Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Spring 1976

ISSUE:  Spring 1976

For most of us, medieval drama means religious drama, recalling liturgical plays, Biblical cycles, or moralities. The surviving texts from the early Middle Ages are, for reasons apparent to all, preserved because they were useful or interesting to a clerical society. Students of medieval drama since Chambers have reasonably tended to concentrate on the areas where there is light and not on the dark corners where the evidence for secular drama lies hidden. However, as Richard Axton argues, there is ample evidence for an independent tradition of secular drama, and he attempts in this handbook to redress the balance with accounts of the professional mimes, combat drama, and dancing games. Still, the main concern is with the surviving plays, and Dr. Axton’s book is useful as a commonsensical one-volume survey of a variety of complex dramatic traditions.

The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, by Lawrence L. Langer. Yale $12.50

Close attention has been given to transformational features in postwar literature, yet few critics have dared to raise questions about how terror and atrocity can be absorbed by the literary imagination or about how Auschwitz and Dachau become symbols of the ineffable. Langer has raised those questions and has produced a study that is an important contribution to comparative criticism.

Examining the work of such diverse writers as Nelly Sachs, Ernst Wiechert, Jerzy Kosinski, Jokov Lind, and Heinrich Boll, Langer tries to impose critical order on their strategies for imagining “the unspeakable horrors at the heart of the Holocaust experience.” Langer’s awareness of the limits of his inquiry, his ability to combine human warmth with fine scholarship, and his modest claims for the Literature of Atrocity make this book a model for further exploration of literary problems that are also ideological problems. This book should be read by all scholars who are interested in the impact of successive traumas upon the modern literary imagination.

Milton Studies VII, edited by Albert C. Labriola and Michael Lieb. Pittsburg $19.95

In one year we have happily been given three issues of Milton Studies; volumes VI and VIII, ably edited as usual by James D. Simmonds, contain 25 diverse essays covering many aspects of Miltonic study— style, technique, thought, attitude (one excellent essay—perhaps almost the final word—on Milton’s attitude toward women), general concepts, and specific poems. But the seventh volume is structured around “current perspectives in Milton methodology” and aimed at providing “an opportunity for Milton scholarship to take stock of what it is up to.” Eleven representative essays illustrate the kind of approaches that recent critics have used in analyzing Milton’s work, ranging in their methodological concerns from thematic and dramaturgical to mythic and iconographical. The editors, noting that Milton himself was a product of an age “preoccupied with methodology,” claim—and justly so—that this volume is a fitting tribute to that preoccupation.

The Nature of Greek Myths, by G. S. Kirk. Overlook $15

Somehow there is no substitute for the Greek myths. They have a richness of meaning and literary incarnation, a surprising religious and philosophical relevance, which have few parallels in world culture. Kirk’s book performs the useful task of discussing all the major modern theories of myth and their interesting applications to Greek myth. His large learning gives a broad overview of the major mythic cycles or themes and a discriminating approach to ideas about their origin and development.

Virginia Woolf: A Critical Reading, by Avrom Fleishman. Johns Hopkins $10

Despite the recent proliferation of Woolf scholarship, Avrom Fleishman’s “critical reading” should not be overlooked. Fleishman has produced a valuable and impressive work of formalist criticism. He offers a thorough, incisive, and genuinely original analysis of Virginia Woolf’s major novels. Even the most jaded of Woolf scholars will find new and relevant material in Fleishman’s penetrating study.

Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Volume 4, edited by Harold Pagliaro. Wisconsin $13.95

Wisconsin has taken over from Case Western publication of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual, and the series has suffered. Those who keep side by side the three previous gilted, matching volumes will find this cheapened format only a poor relation. The volume’s contents are little compensation for the physical loss; these essays discuss more limited subjects than those of past years, and the whole is more erratically eclectic (here is no collection of pieces on a single subject). Some of the essays should not be missed, such as Ralph Cohen’s (elsewhere more fully published) “Innovation and Variation” and Phillip Harth’s study of Absalom and Achitophel. Perhaps Volume V will make good in content the series’ defect of form.

Jane Austen Today, edited by Joel Weinsheimer. Georgia $10

“It would be crude to condemn Jane Austen outright for the absence, however conspicuous, of Napoleon in her novels,” says the editor of this collection of eight essays celebrating the Austen bicentennial. So it would. But her limitation, social, intellectual, or artistic, is precisely what most of these essays, including Weinsheimer’s, apologize for and justify.

Alistair Duckworth’s long introductory piece, “Retrospects and Prospects,” proves in tedious detail that if Jane Austen had little to say about the French, they today have a great deal to say about her; Joseph Weisenfarth shows that Nietzsche as well as Roland Barthes can be made into an Austenian. It is a shame that these men take this anthology’s title so seriously, and talk only about Austen today. The best essay in the volume is an attack on the idea that all this modernizing is even necessary, Donald Greene’s excellent “The Myth of Limitation.” He shows, in the words of another contributor, that “such judgments perhaps tell us less about the novels in question than about the limitations of novel readers,” thus setting a proper context for the critical readings here provided by Juliet McMaster and Robert Donovan.

