Few people take the Confederacy seriously these days. Its battle flag has been reduced to a novelty license plate, its monuments have cooled into mute gray stone. But it was taken very seriously indeed at the turn of the century, when most of those monuments were erected and Confederate reunions attracted tens of thousands of veterans and admirers every year. This book traces the rise and fall of the memorialization of the Lost Cause and does so with considerable intelligence. Most welcome is the tone; Foster explores the cult of the Confederacy in a sympathetic but distinctly sensible voice. He avoids the temptation of loading the movement with more symbolism and social function than it can bear. The result is a book that illuminates the New South, the Gilded Age, and American historial consciousness.
This history of Parliament is a far more contentious book than its section and chapter headings suggest. Under the cover of such topics as “The Sources,” “The Structure of Businesss,” and “Bill Procedure,” Elton disproves the interpretation of Elizabethan parliamentary activity developed by Sir John Neale, until now accepted as authoritative. In opposition to Neale’s image of an independent Commons with a political agenda of its own in opposition to the Queen’s and including a powerful cohesive Puritan faction, he offers a Parliament that is a branch of the crown and includes the queen as one its major constituent groups. Parliament was a law-making body, not a political body, and the laws passed were laws that served the purposes of the crown. Elton’s presentation is extremely persuasive because he first defines the nature and reliability of his sources and then allows them to tell their own story. Although the thoroughness with which Elton makes his case may at times become tedious for the general reader, his reconstruction of the workings of Parliament (how bills were proposed and by whom, how they got through committees, how private bills differed from public bills, to name but a few of the topics) is fascinating.
“Reluctant subjects” under British rule in Nova Scotia in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Acadians struggled under extraordinary circumstances to find their place in the New World. After briefly relating their early history in Canada, Brasseaux examines the Grand Dérangement, the Acadian dispersal of the late 18th century, and the eventual settlement of the Acadians in Louisiana. Drawing on new primary source materials, Brasseaux tells a fascinating tale of cultural formation, adaptation, and evolution.
This very readable book is an enjoyable example of history told “from the bottom up” rather than “from the top down.” It is a popular social history which deals less with who was sitting on the throne than with what his or her subjects were eating during that particular reign. This volume is an attempt to chronicle the rhythms of daily life in England. Christopher Hibbert describes the texture of life in the range of social classes as they engage in activities from working to leisure, relationships familial and romantic, and pursuits both edifying and less productive. While this is not a scholarly work in the classic sense, Hibbert has taken pains to canvass a wide range of (mostly secondary) materials. He does a credible job of conveying the texture of the various periods, and one does receive some appreciation of how the participants viewed their world. Although at times the reprise of “Merrie Old England” comes across a little too strongly, Hibbert does not shy away from giving us glimpses of the underside of life in these periods and the injustices which characterized the lot of those so consigned.
Southern planters, for so long the object of romance and ridicule, are finally coming into their own. Historians are striving to take the planters at their word, to try to see their world through their eyes. The notions of “honor” and “patriarchy,” so alien in our time and thus so easy to dismiss as so much rhetoric and self-deceit, are emerging as the keys to that lost world. In this book, Steven Stowe examines printed sources previous scholars have neglected and thus writes a sort of intellectual history of Southern ritual. Then he narrates the story of three Southern planter families to show how that ritual worked—and failed to work—in practice. Though the book tends at times to become tangled in its own abstractions and distinctions, it is subtle and revealing. It gets us one step closer to understanding a place hard to imagine.
Written in a slightly bombastic style with clear partisan bias, this book nevertheless recounts the history of the tens of thousands of English men and women who gave financial and moral support to the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. The Aid Spain campaign sent supplies, more than two hundred medical personnel, and ambulances to help the “patriots” and “humanitarians” (the other side is characterized simply as “fascists” or “fascist dictators”) fighting against the Franco insurgency. Fyrth amply documents his case that there was widespread support for the “Spanish people” and his passionate involvement with this issue has outlived Franco: “Thirty years later the world was very different, but so long as the Franco regime lasted, there were those who kept the cause alive.”
Southern history has been one of the most vital fields of American historiography during the last 25 years. Hundreds of scholars have attempted to rewrite large portions of the region’s complex, often tortured, past; new experience, new methods, and new comparisons have driven their revisions. Yet we have not had an overview of the writing on the South since 1965, and a volume such as this is long overdue. Fortunately, the distinguished authors do their job well. The 13 essays place in perspective virtually every important book or article on the Southern past written since the mid-sixties while delineating major trends and neglected areas. Everyone seriously interested in Southern history needs this volume.
