it provides an invaluable supplement and corrective to Fred W. Friendly’s Due to Circumstances Beyond our Control, this highly readable account is destined to nettle media critics as well as apologists, left and right. But this is negligible when compared with the solid grounds Gates offers for partial skepticism (and sympathy) toward those who fashion our nightly image of the less immediate world.
Some commentaries on politics are breezy and fresh; this one is windy and full of recycled viewpoints. The Republicans come off badly, but the Democrats are not covered with garlands. The Democratic party—”a giant whose legs were sawn off at the knees”—is mainly lauded for having produced FDR. The first Roosevelt is a hero of sorts, but looking back “to Theodore Roosevelt is a backward glance over a century in which the Republican party even now does not feel at home.”
In a remarkably short time, George Will’s twice weekly column for the Washington Post has become a solid example of American conservative opinion. Armed with an incisive command of the language and bolstered by a sound training in political philosophy, Will is able to cut through the obfuscating fog of modernity’s self-bewilderment and reach to the heart of contemporary issues. In this collection, at once exhilarating and sobering, we have access to the essential George F. Will. In essays that range from an insightful treatment of the “closet” politics of Miami’s homosexual movement, to a scathing indictment of the public excuses offered by our government officials in behalf of the looters who ran wild during New York’s blackout, to a moving and very personal remembrance of the author’s father, the reader is given ample reason to support George Will’s ascension as our most articulate public philosopher. To say he is but a new Walter Lippman simply does not do him justice. If Alexis de Tocqueville was right in observing that newspapers are essential to “maintain civilization,” it just may be that America’s best hope flows from the pen of George F. Will.
John Stremlau’s study of the internationalization of the Biafran War constitutes not only a thorough and balanced analysis of the origins, course, and diplomacy of that conflict but a major contribution to African studies generally. He elucidates the conditions from which internal conflicts arise and the temptations and problems of foreign intervention. He analyzes both the growth of Biafra’s foreign linkages and the manner in which it ultimately became isolated as support for Nigeria grew. He surveys the attempts to limit the scope of the conflict and the diplomatic maneuvers attending Biafra’s defeat in January 1970.The author benefited from extensive interviews on both sides of the conflict and from access to important confidential records. An excellent piece of scholarship.
Rothstein’s latest book—again strong on analysis and conclusions if weak on substantial cases—raises provocative questions on the plight of the developing states. He asserts that the difficulties of these states arise from the interaction of forces and assumptions within the developing states and the demands and challenges of the external political-economic environment. He argues that changes in one realm—domestic or external—would be insufficient to resolve the problems of these states, and indeed that action in one realm without parallel changes in the other is probably injurious. The challenge for the advanced industrial states is the construction of an international political-economic order to meet the development needs of these dependent states. Unless these states can engineer important changes within, however, there will be few, if any, gains and most likely further distortions in their political, economic, and social systems. An interesting set of hypotheses which hopefully will provoke concrete case studies.
An examination of three putative exponents of political realism—George Kennan, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hans Morgenthau. Oddly, the book never really comes to terms with the very notion of political realism and the justification—or usefulness—of individually or comparatively analyzing these diverse individuals under this rubric. Moreover, it is not always clear that the author has in fact grappled with the entire corpus of these individuals’ principal works, and he ignores classic studies by R. Osgood and K. Thompson on the same subject. In effect, he offers some useful insights on all three but fails to provide a coherent analysis either of their work or of the general notion of realism.
Professor Yanarella’s book on anti-ballistic missile system development is, as his subtitle indicates, a study of the inter-relationship of three factors—strategic thought, technological innovations, and partisan and bureaucratic politics. As an essay on the complexity of defense decision-making, Yanarella’s study is a useful contribution, but the very narrowness of his focus overweighs the American side of the strategic equation and oddly depoliticizes the Soviet-American contest. As in much recent literature, foreign policy objectives are submerged in the dynamics of technology and political process. The evidence suggests a more complicated reality.
Rostow has written a competent, occasionally interesting, survey of the economic agenda facing the U. S.and other non-Communist states. His thesis is that the seemingly unique problems of the last quarter of the 20th century are caused by the upswing of the fifth Kondratieff cycle, a cycle in the relative prices of raw materials and manufactures. The author criticizes neo-Keynesian analyses based on aggregate demand and favors sectoral planning on the West European model. To the citizen who has been following economic news and commentary, however, Getting from Here to There will add too few new insights. Rostow’s points are often economic truisms or pious recommendations. For those new to the area, it is a clearly presented and well-documented work.