Ancient Greek Literature and Society, by Charles Rowan Beye. Anchor/Doubleday $3.95

Starting with the assumption that ancient Greek literature is public to an extent that modern readers find difficult to understand, Mr. Beye has written a splendid introduction to the works of the heroic, classical, and Alexandrian ages. His observations on the profound interrelationships between society and literature in Homer, the tragic poets, Aristophanes, and others are consistently fresh. The author has assimilated the important modern scholarship in classical studies, as well as in anthropology and sociology; and although he wears all this learning lightly, he makes judicious use of it. One may disagree with certain of Mr. Beye’s emphases, but it must be agreed that he has produced a gem of a book. The fact that it is published in paperback, one hopes, will make it more widely available than it would be otherwise.

Memoirs, by Tennessee Williams. Doubleday $8.95

An immensely entertaining book, Williams’s autobiography is both hilarious and pathetic. It is a table which presents us with a delicious feast of anecdote; it is also the open grave of memories of wretchedness. There is a kind of drunken dignity about it, and like a drunk it passes easily from laughter to tears. It is also rather poignantly experimental in its interruption of the chronological narrative with a kind of diary of Williams’s present activity. The book is a worthy reminder of the author ofThe Glass Menagerie.

Out of My System, by Frederick Crews. Oxford $10

Many of the essays in this work were published in journals, usually directed at contemporary subjects such as the student rebellion of 1968, the place of ideology in literary criticism, the function of revisionist critics of Freud. Crews finds psychoanalysis applicable to the study of literature, but he argues against its reductionist excesses. He plays the role of skeptical believer, so much so that often, in the prefatory remarks to each essay, he indicates his present reservations to his earlier positions. Crews gives the impression of challenging current positions while at the same time wittily enjoying his participation in them. It is a lively though not especially rewarding form of self-display.

Shakespeare Survey 28, edited by Kenneth Muir. Cambridge $19.95

One contributor to this annual volume, subtitled—but only on the dust jacket— “Shakespeare and the Ideas of his Time,” comments at the beginning of his essay that “anyone who sets out to discover Shakespeare’s attitudes towards the ideas of his time . . .must soon come to realize that he is pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp.” But even he continues the pursuit, and among the “ideas of his time” discussed here are political, ethical, and philosophical ones. But in other essays the pursuit is forgotten in aesthetic analysis, source discovery, and theatre reconstruction. The volume closes with a summary of critical, biographical, dramatic, and textual studies of 1974.

HISTORYSex and Society in Shakespeare’s Age, Simon Forman the Astrologer, by A. L. Rowse. Scribners $12.50

In this fascinating work, based on the detailed casebooks of Simon Forman, Dr. Rowse gives us as authentic a picture of everyday Elizabethan life as we are ever likely to have. As an astrologer, Forman was consulted by all sorts and conditions of men—and women—and he kept exact records of their visits. We are impressed by the need felt by everyone in Forman’s society to find out what the stars say about the prospects for success in any enterprise. We also learn much about the practice of medicine (Forman prescribed remedies for the ailments of his clients) and sexual, mores (Forman’s affairs with his female clients and numerous other women are remarkable for their variety and casualness). As an added attraction, the author uses information from the case-books and other sources to speculate intriguingly on the identity of the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. For lovers of history and literature, this book is a delight. Dr. Rowse deserves our thanks for introducing us to Simon Forman in so lively and informative away.

The Ecumenic Age, by Eric Voegelin. Louisiana $15

This is the fourth volume in Order and History, the penultimate effort in a grand attempt to grapple afresh with the meaning of the entire sweep of human history. The first two volumes treated the double heritage of Greece and Israel, the third Plato and Aristotle. This volume describes the period in which the great religions of East and West arose, from the rise of the Persian to the fall of the Roman Empire. At its heart lies a lengthy introductory essay in which Voegelin attempts ambitiously to explain what went wrong in Western thought and institutions in the movement to imperial societies. The writing is difficult, unnecessarily dense and clotted, sometimes scarcely English prose, but the effort to unravel it is rewarding. It is a penetrating and exciting work.

The Improbable Era: The South Since World War II, by Charles P. Roland. Kentucky $11.95

This brief survey of Southern history since 1945 will be widely used, for a while at least, if for no other reason than it is the only history of the recent South we have. In addition to brevity (there are slightly fewer than 200 pages of text) it is characterized by balance and restraint; there are chapters on music and architecture as well as on civil rights and the demise of the one-party regime; and the point of view— rather to the left of the Southern center—is never vigorously asserted. Too short to serve as a handy reference work, it unfortunately lacks a unifying theme and one fears that few readers will put it down with a deepened understanding of the complex forces of change and tradition in Southern society.