The Cossacks were the Hessians of the last three tsars. Not technically foreigners, they were not Russians, and they were not an ethnic group at all: they were a profession, and their profession was pillaging. The tsars channeled the Cossacks’ worst instincts in directions useful to the decaying dynasty and in so doing prolonged Romanov rule—but only for a few decades. Robert McNeal has written one of the better scholarly histories of these quasi-criminal swashbucklers who were the best the Romanovs could produce as a palace guard.
Walvin, a distinguished English historian of slavery, shows that a short (182 pages) survey of a complex subject can indeed be accurate, involving, and even stimulating. His introduction is irritatingly present-minded and surprisingly defensive about writing a book on England and slavery, but such a tack may be necessary for the student and general reader. Though naturally some subjects suffer from condensation and Walvin uses primarily secondary works (for this short work, at least), this book should not be ignored by specialists; perhaps in part because of the required condensation, Walvin makes intriguing connections and original conclusions, and makes them far more clearly than would be possible in a longer and more detailed study. Illustrations would be helpful (Walvin has recently produced Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Short Illustrated History), but England, Slaves, and Freedom is perfect—or will be when it appears in paperback—for survey courses in English history and comparative slavery.
This excellent study deals with the emergence in the 15th and 16th centuries of humanist education (and the various forms it took in Italy and to the north) as a rival, and eventual successor, to scholastic education. By looking at humanist education as practised, through student notes and humanists’ editions of teaching texts, Grafton and Jardine show how the actual pedagogical practices and experiences of humanist teachers and their students differed considerably from the educational ideology of humanism and its claim to be turning out the ideal citizen.
Nelson proposes the concept of political economy as the best means to understand the links between politics and policies in the early Republic. He pursues this thesis through analyses of Hamilton, Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison. The result is a vigorous reinterpretation of the conventional wisdom about federalism and republicanism. Hamilton’s system perpetuated American dependence on Britain, thus hindering broad-gauge economic growth; the Republican triumvirate, by contrast, advocated balanced policies to maintain agricultural markets, stimulate manufacturing, and promote internal and external commerce. The revision of Hamilton is persuasive, but the view of republicanism may depend too greatly on Gallatin.
A solid volume of old-fashioned diplomatic history which should prove indispensable for scholar and student alike. Professor Blumenthal’s mastery of source and detail is unmatched, and he provides an admirable judicious survey of the period. The book will stir no great controversies, for its virtues are those of balance, prudence, and the determined effort to understand both sides of a question. This is particularly evident in the section on FDR and de Gaulle: the author concludes that these “strong personalities and virtuoso politicians” were “driven apart by apparently irreconcilable differences” on the future role of France.
Few authors are as qualified as Paul Barolsky to write about the interrelations of painting and literature. Though by profession an art historian, he also teaches courses in the University of Virginia’s English Department. His choice of Walter Pater as his subject locates his book at precisely one of the points where the history of art and the history of literature intersect. To whom does Pater belong: English departments or Art departments? As Barolsky shows, Pater was one of the great masters of English prose, but he also has been one of the seminal influences on the writing of art history in this century. In this wide-ranging and perceptive essay, Barolsky deals with the many facets of Pater’s achievement, looking back to the Renaissance as the source of Pater’s inspiration and forward to the modern period to uncover his manifold legacy in writers as diverse as Woolf, Berenson, Joyce, and Nabokov. But Barolsky’s book is not an exercise in the dry scholarship of source- and influence-hunting. His remarkable evocation of Pater’s achievement constitutes a plea for a return to a more humane and broad-minded conception of art history, one enriched as was Pater’s by imaginative contact with the great sister art of literature.
This is a fascinating and wide-ranging book and a model of how the study of Latin American literature can enrich our understanding of literature in general. Too often academic specialization stands in the way of genuinely creative criticism: Latin American scholars write only on Latin American literature and English Scholars write only on English literature, and never the twain shall meet. But MacAdam transcends these boundaries, moving freely back and forth between Europe and Latin America. The conjunctions of works he brings about will sometimes strike readers as strange, but obviously a great deal of thought has gone into the planning of this book, and MacAdam’s argument repays careful attention. One example of his procedure is the exciting chapter on “Mock Epic and Autobiography,” in which MacAdam brings together Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges. An even more compelling chapter traces the treatment of revolution and history from Carlyle’s The French Revolution to Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, using Hardy’s The Dynasts and Euclides de Cunha’s Rebellion in the Backlands as the way stations in between. This volume is a genuine exercise in comparative literature.