According to the propagandists, crime does not and cannot exist in the Soviet Union because it is strictly a capitalist phenomenon. According to Soviet criminologists (now where did they come from?), the Communists would do well to take strong measures to get the crooks off the streets. If this sounds confusing, it really is not; we are aware that workers in the “worker’s paradise” cannot always buy even the bare necessities of life, and we should be aware of the fact that a holdup or a rape in Moscow differs not at all from similar events in New York. Soviet insiders, not to mention the police, know that there is a serious crime problem, and
Mr. Solomon shows us in this important and lucid book what Soviet criminologists have been trying to do about the problem since the death of Stalin.
Joy Williams, in her second novel, descends from the best of recent innovators in fiction. Like Cortázar and Márquez, she has a surrealistic intensity matched by an admirable control of word and metaphor. Like Pynchon, she keeps us guessing: does Pearl suffer a nervous breakdown or is she the straight woman in a psychotic universe? Williams lapses into experimental form only in the last two, unpunctuated, chapters, certainly the weakest. The jacket blurbs praise her “poetic grace” and “literary craftmanship” undeservedly. But the ferocity of Williams’s imagination makes the choppiness of her sentences beside the point. An inverse odyssey of a 20th-century feminine sensibility—our simpleton heroine ends a depraved alcoholic—the witty and horrifying Changeling establishes Williams as a major contemporary novelist.
This is the hilarious and swashbuckling odyssey of a lecherous 19th-century wheeler-dealer art collector, who buys opium in India which he barters for porcelain in China for eventual resale at great profit to the nobility in London. If he were not a macho young Dutchman named Carolus Van Cleef, you would swear that he was Tom Jones with a foreign accent. In any event, you will roar at the wild escapades on each and every page unless you are repelled by his sexism and rejoice in his ultimate comeuppance as he is shanghaied on the last page.
This is the translation of a 1958 novel in which the Peruvian anthropologist and writer draws on his own childhood for a story of cultural conflict. Ernesto, the 14-year-old narrator, is raised by Indians but must enter the white world to attend school. Unable to conform, he allies himself with the villagers and peasants in their struggle against a repressive feudal society. Yet Arguedas is dramatic rather than dogmatic in his portrayal of social forces, and his use of Quechua songs and his vivid descriptions of landscape and wildlife give the novel charm and power. Notable is his evocation of Ernesto’s magical perception of things, the “deep river” of Indian consciousness that underlies the whole novel.
The stories in this first collection by Nelson, winner of the Emily Clark Balch Prize in 1975, are hard to fault. They are seamless, artful, polished. The characters and situations are relentlessly postmodern, fragmented, indeterminate. The language is beautifully modulated and capable of both irony and understatement. But the very seamlessness of their surfaces is what betrays them as stories. They seem primarily mechanical constructions with the life drained out of them. In trying to convey the nothingness of being (often the plight to which the postmodern author straps his characters, and Nelson is no exception), this capable stylist leaves himself little space for the intrusion of even the possibility of anything else. The stories go on ticking off their little triumphs of loss coldly, pristinely.
Unlike Korea, Vietnam has spawned a spate of books about the life of an American Grunt in the Orient. This story is much better than most which have been published to date, since the author suffered through the hostilities and brings a sad note of reality to his tale. But the definitive great novel about our tragic involvement in Southeast Asia is yet to be written.
This novel has as its protagonist the man-eating wolf, Courtaud, who terrorized the people of Paris and its environs toward the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Working from medieval sources and from his own vast knowledge of wild life, D. P. Mannix has reconstructed Courtaud’s career in a book that is both a manual on wolves and, on a broader scale, a good historical novel. The book presents an unusual view of the suffering and destruction caused by one of the worst conflicts in European history.
In this painful inflationary age, there remains one bargain, and that is the written word. This superb anthology of short stories by a current master (mistress?) of the genre is a good example. At the rate of 50 cents per item, you could have an enjoyable experience from this new collection for every day of the month and still have a few left over for leap year.
This is the fifth and thankfully last volume of the soggy saga of a dull British family which colonized Jamaica. It leaves the reader with no wish whatsoever to read the predecessor stories unless, perhaps, to check to see whether this series was not improperly omitted from the publisher’s juvenile list.
