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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 2000

ISSUE:  Autumn 2000

This third volume in Gordon Rhea’s ambitious history of the 1864 campaign in Virginia between Grant and Lee follows studies of the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Like its predecessors, this volume won the Landiy Award from LSU, and like them it is crisply written, massively researched, thoroughly documented, and abundantly illustrated with maps and halftones. But unlike the others this volume covers a period of the 1864 campaign about which comparatively little has been written. As Rhea points out, “Few historians have explored this phase of Grant’s and Lee’s evolving generalship.” Even if it had no other virtues, Rhea’s latest study would be invaluable for this reason, but it does much more than fill a hole in the historical literature; it also manages to combine in an exemplary way the smallest details of battlefield tactics, which Rhea makes readily accessible to the uninitiated, with larger analysis of the two opposing generals’ overall strategies, habits, temperaments, and styles of leadership. Gordon Rhea’s monumental work in progress places him squarely in the company of earlier historians Douglas Southall Freeman, Allan Nevins, Bruce Catton, and Shelby Foote.

Aristocratic Life in Medieval France: The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, 1190—1230, by John W.Baldwin. Johns Hopkins $49.95

The author can hardly be forgiven the deceptive innocence of the first sentence in this book when we are told that, “Medieval history has been based on Latin sources, largely consisting of chronicles and charters,” nor, at the beginning of chapter seven, of the simplicity of the statement that, “Religion has always played a central role in the history of the Middle Ages because of the Church’s dominant position in society.” The first example, as it turns out, is used to construct an argument to justify a description of upper class medieval life based on the vernacular texts of two early 13th-century poets by implying that Latin documents are limited in scope and were written with a clerical bias. The latter, it is alleged, give, “gray, shadowy sketches,” whereas the romance texts provide colorful views of tournaments, ladies, love and courtly life written in “the language of the laity.” But even a quick look through the pages of, say, Raby or Dronke, will show that this kind of artificial distinction serves no useful purpose. The second example is no more than an elementary truth, but it reflects the indifferent quality of the writing, in the course of which much seems to be made of the obvious. The author is surely correct to assume that literature without the history can have little value as a means of understanding the Middle Ages, and while there are quite a few interesting suggestions made about how these particular authors and their contemporaries handled their material, it is disappointing in the end to find so little that is new and so much that is better said elsewhere.

Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood, by Peter S.Onuf. by John W.Baldwin. Virginia $27.95

In Jefferson’s Empire Peter Onuf explores the relationship between the concepts of “nation” and “empire” in Jeffersonian thought. Eschewing a biographical or chronological structure, Onuf ranges widely over a variety of topics. The crux of the book is in a rethinking of Jefferson’s position on the Missouri Compromise, where Onuf suggests that rather than betraying his Revolutionary principles Jefferson was in fact acting in accordance with them. Onuf also analyzes the ways Jefferson’s thoughts about empire and nation shaped his writings on blacks and American Indians, topics that Jefferson addressed with considerable ambivalence. While Jefferson’s conceptions of race limited his vision of nationhood, Onuf suggests that Jefferson’s vision of a republican American empire continues to help shape national identity today.

Philip HI and the Pax Hispanica, 1598—1621: The Failure of Grand Strategy, by Paul C.Alien. Yale $35

The decline of the great Spanish Empire has been the subject of numerous studies which pose questions about the Empire’s goals, strategies, effectiveness, and failures. What Philip III inherited from his father Philip II in 1598 was a country on the brink of ruin after 50 years of warfare, and his subsequent strategy of peace (he signed treaties with England, France, and the Netherlands) was, according to Alien, merely a ruse to allow Spain to rebuild its military and economic strength. Spanish foreign policy, then, is the focus of Alien’s excellent book, which details what he sees not as Philip’s failure as a peacemaker but rather his cunning as an empire builder. Philip was clever, but inconsistent, and ultimately the strategy failed to bring Spain back to the center of European power. The long decline begun in the 16th century has notably reversed itself by the end of the 20th century, as Spain becomes a serious player in the European community of nations.

The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and Modern West, by Aldo Schiavone. Harvard $45

This is the interesting and ambitious question the author sets himself at the outset: “Why did the historical course of the West contain within itself the greatest catastrophe ever experienced in the history of civilization—a rupture of incalculable proportions—the extent of which seems unchanged even if we look at it not as ‘the end of the ancient world’ but as a dramatic transition to the Middle Ages?” The resulting work on the fall of the Roman Empire, ably translated by Margery J.Schneider, is particularly interesting as a source of knowledge about slavery and its once vital role in both social and economic life. Lovers of Rome, and they are many, may well find this scholarly book appealing.

The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War, by John C. Inscoe and Gordon B.McKinney. North Carolina $39.95

As another treatment in the popular genre of regional analysis of the American Civil War, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia distinguishes itself by examining everyday life in the 20 rural counties of western North Carolina. By highlighting the experience of the war among the local communities found in this area, Inscoe and McKinney offer a refreshing narrative to the body of Civil War historiography which has tended to focus on communities whose strategic significance placed them at center stage in the nation’s conflict. Central to this study is the claim that while this region of North Carolina remained geographically remote in many ways, socially it was in fact, “the backyard of several southern states.” In this sense, the authors contend, Confederate Appalachia may best be understood as a “network of communities” whose experience of the war was not simply determined by geography, but by numerous relationships that bridged regional parameters, including class, gender, and race. Particularly informative is the author’s treatment of the secession crisis and the preparations for war. During these months the diversity of the region’s voices comes to the forefront of the narrative. Also noteworthy is Confederate Appalachia’streatment of the subjects of guerilla warfare and the impact of the war upon women’s lives. These and other subjects indicate the variety of allegiances that were formed in the region and lay to rest the notion that western North Carolina espoused a singular voice towards the war and the Confederacy. It demonstrates furthermore that the nation’s conflict was truly a “civil” war, affecting nearly each person despite the apparent remoteness of his or her locale.

