Vann here illuminates the political history of the Holy Roman Empire by examining the forces that tried to create (or to resist the creation of) a more efficient, more centralized government in the Duchy of Wurttemberg. He begins by telling his story in internal terms, charting the “bargaining strategies” of the dukes, his bureaucrats, and the vested corporate interests of the Württemberg notables (the Ehrbarkeit). But repeatedly he argues that this state, by virtue of its membership in the Empire, was not free to resolve these domestic rivalries. Despite a severe crisis in the mid-18th century, the Erbvergleich of 1770 reestablished the old balance of social and political forces, to the extent that such a restoration was possible. What Vann does best is convey a sense of the day-today realities of political life from the humblest village level to the Frenchified court life at Ludwigsburg, realities that blocked any linear (“Weberian”) progress toward a modern bureaucratic state. Despite some jargon from game theory, this is a mature study of real interest to anyone seeking an understanding of politics or early modern Europe.
Although historians have dealt with the Dust Bowl and with Northwestern water projects of the thirties, there has never been a satisfactory comprehensive treatment of New Deal programs in the Western states. Lowitt’s volume, the first in a series on the West in the 20th century, edited by Martin Ridge, fills the bill reasonably well. He has done impressive research on such topics as the drought, irrigation, Indian policy, electric power, the role of the West in national politics, and the conflicts between the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. Lowitt’s writing leaves much to be desired, and his conclusions are not always strikingly insightful, but his book is likely to remain the standard survey of the New Deal in the West for quite some time.
The battle for Monte Cassino was one of those campaigns which, as Harry Truman once observed, was planned by a “squirrel-headed general.” The worst of the lot was clearly the late Mark Clark, who apparently had never heard of the First World War. Sir Harold Alexander was no better, and Sir Bernard Freyberg was an absolute disaster. The Allies took the old monastery at a cost of 80,000 lives; the Germans lost 55,000. At that rate Clark, Alexander, and Freyberg were well on the way to duplicating the glories of Verdun. This is a sober, disturbing account of high-level military stupidity.
This is first-rate diplomatic history of the old-fashioned kind. Professor Jonas knows the sources, understands the clerkish mentality, and has a certain sympathy for bureaucrats of all hues. He traces the evolution of American-German relations through war and peace and finds the United States generally blameless, Germany sometimes an errant pupil. He is best on official interaction, a bit weak on human factors.
Reconstruction, one of the most bitterly disputed facets of the American past, is being reinterpreted—this time in a way closer to the visions of historians of several generations ago than of the 1960’s. In a closely argued new book, Mark Summers reluctantly suggests that the Republican governments of the South during Reconstruction helped sow the seeds of their own destruction by their factionalism, inexperience, and occasional corruption, all of which were exacerbated by their unbalanced, unsystematic, and overly optimistic support of railroads. This book alternates between passages of brilliance and pages of less scintillating analysis of legislative and political maneuvering. In any case, by reinserting economic policy into the historical equation, Summers makes Reconstruction even more complicated than it has seemed but takes us one step closer to understanding that era in all its dimensions.
The author of this controversial account insists that the German soldier was everywhere more than a match for the British and Americans, who ultimately prevailed only because they had more equipment and because the Soviet Union was tying down so many millions of Germans in the East. It is impossible to dismiss such a carefully researched, fully documented claim. The Tommy and the G.I. were probably not quite as incompetent as Hastings sometimes seems to believe, but they were indeed citizens first, soldiers second; the Germans had their priorities the other way around.
Few historians venture to describe changes that extend from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day; the evidence is too voluminous and the morals too unclear. Christopher Silver, though, wades into this forbidding territory and brings his readers up to last year. The story he tells is not a happy one, for in large part it details the failures, compromises, and lack of vision of city planning in a major Southern city. Not surprisingly, city planning in Richmond was bogged down in partisan politics, racial conflicts, and class prejudice. Though there is little here that will startle, it is important to get the story straight, for the past and present are, after all, inseparable.
Flower shows, school prize days, the Henley regatta, balls, and garden parties seemed particularly joyous under the fine weather of the British “season” of 1914. The world of this book is essentially that of the very busy leisured class of innocent debutantes and their dashing young men. Through a most generous use of quotations from their memoirs, journals, and letters, the author establishes the “classes” and : their activities, although she only superficially and artificially gestures at the plight and pain of the working men and women who served as the underpinning of the “civilized life.” When the war explodes on this idyll, the innocence and dash are chewed up by the machine gun and artillary. As long as the author remains anthologist, she is splendidly informative and entertaining. But when she turns historian or thinker, she is an unhappy mixture of simple-minded, silly, or criminal.
