Influential as editor of the Edinburgh Review from 1802 to 1829, castigator of Wordsworth, and champion of Carlyle and Dickens, Francis Jeffrey is not the least important of Romantic critics, and a modern edition of his essays would be welcome. Unfortunately, Morgan’s book (in the reviewer’s phrase Jeffrey made famous) will not do. It selects 25 important pieces, abridging often and without clearly announcing the fact (little is left of Jeffrey’s crucial discussion of Alison), and without making comment on what is left. More useful would have been (and will still be) a reprint of the essays Jeffrey himself collected in 1844, supplemented by some further pieces such as Morgan has chosen.
Professor Robinson has performed a great service to Keats specialists by revising and editing the late Dorothy Van Ghent’s unfinished manuscript on Keats. This work, which seeks to disclose the version of “monomyth” that forms the underlying coherence in both Keats’ poetry and prose, particularly his letters, should be of interest to all Keats scholars, even those not especially attached to myth criticism. This is true because of Keats’ widely acknowledged interest in Greek myth and the archetype of the hero. And while some may find that the work’s reliance on Joseph Cambell’s anthropological theories places it a generation or so behind the times, Van Ghent’s perceptive readings of Keats’ major poems and letters make Professor Robinson’s efforts worthwhile.
Along with our surfeit of fiction and poetry has come a cornucopia of criticism, much of it originating from our universities where the discussion of literature often assumes monkish austerity. Good critics avoid the stifling solemnity that chills our novels and poems, but they also manage to preserve the dignity of reading and, ultimately, of forming opinions. This collection of Ozick’s essays should certainly establish her not as a critic preaching a program in which the works become footnotes to hypotheses, but as a sensitive reader who has that rare ability to transform personal reactions into considered opinions and, most importantly, to reveal to us the mechanics of that transformation.
This volume of maxims has all the good qualities of a leisurely constructed but not too serious library. Enough Wordsworth and Wycherly for the sentimental; enough Pascal for the pensive; plenty of Twain and Mencken for the cynical. A good index of key lines or words would, however, help the reader immensely. Any sort of alphabetical scheme to organize the selections would also be a boon. If you are content to wander through “Nature,” “Mankind,” and “Religion” at random, this book may work for you. But if you must find the right line in a hurry, go to Bartlett’s.
The politicians and scientists have made such a mess of the modern world that even the greatest of the artists and writers may not be able to sort out the confusion. Professor Harris of Fordham University analyzes the response to war of such figures as Sartre, Malraux, Saint-Exupéry, Remarque, Grass, and Boll in this stimulating investigation. The writers in both France and Germany were angry, and they were afraid: it could and very likely will, in their view, happen again. Even the greatest of the artists cannot give much hope to this, the nuclear age.
These studies concentrate on Paradise Lost; six of the eleven comment on the great epic, and two of them are concerned with the vexed problem of the relationship of Adam and Eve—man and woman. But the others give the volume an attractive variety. One is on Milton’s Latin, a subject almost forgotten, and another on his prose, too often shunted aside, but here shown to have “a kind of systole of grandeur and meanness.” There is an absorbing essay on “garlanding the dead,” something that happens in “Lycidas”; it makes a new and convincing sense out of the first lines of the poem. And here’s another try at explaining that famous crux of the “two-handed engine” arid a thorough look at the allegorical poetry of Comus, Shorter than usual, this annual study makes up for that by the interest of the essays.
Stanford is to be commended upon the publication of this excellent translation of Pushkin’s prose, some of which appears in English for the first time (notably the nonfictional A History of Pugachev). Professor Debreczeny, whose analysis of these works is being published simultaneously by Stanford, here provides a helpful, nonintrusive scholarly apparatus to clarify some of the more obscure corners of Pushkin’s work. Professor Walter Arndt translated the verse passages.
“Between the first novel and the last, Forster has moved from the celebration to the abandonment of personality”: this in essence is the whole book. There is more to it than that, of course, and to anyone interested in Forster this volume can be recommended, although it is a little long-winded.
Although this study must travel in the wake of much recent exellent Marvell criticism, it nonetheless manages to advance a significant contribution, especially in its comprehensive treatment of the poet’s later works. Chernaik establishes a distinction in Marvell’s artistic career between “analytic” works such as the “Horatian Ode” and the more “persuasive” bent of the satires. The author also argues for grouping Marvell with Milton and Locke in an intellectual tradition of “Puritan libertarianism.”