Slavery and the Numbers Game: A Critique of Time on the Cross, by Herbert G. Gutman. Illinois $7.95

First published as a book review of unprecedented length, this combative volume helps to assure the status of Robert William Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross as the fastest sinking book in the West. Widely and wildly acclaimed just two years ago as a stunning methodological achievement with revolutionary findings, their “cliometric” study of slavery soon faced a barrage of criticism from a variety of specialists. Professor Gutman, a labor historian who has become an authority on the black family, summarizes these criticisms and adds contributions of his own. The effect is devastating, and one marvels at the gullibility of laymen and scholars alike who had embraced the Fogel and Engerman portrait of slavery, apparently persuaded that it—unlike “traditional” portraits—was securely grounded in objective, quantified reality. Professor Gutman does not confront the interesting question of why Fogel and Engerman were so eagerly celebrated—that important task awaits a sensitive cultural historian—but he does make clear why the celebration was foolish.

1776: Year of Illusions, by Thomas Fleming. Norton $12.50

A popular history of this quality about the early months of the American Revolution is always welcome; in this season of hysterical national mythopoesis it is doubly refreshing. Despite a disarmingly casual style, Fleming’s scholarly emphasis on detail makes it possible to see the Revolution not as a struggle for fundamental human rights but as an avalanche of microscopic actions, mistakes, and circumstances whose confluence was governed by the illusions, ignorance, inexperience, or ineptitude of everyone involved. Surprisingly, the story gains in stature for having been so definitively demythologized.

Eagle and Sword, by Richard H. Kohn. Free Press $13.95.

Professor Kohn, in a thoroughly documented and thoughtful narrative, analyzes the struggle within the early American leadership over the creation of an American military establishment and especially the role of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists in this controversy from 1783 to 1802. He examines the various charges of militarism and political perfidy which were hurled at the proponents of a national army. He concludes that whatever personal ambitions were involved, the question of a military establishment raised complex issues both of national defense and of the integrity of the new republic’s political institutions. Even Jefferson, who came to power in opposition to Federalist “militarists,” ordered measures which ultimately realized many of the objectives advocated by them. Although Kohn at times fleetingly and unconvincingly relates too simplistically the 20th century Pentagon to this debate, his study raises anew the complex question of the relation of national defense to individual freedom.

The Politics of Command in the American Revolution, by Jonathan Gregory Rossie. Syracuse $12.50

Professor Rossie in this excellent historical synthesis weaves together into a coherent whole various episodes in the conduct of American military policy during the War for Independence. The Schuyler-Gates controversy, the Conway cabal, and the Newburgh conspiracy are portrayed not as isolated episodes but as part of a general controversy over the choice of generals and the relationship between the army and Congress. The result is an illumination of a host of divisions—colonial rivalries, professional jealousies, command frictions—which proved near fatal to the successful execution of military strategy during the war. Given the complexity of the situation and the problem of competing ambitions, the study adds even brighter light to Washington’s command skills.

The Patriots, edited by Virginius Dabney. Atheneum $14.95,

In this Bicentennial book, Mr. Dabney brings together 28 contributors to write brief vignettes each approximately two pages in length on 50 of the early patriots of the American Revolution, the portraits of which are also included. These thumbnail sketches are preceded by an introductory essay by Henry Steele Commager on “Revolution and Enlightenment.” The essay captures the link between the ferment in Europe and the experiment in the New World and recapitulates the key ideas underlying the emerging democratic republic. The sketches are too short to be more than biographic notes and brief eulogies. Nonetheless, the total impact of this exercise in patriotic piety is to reinforce one’s admiration for the truly extraordinary individuals who contributed to the creation of the American republic.

The Lusitania Disaster, by Thomas A. Bailey and Paul B. Ryan. Free Press $10.95

A distinguished professor emeritus of American diplomatic history and a former naval commander team up in this definitive book to examine the various controversies surrounding the German submarine attack on the British passenger ship Lusitania in May 1915. They inquire into the motivation of the German submarine captain, the attitude of the German government, the culpability of the Lusitania commander and the Cunard management, the evaluation of the American government of the incident. In an exercise in historical sleuthing, they uncover a story of deception, blunders, and cover-ups. With the wit and direct narrative characteristic of Bailey’s writings, the book makes fascinating reading and will probably lay to rest much of the controversy surrounding the incident. The study also raises the broader question of the status of combat zones, rules of warfare, and non-combatants in periods of war with total objectives and total weapons.

The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838—1842, by William Stanton. California $14.95

Professor Stanton’s book of the Wilkes global expedition with its scientifically important visits to the polar regions, the South Pacific, and the coasts of the American Pacific Northwest, is probably one of the finest studies ever done in the history of American science and the U. S. Navy. He weaves together in a fascinating tale the bravura, comic mishaps, and sheer adventure of the expedition, on the one hand, and its serious purposes and scientific results, on the other. Many institutions of American science grew out of this adventure, as did a deepening of the American naval tradition. With professional competence and literary skill, Stanton has recounted an important piece of Americana and produced a major work of historical scholarship.

POETRYSunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, co-edited by Wuchi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo. Anchor $6.95

Since Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, the best American adapters of the Chinese lyric have been passionate, but often parochial, amateurs. It is a measure of their success that they stimulated demand for a learned yet well-wrought anthology, like Sunflower Splendor. Represented among the book’s 1000 poems is the full range of genres, conventions, and themes from the Shih Ching to Mao Tse-tung, with ample space allotted to poets and poems neglected by modernists in quest of exotic precedents. Over a quarter of the volume consists of abundantly detailed, lucidly presented aids to the non-specialist. The introduction, for example, spells out the formal peculiarities of Chinese poetry and traces its long, complex history. Following the well-annotated translations are a selective bibliography, a set of background sketches, and an array of indexes. All of this would be for nothing, of course, if the translations themselves were false or flat. To insure against both defects, the editors (assisted by grants from the Asia Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities) commissioned renderings from 50 North American professors of Chinese, referred each version three times, and subjected some to the test of semi-public performance. If the results differ sharply from the best-remembered (and most suspect) passages of Cathay and Fir-Flower Tablets, they are nevertheless impressive, invariably coherent, and often attaining a high degree of delicacy. Thus, Sunflower Splendor commends itself to the broad but cultivated audience it addresses and fully justifies the confidence of its prestigious sponsors.

Brant Point, by Alexander Laing. New England $7.00; paper $3.75

Laing’s collection opens with his weaker efforts, a series of brief metaphysical poems in a quavery voice, not rich and authentic. He grows stronger as he moves into some lyrics and is at his best in personal family poems such as “The Trout.” Here Laing is very good indeed. And when he exercises his humor and whimsy, as in “Candance,” Laing shows a nice wit and writes some fine poems. Overall, this is a worthy collection.

The World of Jesse Stuart: Selected Poems, edited by J. R. LeMaster. McGraw-Hill $8.95

Stuart writes most, and best, of nature. The majority of these nearly 300 poems are lyrics of sonnet or near sonnet-length and traditional in form. The reader who knows only Stuart’s prose will be surprised at the excellence of many of these poems, but he will find very familiar Stuart themes: his basic belief in the land and the work ethic, his love affair with nature, and his total devotion to God. The quality of some of the more recent poems shows a decline; when he writes of Hiroshima and Vietnam his voice is too strident and hysterical and loses poetic strength. The reader is bothered by poor editing. LeMaster chose to arrange the poems thematically according to “progressive relationships,” from the “world as poet” outward to “the world as universal brotherhood.” Unfortunately, the lines of demarcation are nowhere clear, and the artificial groupings become relatively meaningless. One wonders why the same poem appears in two different sections under different titles. Moreover, the poems are undated, a sad omission considering their nearly 50-year span.

Cheap: New Poems and Ballads, by Ruth Stone. Harcourt $7.95; paper $3.95

Miss Stone is a good poet. She has enormous humor and insight and so gracefully chooses the exact word. Her use of language is nearly as good as Slavitt’s. She writes of bitter womanly experiences, observes nature with a sharp and balanced eye, and rollicks through some funny ballads.

The Life Beside This One, by John N. Morris. Atheneum$7.95

Morris writes of “other lives” we may be living, of life on the other side of mirrors, of the hidden within one’s own life. Indeed, one may complain that his subject is a limited and limiting one; the 40-odd poems become monotonous, and Morris never achieves a rich, varied poetic voice. Sometimes he lets his poems get too private, and they seem too cold and distant. At times his tone indicates that he is a bit too involved with the cleverness of this “double life” game he plays with the reader.

The Living and the Dead, by Ann Hayes. Carnegie-Mellon $2.95

This collection of poetry opens with a sequence of 14 sonnets, “For Sally Brown,” goes to a set of miscellaneous poems, and concludes with a pair of memorable love poems, “Amo Ergo Sum,” and “Amo Ergo Est.” All three divisions do show Miss Hayes’s dominating interest in the inseparable unity of life and death, but the sonnet sequence, because it is so intensely private, is less effective than the other sections. The middle division consists of two excellent complementary portions: the first deals with topics almost medieval (“Pieta,” “For a Herb Book Reprinted,” etc. ), while making them urgent and immediate; the second deals with contemporary topics (for example, “Montgomery, Alabama,” “Bastille Day, 1965: for Adlai E. Stevenson,” etc. ), always implying strong parallels with the past. The concluding portion, the two love poems, are dense, opaque, yet extremely rewarding in their philosophical impact. “Sum” and “Est” also complement each other, the one showing love as a shared communion of the participants, the other showing how the creation of love gives meaning to all of life. Miss Hayes uses traditional forms and writes of traditional themes, but in a strikingly original and powerful way. This book is well worth reading.

Modern French Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited and translated by Patricia Terry and Serge Gavronsky. Columbia $10

A useful edition (especially for teachers) of some of the best French poets from Baudelaire to Michaux. This period is, of course, extraordinarily rich and has been of enormous world-wide influence. The translations are musical, though one would have preferred the literal approach in a book which after all gives the actual text. There is an informative introduction on technical aspects of French poetry. The selection of poets is good, but why one would exclude Perse and Valéry and include the sophomoric Lautréamont is beyond me.

High Windows, by Philip Larkin. Noonday $2.95

The British Empire of literature is not yet dead. Men like Powell, Burgess, Hughs, and Larkin prove it. Larkin is really one of the best poets now writing, a somewhat bitter swan plunging down the waters of the so sad Thames. He is a dangerous satirical poet, killing where Betjeman is comfy. And yet he is an inheritor of the sweetest strains of English poesy, at times as lucid and airy and heartening as Wordsworth, Spenser, or Shakespeare. He deserves to be, human and lovely as he is, a classic.