Without Hitler, the modern state of Israel would not exist. Such a statement used to be made ironically. But Edwin Black, son of Holocaust survivors, convincingly documents the physical and economic truth of this statement. A pact with the Devil? Perhaps. But the “transfer agreement” between the Third Reich and the Zionist organization in Palestine between 1933 and 1939 saved about a quarter of a million Jews from extermination and provided the capital to buy the land and develop the agriculture and industry that turned Palestine into a modern Jewish State.
The evolution of the white Southern family remains something of a mystery. One group of scholars stresses the patriarchal and hierarchical nature of that family, while another group stresses the Southern family’s fundamental democracy and emotional warmth, its fundamental Americanness. Jane Turner Censer focuses on the planter class, where we might expect to find the most evidence of an aristocratic family organization, but she finds instead families extraordinarily like those of 20th-century Americans. The argument is carefully and elegantly presented, the quotes from private letters and diaries effectively mixed with statistical evidence. Censer’s portrayal of the Southern family as a haven of emotional security is seductive, but one wonders about the darker side. There is no estrangement, disappointment, or violence among these North Carolina families. Previous studies have overstated those aspects of the Southern family, to be sure, but Censer’s families seem almost too good to be true. It is useful to have the previous bias redressed, but a truly balanced account of white Southern family life has yet to be written.
One of the developments that made the French Revolution of 1848 so crucial an event was the impetus it gave to a democratic and socialist tradition among wage-earners, peasants, and small property owners. Berenson argues persuasively that radicals were able to win the allegiance of millions of humble Frenchmen by appealing to their unorthodox, egalitarian brand of Christianity. This work is an impressive contribution to our knowledge about the birth of left-wing mass politics in France.
This is the first in a new series of books intended to reevaluate how government functioned in medieval England. Loyn’s contribution, which covers the period beginning in 500 A.D. and ending with the administration of William the Conquerer, emphasizes recent historical findings that the Anglo-Saxon kings contributed significantly to the development of governmental institutions. Particularly in the areas of taxation and the administration of justice, royal influence extended even into the remote reaches of England. The church played an important role in supporting the monarchy on the national and local levels, and early English kings reciprocated with grants of secular power and wealth to the clergy. Loyn’s ultimate conclusion is that Anglo-Saxon government was not nearly so primitive as we once believed and that the England the Normans conquered already had well-developed central and local government substrata.
Leonard Schapiro, the noted British scholar, died in November 1983 not long after completing this work. One of the most eminent students of Soviet history, he intended the book as a kind of concluding statement, and a fine work it is. Mr. Schapiro did not break any new ground, but he had an unusually fine grasp of sources, he knew the history of the czarist period better than most Kremlinologists, and he was a sensitive, careful writer. He was also a generous and decent man. So long as the study of Russian history produces people like him, there is hope. Highly recommended.
Part South and part West, Texas has always been different. Despite their image as cowboys, though, one thing has reminded Texans of their Southernness: they seceded from the Union and constituted an important part of the Confederacy. Walter L. Buenger’s model case study explores the reasons why Texans followed this path. He finds a complex mixture of immigration from Southern states, cotton production and slavery, patterns of state politics, an overwhelming demand for consensus, and Unionists who could not find a way to translate their convictions into political power. The analysis is balanced, coherent, and gracefully presented; it adds an important and hitherto missing piece to the mosaic of events that made up secession.
We will probably never understand why the German nation turned on and murdered millions of Jews, and it is unlikely that any number of learned investigations will provide insurance against a revival of Nazism. But we have to press on and try to come to terms with it. In this splendid, dispassionate analysis, Professor Gordon of Pace University gives the most comprehensive account yet published of the relations between ordinary Germans and Jews from 1870 until 1945.
The third and final volume of Remini’s magnum opus, his biography of Andrew Jackson, mirrors the strengths and weaknesses found in volumes 1 and 2. Remini has tapped a wealth of sources to present a comprehensive overview of the Jacksonian period. He has devoted considerable space to Jackson’s foreign policy, an oft-neglected subject of study. But all too often his writing resembles a Democratic campaign tract. Jackson remains the heroic figure, even when he has blundered seriously. For instance, while recognizing the tragic consequences of Jackson’s decision to remove the Cherokees to lands west of the Mississippi, Remini believes that Jackson had the best interest of the Indians in mind, A novel interpretation. And the motives of the Websters, the Clays, and the Calhouns—men who were constantly at odds with Jackson—are always suspect. In sum, the author has viewed his subject from the perspective of a Jacksonian Democrat. While “the old man” would have appreciated the accolades, the reader seeking a balanced portrait of the Age of Jackson will be disappointed.