Shankman has one telling major point to make about Pope’s famous translation— that in it the exemplary Achilles of Chapman’s version and Renaissance criticism generally gets back some of the pathological edge that he clearly has in the original. Having said that, Shankman reverts to more familiar sorts of analyses of Pope’s accommodation of Homer to 18th-century stylistic imperatives: sensible, predictable work, a shade more lively than some we have had on the subject but without the interest of the opening shot.
This is a formidable analysis by a feminist critic; she argues persuasively that critics have ignored many of Dickinson’s poems, precisely the ones which illuminate the crucial dilemma for Dickinson as a woman writer in the 19th century: the need both to fulfill and defy the role of dutiful daughter. At times, Mossberg’s use of the “daughter construct” is a trifle clumsy, but it offers real insight into the poet’s major themes: nobody-ness, God the Father, hunger. The book is a must for serious students of Dickinson’s work.
Studies of comedy tend to be somber affairs, less because of scholarly wit or humorlessness than stylistic inhibition. Among the few exceptions is this book, which defines farce as a genre and traces its history (as a separate kind, then as a mode in fundamentally nonfarcical works) from classical antiquity to the films of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. The author’s reading is wide, deep, and coherent; his method is sound; and the perspectives he opens may be profitably explored by critics of any persuasion.
This slim book is a delight to read and use. In the author’s own words, the book is designed to serve as “a punctuation handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.” The clearly and accurately stated rules of punctuation are interspersed with bizarre illustrative sentences and equally bizarre Victorian engravings. The Well-Tempered Sentence is really as convenient to use as more conventional handbooks of punctuation; but, unlike the conventional handbooks, this book is full of life.
In contrast to most literary studies of Rossetti’s poetry, which make perfunctory references to his painting, and to art-historical examinations of Rossetti, which refer too briefly to the poetry, this book is a balanced account of both Rossetti’s poetry and painting. From the early illustrations of “The Raven” through Rossetti’s late, virtually Symbolist paintings, the author enthusiastically examines the painter’s development in relation to his poetry. He properly emphasizes Rossetti’s influence on Pater’s criticism and examines some of the qualities of the late paintings, but he fails to appreciate the extent of their sensuous abstraction.
Is there something about Charles Dickens that discourages brevity in others? Here we find more than 400 pages of text and notes and, lurking between the covers, what probably ought to have been three separate books. The first of these is a psychoanalytic biography that makes Dickens out to be a whining sadist and the women in his life—especially his wife, whom Slater dubs “poor Catherine”—a collection of rather simpleminded victims. The second is a survey of Dickens’ fictional heroines that poses the question, “To what extent can he be said to have created convincing representatives of female nature?” Despite Slater’s efforts to interest us in such dancing dolls as Dora Spenlow or Bella Wilfer, the answer seems to be, “Not at all.” The third section examines the feminine ideal of Dickens and the Victorians, arriving at conclusions so familiar as to be hackneyed—i. e., women were expected to be childlike and passive and to remain at home. Beyond individual points of interpretation—for instance, the defense of “poor Catherine” as a mother or the identification of Bella with one of Dickens’ daughters—there is little here that is new and nothing of great moment to scholarship. Readers may, nonetheless, find it convenient to have so many aspects of this subject gathered together in one place.
A translation, as they say, is like a mistress: if it’s beautiful it’s not faithful, and if it’s faithful it’s not beautiful. Thus the question of the connection between word and music in any writer’s works is going to make sense only if we know his native language. Andrei Bely was one of the giants of the Russian Silver Age before World War I, and his St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a classic. In this fine study of Bely’s works, Professor Steinberg of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem makes the writer more accessible to us than he has ever been.
A clear, thorough reference work on a dauntingly complicated subject—more generous and detailed than Paul Maas’ book of the same name, which it now replaces on the Oxford list. West is also fuller and more inviting in the introductory discussions that students and even professionals need for orientation and reassurance; but the core is still elaborately technical and even schematic, sometimes spectacularly so: four patient centuries of research in tightly organized display.
This excellent monograph, published as a supplementary volume to the Papers of Woodrow Wilson, describes the labor-relations dimensions of industrial mobilization during the First World War. The book recounts the origins, work, and demise of the NWLB. It also demonstrates how the NWLB experience accorded new legitimacy to the concept of collective bargaining, revealed the inherent difficulties in noncoercive government intervention, and fueled both the open shop campaigns of the 1920’s and the growth of the new regulatory ideas ultimately embodied in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Professor Conner’s scholarship is thorough; her prose is clear and forceful. The National War Labor Board is one of the half-dozen most important books on the evolution of American labor law published in the last decade.