Doubly new and doubly useful, this is not only a fresh look at an old issue, but the first comparative treatment of its subject. Moving easily between broad generalities and the concrete particulars of literary life in France as well as the United States, Clark adduces the factual basis for profound differences almost universally sensed by cultivated readers, and for surprising similarities that explode stereotypes of superiority much cherished by the French. Of special value is her treatment of the intimate, if uneasy (and indeed unstable) relationship between writing and politics in France, from the royal mécénat (and salon counter-culture) of the old regime to the blurring of author and politician in the age of de Gaulle and Mitterand. Highly recommended.
This interesting, well-researched study of the “gear-and-girder world” of the early 20th century proceeds according to the assumption that “a dominant technology defines or redefines the human role in relation to nature.” The formulation, dangerously simplified as it may be, allows Professor Tichi access to one important line of structural and moral development in American literature and culture from the Utopian technology of the late 19th century through the first generation of literary modernists. Along the way she defines and exploits such important topics as the Efficiency Movement, component-part construction, and the cultural heroism of the engineer. She is particularly illuminating in her discussions of toys (the Erector Set, Froebal Blocks) and in the illustrations she culls from contemporary magazine advertising. Her literary analyses touch provocatively on such half-forgotten but representative figures as Edward Bellamy, Edna Ferber, and Robert Herrick and culminate in sustained readings of the mechanistic modernism of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and William Carlos Williams.
This is one of the first six titles in a new series called Landmarks of World Literature that Cambridge has inaugurated. The aim of the series is to provide introductions to masterpieces of world literature. Though written by noted scholars, the volumes are conceived with a general audience in mind and thus avoid the arcane discourse which has infected much recent literary criticism. Boyle’s volume on Faust will be particularly welcome to the many readers interested in Goethe’s life-work but daunted by its complexity. Boyle begins by placing Goethe’s play in the long Faust tradition, dating back to the early Renaissance. Most of the book is devoted to a detailed, scene-by-scene reading of Faust, which illuminates many of the obscure points which might otherwise trouble the novice reader. The book concludes with a brief survey of 19th- and 20th-century works which have been influenced by Faust. This book cannot substitute for more complex critical analyses of Faust, but as an introduction for the beginning student of Goethe, it serves its function well and makes one look forward to later volumes in this series, such as the one on Hamlet.
This collection of seven essays from the English Institute, 1984 and 1985, brings some of the newest of new approaches to bear on the three most imposing authors of the English Renaissance: Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton. From one angle there’s diversity, from another there’s a hodgepodge, and from this angle the effect is a thud. Mary Nyquist offers a veritable wandering wood of an essay on Genesis and Milton’s Eve, performing best while summarizing other critics’ work; her essay, together with an essay from Marjorie Garber and two new historicist readings from Stephen Orgel and Stephen Mullaney on Shakespeare’s work, constitute the least appealing, and least revealing, of the volume’s efforts. Janet Adelman takes a provocative view of Macbeth’s tortured path by examining the subconscious desire to be “born not of woman”; Patricia Parker less successfully works with a scene from Spenser’s, Bower of Bliss. The crowning achievement of the collection, however, is a deft, entertaining tour de force from John Hollander on “Spenser’s Undersong.”
Brater’s is the first book-length study of Beckett’s later dramatic works, and it is likely to remain the best. Beginning with Not I and moving through such recent plays as Catastrophe and What Where, Brater offers extremely perceptive readings of the ways Beckett has continued to “explore the potential of a theater image, to simplify it, to reduce it, above all to clarify it.” Particularly helpful is his acute awareness of the visual and technical aspects of performance; as Brater puts it, “Lighting . . . and especially mechanical recording devices . . .function more like dramatic principals than incidental side effects.” All told, Beyond Minimalism is thorough and lucid, an important contribution to Beckett scholarship.
These essays about Barbara Pym were for the most part written especially for this book, and they vary a good deal. Those in Part I concern Pym’s life; in Part II the work; and in Part III a summing up of her achievement. None of the pieces is very long, some no more than a page or so. Those by her friends are no better than those by people who only read and never knew her. Not one can measure up to the distinction of its subject—and that is a great pity. Barbara Pym deserves more than this.
In this first volume of the essays of Virginia Woolf, Andrew McNeillie has brought together 109 pieces, 83 previously not collected. The first two, one a review of W.D. Howells’ The Son of Royal Langbrith, the other a brief essay on Haworth and the Brontes, appeared in successive weeks in December 1904, in the Guardian, a weekly newspaper for the clergy. The last in this volume is an article in the TLS in January 1912, on the novels of George Gissing, which had just appeared in a new edition. In the 106 pieces in between it is possible to notice several things. One is that early on Virginia Woolf reviewed whatever she was given, whether it was good or trash, whether she liked it or not. More important is that in the eight years included here, she began to develop her own distinctive style and way of looking at books and their authors. Succeeding volumes will show that style in fuller bloom and therefore more interesting. But here you see the first tight buds just beginning to unfold.