The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of A Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe, by Constance Hoffman Berman. Pennsylvania $59.95

This book challenges the prevalent historical account of the rise of the Cistercian order in the 12th century by arguing that the creation of this religious order was a collaborative project rather than one driven by the central monastic administration taken to reside in Citeaux, the seat of Bernard of Clairvaux’s authority. The monks of Citeaux themselves distorted the historical record in order to bolster their claims to religious and political power, and Berman sets the record straight by reexamining the founding documents of the order, in many instances redating them and revealing them to be later forgeries. This is an extremely important book, one that will redefine the ways we conceive of medieval religiosity and politics.

The Civil War and the Press, edited by David B. Sachsman, S.Kittrell Rushing, and Debra Reddin van Tuyll. Transaction $49.95

Anyone who has worked with letters and diaries from the Civil War era knows that a significant part of the American public read newspapers regularly. Although often critical of the reliability of the reporting, readers nonetheless derived much of their understanding of issues and events from the press. This volume collects 33 essays based on presentations at symposia held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga during the 1990’s. Contributors include scholars in the fields of history, journalism, and political science, a fact underscored by the disparate methodologies and vocabularies represented in the collection. Divided into sections covering the antebellum period, the war, and Reconstruction, some of the essays deal with specific newspapers or editors while others address broader topics such as images of women in Civil War newspapers. Few of the more general pieces offer any surprises for scholars conversant with the existing historical literature, but some of the more narrowly focused pieces illuminate intriguing topics. Overall, almost any reader interested in the Civil War-era press should find something of value in this book.

The Most Valuable Asset of the Reich: A History of the German National Railway, Volume 1:1920—1932, by Alfred C.Mierzejewski. North-Carolina $75

Mierzejewski is without a doubt one of the most talented German historians living today. His first book, The Collapse of the German War Economy, is one of the ten most important books about the Second World War. Now Mierzejewski takes insights gleaned from his study of German railroads and their impact on German society and moves our understanding of 20th-century German history a step further. He demonstrates that German railways played a key role in events immediately following the First World War. German governments used the Reichsbahnas an instrument of national and social policy, hindering its operations by forcing the purchase of excessive amounts of rail stock and by hiring and retaining large numbers of unnecessary workers. Mierzejewski reveals that these apparently warped economic policies served the rational goals of impeding German reparations payments to the Allies and making the railroad an agent of national unity when Germany nearly devolved into its pre-imperial parts.

Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I, by Albert Palazzo. Nebraska $50

Gas warfare is an indelible part of the image of trench warfare in World War I.In most accounts gas appears as a weapon that was as futile as it was cruel. Although the Germans gained some initial successes with their first use of gas in 1915, in the years that followed gas seemed to be just another aspect of the demoralizing experience of the trenches rather than a potentially war-winning weapon. Albert Palazzo challenges this interpretation. The British, he argues, were both flexible and surprisingly successful in their use of gas, achieving some tactical victories that would have been otherwise impossible and integrating the weapon into the more traditional approach to offensive warfare. Palazzo’s study is convincing in demonstrating that the British military command was not, contrary to the common belief, unwilling to adapt innovations in technology for use on the battlefield. Gas was clearly never a war-winning weapon, but it did possess a military potential that the British army exploited to a substantial extent.

The American West: A New Interpretive History, by Robert V.Hine and John Mack Faragher. Yale $40 cloth, $19.95 paper

The authors, who teach history at the University of California, Riverside and Yale respectively, take aim at a target that has long been shot full of holes. Their reexamination of this much mythologized part of the U.S.contains much fascinating information. There is material here that will surprise and delight many who may have felt that the older and more heroic versions of Western history had little of interest to them. Hine and Faragher range widely in their quest to give many hitherto neglected contributors to the great national enterprise their due. In doing so, they look at movies, photography, and dimestore novels, to name but a few of the sources they use. Indeed, it is popular culture and the images it fostered and perpetuated that come in for the lion’s share of the attention. The book is profusely illustrated, a fact that should give it an appeal much broader than most academic books. Despite its being, in fact, a work that is heavily academic in its attempt to revise our views of the West, it is readable and might find its greatest audience outside the world of professional historians. It is not, however, as new as the authors (or publishers) would have the reader believe. Nor does their reinterpretation diminish the mythic quality that this region and its historical experience will have for the devoted reader of history. The insight that there was more to the West than John Wayne will surprise few. It remains a stimulating work of history.

Rum, Romanism, 6- Rebellion: The Making of a President 1884, by Mark Wahlgren Summers. North Carolina $55 cloth, $19.95 paper

For those who believe that running for president is the real national pastime and who enjoy reading history, this book will be of great interest . Furthermore, it may fuel a desire to learn more about the almost universally maligned era known as the Gilded Age. Summers is intent above all on demonstrating that the election of 1884 mattered and was not, as scholarly consensus would seem to have it, “merely a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” As he puts it, “real issues were at stake in 1884.” The inclusion of numerous illustrations and contemporary political cartoons gives the reader a feel .bl for the period that many scholarly works lack. Though the figures and issues involved will for the most part be obscure to all but the specialist, the author does a good job of familiarizing his audience with the frequently unsavory politics of late 19th-century America. With even-handedness, he refuses either to dismiss the Gilded Age or to romanticize it, the latter a position one might have expected from one who in chronicling this overlooked episode in American history has clearly developed a genuine affection for the period. He sees it as an era that was both sordid and significant. Money, then as now, corrupted, a fact that should surprise no one born before yesterday. Mark Summers has written a very good book. Though it is unlikely to attract one, it deserves an audience that reaches beyond academia.