The Peacock Poems, by Shirley Williams. Wesleyan $7.50

Having proved herself a gifted critic with the publication of Give Birth to Brightness (1972), Miss Williams proves herself a strong poet with this collection of 32 poems. These fusions of inner and outer autobiographical experiences, of lyric and narrative made within a blues mode, work as poetry. They work because Miss Williams gives much attention to craft, to the balance of subject and idiom. The Peacock Poems is an exciting first volume, for it successfully meets the challenge to harmonize and humanize our grasping of the things of this world.

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, by John Ashbery. Viking $5.95

This latest collection of poems by Ashbery forces one to take poetry seriously again or at least reminds one, in an arid age, what a great and restorative thing poetry can be. One must agree with Harold Bloom that Ashbery is in the romantic tradition, but he is no doomed heir to a dying dynasty. His very evasiveness refreshes; his lucid opacity combines the fun of Frank O’Hara with the disciplined beauty of Wallace Stevens. He knows art and life must be cunning to survive.

Anthology of Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660—1714, edited by George deF. Lord. Yale $35; paper $6.95

Yale’s magnificent series under the general editorship of George Lord, Poems on Affairs of State, is now completed in seven volumes. This one-volume abridgement focuses on major authors but includes many minor and anonymous efforts; the poems are arranged according to the important events which occasioned them (the Popish plot, Shaftesbury’s trial). Each is exhaustively and usefully annotated, although, unfortunately, Lord has modernized spelling and punctuation throughout, perhaps foreseeing this edition’s use as a textbook. Lord has also included a short introduction and 15 illustrations from the period.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSAt That Point in Time, by Fred D. Thompson. Quadrangle $8.95

Thompson, Minority Counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, here presents an engrossing view of the Senate Watergate Committee, one of the latest examples of those congressional mixtures of showmanship, politics, and fact-finding. Through examination of the operations of the committee, Thompson reveals with wit and insight the character of the senatorial cast of the Watergate drama and, more importantly, the gradual erosion of his initial belief in Nixon’s innocence. Moreover, Thompson notes that a number of the concerns about the activities of the CIA and the FBI began to surface during the course of the investigations, indicating that Watergate was likely not to be the end but the beginning of an inquiry into the proper role of government and the relation between its several parts. The book is provocative but not sensational, as Thompson develops the evidence and leads with judiciousness and restraint. The result is one of the most compelling analyses yet written on the subject.

The Seven Sisters—The Great Oil Companies and the World They Made, by Anthony Sampson. Viking $10

Anthony Sampson’s analysis of the world of Exxon, Texaco, Gulf, Royal Dutch/Shell, PB, Socal, and Mobil is a model of skilled and informed journalism. The study concentrates less on the technological achievements or economic foundations of the oil industry than the implications of its guiding philosophy since John D. Rockefeller—cartelization. In very deed, what OPEC today practices, they largely learned from the “seven sisters.” He also concentrates on the dual policy of the United States in the Middle East, one left in the hands of the oil companies and sustained by tax policy, and one practiced by the State Department. Although such a policy allowed the U. S. both to back Israel and to placate the oil-rich Arab states, it also, as Sampson so masterfully demonstrates, increased our dependence on foreign oil as companies expanded abroad in response to a tax structure which rewarded such developments. The study is indeed primarily a tale of politics, high and low, and of the entrepreneurs, economic sophisticates, and brigands who played the politically potent game of oil.

The Making of the Monroe Doctrine, by Ernest R. May. Harvard $12.50

Without disputing the foreign policy considerations underlying the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine, Ernest May argues the importance of domestic political considerations in its inception, especially the upcoming 1824 presidential election. While making an interesting, if rather speculative, case for the influence of presidential politics on the doctrine, May at times appears to exaggerate this factor beyond the evidence, despite his initial claim of modesty. As a result, domestic politics becomes less one among several converging factors than the decisive influence. Nonetheless, through broad research and ingenious presentation, May has elucidated an important and neglected aspect of this episode in American history.

Game Plan for Disaster, by Clark R. Mollenhoff. Norton $9.95.

Clark Mollenhoff, deputy counsel and special counsel to President Richard Nixon in 1969—1970, was asked by President Nixon to act as a kind of ombudsman within the executive branch. From that vantage point, he observed the interplay of “all the President’s men.” It is clear that he exerted little influence and had only superficial personal involvement in the policy process, but he was a keen observer, with good instinct for investigative reporting, newspaper work being his primary métier. He makes a strong case that whatever the advantages of decision-making in camera, if carried to excess, it is productive of self-deception and fraud—and is generally productive of bad decisions.