While sharing all the strengths and weaknesses of “popular” historical studies, Beeching’s book stands distinguished by a wonderful felicity of style, which carries the reader forward as he becomes familiarized with the lengthy (and exceedingly diverse) cast of characters involved in events leading to the climactic defeat of the Islamic forces by the Christian Holy League. The work more than fulfills the requirements for enjoyable reading while offering a generally accurate rendition of a major episode of Western history.
This collection of T. Harry Williams’ shorter works is a memorial to one of America’s most popular historians. The essays range in subject matter from the Civil War and Reconstruction to Huey Long and Lyndon Johnson. They are tied together primarily by Williams’ grace and subtlety. His voice is a very human, very gentle one; his compassion and fascination with historical characters are evident on every page. His wife and colleague, Estelle, has contributed a touching and fitting introduction to the book.
Every society and every political movement creates its own myths. In the Soviet Union, Lenin had to jump in to fill the void left by the czar, the Church, and the upper classes. This was no easy task, and Soviet propagandists are still hard at work today, trying to persuade the comrades that they owe everything (well, maybe not all the misery) to Vladimir Ilyich. Professor Tumarkin has done a good job of assembling the evidence, and she has told her story well.
The substance of this book would have made a good article or two. The public battles to save Kirkstall Abbey and the parish churches of York and the building of Manchester Town Hall are attractive subjects for those interested in the 19th century. But the significant material of the book is buried in a repetitious, dull text that belies its origins in a doctoral dissertation. And too, the book is visually dull. Nineteenth-century sepia photographs printed on yellowed paper with a typeface in matching color make both words and pictures dreary. Perhaps some special artistic effect was intended, but it is hardly fair to illustrate Ford Madox Brown’s murals in Manchester Town Hall (not the artist’s best work), in a dismal tonality that makes the reader wonder why they were painted in the first place.
This oddly titled (and subtitled) collection of studies on the 1948 break between Belgrade and Moscow is useful chiefly as a compendium of already available information, There is some new information on internal Yugoslav developments that had little relevance to the split, and there is a good chapter on the Cominform in Yugoslavia, but by and large the work is fairly routine. One wonders why it is necessary to keep reiterating the views of conservative emigres who have ground their axes so many times before.
The Western Allies thought that Germany could be reformed and rehabilitated if a few Nazis were put on trial. The Soviets had other ideas. In their occupation zone they proceeded to destroy all the old elites, not just the political and the military, and they undertook a fundamental restructuring of society. They established new norms, new myths, new agencies of control. The process was neither pretty nor painless, but it was highly effective. Mr. Sandford, a State Department officer, has written the first English-language account of the Sovietization of East Germany.
Echard’s revisionist approach to the French emperor characterizes his often clumsy and bumbling diplomacy as a thoughtful and calculated attempt to transform the Metternichian system into an active vehicle for preserving the European balance of power in a changing world. The author casts Louis Napoleon in the role of a great visionary to whom the national interests of France were secondary to securing Europe against three rising threats: the growth of Russian, U. S., and Prusso-German power. Unfortunately, Echard is at a loss to demonstrate how Napoleon III was any less of a megalomaniac than his uncle in his pursuit of a “united Europe” under French influence.
The leader of the famous Annales school of French historiography, Professor Braudel is changing the way we interpret the European past. In this second volume to be translated into English, he turns his attention to the vast Euro-American market and takes us inside it. He analyzes barge traffic between Paris and Troyes, the economics of silver mining in the Andes, the performance of suttee in the Moscow of Peter the Great—an Indian merchant’s widow insisted upon her right to perish on her husband’s funeral pyre. This is a richly textured history, a stupendously learned investigation into our past.
Rossbach argues convincingly that the six prominent abolitionists who aided John Brown were not, as often thought, ordinarily sensible men moved to rash acts by Brown’s charismatic, even hypnotic, personality. Instead, Gerrit Smith, Theodore Parker, George Luther Stearns, Frank Sanborn, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson had slowly come to believe that slave rebellion led by a strong, moral white man would prove the humanity of blacks and open the freed slaves to the influence of Northern culture and values. Each also had personal reasons for supporting the fanatic abolitionist, desires and weaknesses shrewdly assessed and exploited by Brown. Rossbach fails to prove his assertion that the six saw Brown as representative of a new urban business class, and he sometimes falls prey to minor stylistic quirks, but he has made an important contribution to the intellectual history of abolitionism.