Blotner’s 1974 Faulkner biography was relegated to the status of a scholar’s mine soon after its publication, mainly because it was 1,800 pages long. This condensation (to 700 pages) retells Faulkner’s life with much more verve and narrative drive. More importantly, Blotner assimilates and makes coherent the wealth of information about Faulkner’s marriage and affairs that has surfaced in the past ten years. He uses these revelations in his gentlemanly manner and, at the same time, makes some connections that put several recent attempts at critical and psychological biography in the shade. Blotner again succeeds in elucidating Faulkner’s writing by detailed discussion of the genesis and progress of each work and here provides more critical comment on the tensions that may have produced each masterpiece, but Faulkner’s life still remains much a mystery. Several biographies remain to be written about this private and elusive genius, and one can only hope that they will be done by scholars as tireless and careful as Blotner.
The scores of millions of Inspector Maigret’s fans around the world probably should not read these memoirs of his creator. How the thoroughly decent Maigret sprang from this progenitor is anyone’s guess. Simenon parades his satyriasis as though it were a virtue, shows himself to be an abominable judge of character, and ultimately fails to understand his beloved daughter’s suicide. There is unquestionably a certain fascination in all the muck, and the second wife whom Simenon now detests is an extraordinary study in something—just what is unclear.
This new addition to the English Monarchs Series is written by the renowned scholar Frank Barlow. A work of admirable scholarship, the book is also delightfully written. The chapter on the “Bachelor King and his Domestic Servants” is full of detail and fascinating glimpses of daily life in the 11th century. Foodstuffs, pastimes, even the king’s suspected homosexuality are discussed with a new freedom on the part of the historian that brings the reader much closer to these individuals from the past.
This chronicle of the careers of Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter is a “popular” biography, exhibiting the strengths and weaknesses that we have come to expect from this genre of history. Baker is master of the narrative, as he describes the very different backgrounds of two men who came to share the values of the Holmes-Thayer jurisprudential school. That Brandeis and Frankfurter had a mentor-student relationship, one that began during the Progressive Era and continued through the New Deal, makes them all the more interesting subjects for a comparative biography. But for one with a serious interest in legal history, Baker’s analysis of legal issues is shallow. And from the first page, the reader can tell that this book is more akin to an exercise in hero worship than an objective assessment of the justices, their judicial legacies, and their times.
Milton declared that one who wished “to write well . . .in laudable things ought himself to be a true poem.” His life, as this admirable and admiring study shows, was that, human and frustrated as he sometimes must have been. Thorpe, the former director of the Huntington Library, here examines three “vast topics that dominated his inner life”: his sense of his relationship to God, his sense of his mission as a poet, and his sense of virtue. These aspects shaped his life and his writing, as Thorpe shows by drawing almost exclusively on Milton’s own statements in prose or poetry. What is revealed here is not only the greatness of the man but the spirit from which that greatness springs.
Mary Fish was born in Stonington, Connecticut, in 1736 and died in Wallingford in 1818. She was married three times (a youthful marriage of “mutual affection,” a passionate love marriage in middle age, and a companionable association in old age), she had seven children, and she lived through two wars, the first of which especially sometimes swirled too close for comfort around her. Her portrait, painted for one of her sons when she was 58, shows a keen and critical eye, a slight smile, and a book in her hand. Mary’s story can be told in part because her youngest son, Benjamin Silliman, collected and kept all of her correspondence that he could gather together and copied out her reminiscences and journal. The Buels have made good use of all of this material. The result is a fascinating, well-fleshed-out story of one woman’s passage through the 18th century in America.
As player and later as manager, Casey Stengel epitomized the character type that dominated baseball during its Golden Age. Stengel was a fierce competitor who loved winning, but he never lost the perspective that baseball is just a game. He was a master of baseball strategy but was always able—and willing—to play the part of the buffoon. Creamer’s anecdotal biography describes how Stengel mixed his substantial baseball talents with a flair for entertaining to become the premier personality in the game until his retirement in the mid-1960’s. Along the way, the skipper of the perennial world champion New York Yankees and later of the “amazin” Mets created one of the great legends in American sport.
Like most Nazis, Admiral Karl Dönitz considered himself an aristocrat. Like all Nazis, he was in reality a punk and a bully. He had a run-of-the-mill record in naval service in the First World War, and like millions of his countrymen he turned to the one party that promised to reverse the results of that conflict—the party of Adolf Hitler. He proved something of a leader, but his feet were made of more brittle clay than usual, and he ended the Second World War playing an almost comic opera role. This will be the standard biography.