Kreyling’s new book argues that an identifiable heroic type, arising from the communal imagination of the South, has been strongly present in Southern narrative since the birth of the plantation novel in the 1830’s. His structural approach, emphasizing not “meaning” but the mythic patterns working beneath the surface of narrative, offers valuable new readings of works by Simms, Glasgow, Tate, Faulkner, and others. And it offers a genuinely convincing paradigm with which other Southern narratives may be approached. Kreyling has given us not just a good book—broad in focus and critically sophisticated—but a useful one.
This book is most interesting for the light it sheds on Whitman’s career as a whole, particularly the effect that the Civil War and explosive capitalist development had on Whitman’s prophetic, democratic optimism. Thomas sees Whitman’s poetry, particularly the later poems, as his method of adjusting to rapid change, a thesis that allows Thomas both to take Whitman on his own terms as the poet of a great nation and to step back and critically evaluate the costs and possibilities (or futilities) of such a stance. The book is strong on historical detail, somewhat weak in its lengthy and rather disconnected close readings. This is by no means a landmark book, but Whitman scholars will want to consult it.
The complementarity of Europe’s two oldest epics is a venerable topic. Pucci bores in on it with new fervor, detecting an intricate network of detailed cross-references whereby the two poems talk to each other and argue about heroism, death, and the function of poetry. Pucci is always learned, and sometimes, as on the polarity of heart and belly, fresh and acute. He can also be murkily postmodern and willful in his pursuit of self-referentiality; but when the smoke clears, a lot of traditional wisdom is still in place.
Monticello’s family was, of course, that of Thomas Jefferson, and it was always his during his long life, although most of its members were Randolphs. In an age when a married woman joined her husband’s family, the family at Monticello was unique because Martha Jefferson Randolph lived much of her married life in or near her father’s home, and her father named each of her dozen children. Elizabeth Langhorne has chronicled the relationships among Jefferson, his daughters Martha and Maria, Martha’s husband Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and several of Martha and Tom’s children, especially Thomas Jefferson Randolph and Ellen Randolph Coolidge. Also recorded here is much about Monticello’s “downstairs” family, the black Hemings, the children and grandchildren of redoubtable Sally. The 270 pages of text are divided into 38 brief chapters making this a book that is easy to start and stop, if occasionally confusing when a new chapter continues the story of a person last mentioned several chapters earlier. Some chapters treat distant members of the family such as John Randolph of Roanoke while others follow family members from Monticello to Richmond, Washington, Paris, and to Jefferson’s retreat, Poplar Forest, in Bedford County. A few chapters describe events far away from Monticello that affected members of its family. A genealogical chart would have been useful as would have a consistent style of references to original sources. But this is a popular history and should be welcomed by visitors to Monticello and by others who would know something of central Virginia’s first family.
The life we glimpse behind these carefully selected and edited letters is curiously uneventful, free of pain, struggle, or blemish. His letters are filled with warmth and humor, but as in his Autobiography, Van Doren distances himself and his private life. There is a glimpse of peckish irritability over dealings with publishers and radio producers, and, during one trying period when son Charles was involved in the Quiz Show scandals, Van Doren admitted the anguish it caused him and his wife, but their loyalty to Charles remained firm. The editor chose letters to distinguished friends and former students, among them: Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, Joseph Wood Krutch, Mortimer Adler, Scott Buchanan, Thomas Merton, John Berryman, but used only one fourth of those available to him. Letters to Van Doren’s parents have been destroyed; early letters to his good friend Krutch were lost in a fire. Regrettably, there is no list of Van Doren’s publications, nor is there a facsimile page of an autograph letter. This small, valuable collection of letters by a distinguished poet, critic, scholar, and extraordinary teacher, only confirms our picture of the smiling public man we have already known.
Despite appearances, this book is not a hoax. Wambly Bald is the real name of a witty, astute, and—above all, perhaps— well-connected University of Chicago alum, who for four years wrote the “Vie de Bohème” column for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. His mannered insider’s account of the faicts et gestes of the Montparnasse artistic glitterati makes for delightful reading, though by the time one reaches the last page, it is not clear what, if anything, has been gained beyond a sense of sophisticated surface, which may prove that between Bald and his material, there was a perfect fit.
This fascinating biography of the most famous of the Pankhursts describes Sylvia’s involvement in the most important political and social movements of late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain. From her youthful participation in the female suffrage and pacifist movements, Pankhurst flirted briefly with communism, and later protested the Italian war against Ethiopia, which resulted in her long friendship with Haile Selassie. It is to Romero’s credit that she neither exaggerates nor minimizes Sylvia’s many flaws. Moreover, Romero’s engaging narrative style keeps the reader from becoming overly exasperated with Sylvia herself.