Berghahn’s thoughtful and authoritative analytical account of German history from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Willy Brandt makes a wonderful introduction to the subject. A 30-page chapter on the Nazi era is full of dispassionate good sense and a marvel of conciseness and penetration. Though the author is critical throughout of the inflexibility of traditional German society, his view of the Federal Republic is far more positive than Dahrendorf s earlier assessment. One need not accept every verdict in the book, and the author’s attempt to treat the decade after 1914 as one period of war and civil war is only partially successful. Still, this is a text which every student of German civilization should read. A rich statistical appendix, though occasionally handicapped by sketchy data, rounds out a genuinely important enterprise.
This is one of the best and most exciting works of history to appear in recent years. A study of attitudes toward nature becomes, in the author’s hands, an investigation of the mental world of peasants, merchants, poets, and lords. As Thomas shows, between 1500 and 1800 sensibility to nature changed from a belief in the absolute separation of man from the lower orders to a faith that man was not essentially different from brute nature. The implications were profound. The belief in hierarchy made slavery easier to justify; the later view made evolution reasonable or even necessary. These are but two of the themes Thomas develops. Anyone interested in nature will find much that is relevant to our modern dilemmas as well as a skillful recreation of an earlier age.
As a collection of essays on some important but neglected topics in 19th-century British history, this volume constitutes a modestly progressive step in the deepening of our knowledge. Mr. Harrison, a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, has mined some neglected sources (in, for example, his essay on animals and the state) and has produced some interesting side-lights on the development of a modern society. His analysis of social research and the government is particularly insightful, and many students will welcome his comments on the rhetoric of reform.
Astonishingly enough this is the first book that tries to find out who the Nazis were—their social class, sex, occupation, place of origin, age. As such it is manifestly a pioneering work, and a very good one indeed. Professor Kater of York University in Toronto, using sophisticated modern technology, has amassed and interpreted a whole ocean of data; the tables and figures in his appendices will prove invaluable to students of German history. This is one of those rare instances when the first work in a field seems destined to become the standard one.
There would seem to be quite a difference, not to mention a gulf, between “women’s history” and “women in history.” The first is merely fashionable at the moment, the latter a valid concern of the historian (whether female or male). Mothers and Daughters concerns radical, leftwing women in Russian history, and within its limitations it is successful. There is no link between most of the women Professor Engel discusses other than opposition to the czar, but that is of course an important one. Women played a considerable role in the 19th-century revolutionary movement, and this work seeks to do them justice.
Warsaw lacks the medieval splendor of Kraków, the vibrant economic life of Gdańsk (old Danzig), the industrial bustle of Wroclaw (old Breslau), and no one ever called it the Paris of the East. Yet the Polish capital between the wars was an exciting city throbbing with the life of a nation reborn after 123 years. Professor Wynot of Florida State University has captured that pulse in one of the better urban histories to appear in some time. For students of Polish history and interested lay persons, this book will be a treasure.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is fortunate in the editor of her letters, but he is even more fortunate in having her letters to edit. He is a discriminating editor, but he could have included many more letters without tiring any reader. “To index the letters is pointless,” he writes. “Everything is as interesting as everything else and it would be like indexing life itself. Better to think of her as she once described herself—Frau Noah leaning out of a window with a coffee cup in her hand admiring last night’s flood and seeing everything exactly as it is.” No one else can turn a phrase or illuminate a person or landscape like Sylvia Townsend Warner, and in this collection of her familiar letters as in her novels there is an embarrassment of such riches.
This volume of the Gladstone diaries covers two-and-a-half years of the four-time prime minister’s first government, a productive and turbulent time for Britain. It includes not only Gladstone’s private journal but also previously unpublished cabinet minutes and letters, the latter interspersed chronologically among the daily diary entries. In a comprehensive and detailed introduction, Matthew provides the necessary background information to make this collection interesting even to readers not well versed in British political history.
“Let heaven forgive the wicked, after they have been punished.” “Clarity of mind is not given in all centuries.” “A century in which the body has become subtle, in which the mind has become coarse.” Into such gnomic utterances as in longer meditations on aesthetics and science, Joseph Joubert (1754—1824) shaped his entire literary achievement. He began his notebooks—900 pages of them, in the Gallimard edition of 1938—in 1776, recording therein the political and scientific passions of a troubled age. Paul Auster’s brief selection is engaging, his translations easy and graceful; he selects perhaps mainly from Joubert’s less weighty pronouncements, but his book is withal beautifully produced.