Southern Unionist Pamphlets and the Civil War, edited by Jon L.Wakelyn. Missouri $39.95

Thousands of white Southerners remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. This collection of 18 pamphlets, supplemented by brief summaries of 22 others, offers an excellent sampling of Unionist sentiment from authors representing all of the slaveholding states except Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The pamphleteers included political figures such as Andrew Johnson, clergymen, prominent citizens such as newspaper editor William G.Brownlow, and one woman—Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland. As a group, they discussed slavery, secession, their motivations for remaining loyal to the Union, the travails of Unionists behind Confederate lines, and their vision for the restored nation. They hoped their pamphlets would establish the fact that all white Southerners should not be viewed as traitors, bolster Northern efforts to defeat the Confederacy, and create sympathy for the plight of Southern Unionists. Well supported by an analytical introduction and editorial notes, these pamphlets merit attention from all serious students of the wartime South.

The Inca World: The Development of PreColumbian Peru, AD. 1000—1534, edited by Lauren Laurencich Minelli. Oklahoma $49.95

In discussing the Incan empire, critics have long contrasted it against the reign of the Spaniards which followed. Such a perspective has distorted the true nature of the civilization it offers to explain. In this artful book, filled with photographs, illustrations, maps, and architectural plans, Lauren Minelli and her contributors debunk the popular notion that the Incan world was a singular empire. While it was a vast state united under one ruler, the Incan kingdom, as evidenced by art and architecture, displayed a vast range of distinctly local flavor. These various essays, which track the historical and cultural development of the region over a span of some 500 years, convincingly show how the diverse cultures that preceded the Incas contributed at various times and various places to the empire’s might and grandeur.

Crucible of War: The Seven ‘Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson. Knopf $40

Anderson has written a rich and imposing grand historical narrative, chock full of well-told stories, character sketches, and insights into human nature. In clear and compelling prose, the author lays out the various themes of British and French diplomacy, strategy, and tactics, layering it with judicious bits of colonial social history to provide a satisfying and persuasive explanation of this world war. As an added plus, the book is beautifully produced and illustrated, with many rare maps and drawings taken from the collections of the William L.Clements Library. Defiantly old-fashioned, this book will stand long after most monographs have mouldered into dust.

LITERARY STUDIESA Companion to the Gothic, edited by David Punter. Blackwell $99.95

This very fine collection of 24 essays offers an excellent resource for all those interested in learning about the depth, breadth, and enormous flexibility of the Gothic genre in literature and (to a lesser degree) film. Organized into five parts, it analyzes the Gothic’s literary, historical, and conceptual origins, the major figures and themes of the “original” Gothic writers, and the development (and explosion) of the genre in the 19th and 20th centuries and today. The essays are individually acceptable, though none of them are really remarkable—save one intelligent (though of necessity over-brief and perhaps not fully fair) essay criticizing “Gothic criticism, “which criticism makes the essay something of a party crasher in this otherwise harmonious collection. What is best about this book is not scaled to essays (then again, neither is the Gothic a genre well handled by the essay form), but rather its overall scope and some individual reports.(One fascinating tidbit: when Charles Brockden Brown, the early American Gothic novelist, completed his masterpiece Wieland,with its implicit criticism of Enlightenment utopianism and re-assertion of something like the doctrine of Original Sin, he sent a copy of the book to then vice-president Thomas Jefferson, in what one can only read as a critique of Jefferson ‘s Republicanism.) This would be a very nice reader’s companion, except for the price, which the ever-avaricious publisher has pegged so high that only libraries and specialists are likely to buy it. A pity.

The Passion for Happiness: Samuel Johnson and David Hume, by Adam Potkay. Cornell $42.50

Potkay argues that the differences between Hume and Johnson have been exaggerated: when we look beyond Boswell’s Life of Johnsonand Book I of Hume’s Treatise, we find that Hume and Johnson share a number of views in their moral, political, and historiographical writings. A major theme of Potkay’s study is that the eclectic Stoicism found in Cicero had an important influence on Johnson’s and Hume’s social theories and conceptions of human flourishing. Although Potkay’s argument is often quite persuasive, his reading of Hume is at places mistaken and inconsistent. It is incorrect to attribute to Hume the view that “behind any or all other motives lies self-love.” The claim that Hume does not “morally evaluate an act—or type of act—. . .in terms of [its] motive” is incorrect and inconsistent with the claim that for Huine “[m]oral approval and disapproval are directed toward the dispositional characteristics inferred from behavior.” Potkay argues, unconvincingly, that in the Treatise Hume does not offer a consistent account of the relation between reason and passion.

Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric, by Daniel Tiffany. California $19.95

This is one of the most fascinating pieces of literary and cultural criticism to appear in the last decade. Tiffany studies the role of the imagination in shaping material reality by looking at the interrelationships between mechanical dolls, theories of weather, atomic particles, and lyric poetry. The metaphorics of science, Tiffany shows, is deeply bound up with the ways material culture is viewed in lyric poetiy. Always interesting and challenging, this book is a reminder that literary and cultural criticism can actually be stimulating, less routinized, and daring.