Best known as the director of The Red Shoes, Michael Powell has spent all his life literally “in” films, and in this splendid autobiography he pulls us into that fascinating world with him. Trained in silent films in France by Rex Ingram and others, Powell found the transition to “talkies” difficult. Finally, in 1937, his work on The Edge of the World caught Alexander Korda’s attention, and Powell was on his way after a protracted apprenticeship. No one in films has ever written a more engaging, stimulating story.
Perhaps no actor has ever graced the English stage with a wider and more esteemed reputation than David Garrick. In this biography, Alan Kendall seeks to correct the surprising lack of attention Garrick’s life has held for biographers. By making lavish use of Garrick’s letters, Kendall introduces Garrick as a person. Yet to talk of Garrick the person is to necessarily depict his Georgian world. Here is the real triumph of the book. Though the text treats Garrick in a bit too platitudinous a manner, the book’s wide margins are filled with fascinating illustrations and explanations that suggest the great breadth of Georgian cultural life. David Garrick is an enjoyable and illuminating work designed for a popular audience.
This biography of the shy, passionate, reclusive, artist sister of Augustus John is not distinguished for its style, which is flat, repetitive, and banal, but rather for the accumulation of facts about the artist and her life and work. Gwen John lived for the most part in extreme poverty, which she made little or no effort to relieve. She was an intense lover of cats, Rodin (whose mistress she was for some years and to whom she wrote thousands of letters when she could not see him), and other women, such as Véra Oumançoff, the sister-in-law of Jacques Maritain, who rationed Gwen to one meeting a week. Several of her paintings in color are included in this volume, but not the revealing self-portrait, though that is used twice on the book jacket.
The brilliance of Santayana is well and truly celebrated in this long book about his life and work, yet more than 500 pages are barely enough to cover the details. McCormick quotes at length and that is good, but the best would be to take the book as a starting point and return to Santayana’s own writings, philosophical, autobiographical, and his one book of fiction, The Last Puritan. You might skip the poetry without too much loss. The pictures in the book are well chosen. Notice the child at six, painted by his father, the young man at 21, the older man at the time he left Harvard in 1912, and the old man at the Clinic of the Blue Nuns in Rome in 1946, six years before his death there.
This, the first of an envisioned two-volume work, is, in the author’s words, “an introduction to Gladstone, an extended biographical essay.” Indeed, it says much for the stature of this tower of 19th-century British politics that even an “introduction” merits two volumes. Matthew currently is still editing Gladstone’s massive diaries; for the most part, this work is actually a reprint of those editorial chapter introductions. Nevertheless, to republish this material separately—and more accessibly—is not to cheat the reading public, for as a work standing alone, Matthew’s biography is insightful and learned and a welcome addition to the vast mound of Gladstoniania.
Perhaps because he was blessed by John Morley’s classic biography of 1879, the remarkable 19th-century British statesman, Richard Cobden, almost failed to receive a single biographer for the whole of the 20th century. Suddenly, two biographies have appeared virtually simultaneously this year to rectify this oversight, and both are welcome. Wendy Hinde’s work, although perhaps not so intricate as Nicholas Edsall’s careful study, is nonetheless sufficiently well researched. It is concise while still being full, sympathetic while remaining judicious, and is extremely well written. In a time when world leaders are again talking of tariffs and trade barriers, perhaps we should all do well to read about this thoughtful exponent of free trade and peace. Finally we can do so with the benefit of modern scholarship.
Principally an autobiographical account of her own 14 years as director and administrator of a small private life-care retirement home and infirmary in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mrs. Blake’s story also deals in detail from the records with the founding of the institution and the first ten years of its operation. Her story benefits from an easy, conversational style, and it conveys the frustrations and rewards that abound in the sympathetic delineation of the final chapters in the lives of several dozen very real and mostly admirable people. Among the lessons that might be learned from Mrs. Blake’s story are that it may well stimulate an expansion of this small-scale approach to the growing need for affordable retirement and care opportunities for the burgeoning proportion of older people in our population, and that success in this kind of service lies much in the degree of compassion, human relations skills, and commitment possessed by the administrator.
Jean-Paul Sartre was France. For a brief time after the Second World War he embodied all the genius and impotent frustration of a proud nation reduced to beggary, first by the Nazis, then by the threat of Americanization. That the threat was blunted was due in no small measure to the French intellectuals, of whom Sartre was briefly the undisputed leader; they saved the country’s soul even as they pummeled and tormented it, trying to shape it to conform to their often contradictory vision. Ronald Hayman has produced a splendid biography of the man who, along with de Gaulle and Schuman, rescued France from the ashes.