For such a public person, Loren Eiseley remained an intensely private man. That paradox was confirmed at his death in 1977, when most of his personal papers were destroyed. Carlisle’s book, then, is not an exhaustively critical biography. Instead, he combines literary, scientific, and biographical materials with certain techniques of psychohistory introduced by Erikson and Lichtenstein, Carlisle is concerned to explain how and why Eiseley came to be the poet and the anthropologist which he was. As with most psychohistorical accounts, one must take some matters on faith, but Carlisle draws plausible, if not compelling, links between Eiseley’s personally troubled odyssey and his emergence as writer and scholar.
The poet wrote this rich memoir of her Pennsylvania childhood while living through the Blitz in London. In the freeassociative flow of the book, the terrors of the Battle of Britain merge with the poet’s earliest terrors; and the poet finds the courage to endure the hundred days of bombing by retrieving the strengths along with the fears of her primitive imagination. She writes of her large, colorful family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and children from her father’s previous marriage. Though the book is seen from a child’s point of view, the woman writing has the mystical consciousness to shape the connections between dream and art, between art and nightmare, between the past and the present both in the personal and the historical sense. The monster serpent of her childish fears foreshadows the threat of the war to come and recalls the python whom Apollo slew. The Gift is a pleasure to read and an invaluable prose resource for anyone trying to understand the methods and contents of H. D. ‘s poetry.
This volume is unique in that it is (or seems to be) a definitive biography written while the subject is still alive, even though no longer writing. It is a full, admiring, but critical account of the many faces of Robert Graves and his work, written by a friend of many years. A brief review of as long and complicated a book as this is would not be fair at all. There is only one thing to say, really: read this book. It is well worthwhile.
A good deal of this biography is conjectural (“Lucy knew that. . .,” “Lucy probably had to coax. . .”), but that does not obscure the real merits of the work, Miss Delatte has used all the resources at her command to present a compelling account of the woman who stood by John James Audubon through failure and success, whom he undoubtedly loved devotedly though not always considerately, and who may be said to have been almost as responsible for The Birds of America as the artist himself. The style is not distinguished, but the subject matter more than makes up for that.
Nicholas Gage’s mother, Eleni (i. e., Helen) Gatzoyiannis, was tortured and executed by Communist guerrillas during the Greek Civil War. She had sent the nine-year-old Nicholas and three of his four sisters (the fourth later escaped too) to safety, hoping to join them later; for this she was branded a “fascist.” Haunted by his mother’s fate, Gage eventually left his job as a New York Times reporter and, while tracking down his mother’s murderers with the intention of killing them, pieced together the story of Eleni’s life and found the meaning of his own. This is a magnificent book which almost incidentally embodies the best history yet of the Greek Civil War.
These are fascinating essays, edited by their perpetrator, M. C. Bradbrook, Professor of English Emerita, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Girton College. They range from an account of the celebrated Ladies of Langollen (“Living the Gothic Pastoral Romance”) to a study of her Girton contemporary, Queenie Roth Leavis, editor with F. R. Leavis of Scrutiny, and two pieces, opposed in attitude, on Virginia Woolf. This is not all, but it may serve to indicate the extent of Bradbrook’s interests in women writers. A more feminist, though equally brilliant, piece is “My Cambridge,” which contrasts 1927 and 1977.
“Ironically,” writes Ms. Bolsterli, “the value of this document lies in its tedium,” and tedious this account is. How could it be otherwise? Nannie Still well Jackson was no mute, inglorious Emily Dickinson wasting her sweetness on the Arkansas desert air. The miracle is that this poor, plain woman in 1890—91 kept any record at all of her hard, dull life. The only relief to be found is in her pleasure in gifts of food and in her women friends, who visited constantly up and down the muddy (or dusty) roads. Ms, Bolsterli compares Nannie Jackson to Addie Bundren in As / Lay Dying, and there is a good deal of truth in that analogy. If anyone cares to know, vinegar pie is lemon pie made with vinegar instead of lemons (cheaper and easier to come by), and chicken bread is simply cornmeal and water mixed and baked, with maybe a dash of salt.
Thomas R. R. Cobb was the sort of antebellum Southerner who makes the antebellum South so hard to pin down. He, like so many others, combined evangelical Christianity with slaveholding, strict morality with an aversion to reform societies, dedication to the Constitution with support for secession. Cobb did important things— wrote laws and books, founded schools, and served as a general in the Confederacy—but those are not the best reasons to read this book. Rather it deserves to be read because it focuses on a man who embodied so many of the apparent contradictions of the Old South and because it makes him understandable.