The rebellious daughter of Chicago’s onetime capo de tutti capi tells all, but it isn’t much, for—like all Mafia women—she was kept in the dark about the family business, and her own history is a confession-magazine cliche. To make matters worse, the book is no fun to read, being by far the most ineptly written as-told-to Mafia memoir yet to appear.
Morris’ remarkable energy is well chronicled in this first volume of his collected letters, which trace the poet-craftsman-socialist from his Pre-Raphaelite days at Oxford, through the founding of Morris and Company, up to the beginnings of his activities with the Hammersmith Socialists in the 1870’s. Architecture, the decorative arts, and political questions dominate the : concerns of many of these letters. The lack of discussion of literary subjects is particularly surprising, considering Morris’s contemporary influence as a poet. The lacunae in the volume are hinted at, however, in several letters which suggest the depth of the unhappiness in the marriage between Morris and Jane Burden. Often the letters indicate that Morris is hiding at least as much as he is revealing.
Lawyers are people paid to keep secrets. And the Victorian solicitor who provided counsel to such notables as Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and a sometimes lecherous Prince of Wales surely had plenty of secrets to keep. Those we will never know, as George Henry Lewis, the subject of this book, destroyed his files and took the tales they held to his grave. John Juxon has worked a partial resurrection for us by unearthing the details of several infamous lawsuits involving the controversial Lewis. The scandals over which he presided in post-Dickensian London are cleverly recalled by Juxon, who reminds us that the Victorians were no less human than we are; simply more discreet.
Of all the sinister Nazi agencies the SS was easily the worst in terms of sheer bestiality. Because Heydrich had been assassinated in 1942 and Himmler had committed suicide at the end of the war, it was necessary to dip down deeper into the muck and produce Ernst Kaltenbrunner to stand in the dock at Nuremberg to represent the SS. He was a hulking brute of a man physically and a cut below that psychologically. Until now we have known little about his background. Black’s thorough study fills in one more of the gaps in the story of unmitigated horror.
The most intelligent and complex of all Russia’s rulers, Ivan IV “the Terrible” has long cried out for a biographer with the vision and sense of proportion to do him justice. Troyat does not fill the bill. This new study is a compilation of clichés snd sensational anecdotes, nothing more. There is no analysis of Ivan’s reign, no real attempt to penetrate the workings of his mind, no glimpse of the Muscovy in which he lived. In short, Ivan is still waiting.
Mary Berenson was a woman both much admired and much hated. Born of prosper- ous Quakers in Philadelphia, she married the great art historian Bernard Berenson. Biographers have recently pointed out that Berenson’s success owed more than a little to Mary’s ambitions. It should be acknowledged that in her own right she was a perceptive art critic, and her published articles reflect her virtues as art historian. In this volume we find Mary among the leading figures of her day—Gertrude Stein, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Bertrand Russell, Isabella Gardner, Vernon Lee. Readers of this volume will come to it, one suspects, more eager to learn of Mary Berenson’s ambitions and passions than of her qualities of mind.
This is the most exciting book about Wallace Stevens to appear in about 15 years. La Guardia is concerned to establish “the telling impact” of a “confluence of imaginations”—Emerson’s transcendentalism and James’ pragmatism—upon Stevens’ writing. But this book is much more than merely a “new reading” of Stevens’ ouerve; it is as well an argument for the continued vitality of the tradition of philosophical pragmatism. La Guardia attacks the various romanticisms that have long informed the way in which Stevens has come to be read: both the old romanticism that seeks to claim Stevens as a Coleridgean or Keatsean poet and the new romanticism, typified by work such as Harold Bloom’s, which maintains Stevens’ poetry to be an attack upon “meaning.”
A spate of recent books by John O. Lyons, Patricia Spacks, and Stephen Cox has tried to define for us that shift in notions of the self which seems to have occurred throughout Europe sometime in the later 18th century, but none succeeds so well as Ann Hartle in her marvelous reading of Rousseau’s Confessions against the background of St. Augustine’s. Hartle finds in Rousseau a genuine philosophic project, “not the writing of an autobiography but the painting of a portrait—a portrait of man as he is according to nature.” Alas, Hartle’s prose and manner of exposition are often monstrously awkward and plodding— reminiscent of term papers from an introductory course in moral theology—but the patient reader’s efforts are amply rewarded.
Contextualism is the order of the day in certain quarters, by which is meant that close study of form is increasingly subordinated to a duke’s mixture of extrapoetic disciplines (here; psychology, philosophy, and social theory) in whose terms the “meaning” of the work is recovered, presumably without reducing the text to a mere example of this or that system of thought. Though as methodologically coherent as one might expect, this volume does give the poem its due and lights up many dark corners of poems major and minor, especially those that can be seen as expressions of childlike desire, visionary and ecstatic impulses, aspiration to altered states of consciousness, and revolt against the rational and real.