Blanche Vernon is an intelligent, respectable, middle-aged woman whose husband, Bertie, to whom she was devoted, has left her for the more exciting Mousie, his secretary. Blanche fills her empty life with a volunteer job or brooding over paintings at the National Gallery. At night she sits alone in her flat, bathed and dressed, drinking wine, waiting for Bertie to drop by for a chat. Her loneliness causes her to meddle in the life of a young woman with a mute child. Blanche sees the child’s muteness as withdrawal from the life thrust upon her. How Blanche extricates herself from this insoluable situation is the story. Once again Brookner anatomizes the tensions between a thoughtful, self-effacing, plain woman, doomed to serve a shallow, self-absorbed, vain woman. As always, Brookner’s style is flawless; she is an acute observer of character and setting, but in this book, she fails to dramatize; instead of scenes, she gives endless descriptive narrative and analysis. Awarded the Booker prize for her excellent Hotel du Lac, Brookner has fallen short with the static, improbable plot and airless atmosphere of this novel.
This collection of short stories is the latest winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. DeMarinis has taken what might be considered as timeworn themes and retold them in a startlingly fresh and highly original manner. For instance, in the title story, the uneasiness and fear resulting from missile installations in North Dakota farmland is explored in terms of a dissolving marriage and an obsessive love affair. “The Smile of a Turtle” tells the outwardly simple tale of an aggressive salesman and a nervous housewife as a both funny and terrifying Aesop’s fable of a turtle and a mouse. An outstanding collection.
Both the setting of this novel, a small coastal New England town, and the dark power of Shreve’s insights into the violence of sexual obsession, call to mind Robert Williams’ recent work, The Moon Pinnace. Queen of Hearts also shares with Joan Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia and Graham Swift’s Waterland an interest in the mysterious cycles, the strange tolerances, the rootedness, of life in a small community. A wonderfully compelling story, told in an age when storytelling is deemed, in certain circles, to be passé.
For readers who fancy modern myth and not quite real characters who speak in aphorisms, this updated Parable of the Talents may be just their cup of Irish tea. If a bit of the foregoing goes a long way with you, try instead this gifted storyteller’s Bogmail, where dwell more deeply rooted people with whom we can identify more readily. One might also sample the author’s four other novels; praise for them whets the appetite—and await his next with interest.
Shelby Hearon examines in her latest novel, Five Hundred Scorpions, how regional cultures can affect gender roles. Paul, who is a lawyer in Virginia, abruptly leaves his family to join an archaeological expedition in Mexico. Disease, infection, and a feeling of uselessness and other factors all break Paul down. In fact, the Mexican culture seems to allow women to dominate over meek, submissive men. Conversely, Paul’s wife, once distraught by his absence, grows with her new independence. Mexico and Virginia become highly abstracted to serve as two larger cultural extremes that can permit such transformations. Despite the character development and symbolism, Hearon’s novel is at times disjointed, and the characters and settings are symbolic without being well-defined so that their maturation is from one extreme to another.
Julian Barnes interrupted this novel to write Flaubert’s Parrott, and something got lost in the shuffle. Staring at the Sun chronicles the rather drab life of Jean Serjeant, a sensibly shod and properly cold Englishwoman, over the century of her life, which ends about 2021. No writer today has a better or more graceful command of English than Mr. Barnes, but this particular story cannot really bear the weight of his own talent. It is a good try but no more than that.
The late Nobelist Heinrich Böll is as popular in Russia as he is in the West, and small wonder: not since Remarque has anyone written about war quite so convincingly. Böll’s war is that of the infantryman, not the armchair general and not the Hollywood director. His “casualty” has wounds you can feel, emotions you can share right down to the tear ducts. Böll was quite simply a genius, and we are fortunate to have an English translation of yet another collection of his stories.
Isabel Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, was warmly received by critics around the world, and won her instant fame as a writer. Her second novel, De Amor y de Sombra, was first published in Spain in 1984, and is now effectively translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden. As a Chilean by birth, Allende knows what she is writing about when she sets her novel in an unnamed Latin American military dictatorship. Into this setting, she introduces a pair of lovers, the woman from an upper-class family, the man a freedom fighter. The politics of the novel may be predictable, but the story has the kind of raw emotional power characteristic of Latin American fiction.
This is an espionage thriller with a smashing climax built around an intriguing marriage of fact and fiction, of truth and tragedy, on the as yet unanswered question: who was the last of the young Cambridge English traitors recruited by the Soviets in the thirties?