Fifty years ago the young Mr. Prokosch wrote a successful novel called The Asiatics, That brought him fame, a little money, and, most importantly, an introduction to every writer of note on both sides of the Atlantic, In this memoir Mr. Prokosch, who says he is cursed with total recall, reconstructs conversations that took place decades ago. We hear the voices of Gertrude Stein, Thomas Wolfe, W. H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, Walter de la Mare, George Santayana, and a whole host of others. The difficulty is, they say so little. Maybe they were just not the conversationalists we think they ought to be; maybe they did not unburden themselves, at least not to Mr. Prokosch. This is an interesting but rather thin account of one man’s journey around the literary scene.
It is unusual if an author’s biographer is faced not only with recording the life, but with establishing the reputation as well because the reputation has normally been responsible for our interest in the life. In America, for example, O’Connor has not received the attention lavished on Yeats or Joyce, and many readers will be happy to learn that their pantheon of Irish literary geniuses must now admit one more. And we have Matthews to thank for that admission. Balanced, yet exuding a keen sense of appreciation for its subject, Voices should secure O’Connor the audience he deserves.
At the turn of the 15th century, Margery Kempe, daughter of the mayor of Lynn, agitated for her husband’s permission to pursue a sexually chaste marriage, and that of the Archbishop of Canterbury to take weekly communion and to go on pilgrimage. Hers was the gift of tears, visited also upon Mary Magdalene and St. Francis, so that for 40 years she sobbed and roared her way through England and across the continent before returning to Lynn, an old woman, to care for her invalid husband and to dictate a spiritual autobiography which is one of the most remarkable literary productions of the high Middle Ages, Clarissa Atkinson retells Margery’s story for general readers, adding reflections on the psychology of mystical sainthood, on the literary form of autobiography, and especially on the status and role of women and female spirituality at the end of the Middle Ages. Hers is not a work of research but of summary: brief, trenchant, and informative.
This clever novella is a response to the heretofore unnecessary question: What did the creator of Lear and Hamlet learn from his favorite pet? Quite a lot, if Mr. Hooker, Will’s best friend and the canine narrator of this story, can be believed. The reader is treated to a dog’s-eye view of Anne Hathaway and her sometimes husband, the Bard of Avon, and both appear as less than epic figures. The dog also takes up the critic’s pen, characterizing the sonnets as “Love this and Flower that and other such juvenile twaddle.” This exposé of life in Stratford is written in a parody of Elizabethan diction and is as full of bawdy tales and dog-fight violence as the most lively of Shakespeare’s own work. As literature, it will not outlive Macbeth, but it does yield an ample measure of midsummer’s afternoon delight.
The outline of this fascinating novel is provided by a very brief account of a case in Carl Jung’s autobiography in which the psychoanalyst describes a strange onetime meeting with a mysterious woman seeking his help. The author sees that account as “curiously incomplete” and seeks here, by blending truth and speculation, to fill out the story. Set in the year 1913, with Europe moving to unleash the horrors of the First World War, the book provides a glimpse, as only a novel can, into the souls of a tormented woman and her equally troubled interlocutor. While it may be difficult for the reader to identify with the characters— perhaps only because it is not easy to face up to the dark side of one’s soul—this novel addresses some of the most puzzling paradoxes of human nature.
The heroine of this novel is smart, 29, and unemployed, living in Philadelphia and fighting the urge to start smoking again and an instinct to dote on men. She has had many short-lived jobs and a long string of affairs. Alexandra’s friendships with women and her close tie with her brother save her from the devastating effects of the lover who dominates this story. By the end of the first chapter, she is being raped by a man who has attracted her, and it seems likely that she will fall in love with him nevertheless. Lisa Zeidner’s second novel is fresh and lighthearted as it captures many of the dangers and frustrations of city life for single women, from rape and robbery to job insecurity and a run-over pet. Perhaps the only weak point is that every character talks in witty, intellectual repartee—the banter is too quick and sparkling to be plausible as real people’s conversation, yet it certainly makes for entertaining, wellpaced fiction.
A plug-ugly Paris taxi driver (who narrates this book) teams up with a wealthy, eccentric Jewish philanthropist who specializes in anonymous gifts to the specially needy. One of those in need is Mademoiselle Cora, a fading dance-hall singer who knew a secret about the aged Jew (“King Solomon” of the title) and did not reveal it. But neither did she do anything for him, and for years the old man kept her at a distance. The taxi driver files a class action suit of sorts for all lonely old women and has an affair with Cora, and then comes the more or less predictable ending. This is a hilarious novel, one of the late Mr. Gary’s happier creations.