Silk Glove Hegemony—Finnish-Soviet Relations, 1944—1974, by John P. Vloyantes. Kent State $10

In an examination of Soviet-Finnish relations, Professor Vloyantes studies the character and the conditions of Soviet influence in Finnish affairs and the degree of reciprocal influence and independence this relationship affords to Finland. In general terms, his study contrasts “hard spheres of influence” such as in Czechoslovakia with a “soft sphere” in which the influence of the dominant power is indirect, diluted, and disguised — allowing a significant degree of independence. He argues that this relationship between a giant neighbor and a small country on its periphery is affected by peculiar historical and geopolitical dynamics which make the extension of such a relation between the USSR and the states of Western Europe unlikely—although such a relationship could develop between Russia and the various Eastern European states, in this case, a progressive step toward independence. An interesting contribution to the literature on problems of hegemony and spheres of influence.

Up From Communism: Conservative Odysseys in American Intellectual History, by John P. Diggins. Harper &Row $20

This latest in a growing library of studies on American conservatism is one of the most readable of the lot. It is written in a journalistic style that is both a strength and a weakness. Its strength is in the flow of narrative that carries the reader along in a sweep of historical events that heightens a strong sense of drama in the work. The overriding weakness, however, is born of the style itself. By concentrating on portraits of individuals, among whom are some of the most fascinating personalities of the mid-20th century, Diggins loses sight of the ideas that inform the liberal-conservative debate. Ultimately Diggins reduces these ideas to personalities and never really takes the ideas themselves seriously. His theme that conservatives are reacting solely to liberalism, and often the liberalism of their own youth, is only partly accurate. It will not suffice for the broad explanation he seeks. Nor will linking the modern Right with European totalitarianism wholly work, although it is not wholly wrong. It is a flawed work in terms of its own aims, but it is far from a mediocre work. It is a serious study that deserves consideration.

Transnational Terror, by J. Bowyer Bell. AEI-Hoover $3.00

This latest AEI Policy Study deserves a wide audience. It is a short monograph (91 pages) on one of the most vexing dilemmas of our time. First dealing with an analysis of terror, including some definitional problems, Bell then goes on to give some excellent brief portraits of some of the major terrorist groups of our time: the PLO, the IRA, various African and Latin-American groups. In his conclusions, Bell is not optimistic about the possibility of control of these sporadic outbursts of terror. They are, he says, a part of the political landscape of the modern world, much as natural disasters are a part of the earth’s landscape. Our best efforts cannot wholly prevent them, and we had best learn to live with them. The best method of curbing their number is to strike at the causes of the discontent that fuel this terror. But such an approach can only expect to meet with limited success. That terror is a permanent part of the human condition is the sad but probably true conclusion of this excellent study.

Women and the Power to Change, edited by Florence Howe. McGraw-Hill $7.95

The four essays in this volume deal with the need to effect changes in the roles of women in the university and in law. Adrienne Rich, a poet and professor of English, argues for the need for “full humanity” for women, inside and outside the academy. Arlie Russell Hochschild, who teaches sociology at Berkeley, discusses the roles of women in the university and in the family. What our society needs to do is to aim for “a goal that calls for men doing their fair share in private life and for women getting their fair chance in public life.” Aleta Wallach, a California lawyer, argues that the only hope for changing the institution of law is by recognizing and taking into account women’s values, “those of nurturance, harmony and grace,” and making them part of the structure of the institution. The concluding essay by Florence Howe, “Women and the Power to Change,” gives the volume its name.

LIVES & LETTERSOscar Wilde: A Biography, by H. Montgomery Hyde. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $15

Yet another volume is now added to the mountain of existing Wilde biography. Unfortunately, nearly half of this new book is abridged from Hyde’s earlier works, The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Oscar Wilde: The Aftermath, so that a fuller account of Wilde’s last eight years may be found in those two excellent books. Hyde’s accounts of Wilde’s work for The Women’s World and, especially, of Wilde’s trip to America are the most complete available. One must wonder why Mr. Hyde did not devote a volume to this important and heretofore insufficiently explored period of Wilde’s life; instead, he has produced yet another flawed biography.

The greatest imperfection of Hyde’s new biography, as of so many others, is its nearly complete inattention to Wilde’s literary work. A good critical biography remains a chief desideratum in Wilde studies; when it appears, a great many volumes, including Mr. Hyde’s latest, will become instantly dispensable. Until then, Mr. Hyde’s biography of Wilde is as servicable as any and far better than most.

George Washington and the American Revolution, by Burke Davis. Random House $15

Davis, a skilled popularizer of important themes in American history, here presents to general audiences an historically competent and absorbingly written account of George Washington’s tenure as commander of the American forces during the War for Independence. While remaining true to the evidence. Davis injects into this study the literary flavor of his earlier historical novels. This approach results in a finer appreciation for the humanity of Washington and generates, moreover, an excitement over the events of this critical period of U. S. history. While hardly a major new interpretation of Washington, the study does bring to the reader in a fast-paced, at times dramatic, narrative a sense of the conflicting issues and personalities in the battle for independence.

The Later Cecils, by Kenneth Rose. Harper & Row $12.95

For many centuries the Cecil family have played a part in English history and society. None in recent times has cut quite the splendid figure of Lord Burghley under the reign of the first Elizabeth, but the Cecils of the last century or so have displayed the virtues of integrity, independence, and charming eccentricity. Conservative but humane and even altruistic, these aristocrats of the gentle English land are well-served by Rose’s amusing and beautifully crafted narrative.