Five love stories, both sad and happy, set among the Alpine farms and villages of France, told with an engaging, unsentimental simplicity: such a statement would be a true summary of John Berger’s newest fiction, Once in Europa. However, one could write equally true summaries of Flaubert’s Three Tales or Joyce’s Dubliners, and I believe it is with just such masterworks that Berger’s collection deserves comparison. To term Once in Europa “simple” means that it burns immediately to the essential: if there are fewer complexities in the rural world Berger portrays, the passions of that world seem not less true but purer and more intense for the lack. Most readers will feel that they are seeing anew a land where they once lived but have long since abandoned in exile. Berger proved his mastery of an experimental style in his earlier novel, G. Here he writes with— again—a ravaging simplicity. Never has “the right word” been pursued with more care nor achieved with finer effect.
The latest in the Brady Coyne series, Dead Meat is a competent mystery in which our likable, low-key hero attempts to unravel a series of murders at a remote Maine hunting lodge. Tapply’s plotting here isn’t quite as satisfying as usual— don’t bother, for example, trying to figure out Who Shot the Moose (the eponymous dead meat), since its main function seems to be to provide the titular pun. But the suspense is adequately maintained, the Maine settings are terrific, and the element of anti-Indian prejudice which underlies the murder investigation gives the narrative a welcome depth.
Galdós begins his 1882 novel with a stunning anti-Cartesian declaration (“I do not exist”) and follows it with a vigorous denial of that statement—a detailed self-description by the narrator, Máximo Manso, a philosopher—which turns out to be the novel itself. Manso grapples with the problem of how to lead a moral (philosophical) life in a seemingly intractably chaotic society (“Madrid is a chasm of unanswered questions”). His rational tenets are undermined when his star pupil falls in love with the same young woman he has come to love. Galdós provides richly drawn, brilliantly detailed characters (the portrait of doña Cándida is a good example), who move about in a complex urban setting. The surprise ending lends an ironic veracity to the opening words. Deftly translated by Robert Russell.
Stephen Cooper, a professor of philosophy, becomes disillusioned with his life after viewing, at a niece’s wedding, his half-brother’s immense, self-acquired wealth and the uses to which it was put. Cooper then changes his life entirely. He executes a colossal fraud, becomes in every way a different person, and finally, after one last disenchantment, disappears forever. The author of this fascinating book is the director of the University of Chicago Press, a man well acquainted with a wide range of books and also the author of four other novels.
It is always a delight to discover a new talent among novelists, especially a comedic one. But to have that talent turn out to be a prolific one is more than can be expected. With this, his ninth novel in nine years, A.N. Wilson certainly establishes himself as prolific, and his talent is equally clear. Love Unknown blends the comic and the serious in a way that has become characteristic of Wilson. The subject matter touches on many of the most disturbing issues of our age, while the wild complications of the plot border on the farcical. And , throughout, the novel is distinguished by a crystalline prose that at its best is reminiscent of Jane Austen. Take, for example, the opening paragraph of the story proper: “Monica Cunningham had become accustomed to solitude. The arrival of anyone else, especially of an old and much-loved friend, was to be viewed with a mingled pleasure. The tranquility of existence was easily disturbed.” This kind of deceptively simple prose is rare in contemporary fiction, and all the more welcome. With A. N. Wilson’s fiction, reading is once again a pleasure rather than a chore.
The author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle turns his penetrating eye to the world of media conglomerates and their legal and political servants. The plot centers on the machinations of an arch-manipulator who runs a thinly disguised Boston Globe for a faceless corporation. But the strengths here are in character, dialogue, and setting. Higgins knows this glossy world and its venal underside so well that the book transcends the limitations of the genre and stands as a genuine achievement. In its energy and authenticity, Impostors compares favorably with the more staid and respectable work of Louis Auchincloss.
By inheritance Henrietta Garnett should be well equipped to produce a striking novel, but in spite of all its unusual qualities this book falls short. Her dialogue, which makes up most of the book, is jerky. The action, in Ireland, in England, in Switzerland, and on an island, is melodramatic and colorful, but not convincing. Like her mother’s book, Deceived with Kindness, this one may be a form of exorcism. One thing is certain: her style is different from that of any of her relatives. It will be interesting to see what her second novel will be like.
Our 20th-century world is unavoidably and overwhelmingly fashioned and dominated by the media. Gary Gumpert, who is a communications professor, shows how pervasive the news media and communication systems and gadgets are in our culture. Reminding us that something as simple as the radio was a rarity for our grandparents’ generation, Gumpert’s examination of some of the more preposterous phenomena—phone sex, sporting events “live on videotape,” people shutting off the outside world in the musical world of a “Walkman,” and tombstones with recorded messages—forcefully drives home his point that our age’s innovations have had a revolutionizing effect on our perceptions. More importantly, the new media phenomena have forced us to confront traditional values and to reevaluate our interpersonal relationships. While bringing the world closer, the media has also blurred the authenticity of this world. Gumpert’s tack in this book is light—one of amusement rather than judgment. His book is fascinating and eye-opening.