In 1982 Symons became only the fourth English writer to be named Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. Symons is also a reviewer, literary biographer, historian, and poet, and this diversity is evident in the stories included in The Tigers of Subtopia. Beyond building a compelling mystery story, Symons probes human motivations and obsessions. His characters are frustrated suburbians to whom sex has soured and whose dreams are fading. The Symons’ mystery, unlike much of the contemporary fiction being written today, unobtrusively adds plot and action. He gives the reader of The Tigers of Subtopia good fiction with a keen sense of character and setting, while at the same time adding the twisting puzzles, enigmas, and criminal drama that are the hallmark of good mystery stories.
Age 33, ne’er-do-well Danny Neumann of the Bronx decides to act upon his fantasy of playing for the mythic team of his boyhood heroes, Mantle, Berra, and Rizzuto. Encouraged by two gay neighbors on roller skates, Pistol and Sadie, he gets into shape, tries out, and amazingly enough, is taken on by the team and sent to their farm at Greensboro. While there, he makes love with Colleen; meanwhile, back in the Bronx, his wife Sarah has taken up with Lee. Danny hits .274 in the minors, we are told—the book has little to do with the playing of baseball—and is called up to the Yankees. By this point the reader is prepared to believe anything, including the book’s climax at Yankee Stadium.
An otherwise sensible graduate student named Elliot Weiner becomes obsessed with the search for the long-lost personal papers of President Harding. Those papers, he becomes convinced, are in an old lady’s trunk in Los Angeles. How to get close to her? Rent her pool house, for one thing, and court her impossibly obese granddaughter, for another. Along the way to fame, Weiner meets up with some Southern California freaks, has a brush or two with the law, and finally gets a hand on the trunk. Then he has to open it. This is the first novel of a promising comic writter.
If you take E. F. Benson’s Lucia books, vulgarize them extensively, and add murder, you may find something like Barnard’s A Little Local Murder, which is also laid in a picturesque English village; but the times and the people—and the author— have changed, although not for the better. Most murder stories have little to offer in style and content, and this one is no exception.
Playwright, essayist, and novelist, de Hartog spins an allegory, which demonstrates divine intervention in the affairs of humans, by telling a tale of the escape of a group of Dutch colonials from Borneo when the Japanese attacked at the end of 1941. The focus of the story is the dwarf captain of a rusty old World War I coaster, a man virulently atheistic whose mission in life is to expose the hypocrisy of professing religionists. Despite his scorn for religion and its practitioners, Captain Krasser has his consciousness raised by a series of fortuitous strokes that carry the unseaworthy old tub and its cargo of refugees safely to a haven in Australia, after which the* protagonists, the captain, and his old ship, disappear into the maelstrom of the war in the Pacific. Reminiscent of Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall as tellers of sea tales, de Hartog succeeds in being both warm and mordantly humorous in this minor epic of the human spirit.
Gorky Park it isn’t. We find a young girl or two brutally murdered in Russia, but there the similarity with Martin Cruz Smith’s best seller ends. A Philby-like Englishman defects to Russia, leaving his daughter Pandora (get it?) to deal with her fate as best she can. A couple of shady KGB types, a Russian film director, and an effete London playboy get mixed up in what passes for the action. The keeper of a Moscow crematorium murders efficiently for her brother, Khor, who seems not to like anyone except that sister. This is a silly, plodding first novel.
One of the ironies of war is that even nations which fight for the status quo and win find themselves changed; this novel makes that irony, as applied to individuals, its central theme. The fighting in the East African theater during World War I provides the setting and the agent of change. The main characters are two English brothers who represent, in different ways, the British Empire, and who discover in the course of the war disturbing truths about themselves, As a result of these discoveries, one realizes that the British Empire could never be the same; self-doubt replaced self-confidence and guilt replaced self-righteousness. At times the author’s characterizations falter and abrupt changes in scene and personality jar, but the rich description and sense of place never do.
Aside from his talents as an historical novelist, Vidal is at his best when, as in Messiah, he directs his sharply honed satire at some feature of modern society. The problem with Duluth is that he overindulges and takes aim at just about everything. Instead of picking off his targets cleanly, he attempts to blast society in general, including soap operas, romance novelists, racism, Yale critics, presidents who are really worn-out actors, television talk shows, and anything else that comes to mind. The resulting novel, while occasionally funny, is very uneven and can only be recommended for the diehard Vidal fan.
This is a fascinating, memorable collection of stories, precise and resonant in style. Canadian writer Alice Munro is skillful and assured at making her characters and situations both strange and familiar. Her observations and subtle connections startle and ring true; the many kinds of attachments she explores offer a wide variety of emotions and illuminations. The central characters are women of all ages, strong, shrewd, and self-aware enough to achieve, like the stories themselves, a nice balance between the tragic and the comic.