Colette: A Taste for Life, by Yvonne Mitchell. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $14.95

Colette has not really received her critical due in this country. One of the greatest of prose stylists, possessing a mind almost as subtle as Proust’s, she was one of a mere handful of French writers who have written well about nature. A stupid prejudice against love prevents English speakers from understanding her love stories. Mitchell’s entertaining, intelligent, and magnificently illustrated biography may or may not help matters, depending on whether critics can now accept a creative genius who also led a successful life.

A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti. Norton $9.95

In yet another insider’s account, former special assistant to President Johnson, Jack Valenti, presents his perceptions of and experience with Lyndon Johnson. Unlike many books of this genre, however, his study is characterized by subtlety of insights and a remarkable “feel” for the strengths and weaknesses of the 36th President. Few books capture the extraordinary blending of intellect, populism, ambition, and patriotism which Johnson exhibited, If this narrative presents but one man’s perspective of Johnson, any larger study of President Johnson would be well advised to take into account this personal memoir.

Andre Malrauy, by Jean Lacouture. Pantheon $12.95

To a remarkable degree a biography of Malraux is necessarily a history of the political and social turmoil and clash of ideas in the years since World War I. Jean Lacouture, who has earlier explored that period in the biographies of Ho Chi Minh, De Gaulle, and Nasser, brings to bear in this biography the comprehensiveness and sophisticated analysis demonstrated in his earlier studies. If at times too cursorily, he examines the intersection between Malraux the political actor and Malraux the intellectual writer. The result is a sympathetic but hardly eulogistic account. The contradictions and the logic, the inanities and the brilliance are brought together in this tapestry of human thought and action.

All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life, by Loren Eiseley. Scribner’s $9.95

Loren Eiseley’s writings, aggregates of science, naturalism, and anthropology, are among the most important works of contemporary American thought. Since his nine published books have provided but brief glimpses of a perceptive though somewhat personally reticent individual, the publication of his complete autobiography is both a surprise and a noteworthy event. Recounted here are the highly unusual circumstances of his Midwestern childhood under the direction of an unbalanced mother and dispirited father, his years alone as a desert hermit and vagabond railrider, and his unorthodox entry into academe—a career by default. Few men have understood themselves, and their debt to chance, as well as Eiseley; fewer still have enjoyed the ability to write of such things in so original a manner.

FICTIONImperial Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $7.95

A tired novel—Clarke’s 25th—which creaks and groans its way through some 300 pages of humdrum plot, banal dialogue, limp characterizations, and unimaginative glimpses of the future—a woman president, forested Midwestern plains, the raising of the Titanic, and so forth. It is 2276, the year of the Quincentennial celebration of the United States. Duncan Makenzie, the youthful son of the patrician colonizers of Titan, a moon of Saturn, prepares to visit Earth, pay his respects, and make a boring speech to Congress. Aside from some murky doings concerning a powerful radio antenna, and a bit of soap opera romance, that’s pretty much what happens.

Guerrillas, by V. S. Naipaul. Knopf$7.95

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad, but he has been away from home a long time. His great fame in Commonwealth countries, only now in America spreading beyond a hard core of devoted readers, rests on a half-dozen novels and stories about Caribbean life told with a patient humor and wealth of local detail that Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival scarcely begins to capture. His exploration of macabre themes, most successfully in In a Free State, succeeds intellectually because here theme is, or only grows from, story; his long Dickensian novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, because it first of all is the story of Mr. Biswas’s magnificently well-conceived life. But after years of living in London, Naipaul has written a novel of ideas. Guerrillas bristles with senses of impending doom (does it ever come?), meaningful words and gestures (can a glance convey so much?), and lives of barely comprehensible scruple. Here too are superadded homosexuality, rape, and murder; but the novel succeeds most in infrequent passages of description and bits of dialogue, where bougainvillaea and convincing characters still lurk. Americans who do not know Naipaul should read his earlier work and hope that ideology soon gives way again to the craft of writing.

The Best American Short Stones 1975, edited by Martha Foley. Houghton Mifflin $10

Here they are—Martha Foley’s yearly collection—all the short stories we haven’t read. We haven’t read them because they were mostly published in small magazines, which are not easily accessible, except in big cities. Why weren’t these stories in national magazines to begin with? (Gordon Lish, Esquire’s fiction editor, once said that the best fiction appears just where it belongs—in the big magazines. ) In part, the answer is that competition is fierce, and with the exception of The New Yorker, no magazines print much fiction. If that answer doesn’t satisfy, because fiction editors are too conservative, or too dumb. If that doesn’t satisfy (“Gee—those guys must know something.” ), because Miss Foley’s judgement is imperfect. The truth is a mixture of all the above. Competition is fierce, but fiction editors also bemoan the lack of new talent, and some magazines (note: Esquire not among them) still read unsolicited manuscripts. One can only wonder, therefore, how Rosellen Brown’s wonderful “How To Win” escaped from them. And if fiction editors are dummies, why does Gordon Lish champion Raymond Carver and The New Yorker print Donald Barthelme? Many of Miss Foley’s writers publish in national magazines, which leads us to suspect that the stories Miss Foley so admires found a home only after being rejected there. This might not mean anything except that those fiction editors’ judgments were erroneous, or that there wasn’t room at the Inn. But it might also mean that Miss Foley’s selection isn’t that good. Can the Jose Yglesias story really be one of the year’s best? Yet Best American Short Stories is valuable because there are some fine stories we might otherwise have missed. One wonders, however, why it could not be a longer book, since the distinctive stories Miss Foley lists are so many.