In the tradition of David Ehrenfeld’s The Arrogance of Humanism (1978) and Raymond Williams’ Keywords (1976), Peggy Rosenthal unpacks current cant the way a customs agent searches a hippie’s duffle bag for cocaine (or a dowager’s trunk for pestiferous seedlings). Her corrosively skeptical treatment of such terms as self, growth, systems, relationship, and alternative, and the way in which they tend to determine, rather than describe, actions, passions, and thought, is brilliantly argued and cogently illustrated, as well as skillfully written.
Jay’s book charts the changing form and function of autobiographical literature from Wordsworth to Barthes, including Carlyle, Joyce, Adams, Valery, and Eliot. What begins as therapy for the self ends by deconstructing it because of a growing concern for the validity of self-representation. Jay concludes that being in the text is at best an uneasy mimesis. The purely linguistic basis of this conclusion, however, might make some of his readers uneasy.
These 17 articles on Spanish (10) and Spanish American (7) women writers and female characters bridge the centuries from the early Middle Ages to today. They offer a broad perspective of feminist concerns and trace a history of repression, rejection, anger, rebellion, and liberation. Some readers might lament the absence of Pardo Bazán, or of female characters from Cervantes, Galdós, Clarín, or Cortázar; but these studies, most of which appear for the first time here, offer a rich view of many little- or unknown women writers. Miller’s introduction is clear, dispassionate but committed, and balanced.
After a rather weak, syllogistic, and unnecessary introduction in which Armstrong seeks to justify the raison d’être of his theoretical bent, there emerges a masterful phenomenological explication of six of Henry James’ creative and critical works. Building on several key Husserlian concepts, Armstrong treads the potentially treacherous and often turbid waters of literary theory with ease, using bold strokes to synthesize various schools of phenomenology, existentialism, and reader-response criticism. The conceptual framework that evolves during the course of this study suggests a new understanding of the epistemological and moral visions of these six individual literary works and of James’ opus in general. The significance of Armstrong’s first book rests not only on his strikingly new and insightful interpretations of the works of a novelist and theoretician whose very prominence as an object of literary criticism during the last century would almost seem to defy such novelty. Rather the importance of Armstrong’s contribution to the cadre of James scholarship arises from the phenomenological perspective that he so brilliantly brings to bear on his subject.
Siebers presents a compelling case for the self-victimization of the Romantic artist. Using a socioanthropological approach, he examines the work of Poe, Hoffmann, Hawthorne, Gogol, and Nerval and comes to a startling conclusion: that an artistic celebration of the fantastic risks its most maddening effects. He may go too far when he declares that “the Romantic artist was literally mad,” but his diagnosis remains suggestive.
To Raymond Williams’ new series on “English Literature and History” John Barrell, author of Marxist analyses of 18thcentury poetry and painting, contributes a lucid and elegant polemic. In chapters on georgic poetry (Thomson’s Seasons and Dyer’s Fleece), the relations of legal and lexicographic thought (especially in Johnson’s Dictionary), and Smollett’s Roderick Random, Barrell examines the new divisions by trades to emerge in the 18th century and the ways in which the ideal “gentleman” was redefined or simply made to fit the new context’s needs. Though often too ready to impose an economic or political reading on his materials, Barrell’s main theses are solidly argued, and his account of Roderick Random as a georgic of society and outline for the education of a new kind of gentleman is the best reading of that novel to date, and one that points to an important new way of understanding the meaning of Augustan picaresque narrative.
This short, breezy, and deeply muddled book seeks to define the difference between an “Augustan” period in English literature (1660—1750) and an “Age of Sensibility” (or “Experience,” or ” Insubstantiality”) (1750—1800). The earlier period was centrally concerned with “knowing,” the later with “being”—or rather, with the lack of it, for at this time, according to Bogel, writers of all kinds were seized with “ontological insecurity” (R.D. Laing’s term), a sense of the thinness and insufficiency of life. Bogel’s terminology is so vague as to render any potential countercase an instance of his thesis, leaving the reader uncertain what, if anything, has been proved; and because his terms are both vague and drawn mainly from periods other than those he is purporting to study— from Laing, Kierkegaard, Freud, and a host of 20th-century poets (quoted as thickly as are the Augustan poets themselves)—his examples never quite manage to illustrate the concerns Bogel seeks to impose on them.