This is the first novel by the slick and witty author of Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. Characteristic of King’s work, this book is a lampoon on philistine American culture and society—in this case, her target is the feminist movement. When Sisterhood Was in Flower details the misadventures of a dandified society girl and a crude, fanatical feminist talk-show host. Told in the first person, the story of the society girl’s immersion in the women’s movement is a satire on all sincere and spiritual autobiographical odysseys and confessions. The novel suggests Irving’s The World According to Garp. Oftentimes, the writing is vulgar and snide. King does not write great fiction, but When Sisterhood Was in Flower is entertaining and funny.
In 1936 or thereabouts, M. F. K. Fisher found in a junk-shop in Zurich a picture of an old woman, Ursula von Ott, born in 1767, painted by the last of her sons, a picture which became a lodestar in Fisher’s life and led her after some 40 years of accumulated clippings and notes to a collection of stories “about aging and ending and living and whatever else the process of human being is about.” Sister Age is that collection. The stories range from remembrances from childhood to a visit to the oldest man she really knew, the father of one of her professors in Dijon. They all lead to her “Afterword” and her summary that “Children and old people and the parents in between should be able to live together, in order to learn how to die with grace, together.” All of the tales are told with her usual knack of making something usual and commonplace seem exotic and remarkable.
It is manifestly impossible to make sense out of madness, but specialists have to analyze it. Professor Holloway is one of the West’s foremost experts on Soviet defense policy, and in this timely work he traces the Soviet obsession with security and nuclear parity from the Second World War down to the confrontation over the introduction of NATO’s medium-range nuclear weapons into the European continent. This is a sober, dispassionate, thoroughly documented study that deserves a wide audience.
It is not news that the American record in Latin America is dismal. It is news that the conservative Business Week has a staff editor, Carla Anne Bobbins, who takes the last five American presidents to task for their maddeningly wrongheaded approach toward the Cuban problem. Cuba is not a threat, Ms. Bobbins concludes; our treating it as such, however, makes us a threat to everybody around us. This is a timely, important, and controversial book which merits a careful reading despite the fact that it reads like an unedited editorial.
There are any number of Marxisms, and one of them is concerned with aesthetics. In this rather ponderous but insightful work, Professor Lunn analyzes the works of four writers, each of whom tried to make his particular Marxism fit the political and artistic world around him. Brecht is the best-known of these writers in the West, but Lukács had a much more profound impact upon the intellectual currents of his day. This is a work for the dedicated student and the specialist.
Assembled here are interviews with the eleven candidates of so-called “third parties” who in 1980 opposed Jimmy Carter and Bonald Beagan for the presidency. Most of the eleven people interviewed reveal themselves to be like Prohibition Party candidate Benjamin Bubar, who when asked by the press if he really expected to be living in the White House shortly, replied, “Do I look that stupid?” Bubar and the others make it clear that they campaigned for the presidency only to raise issues ignored by the major parties. The candidates here vent their frustrations toward the press and toward state election laws that made inclusion on the ballot difficult. The book’s greatest flaw is the disappointing brevity of the historical introduction—the eleven 1980 also-rans are not placed into a credible historical context.
If you don’t have your personal computer yet, you can program the East-West conflict in color with this handy little reference book. Kidron and Smith give us 40 plates depicting the history of the arms race since World War II. The graphics are superb, the tables clear and concise. The whole thing costs only a few dollars, and it makes more sense than most of the learned tomes that have come out of the think tanks, to say nothing of the obfuscations from Washington and Moscow.
It was necessary to launch this powerful attack on many questionable but normally unquestioned economic assumptions, suggests M. I. T. economist Thurow, because economists have replaced lawyers as the brokers of powerful ideas on the contemporary political scene. Thurow takes on not only short-run fads, like the Laffer curve and supply-side notions, but also ideas with deep and often symbolic roots in the American psyche: the “law of supply and demand” and “the market model.” A bit dense with technicality in its early chapters, the book rewards the persistent reader with a road map into the mythological landscape of the dismal science.
This is one of the most important studies yet to be published on the subject of women in the ministry. The authors’ analysis is based on interviews with more than 1,300 women and men clergy, seminary faculty, church executives, and laity of nine major Protestant denominations in which women represent approximately 22 percent of the clergy. Topics discussed include: motivating concerns of women clergy, their experiences in seminary and the clergy job market, their definitions of their ministerial roles and priorities, significant denominational differences, resistance as well as progress at the parish level, and the challenges ahead for clergywomen as well as the church. Clergy and laity of b