Victorian England. A man is poisoned. Miriam Cromer confesses to the crime and is condemned to hang, but she remains astoundingly and inexplicably calm during sentencing and in her cell. A few days before her scheduled execution, a photograph is sent to the Home Office that throws doubt on her guilt. Detective Sargeant Cribb is charged with investigating the evidence in the photograph. Expertly leading the reader and Sargeant Cribb up one garden path and down another, Peter Lovesey in Waxwork finally ties up the loose ends in a neat and clever package in the final pages. An excellent detective novel that will appeal to everyone.
Stranger’s Forest, Pamela Hill’s latest novel, is cast in the same mold as her earlier works. Without truly capturing the spirit of the historical period in which she has set Stranger’s Forest, she exploits certain titillating elements of the 18th century, in this case, child marriage. Combining this with rape, miscegnation, abortion, even syphilis, she has written an implausible, boring book.
A worthy 58th volume of a distinguished series featuring some of the acknowledged great ones such as Joyce Carol Oates and Woody Allen as well as introducing some future stars in the 18 best short stories of the year, culled from all the leading literary journals in Canada and the United States. Once again modern Americans are proven to be without peers in this writing medium.
It was only a question of time before some one would write a successful novel about the first Jew to be elected President. The only surprising note about this highly entertaining presentation of this theme is that the author is a distinguished cardiologist and not a professional writer. Hopefully his medical careeer will not impede his sharing his lively literary talent -with us again in the near future.
A Woman of Independent Means reads like the flip-side of Pamela. Hailey’s recent novel is, however, the flip-side that nobody plays. Had Richardson’s imagination not been sparked by the model letters he wrote for young ladies, he might have written a novel as flat and foolish as this. The heroine, Bess Steed Garner, is intended, it seems, as a prototypical liberated woman with a flair for life. But her specious freedom is a historical cliche. How admirable to invite one’s colored maid to the Shakespeare Society—she must, of course, sit in the, back and prepare refreshments. Or to toast one’s husband with champagne—at his funeral. Bess enjoys driving her automobile in 1917, being one of the first female voters in 1920, and writing a condolence letter to Jackie O.in 1963.Our social-climbing heroine is the sole narrator of this plodding, plotless epistolary epic. There are hints that the unscrupulous, materialistic, and manipulative lady is despised by all who know her, yet, Hailey is so clumsy a writer that this possibility for drama is never more than a suspicion, apparently not intended by the author. Somehow I doubt a Clarissa will follow.
The title of this novel is also the setting of an intricate and suspenseful tale which plays itself across the lives of a number of characters. A class reunion, hosted by the evil owner of Wintermute, attracts and yet repels everyone involved. Brookhouse offers a tantalizing blend of narcotics, sex, physical deformity, and murder which absorbs the reader to the end. In places, however, the literary artifices are too transparent and the shifts in tenses not very well crafted. Wintermute is well worth the time it takes to read, if not the price.
The author was disappointed that foreign readers raved about his novel but missed the symbolic fantasy of the decay and decline of European culture as seen through the eyes of the French Ambassador to Italy. So in this version for an American audience, which he translated into English himself for protection, he adds an explanatory introduction so that we will fully understand and appreciate his theme. Interesting, if not insulting, but still no dice.
This is a competently plotted and crisply written crime novel, a police procedural which tries, in the current fashion, to be a respectable psychological novel as well. Dorothy Uhnak does not practice either art so well as to make The Investigation, in the cant term, gripping; but it nevertheless holds attention easily and consistently. Like many books of this genre, it will be quickly read and then quickly forgotten.
Sadat’s autobiography evokes two kinds of responses: emotional and reasoned. The first response depends on one’s stand and convictions on the Middle East conflict; the second, on an understanding of the wishes and hopes that a leader is expected to have towards his country and people. But irrespective of one’s response, the reading of this book adds to one’s knowledge of the recent history and politics of Egypt and provides access to the inner thoughts and expectations of its leader as he searches for lasting peace in the region.
Tom Driberg was up at Oxford during its brief renaissance in the 1920’s; he was the premier gossip columnist for Beaverbrook’s Daily Express during the 1930’s, an MPfor more than 25 years, chairman of the Labour Party; he was widely traveled and widely acquainted with the clever and the mighty—but all this fades, in these posthumously published memoirs, before the obsessive glow of an incorrigible homosexual promiscuity. This was his reigning passion; his memory dwelled most fondly and most vividly on numberless such encounters, but a leering self-hatred seemed to dog him. He is a baffling figure. For the rest, his recollections are disappointing—anecdotally shapeless, wanting in penetration and, most unforgivably, often simply tedious.