There is a new critical fashion for writing long books on poems which were never written (e.g., E.S. Shaffer on Coleridge’s Fall of Jerusalem) or barely begun (Miriam Leranbaum on Pope’s Opus Maximum). Throughout his life, Wordsworth amassed fragments of what was to be his great work, The Recluse (to which the Prelude was merely proem), but no critic before Kenneth Johnson has sifted the evidence so carefully, explaining not merely what the whole was planned to be, but how Wordsworth’s plans changed over time. The result is a synoptic reading of nearly all Wordsworth’s works in terms of the great project, one that alters in important ways our readings of particular poems and of the shape of a great poet’s career.
Although a crucial and mystifying image within classical mythology, the Amazon has nonetheless remained a neglected area of study. Tyrrell’s book advances us towards a clearer understanding of the concept of the female warrior in ancient Greek society, offering an interesting analysis of the myth in relation to the marriage institution as viewed by the Athenians. The extensively subdivided chapters give the work a distracting, choppy style, which takes getting used to.
Scott surveys the women in Joyce’s family, the cultural place of women in Irish society, and the role of emerging feminism in modernist aesthetics. This strategy provides a useful corrective to the large amount of scholarship that has oversimplified the role of Joyce’s fictional women (Molly as sloven or goddess). At the same time, Joyce will always resist categorization. He is not, as Kime claims, “engaged in a form of compensatory feminist criticism.” In Joyce’s universe every pro has it con. There will always be as much anti-feminism as feminism in his work. Criticism should never forget that Joyce thought he was swallowing the universe whole.
Professor Dupree in this, the first coherently argued, book-length study of Tate’s poetry sees St. Augustine as the presiding genius of Tate’s career, maintains that “Tate’s poetry, taken as a whole, depicts the same action of conversion that Augustine describes in The Confessions,” and charts this Southern poet’s eventual discovery, thanks to the example of Augustine’s City of God, of a means “of preserving from the ravages of a civilization in collapse those elements of permanent value.” This study brilliantly illuminates individual poems by examining them in the light not only of Tate’s work in general—his poetry, novel, essays, memoirs, and correspondence—but also of writings central to the Western intellectual tradition. In Professor Dupree Tate’s formidable poetry has at last found the necessary critic—a learned, sensitive, and above all tenacious one. Allen Tate and the Augustinian Imagination, because it makes Tate’s forbidding poetry indispensable, is itself indispensable, and no one, without reading this book, can know of the imaginative depths and verbal extremes to which the poetry of our age has sometimes gone in service of a vision.
This is a difficult book, closely (and often awkwardly) written, carelessly proofread, and demanding considerable previous knowledge of its readers. But it is also a landmark of scholarship which revises in the most fundamental ways our understanding of Descartes, Locke, Hume, and the 18th-century philosophy of “ideas.” Perceptual Acquaintance is at once more difficult and more rewarding than its companion volume, published earlier this year, Thinking Matter; in both, Yolton puts his unmatched familiarity with 18th-century philosophers both major and minor to work in the exciting and immensely fruitful project of showing us just how much we have missed in our reading of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment.
This is the wittiest, most irreverent baseball novel to come along in many a season. The minor league Arkansas Reds are appropriately named, since the team’s one-armed manager, Lefty Marks, is an avowed radical and two of its members are infiltrators from Castro’s Cuba. Other players are social misfits, including the book’s delightful narrator, ex-con Hog Durham. Together they make a run for the Dixie Association’s league pennant. Author Hays’ satirical humor is incisive, focusing on Southern mores in general and on politicians and born-again religious fanatics in particular. Depending on one’s persuasions, this novel is either sacreligious or hilariously entertaining. Those in agreement with the author’s viewpoint will have occasion to chuckle often—and heartily—while reading this book.
It is mystifying that this novel and its title were ever brought together. Readers expecting a compelling psychological portrait with sensitive character development will be disappointed. This is a rather routine story about a young divorcee from the South who moves to New York and falls in love with her therapist. Unfortunately, more print is devoted to descriptions of the young woman’s travels and of her eating habits than anything else. Walking Tours through Historic Savannah and Other Points North and South would be a more apt title for this book. Or perhaps Preparing Classic Southern Menus. But Group Therapy? Hardly.
If you wanted to sum up this unusual novel, you might say that Graham Swift as author is rather a cross between Laurence Sterne and Kurt Vonnegut. Some of his chapters are discursive in the manner of Sterne, such as “About the Fens,” which is a geography lesson, a geology lesson, and a family history all rolled into one. Some, such as “About Coronation Ale,” have a bit of the narrative quality of Vonnegut. But the whole is a moving (not always in one direction) story that is unlike any other you may have read recently. You may want to read Waterland more than once.