The Construction of Memory in Interwar France, by Daniel J.Sherman. Chicago $45

Daniel Sherman’s book makes a brilliant contribution to the study of memory and cultural history in general, and the history of interwar France in particular. By examining the creation of a “commemorative culture” in France after the First World War, Sherman explores the various ways in which the French remembered their veterans and war dead after the devastation of the Great War. From battlefield tours to local monuments, Sherman dissects the ways commemoration of the war not only attempted the task of constructing a unified collective memory of the conflict in a divided nation, but also how the commemoration of the war and the memory it attempted to create proved as exclusive as it did inclusive, No brief review can do justice to this complex, thoroughly researched, and intelligently argued work.

Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History, by Janet Gabler-Hover. Kentucky $34.95

Janet Gabler-Hover has recovered a cultural trend among Southern women writers who exceeded the boundaries of the popular women’s novels of the mid-19th century. The author examines 13 texts written between 1850 and 1913.All but one were created by white women. Her study underscores the use of the Biblical story of Hagar (maidservant to Sarah Abraham’s wife). Hagar embodied several attributes: determined survivalist, nurturing mother, resistor of patriarchy, a subordinated but strong woman. That she was universally considered black was a fact side-stepped by the writers who co-opted her as they envisioned a new place for themselves in America’s changing society. Hagar became a convenient tool in their hands; they crafted her in their image and she became white (or sometimes mulatto). Gabler-Hover’s cultural study demonstrates how and why that was done. The author discusses the group’s shifting ideology as they sought to articulate their stifled positions and their desire for independence. She has succeeded at demonstrating how the interstices of race, gender, and literary texts shape feminist discourse as well as identities.

The Ethics of Autobiography: Replacing the Subject in Modem Spain, by Angel Loureiro. Vanderbilt $19.95

Loureiro’s sophisticated analysis of Spanish autobiography coaxes out of each a dimension he defines as ethical. Following Levinas, he moves to acknowledge the addressee of each autobiography and to reveal where each “self has a responsibility to an Other. Four of Spain’s most complex autobiographers form the core of Loureiro’s study: Joseph Blanco White (1775—1841), Maria Teresa Leon (1904—1988), Juan Goytisolo (1931-), and Jorge Semprún (1923-). Each writer grapples with the issue of forced or self-imposed exile, placing his or her experiences within both a political and an ethical context, although the political dimension interests Loureiro less than the ethical one. These authors view their difficult lives as “stories of replacement” and seek to reassess themselves, their lives, and their written / remembered past. This book will be welcomed by students of autobiography and of modern Spanish literature.

Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature, by Peter Brooks. Chicago $24

What a very interesting idea for a book this is. Brooks, the director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, essentially argues that the Boman Catholic model of confession emerges under scrutiny as fundamental to modern-day efforts to “police” citizens. Intelligent readings of French and Russian literary texts highlight this study, which extends the wisdom of earlier analyses of guilt and atonement to secular society. Brooks here rises to the level of the eminent philosopher Alasdair Maclntyre, several of whose books have elucidated the debt secular society owes to much earlier, explicitly religious intuitions and practices.

The Masochistic Pleasures of Sentimental Literature, by Marianne Noble. Princeton $18.95

This book does an admirable job of assessing the cultural and libidinal values attached to sentimental fiction and its prevalent tropology of erotic domination in 19th-century American writing by women. Masochism is here understood as a paradoxical phenomenon, one that invites oppression at the same time that it resists dominant codes of control. The writers Noble studies—Warner, Stowe, and Dickinson—are all writers who fashioned a new ideology of desire by connecting love to the idea of suffering. The psychoanalytic readings are often quite rudimentary, tending to oversimplify the psychic complexities of masochism, yet the book’s clarity rarely fails to impress.

Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity, by Sharon Patricia Holland. Duke $49.95 cloth, $17.95 paper

In her wide-ranging study, Holland argues that the alterity of minority statuses (blackness, queerness, etc.) can be considered to be akin to death. Her “readings” include Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, Randall Kennan and James Baldwin, and the techno music of Consolidated; her brief conclusion covers Bill T.Jones and Tupac Shakur. Holland’s readings of the literature are the most compelling aspect of her study, where the metaphor of death seems most applicable. Unfortunately, though, the promise of Holland’s opening gambit seems somehow unfulfilled by the book’s end.

Shakespeare’s Language, by Frank Kermode. Farrar, Straus b Giroux $30

One of the world’s most distinguished literary scholars has produced yet another work, this one setting out Shakespeare’s increasingly sophisticated use of language. Cambridge University professor Frank Kermode, now an octogenarian, himself, knows a good bit about language. The writing of this book deserves praise; he courts, encourages, and responds to us throughout the book, He isn’t talking over our heads to some invisible group of curmudgeonly experts, but directly at us. Just as he argues Shakespeare did, Kermode chooses his words carefully. His exposition of Coriolanus, a notoriously difficult play to follow and understand, exemplifies the author ‘s ability to develop our sensitivity to the contours of genius. Reading his thoughtful chapters before seeing particular plays would be a gentle yet useful warm-up to seeing performances of the real thing.