Occasionally, popular history makes professional historians envious. This is the kind that just makes them cringe. It is an anecdotal, gossipy, trivial group portrait of the Dulles siblings. The scholarly facade erected by the author could hardly fool anyone, but the Book-of-the-Month Club saw fit to make it a Main Selection. Many of the stories contained herein were told the author by Eleanor Dulles, sister of John Foster and Alien, who repudiated most of them as soon as she saw the final product, which, she charged, had at least 900 errors of fact. Well, perhaps there were only half that number.
The publication of this “biography” of the Soviet leader must surely stand as literary nonevent of the year, maybe the decade. It is as though Mr. Brezhnev were treating Simon & Schuster as his own private vanity press; the book is that bad. If that judgment seems harsh, maybe a bit gratuitously anti-Communist, consider this: not only does it convey the impression that Brezhnev never knew Stalin, who, in fact, made him what he is today; it also casts doubt upon the very existence of Uncle Joe. After all, if Brezhnev mentions his illustrious predecessor only a couple of times, is it not reasonable to conclude that someone else was in power in the Kremlin all those years? This is typical Soviet scholarship, and the wonder is that Americans are expected to pay a good price for it.
The second part of Lord Clark’s autobiography covers the years since 1936.He recounts his long career as a public servant, but his anecdotes about friends and travel are the most interesting parts of the book, If he is occasionally given to hyperbole, he comes across as a thoroughgoing man, sensitive to his surroundings. In revealing his wide range of interests, he treats art only rather generally. A touch of arrogance is inevitable in an autobiography, but in Clark’s it is tempered with self-examination and a sense of resignation.
It is a club as exclusive as that of American presidents: there have been only about 50 prime ministers since that office took definite shape in the 18th century. In this book Mr. Wilson, the recently retired Labour PM, takes a properly deferential attitude toward his predecessors, some of them illustrious and some not. The younger Pitt, who took office at age 24 (still a record), is one of the more attractive figures in British history, and Wilson’s portrait of him is a good one, if lamentably superficial. Indeed, superficiality marks most of this book: we are told more of Palmerston’s extraparliamentary activities than the record warrants, yet little of his real accomplishments in foreign policy. In the case of Lloyd George, Mr. Wilson’s account could lead the uninitiated to wonder how the man led the nation to victory, and there is not a line on his notorious private life. The chapter on Churchill is, astonishingly, directed at about a sixth-form level. Mr. Wilson obviously wrote this book to earn some money, and no one will begrudge him that. But he is a supremely intelligent man, and he had no need to talk down to his potential audience this way. The illustrations, many in color, are excellent.
The difference in Virginia Woolf’s epistolary style between the practical and professional and the personal and fantastic is more marked in this third volume of her letters than in the first two. Some old friends appear less frequently as new ones emerge, the letters to these revealing the growth of intimacy, most particularly those to V. Sackville-West, which range from early formality on up the scale to expressions of extreme and intimate affection. These latter, however, go hand in hand with critical though appreciative comments on her writings. This volume may be the high point, but those to come will surely command the same interest.
All too often James Garfield is remembered only as an undistinguished president who had the misfortune to be assassinated. Professor Peskin has gone through all the extant Garfield records and presented a sound and admirably written account of the last “log cabin” president. This biography costs five dollars more than the recent effort by Margaret Leech and Harry Brown, but is at least ten dollars better.
W. B. Yeats’s father, John Butler Yeats, may be the “wild, old wicked man” of the great poet’s poems. The son was reserved, aristocratic, and strange, but the father was bohemian and to a certain degree democratic. The father abandoned ancient Ireland at the age of 68 to live the artist’s life in New York. He became the friend and mentor of painters like John Sloan and Rockwell Kent and was part of John Quinn’s circle. In his own lifetime, however, he achieved no success except that of having been loved by almost everyone.