One comes to expect a certain level of quality even from the likes of Harold Robbins. After all, smut too must meet a standard. But the latest fare from Robbins, self-proclaimed “America’s master story-teller,” fails even in the ranks of soft-core porn. Descent from Xanadu attempts to sell us a plot that combines the power-and-money atmosphere of a Howard Hughes biography, the sexual athleticism of a James Bond story, and the materialistic fetishes of Citizen Kane. This story of the world’s richest man who flies a personally appointed 747 in search of the drug-induced immortality purveyed by a Yugoslavian gerontologist proves far too incredible to be swallowed. The gratuitous parade of drug abuse and sexual excess provides a dissonant accompaniment to the vacuous dialogue with which the novel is filled. Completing the book yields not reward, but relief.
Leon Rooke’s recent rousing success with Shakespeare’s Dog seems to have given his publishers an excuse to launch a new collection of short stories. Unfortunately, most of the stories collected here aren’t new. Of the 16, almost all have appeared in periodicals before, and several are reprinted from earlier collections. They are thus of uneven age—itself hardly an indictment—and uneven quality, a more problematic condition. Several are clever, even funny, in the offbeat perspective they portray. Together however, they do not quite add up to a success.
What is most captivating about this novel set in contemporary Charleston, South Carolina is the author’s sensitivity in character development. Humphreys penetrates the mind of each of her principals—an unfaithful husband-and his wife, their children, his lover, and a young girl from the wrong side of the tracks—and gleans their individual perspectives on shared experiences. An aura of believability pervades this story, as each character meets and resolves his or her own life crisis. Cynical readers may snicker at the novel’s idealistic conclusion, but Humphrey’s deft analysis of both the male and female psyches is most compelling. The author’s attention to descriptions of historic Charleston, her current home, is an added touch.
As a member of the Israeli Knesset and former intelligence officer, the author exploits his dual professional crafts well in an intriguing “what if espionage thriller. What if the KGB recruiter of the most celebrated and infamous Western spy trilogy in modern times (the three “gentlemen” traitors from Cambridge—Philby, Burgess, and Maclean) were to defect and return to London to visit the daughter (his daughter?) of the British woman he once loved. To reveal the identity of a British mole would endanger the life of the girl; not to do so would be a threat to his own. In other words, the Lady or the Tiger, in modern garb.
By the author of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1980), this book is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It is the story of four interrelated lives powerfully shaped by the forces of history (most notably the invasion of Prague in 1968), by the passions of the characters, and by the novelist himself—who insists that all lives take on artistic form. The author is ever-present as philosophic commentator, offering shrewd and sympathetic commentaries in the form of aphorisms on the role of chance in one’s life, on kitsch, on love, on the futility of being. A grim voice that speaks of life on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Enderby, Burgess’ erstwhile poet and Shakespeare scholar, finds himself this time in the wilds of Indiana. While financially trapped into collaborating on a musical intended as celebration of both America’s bicentennial and another anniversary of The Bard’s death—a project that grows increasingly ludicrous—Enderby falls in love with its female lead, its “dark lady.” She is a monumentally sexy black star who belts out her songs in the great American tradition and, inexplicably, falls for toothless old Enderby. A verbally dexterous exercise and self-indulgence, this is a casual novel that need never have been written.
After having written three romantic historical novels, the author has now successfully turned her hand to the mystery world with the third of her “Death in” series. This one is set in Cyprus; and while Kaye is not yet the modern Agatha Christie, she may well one day rival her late sister countrywoman.
Should the epitaphs of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Cemetery start talking in prose, their narrative would greatly resemble James Purdy’s latest novel. “Had God wanted to deprive the women of Fonthill of the main substance of life, he would have removed their ability to speak,” Purdy writes. In effect, in this “large-small” town, somewhere in the Midwest, larger than Spoon River and possibly the size of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, reputations fall under the revelations of tireless gossip, a gossip that stands in for lived lives when nothing is to be made of them. Hieratic and scandalous, covered with diamonds, Adele Bevington is not the only talk of the town. The town endlessly develops its own fictions, erects “make-believe” into an institution which makes it possible to quicken the dullest of lives. The alternative is running away. Some do, none the happier. Purdy at his best.
A Late Divorce, the latest novel of Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua, is reminiscent of Faulkner; each chapter is a monologue by a different family member or intimate. By exposing their souls through interpretations of their family, Yehoshua creates a portrait of a family where the divorce of the elderly parents is but a denouement to a chronicle of spiritual dissolution and regeneration. A Late Divorce, is the story of an Israeli family, the story of living with and evading both the Zionist ideal and the relentless trials that each day in Israel brings. It is between the increasing burden of building the Jewish state and the impossibility of escape that the Kaminkas, like all Israelis, must live.