Challenging Boundaries: Gender and Periodization, edited by Joyce W.Warren and Margaret Dickie. Georgia $25

Challenging Boundaries is a collection of 13 essays about gender and the periodization of American literature. Editors Joyce W.Warren and Margaret Dickie began this project with a few key questions in mind: do female writers fit into the conventional (masculine) periodization? If they do not, is there a separate feminine periodization? Is periodization even a useful concept in this postmodern age? These are critical questions currently facing scholars of all disciplines. In the end, Warren and Dickie and the contributors to this collection do not offer simple answers to these questions. All the essays demonstrate how female writers challenge traditional conceptions of periodization in American literature, but some essays suggest the redrawing of current boundaries between periods, while others suggest their elimination altogether. Challenging Boundaries, however, provides needed space for the discussion of such important issues. The politics of academic scholarship has marginalized female writers for far too long. Scholars have redefined the literary canon to include women. Now they are redefining its periodization.

Girls, Boys, Books, Toys, edited by Beverly Clark and Margaret Higonnet. Johns Hopkins $45

The era wherein childhood was viewed as an opportunity for innocence and enjoyment did not last very long, sandwiched as it was between child as an agricultural assistant and child as the object of intensive cultivation. The burgeoning literature concerning the rendering of improved children, scourged of prejudice, highly skilled, and equipped for every modern contingency has provided a few valuable new books. This is among them. It views children, their books and toys, within a context that is complex, intelligent, and stimulating. Although the viewpoint is termed feminist, that loaded word does little justice to the scope and depth of consideration of the cultural underpinnings of gender roles in various cultures and eras of the world, to which children are introduced through children’s stories, toys, and games. One cannot simply read and enjoy the many small and largely overlooked details that are noted here, for they prompt reflection. This reflection prepares one more deeply and seriously to consider the culturally stultifying aspects of customary gender roles, and further to consider the unfortunate effects that other stereotypes, commonplaces, and symbols have worked throughout our history.

Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin, by Peter Tracey Connor. Johns Hopkins $34.95

This important study of the French thinker Georges Bataille corrects an imbalance in the critical treatment of his thought and writing by shifting the attention from philosophy per se to Bataille’s deep investments, intellectual and personal, in mysticism. Particularly good here is Connor’s careful investigation of the linkage between mysticism and morality, an important issue for Bataille the atheist. This book will contribute to the study of ethics by opening up a new field of writing, Bataille’s mystical writings, for study.

Persephone’s Girdle: Narratives of Rape in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature, by Marcia L.Welles. Vanderbilt $42 cloth, $20.95 paper

In five solid chapters, Marcia Welles looks at Spanish Golden Age literature (plus one contemporary account) for what it reveals about society’s uncomfortable obsession with rape, violence, gender, and power. This subject has been studied, of course, in other European literatures, but Welles’ is the first to look at it within the Spanish context. She uses classical texts in several genres by canonical authors (Cervantes, Rojas Zorrilla, Lope de Vega, Calder ón, Tirso de Molina) and draws important conclusions about their understanding of psychology, history, and literature. The fifth chapter —on Ana Maria Moix’s Julia—doesn’t fit the temporal scheme (it was published first in 1969), but thematically it fits perfectly into what Welles is attempting to demonstrate, that is, that rape, however aestheticized it becomes when transformed by art, is nonetheless a disturbing reality. “Although sexual activity seemingly corresponds to the most private of bodily functions, its intersection with the power relations of domination and submission extends its significance to the public, political realm. By reading the violence back into texts that in various and sundry ways erase it, we can detect Persephone’s girdle; we can reconstruct her silenced story.”

Humor in Barges, by Ren6 de Costa. Wayne State $24.95

Those who study the work of Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges are faced with a fundamental paradox. The Borges that emerges from most critical commentary is a grave, deeply skeptical metaphysician. Whereas the Borges of interviews and film, exhibits an infectious laughter, a child-like delight in the world and its apparent contradictions. How can one reconcile these two: the staid philosopher and the schoolboy prankster? In Humor in Borges, René de Costa resolves this paradox by showing how Borges uses humor to qualify his heady metaphysics: every situation contains within itself the potential for humor, some subtle, some crass, This much needed book explores the extraordinary range of Borges’ use of humor, broadening our understanding and increasing our appreciation of one of the 20th-century’s greatest writers. And that’s no joke.

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays by Lionel Trilling, edited by Leon Wieseltier. Farrar, Straus Giroux $35

Simply stated, Lionel Trilling was one of the great literary critics of the 20th century. His ruminations on aesthetics and morality challenged his forebears, peers, and innumerable students, and helped shape a generation of scholars. Before we move forward, it would serve us well to look back and ascertain exactly where we have been. Reading around in this new collection of essays, generously selected by the editor to reveal a portrait of the critic, one can not help being struck by both the range of Trilling’s work and his deep commitment to intense and demanding lines of inquiry. Trilling teaches us that criticism matters. And he himself, both critic and teacher, saw these two roles as two faces of the same moral coin. Trilling, for whom life and literature were related in extremely complicated ways, teaches us to read ourselves and history in that which we study.

LIVES & LETTERSGeneral John Pope: A Life for the Nation, by Peter Cozzens. Illinois $39.95

Few Civil War military figures have inspired as much negative comment as Union general John Pope (1822—1892). A prominent commander in the Western Theater before taking charge of the Army of Virginia in the summer of 1862, Pope is best known for suffering ignominious defeat at the battle of Second Bull Run and being exiled shortly thereafter to suppress a Sioux uprising on the Minnesota frontier. Peter Cozzens examined an impressive body of evidence in writing what is easily the best and most detailed biography of Pope. Moving well beyond common caricatures of Pope as a vainglorious failure, Cozzens deals effectively with the intensely political context within which his subject, a rare Republican among top Northern military leaders, operated in Virginia. The narrative deals bluntly with Pope’s failings but also underscores his talents, which showed to best advantage during his long postwar career on the Western frontier. With this biography, Cozzens has closed one of the few gaps in the military historiography of the Civil War. Whether his admirable efforts will change many minds about John Pope is another matter.