The relationship between New York intellectuals and radical politics, from the Communist Party to the New Left, is a fascinating, if frequently-treated topic. Unfortunately, Alan Wald approaches his subject from such a narrow and intolerant perspective that he has produced a tract rather than history. Professor Wald, a Marxist who is pro-Leninist but anti-Stalinist, summarily condemns any who disagree with him (however subtle or learned they may have been) as in error. His search for the social forces that have caused so many of America’s best minds to desert the radical left are often ludicrous: for instance, his insinuation that Susan Sontag’s famous 1982 attack on communism was prompted by a desire to sell more books to the supporters of Ronald Reagan. The titles of the last two chapters suggest the subtlety of the argument: “The Cul-de-sac of Social Democracy” and “The Bitter Fruits of Anticommunism.” Bristling with footnotes and facts in the service of a predetermined conclusion like the political writings of Noam Chomsky, Wald’s work has all of the virtues of scholarship except humility, insight, and judgment.
This thin volume is a timely contribution to the existing literature on recent trends in French intellectual history. Through an analysis of several prominent French philosophers, some of whom are little known outside of France, Reader assesses their impact upon left-wing political thought between the “May events” and the election of Mitterrand in 1981. Reader’s book neatly situates contemporary French thinkers within their own historical and political framework. The final chapter ends with the question of how the disillusionment of leftist intellectuals with the Socialist government will affect their political beliefs in the future. Perhaps in a decade or so readers will address this question at greater length.
The Middle East’s oil resources remain the primary reason why Washington was and is drawn to the region. Critical in its appraisal, this fully documented study argues that America relied on military power to protect its interests in a hotly contested area of the world. U.S. policy-makers rejected legitimate revolutionary nationalist movements and opted instead for military alliances. Illuminating, readable, and highly recommended.
A noteworthy addition to the literature on liberal reform politics, McCann’s Taking Reform Seriously is a must for those who do just that. A lucidly argued piece of constructive criticism for political progressives in America, it is a compelling mixture of philosophy and practical advice, set against the background of the protest-oriented early 70’s. The 80’s are by contrast more organized around advocacy, and McCann ably points out the pitfalls as well as the promise of this era. Simply put, the temptation toward less than fully democratic tactics and away from fully sophisticated argument must be avoided if the movement is to make serious headway soon.
Where indeed. It is far off, somewhere, in a land unknown to the either/or fantasies of Washington. Here a woman’s face tells she was born rich and poor, white and Indian. Here a revolution with a Socialist heart gives birth to petty capitalists left and right. Here Marxists and Catholics search for a freedom that Webster’s can’t define. Here Americans are embraced while America pays the contras to kill and maim. Here is the land of the boomerang, of an American past. Here your thoughts will shake you. But Peter Davis has a gentle touch, should you choose to follow him there and back.
The Pollard spy case and Irangate notwithstanding, Viorst argues that Washington is largely responsible for positioning Israel so as to lock the Middle East in a perpetual stalemate. By providing it a military might far out of proportion to its size and position in the region, the U.S. has encouraged Israel to rely on military dominance rather than come to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Viorst correctly concludes that no state can survive indefinitely in a state of hostility and calls for proportionality and honesty.
Smith, former consul chief in Havana, argues that the U.S. has repeatedly misread Castro’s intentions, partly out of bureaucratic myopia and partly out of blind adherence to official anti-Castro sentiment. He offers a rare up-close view of Castro, whom he describes as a pragmatist willing to come to terms with the neighboring superpower. However, the evidence supporting his view is thin; in fact, Cuba’s behavior from 1959 until today tends to support the opposite conclusion, that Cuba is more the willing agent of the Soviet Union and less an innocent victim of Washington’s intransigence.
Motyl, who is of Ukrainian descent, asks a good question, then proceeds to answer it with a passionate brief for Ukrainian independence. As a study in Ukrainian nationalism, his book is quite satisfactory; but in its obsession with the Ukraine it tends to obscure the equally important issue of the pan-Turkic revival in the Soviet Union. Beyond that, it is difficult to penetrate the political science jargon.
This elegant plea for a pragmatic American policy toward Latin America through economic cooperation and shared democratic ideals, is the latest in a distinguished line of liberal thinking formulated by well-meaning Americans. Here again, however, it is assumed that the problems reside in deeply rooted Latin American structures and in more easily changeable American policies. Thus Lowenthal emphasizes the plight of Latin America while dismissing deeper American realities: the longstanding U.S. domination of the region; the threat perceived within declining U.S. business circles of competing economi