The third volume of a noted critic’s memoirs, this work begins where A Walker in the City ended, with the time being 1942 and young Kazin, 27, the justly acclaimed author of On Native Ground, beginning his career as an editor of The New Republic.Kazin has a marvelous ability to evoke both a period and the people who inhabited it, people like Henry Luce, Edmund Wilson, and Saul Bellow. If he has been everywhere, he remains, in the end, a tried but still devotedly true lover of his city; and hence if the title of this book seems slightly jarring to a non-New York, non-Jewish reader at first, ultimately it seems most appropriate. Kazin tells us more than we deserve—or desire—to know about his apparently tumultuous love life. That, however, is a small quibble about a moving and memorable book.
Crippled by gout but mentally alert, Horace Walpole committed the stray thoughts of his last years to the small notebook here printed for the first time. His humor, both amiable and cruel, did not wane with age, nor did the intelligence of his commentary on literary and political events. Lars Troide’s fine lengthy annotation helps us map the odyssey of this latter-day Augustan who, calling poetry “a beautifull way of spoiling prose,” brought to bear the standards of a vanished world on the last decade of the 18th century.
In her sixth collection, Maxine Kumin faces middle age, the death of parents, the suicide of her friend Anne Sexton, children growing away. These are poems about survival, often reminiscent of Frost’s bleak vision; yet there are also many celebrations of spring and rebirth and a recurrent interest in the soul. Her lost loved ones are “retrieved” in the features of her animals in the title poem. She measures the ambiguous distance between man and nature in clear concrete images and close unsentimental observations of nature. In contrast to the many women poets writing of anger and alienation, Kumin sticks to pastoral and tribal themes—seasons, weather, gardening, horses. She remains a tough, intense, and energetic poet, more self-assured and purposeful than ever.
Shakely definitely has a vision of the city—”urban madness,” Diane Wakoski calls it, in pronouncing the 30-year-old writer winner of the 1977 Walt Whitman prize for a first book. Her vision, however, has the defect of myopia—it’s more or less Nathanael West redivivus, a projection in fear, dementia, violence, and banality, of the poet’s inner state on a city of strangers—”nothing much grows in cities”— that seems to be New York. Subways, buses, bars, and sidewalks tend to frame the eerie vignettes and instants of perception or “surveillance.” Yet, the urban collage being rich as it is, Shakely’s vision, if not Cinemascope, is assuredly Technicolor, and in places as full of menacing frenzy as Saturday Night Fever.Moreover, some reminiscent meditations suggest that, despite present anomie, the urban “I” has certain dryish roots (birds, porches, trains, mother, brother) to clutch and ravel for poetry. But mainly the striking verbal formulations validate Shakely’s award: “my reflection in the subway window / throws out a strangely warm and attractive glance / of terror, / which I’ve seen before in other eyes / and which I think may be the only fire to huddle around / in urban life.”
Divided into four sections named for the seasons, this collection is rich in imagery, wit, and rhetoric; balanced in statement and detail. Piercy’s writing is energetic, ranging from rage to passion to bitterness. She celebrates feminism, loving, nature; she condemns everything from war and sexism to pollution and food additives. She succeeds in what she sets out to do: to weld the personal with the political, the emotional with the intellectual.
Daryl Hine’s seventh book of poetry is a frustrating mixture of crisp and sophisticated verbal wit and sentimental speech- and preachifying. Hine’s master themes of time’s passage and language’s insufficiency are movingly wrought up in a linguistic texture infused with their author’s evident love of the history of words (Hine is a student of Neo-Latin poetry). Yet these themes too often terminate in a too-wistful yearning for what in Hine’s vocabulary is the immediacy of a “translation” (linguistic, temporal, and sexual) into the mind and body of another, a unification whose ambiguous symbol, appropriately and predictably, is homosexual love. Even these passages are redeemed, however, by Hine’s metrical virtuosity, which runs the gamut from breathtaking enjambment to full-dress imitation of the prosody of Eliot and Frost.
Even if some of your favorites are missing, this is an enjoyable presentation in chronological fashion of American poetry by a professor of the subject. Two facts are significant. The first is that the initial contribution in the volume is by Anne Bradstreet, a transplanted English woman who was born before Shakespeare died. The second is that two-thirds of the contributions in the four centuries covered by the anthology are by living poets.