John Ruskin: The Later ‘Years, by Tim Hilton. Yale $35

A recent conversation with several colleagues questioned the aesthetic value of biography as a literary genre. Having just finished Tim Hilton’s mammoth biography of John Ruskin, I do not hesitate to list myself among its supporters. The Later Years, when taken with its predecessor volume The Early Years, stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the century’s boldest artistic works. At more than 800 pages combined, it is enchanting, captivating, and thankfully thorough. The Later Years, is particularly valuable in its sympathetic analysis of Ruskin’s struggle with madness. Writing with an ear akin to Ruskin’s own, Hilton, has conjured the great sage’s spirit, calling it back from beyond the grave. Hilton provides, for one of England’s greatest minds, a much needed second life. Yet John Ruskin is as much Hilton as it is Ruskin, and it is a compelling testament to both their geniuses.

Forever Lied: A Memoir of The Sound of Music,by Charlotte Carr and Jean A.S.Strauss. Viking $23.95

Ms. Carr along with Ms. Strauss give the world a unique inside view of what it was like to be part of The Sound of Music.Starting with her casting as Liesl, the reader is given Ms. Carr’s personal recollections of the filming, following publicity, and is left with a meeting between the on-screen and off-screen von Trapps. Included are many noteworthy photographs documenting the film and the people involved, both on and off-camera. However, in addition to the usual tidbits of inside information (“What was Julie Andrews really like?”) Ms. Carr gives the reader a deep appreciation for the effect a single film can have on seemingly countless people’s lives; and how, more than 30 years since the release of the film, she will remain Forever Liesl.

Virus, by Luc Montagnier. Norton $24.95

Montagnier is one of the world’s leading virologists; while the book is described as being the “story of HIV,” it is at least as much his story. As such, it’s an interesting look into the path to scientific stardom as well as a deft account of the workings of the virus. Montagnier’s ego is clearly large and at times interferes with the flow; this problem is exacerbated by what feels like a rather wooden translation from the French, and the result is a book of limited appeal even to scientists. Even the facts are sometimes out-of-date, although that’s hard to avoid in such a fast-paced field. Overall, not a success—just too flat and lifeless.

On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters of Edmund Burke, edited by David Bromwich. Yale $15

Edmund Burke is today most known for his political theory. He is seen as the great conservative defender of tradition, of the perils of attempting a total revolution, of the dangers of a too-thorough rationalization of the social order. He is less well-known for his political practice. Yet it is impossible to appreciate his theory without his practice—indeed, the division itself is factitious, as even his “theory” was a series of interventions in the mental culture of his time (and our own). This book collects a number of his speeches and letters from 1774 until 1796, near his own death in 1797.As a monument to a style of political oration, it would be an understatement to call it too-long delayed; as a model of political writing, superior by far to today’s journalism and academic prose, it stands out. Bromwich offers this as “a reader’s not a scholar ‘s edition,” and one feels the editor’s guiding hand throughout the book, in the selection of writings, and in the editorial introductions to individual pieces. Happily, Bromwich is well-equipped for the job; he is a judicious editor, well-balanced in his assessments, generous (though not over-generous) in his prefacing of speeches. One feels an enthusiasm not a didacticism. This book will be used in classes, but it will also instruct, enlighten, and delight Burke’s perpetual audience; the ordinary, educated individual.

The Papers of John Marshall, Vol. 10: Correspondence, Papers, and Selected Judicial Opinions, January 1824-April 1827, edited by Charles F.Hobson, Susan Holbrook Perdue, and Robert W.Smith. North Carolina $60

During the last year of James Monroe’s presidency and the first two of John Quincy Adams’, Chief Justice John Marshall continued to confound states lighters, especially by his decisions in Gibbons v. Ogden, Osborn v. Bank of the United States, Ogden v. Sounders, and Brown v. Maryland.The editors publish in full these and two other constitutional decisions; only a few of Marshall’s other Supreme Court opinions of the period are so treated, but all 54 of them are calendared. The volume’s other 173 documents consist mostly of outgoing correspondence and judicial papers (including Marshall’s circuit court opinions), as well as speeches, interviews, legal pleadings, and Marshall’s preface to his History of the Colonies (1824). The letters deal with court business, the appointment of a clerk, the revision of Marshall’s biography of George Washington, family matters—including land speculation and legal cases, and, most interestingly, the passing generation’s view of the Revolutionary War, especially in relation to Lafayette ‘s return visit to America in 1824 and 1825.

The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family: Volume 5, The Autobiography of Charles Willson Peale, edited by Sidney Hart, David C.Ward, and Lillian B.Miller. Yale $75

This volume in a model edition sponsored by the National Portrait Gallery is a worthy tribute to the late Lillian Miller, who died in 1997. She and her colleagues have made a lasting contribution to early American history and art by carefully presenting the previously unpublished autobiography of Charles Willson Peale (1741—1827). Peale’s narrative provides the professional self-conception of the Revolutionary generation’s preeminent portraitist and the founder of America’s first museum but tells little of his private or family life. For these more intimate subjects, the reader must turn to Peale’s diaries and letterbooks (available in previous volumes of the edition and on microfiche), upon which the artist drew when drafting his autobiography in 1825—1826.Not only have the editors accurately transcribed a difficult document, but they provide helpful annotations and informative editorial notes, and have also lavishly illustrated the volume with 14 color and seven dozen black-and-white plates. The detailed analytical index makes this definitive edition an invaluable reference source that will long be consulted by historians and other scholars.

Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln’s Secretary, by William O.Stoddard. Nebraska $25

This book is a reprint, edited by Michael Burlingame, of William Stoddard’s memoirs of his time in the White House as an aide to President Lincoln, during the Civil War. Also included are 13 sketches that Stoddard wrote in 1866 for a New York newspaper; these sketches have not been collected and reprinted before. Burlingame offers a brief historical introduction. There are no textual problems per se, but Burlingame is careful to try to describe Stoddard carefully: he was not universally liked or respected, and his narrative is not considered completely trustworthy. The memoir has real value, as a close, contemporary portrait of Lincoln at the time of his greatest crisis. But the worldly wise, slightly humorous, quite knowing tone of Stoddard’s narrative makes for weary reading. The sketches are better. Written closer to the events themselves, and less self-consciously literary, they read as good first person journalism. Stoddard’s memoirs and sketches are neither great literature nor great history, but they are important documents in their way, and Burlingame has done a service to get them back in print.

Infantry Soldier: Holding the Line at the Battle of the Bulge, by George Neill. Oklahoma $24.95

Crouching in a foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, George Neill resolved that one day he would describe World War II as it was endured by an expendable infantryman. Relying on letters to his family as well as memories, notes from his comrades, and personal research, Neill has written an intensely personal account of the horror of war and the ever constant fear of death in a cold, snow-filled foxhole. Neill, a retired journalist, recounts his experiences and those of his comrades who fought and died along side him in the 99th Infantry Division as they held the northern line of the bulge. Too often they were hungry, dirty, and wet and cold because of inadequate footwear and clothing. Although Neill’s book is not an account of the entire battle, it is a gripping story of one small part of the Battle of the Bulge as it was fought by lonely, frightened infantrymen.

Collected Writings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti,edited by Jan Marsh. Ivan R.Dee $35

The sensuous, eccentric poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti has never been wholly welcomed by the academy, and his place in the canon of English literature remains uncertain, tangential at best. This collection should change that. Best known as founder and principal of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Rossetti was a visionary of the late 19th century, and his work in both language and image expresses the existential concerns that haunted Victorian England. Best known for his elaborate poetry, Rossetti also wrote fiction, criticism, and translations. This smart collection brings together, for the first time, everything Rossetti published during his own lifetime, and offers a new perspective on one of the 19th-century’s most renowned figures.

Dylan Thomas: A Biography, by Paul Fern’s. Counterpoint $30

This is a new edition of Ferris’s acclaimed biography of the great Welsh poet and playwright. Ferris seems to want dearly to undermine the more romantic elements of the myths surrounding Dylan Thomas’s life and personality, and in this, it must be said, he succeeds. Ferris is a terrific prose stylist. From the introduction onward Ferris allows of his personal involvement in the research and telling of this story. He never knew Thomas, but he interviewed scores of family, friends, and associates who did, and tells plainly of some of the difficulties inherent in writing a biography of such a problematic character. His many references to conversations with Caitlin Thomas, Dylan’s wife, are especially interesting. Thomas was, in many ways, a cad. He stole from friends; he drank heavily; he slept around, and not as often as he would have liked; he milked publishers constantly for advances on books and articles that he never wrote, and did not seem even particulary inclined to write—he just needed the money. In many ways, the biography of his adult life is the story of a man in constant need, of money, of affection, of a drink. It is almost as if Ferris succeeded too well in his objective. He debunks the myth of the romantic, irresponsible poet so thoroughly that one begins to wonder how on earth Thomas could have written as well as he did. The word “charlatan” comes up several times in the book. Does character not count at all, in poetry? Or are Thomas’s great poems merely shams, clever word play that don’t finally shake out as poems? The biography urges the question. Perhaps I am still a willing victim of the myth, however. I like “Fern Hill” (among other poems) too much to be entirely convinced that the miserable sot Ferris writes so well about is the final and definitive Dylan Thomas. All the same, I regret to report that it is difficult to argue with such a thoroughly researched, artfully presented biography.

Not All Okies Are White: The Lives of Black Cotton Pickers in Arizona, by Geta LeSeur. Missouri $19.95

American historians, as well as anyone who has ever read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, ought to be familiar with the story of the thousands of Southern and Midwestern farmers who migrated west during the Great Depression in a desperate search for new economic opportunities. In our imagination, these migrants (colloquially and somewhat pejoratively known as “Okies”) were overwhelmingly white, while the experiences of those black migrants who also left their homes in search of land to work have mostly been forgotten. Geta LeSeur hopes her efforts here will begin filling that gap in our historical memory, primarily by letting some of the residents of the mostly black and very small town of Randolph, Arizona tell their stories themselves. LeSeur weaves the frequently poignant oral histories of more than a dozen black migrants (most of whom found work picking cotton) and their descendants together with short contextual essays exploring themes of movement, gender, and racial identities, and memory. Also included are several oral histories from some of the few white, Mexican, and Native American residents of Randolph, which helps flesh out the multicultural context of the southwest. The end result of the LeSeur’s work is a collective story of struggle and survival that fills in aspects of the African-American experience that ought to be integrated with the larger narratives of the Depression and of the American past.