Jim Harrison’s sixth book of fiction ought to set the record pretty straight and move us away from accustomed presentations of the author: where the “macho” image dominated the early reviews, readers of Sundog will just have to look for something else or feel they are missing quite a few things. Furthermore, whoever thought Harrison was one of the examples of this country’s fiction merely returning to a time-honored tradition of realism will have something else to think about: here Harrison’s technique shows him in full control of diverse narrative voices and, for not being made out of blatantly experimental innovations, gives him the tool necessary for the compassionate stance and ironic distinctness of his novel. Humor, long absent from the early novels is here everywhere, in all three narrative voices, quite inconspicuous and very efficient.
Bellow’s themes, his characters, even his descriptions have always been eloquent defenses of expansion and extended length, so that one comes to these five stories with curiosity and reservation. Unsurprisingly, the best story is the longest story; it is the best story because, as always, Bellow depends on analysis and implication to build his characters, and both of these methods demand the gradual development he long ago mastered. And the other stories are simply surprises. Depending on technique and panache, they showcase Bellow’s craftmanship and for that reason alone are indispensable.
Life has never been easy in north Russia, and in the first few years after the Second World War it was positively grim. One of the Soviet Union’s most distinguished authors devoted his last years to a trilogy dealing with the fictional village of Pekashino and the Pryaslin family; this book is part of the set. Fyodor Abramov won the State Prize of the USSR for these works, which draw an intense, moving portrait of the struggle of impoverished, simple people against nature and the impersonal state. Recommended.
This quiet, cloistered narrative tells a tale of intrigue, sexual guilt, and sin without redemption in 16th-century Spain. Two nuns in a barren, miserable convent decide to improve secretly the community’s lot by faking stigmata in the hopes of drawing attention—and hence favors—to the convent. But internal power struggles, mystic rituals, and class conflicts erupt, leading to their denunciation to the Inquisition and their eventual imprisonment and trial. This psychologically rich story won Spain’s National Prize for Literature in 1979.
Rare is the author who can say very little, yet communicate large truths. Joan Didion is (or at least, has been) capable of that feat, as she showed us in Slouching toward Bethlehem some years ago. However, the narrative gifts she displayed then seem to have degenerated into a fetish for clipped dialogue—strings of not quite sentences muttered by characters who yearn to sound portentous. Injection of the author into the middle of this novel—here as omniscient narrator, there as first person participant/character—adds further confusion. Didion succeeds at creating a collage of images, settings that are visually lean, but suggestive. The characters are less satisfying, and the reader searches in vain for some fleshy insight with which to cover the skeletons that people the pages of Democracy.
Books demonstrating why an unlimited nuclear arms buildup makes no sense continue to appear—about as read (by the people who need to read them) as arms stocks shrink. The works of Jonathan Schell, James Fallows, Robert Sheer, and recently Harold Willens argue in different ways for flexibility, common-sense, and moral perspective in our military planning. Dyson, a British-born scientist with World War II experience, adds to this discussion by offering a fresh, sometimes personal, account of between-the-world-wars bomber theory, of wartime breakthroughs in physical science and missilery, and of late developments in microchip computer technology. The future, Dyson argues, belongs to “David” rather than “Goliath”—to information gathering satellites rather than massive firepower, to defensive, not offensive weapons. He often cites George F. Kennan in outlining a policy he calls “live and let live,” by which we would foreswear the first use of nuclear “arms” and scuttle the MX as first steps toward a negotiated reduction of U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals. A pity that so few of our officials share Dyson’s good sense and historical-literary perspective.
Life is so cheap in the 20th century that one despairs of coming at last to the end of horrors. We have long known that the Nazis conducted inhuman experiments on prisoners, including children, but few of us have the stomach to read the details. In this meticulously detailed work based upon archival evidence, Schwarberg, a West German journalist, comes to grips with the horrible past that haunts his country to this day. The doctor of his title went to prison, but many accomplices remain free today, immune from further prosecution.
This, the second volume in a new series, goes against the tide of contemporary scholarship. In an age of ever-increasing specialization, editors Black and Reed are trying to reconcile breadth of appeal with depth of analysis. Several of this book’s 21 essays successfully accomplish this goal, but a larger proportion flounder on the shoals of indecision. Articles that replicate the language and compartmentalized presentation of dry sociological tracts yet exclude virtually all of the supporting evidence are not likely to satisfy many readers, of whatever background. The success of the enterprise would be a refreshing change for students of the South, for it appears exceedingly difficult to combine sophistication and accessibility.
Where do they get them? The defectors and émigré-doomsayers keep turning up on our shores telling us how wretched we are because we do not know the Communists, and they proceed to instruct us how to act. The author of this bizarre catechism, who claims to be an ex-KGB officer, has an answe