Richard Hugo, in his first effort at judging the Yale Younger Poets competition, apparently found no deserving manuscript and therefore chose the safest (trendiest) sheaf of poems at hand, Bin Ramke is another of the rampant oldmaid sensibilities that find everything too ominous to talk about, This is the poetry of bogus annunciation—”An old sea festers on the beach,” “hope savages the century”— minuscule intimations of darkness, war, guilt, and deracination, with no causation, no follow-up. Like the network news on the hour, where every sentence is a new “story,” and nothing therefore affects us. Even a tea party of Grundys yields the emotion of plausible reticence, while Ramke’s catatonic monotone emits only distraught images, with the obligatory soupgon of surreal association. Ramke ought to work in ghazals, where nothing has to hook up with anything else or go on for long, A better idea: burn a few bridges, shred a few of the emaciated books on the shelf. Go to a discotheque and then write more fine poems like “An Old Woman Walks Home.” She danced “long and hard in the dark.” Study inventors, explorers, tyrants, and eccentric heiresses. Discover the world,
Gates’s treatment of the psychic intricacies of relationships is better served by her dense prose style. Her language in poetry becomes flat and lifeless, her voice too rigid, dreary when it tries to sound oracular. Combining heavy-handed repetition and a tone locked into obsessive declarations, these labored, self-conscious efforts hardly justify a fifth volume of verse.
Watson, who has given us so many translations from the Chinese in the past twenty years, here devotes an entire book to the poems of Ryokan (1758—1831), a Japanese Zen monk and one of the most prominent figures in Tokugawa poetry. After a brief introduction to Ryokan and his age, 81 of his waka (Japanese poems) and 42 of his kanshi (poems written in Chinese) are translated. A prose statement by Ryokan on the Buddhist practice of begging for food is also translated. The original Japanese of the waka compositions is included in romanization. Those familiar with Watson’s renderings of the Chinese Buddhist poet Han Shan who lived a thousand years before Ryokan will find many echoes of that earlier poet’s writings here. As always, Watson’s translations read well, though at times sacrificing faithfulness to the original in the process.
This is a self-assured voice for a first collection, capable of deft, sometimes brilliant strokes, The poems range from dry, cerebral landscapes to a fine series on mythical women. The poems are dense and difficult, the images full of subtle puzzling associations.
Although de Forêt’s poetry abounds in overripe, hyperelegant language that reminds one of the worst excesses of the thirties, her poems do reveal a serious and inquisitive mind. Her own work, however—which is rarely more than intriguing—will inevitably be overshadowed by the eight poems which begin this volume, the previously unpublished compositions of her father, e.e.cummings.
Though these poems may be accused of being shapeless or disjointed, they also have the momentum of experimental work: new efforts to evoke the subconscious, the logic of dreams. The subject is unvarying—”the secrets between men and women”—and she openly introduces her “Emma Slide” series as “an investigation of romantic love.” The Margritte series is her most successful, making the most of her gift for the surreal.
This is really a marvelous bilingual anthology comprising the unique as well as the “conventional” in a tradition of erotic poetry which is much less encumbered than ours with moral and emotional burdens. Most of these poems are buoyant and charming, though they do not always eschew a keen melancholy, The ubiquitous Merwin’s translations are crystalline, and Masson’s notes and commentary provide both facts and psychological analysis.
This fine addition to the series of Oxford Standard Authors presents the most balanced and judicious selection now available of Herrick, Suckling, Carew, and Lovelace. Clayton, editor of the Oxford English Texts edition of Suckling’s poetry, takes care to show in how many different genres the Cavaliers worked while also reprinting the lyrics for which these poets are best known. His explanatory notes, more full than is usual in this series, range widely and usefully, and will perhaps help to demonstrate that the Cavaliers were more heavily allusive than is commonly supposed; his brief introduction and glossary are so informative that one only wishes they were longer.
With the publication of Bartlett’s elegant two-volume edition, scholars of Meredith now have a complete and reliable text “based on the last version that Meredith himself saw through the press, or corrected.” The first of the four sections, including all of Vol.1, arranges the verse collected and published in Meredith’s life-time, from the 1851 Poems to A Reading of Earth in 1901.Vol.2 contains the autonomously published poems, poems post-humous with “trivia,” and the unpublished verse and fragments, all chronologically. Helpful explanatory and textual notes accompany the poems, with the “apparatus criticus” expanding to more detailed supplements at the end of Vol.2.Supersedes all other editions of the poetry.