Anthony Van Dyke: A Life, by Robin Blake. Ivan R.Dee $30

Van Dyke was one of the Old Masters of European art, a pupil (“the best of my pupils”) of the phenomenal Peter Paul Rubens and a contemporary of Rembrandt. Blake’s biography of this great Flemish painter is not as grandiose as Simon Schama’s biography of Rembrandt, Rembrandt ‘s Eyes, published last year, nor as expensive. It is, however, a very readable and informative account of the life and times of one of history’s greatest, and lesser known, artists. Blake tells the basic story and offers reasonable speculations regarding unknown aspects of the artist’s personal life with the aid of information recently uncovered by contemporary scholars. One specialist refers to Van Dyke as the “Mozart of painters” although the musician was born 115 years after Van Dyke’s death in 1641.This is a reference to Van Dyke’s miraculous abilities and their manifestation at an unusually young age. He is said to have been among the better painters of Antwerp by the time he was 14.The book includes 32 pages of black-and-white illustrations that cannot begin to do justice to this artist’s work.

Henry Clay, The Lawyer, by Mauruce G. Baxter. Kentucky $24.95

Knowing Baxter’s prior contribution to Clay scholarship, many readers may find this slender volume (a mere 109 pages of text) quite disappointing. The first chapter in particular is poorly written, loosely structured, and vague. Later sections display greater coherence, but one never senses a sure grasp by the author of wider issues nor, does he offer many substantial insights into Clay’s legal and political thought. Despite its serious weaknesses, however, Henry Clay, The Lawyer remains a useful little book, demonstrating Clay’s legal prowess, often ignored, and the political and monetary success it brought him, especially in his concentration on complex land cases. Political historians will be especially interested in the chapter on Clay’s years as counsel for the Bank of the United States.

John Laurens and the American Revolution, by Gregory D.Massey. South Carolina $34.95

This book admirably fulfills the need for a scholarly biography of John Laurens, a South Carolinian best known for his valiant struggle against slavery in the Revolutionary War. Massey appropriately devotes much attention to Laurens ’ plan to free slaves in return for their military service but he also provides insights into other topics of interest to historians and general readers alike. Of particular interest are Laurens’s close yet tense relationship with his father, Henry, a past president of the Continental Congress, and his impassioned friendship with Alexander Hamilton. Laurens’s exciting military and political career shows the limits of republican virtue in an increasing liberal age and makes one wonder what contributions he might have made in the new nation had he lived long enough. His early death and ultimately tragic life make this book a rewarding read for anyone interested in the drama of the American Revolution.

FICTIONDear Will, by Karl Ackerman. Scribner $24

Rising literary agent Will Gerard lives in Washington, D.C., where he has crafted a satisfying life for himself. Forty-one and perpetually single, with his computer-geek nephew and sole employee Teddy living out back in the shed, Will has just been profiled in The Washington Postand is feeling slightly overwhelmed by success. When friends offer the use of their weekend house at the shore, he heads off in search of solitude and finds, instead, profound and sometimes confusing sensation: His friends, by accident or design, have also offered the house to Annie Leonard. Annie, a Washington lawyer determined to get pregnant at all costs, is Will’s soulmate. But is he up to fatherhood, especially fatherhood with this woman he barely knows? Annie’s not the only catalyst for introspection, however; Will soon receives a book proposal from a young woman who may be the daughter he never knew he had. The two dilemmas send him, by turns, into a past that can no longer be ignored and a future that can’t be predicted, Ackerman, who lives in Charlottesville, is a master of dialogue; the story is suffused with gentle humor, and graced by the affectionate bond between Teddy and Will. A subplot that involves wresting a Civil War novel out of Will’s most promising—and exasperating—author comes to an implausible and slightly silly climax, but otherwise this is a satisfying and well-crafted tale.

Rescue Me: A Love Story, by Gigi Levangie Grazer. Simon 6- Schuster $23

This is the kind of novel you keep reading just to see exactly how bad it can possibly get. Grazer wrote the screenplay for Stepmom, the 12-hanky hit, which was a masterpiece of profundity compared to this first novel. Set in a part of Los Angeles that’s usually ignored in the rush to worship the culture of sun and celebrity, the story, in more capable hands, could have been compelling. The book’s one strength is Grazer’s dead-on portrait of a cocaine addict/dealer on his final spiral downward; other characters are either entirely good (heroine Amanda and her forbidden-fruit lover, Gabe) or almost cartoonishly bad (Amanda’s long-time boyfriend James, “Harvard law student and streetwise killer”). The plot—in which Amanda tries to save her infant nephew, son of her drug-dealing brother, and create a life that includes Gabe—is merely serviceable. Sometimes it’s not even that—for instance, when an assembly-line worker is killed by an engine that falls on his head, the outcome is that his widow and five children will only get $200 a month. Has Grazer never heard of Worker ‘s Compensation or personal-injury law? Make that more like two million for the family—and next to nothing for the reader who bothers with this book.

The Gate of Paradise, by Victor Depta. Blue Mountain Press $11.95

There are no heroes in this novel of an inbred West Virginia coal-mining family in the mid1940 ‘s. Depta paints a deft portrait of a community whose understanding of life extends no further than the fulfillment of immediate desires, These are a people without purpose or direction, mindlessly occupied with excessive drinking, promiscuous and often incestuous sex, and fervent religion. It is humanity at its most basic level, and it is a compelling story.


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