A brief, intelligent, and crisp analysis of the origins and development of the Office of War Information. Winkler sensitively examines the shift in OWI propaganda from emphasis on the object of the war as a crusade for global democracy to concentration on U. S.military prowess and material interests. As the war came to be defined as a struggle for victory alone, with all the wartime compromises entailed and with decisions on the political shape of the postwar order deferred, the OWI reflected these priorities. At the same time, concentration on concrete interests and the character of American life rather than the ideology of democracy apparently not only served U. S. aims abroad but accorded most closely with the American people’s needs and self-perception. A solid contribution to the literature of World War II.
A decade has passed since the “Prague Spring,” the Czechoslovak experiment with a more humane and open socialism, was crushed by Soviet troops and the Warsaw Pact allies. Now all free discussion and all the cultural excitement of the sixties has been suppressed, and Czechoslovakia is one of the bleakest of the Soviet satellites, although one hears occasional murmurs of intellectual rebellion. Professor Kaplan provides a thorough and balanced account of the role of the press in better times. It makes for sad reading, but it is valuable to have such an account available to us in English. Fully annotated with select bibliography and useful appendices.
Writing with a sense of moral outrage, Novak charts the creation and maintenance of the framework of legal coercion of black labor in the South from 1865 to the present. Built with vagrancy laws, anti-enticement statutes, convict leasing, and contract labor laws, this framework presumably made possible a pervasive, effective system of peonage. That is a presumption unsupported in this tedious, ahistorical work. Novak believes that statutes by their very existence are enforceable and enforced. Thus he does not evaluate the de jure framework in terms of actual effects on wages, labor mobility, or agricultural development. A disappointing book on an important topic.
Just how did the Russians win the Battle of Stalingrad? We have always assumed that a kind of “They shall not pass” mentality obtained there, and that the old dictator simply would not allow his armies to give up the city that bore his name (and indeed from a purely strategic point of view the city lost its significance about three weeks into the battle). Mr. Kerr, who was stationed in Moscow during the war, has researched one of its decisive battles for more than 30 years and has produced, if not a wholly convincing argument, at least an interpretation that bears serious study by historians. It would be unfair to the author simply to state that alternative; one must read the book to understand Mr. Kerr’s reasoning. Fortunately for the reader who likes military history, this book is clearly worth the effort.
Here is a fertile field for scholarly enterprise newly discerned, brilliantly considered, and all but foreclosed, so well does this single book master its worthy subject. The response of the German nation, especially the German middle-class, to the American Revolution is herein examined on every level: journalistic, literary, learned, political, diplomatic, and in the more private modes of adulation, hopes, or fears inspired among all the states and conditions of Germans. This study is the more important because Dippel’s excellent grasp of the most current views of events on the American side informs a counter-point of German understanding of American events versus the reality of American historiography. This subtheme of what R. R. Palmer calls “the sociology of knowledge” is also assessed against German realities and the impact of the French Revolution, both of which considerably shaped private and public sentiments on all levels. The bulk of this excellent study is necessarily concerned with the bourgeoisie, but so thoroughly has Dippel sought records of the opinions of the less literate classes that his work includes all points of view. The work has been very nicely translated by Bernhard Uhlendorf.
Hastening from the beginnings to 1860, Sutcliffe examines in detail Oxford University Press’s last century, the great ages of Jowett, Cannan, Milford, and Chapman. The reader should be warned that this is the history of a publishing business and those who ran it, not of the colorful people who came to be its authors. Many of the Press’s staff, however, do provide relieving stretches of anecdote; the stature, legal arrangements, and catalogue of the Press cannot but interest; and Sutcliffe manages all with a graceful, gently humorous style.
The current wave of interest in the Third Reich seems short of its crest, and it rolls on relentlessly. This documentary collection, admirably translated, catches the wave at the flood and will give it new force. It is a good thing for us to have the ravings of Dietrich Eckart, Alfred Rosenberg, Dr. Goebbels, Gregor Strasser, and the whole demonic crew available in English. The younger generation will be astonished to find that people actually said such things, and the older crowd will remember with anguish how other people believed them.
Professor Rupp has chosen her topic well. By comparing German and American propaganda for female labor during the Second World War, this book sheds light on the way the two societies adjusted to total war as well as their ideas of “woman’s role.” Among the more interesting side-lights is the description of the Nazi feminist movement. Not only does it show the “complexity” of National Socialism, as the author cautiously concludes, but also its originally radical potential. Mobilizing Women for War is scholarship informed by passion. Rupp’s basic position is that