In the Beginning, by Chaim Potok. Knopf $8.95

In the tradition of the Bildungsroman, this novel is the story of David Lurie, born to Jewish immigrants in New York City in the 1920’s. A first-person narrative, it traces the young boy’s orthodox education in an alien environment and his growing awareness of his traditions. These, he comes to realize, lie not only in the Torah but also in the graves of the concentration camps of the Second World War. Lurie becomes a Biblical scholar who sees as his essential task the need to make non-Jews understand the religious and cultural values that have sustained Judaism as a civilization. The novel grapples with the problem of new beginnings and provides a moving statement of some of the personal and familial dilemmas of our time.

Passions, by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $8.95

To present the irrational in the clearest and most disciplined of styles is one of the aims of this great short story writer. And more and more Singer shows us the irrational in a modern context whose meaning is shadowed and deepened, of course, by the East European background of many of his characters. Thus Singer, like Nabokov, is a great spanner of wildly different cultures—and this makes him very modern and very American. He is also a survivor in a savage age who never renounces the boon and burden of life.

The Second Story Man, by Mimi Albert. Fiction Collective $8.95; paper $3.95

This brief novel, narrated by 17-year-old Anna, recounts the love affair between her sometime roommate Mary and Florian Rondo, a parasitic barfly. The book’s strongest point is its atmosphere—seamy, almost reeking of the dirt and vulgarity of an early 50’s “beatnik” scene. One is somewhat reminded of Durrell’s skill at evoking mood and atmosphere. The three major characters have strong potential; all are somewhat more than two-dimensional, but they do not reach a full three dimensions. The reader is tantalized but not satisfied. Perhaps Miss Albert should have fleshed out the skeleton a bit more.

Loving Upward, by Mary Richie. Harper’s $7.95

A modern novel of manners, this book follows a group of jet-setters through several seasons of convoluted affairs and infidelities, both heterosexual and homosexual. Indeed, the reader must caution himself against allowing his disapproval of the characters’ life-styles to influence his judgment of Miss Richie’s accomplishments. We never find a character three-dimensional enough to identify with, or likeable enough to enjoy. By design they are plastic, lacking in individuality, and amoral. Meanwhile, we get a veritable guidebook of where the sinful rich go, what they wear and eat, and how they amuse themselves. How sad it is that the reader despises such characters but senses that such people must exist.

The Dissertation, by R. M. Koster. Harper’s Magazine Press $10.95

Who would have thought that the rigidity of the dissertation format would make such an excellent springboard for this splendidly picaresque novel. Even the footnotes, which occupy about a third of the book, must be carefully read if one is to savor its true flavor. A part of its success is due, also, to the author’s fertile imagination, one strong enough so that even place names have an integral part in the book’s structure. And, of course, imagination is rampant in the glitter of the virile, gusty, and gutsy text.

The discipline of the writer in adhering to his chosen structure, his pleasure in the exercise of his imagination, his bringing to life a plot which would sound banal if baldly stated, and his extreme care with detail have given him a triumphant book.

The Realms of Gold, by Margaret Drabble. Knopf$8.95

In this, her seventh novel, Margaret Drabble has attempted a family narrative that has many resemblances to Victorian fiction. The protagonist is Frances Wingate, a divorced woman with four children who is also an eminent archeologist. The novel traces her tenuous yet complicated ties to her family and her love for a married refugee scholar. It all ends happily when the scholar’s wife leaves him for a lesbian relationship and guilt is removed by luck. Though the novel has moments that are moving and subtle, especially in dealing with the loneliness of independence, parts of the plot reveal self-conscious contrivance. It is not the best of Drabble’s works, but it possesses, as do the others, a keen awareness of the unpredictability of life.

Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album, by Larry Woiwode. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $12.50

A minority report is the best that this reviewer can do for this vast, leisurely novel of 619 pages. It is true that its ponderous progress tended to soothe, but its slow-motion technique bemused and tired the reader. All this is said in full knowledge of the favorable reception the novel has been given in other quarters and is, of course, a very personal judgment.

Such Waltzing Was not Easy, by Gordon Weaver. Illinois $6.95; paper $2.45

Part of the series of short fiction from the Illinois University Press, Such Waltzing Was not Easy is based on a world seen through young eyes. Although there are many good moments in the book, none of the tales quite sustain itself. Promise, however, is there in generous amounts so that one anticipates success for the author while applauding his individuality which remains strong.

East and West, by Pearl S. Buck. John Day Co. $7.95

We are so used to Miss Buck’s good works and longer novels that we sometimes forget that she was also a master of the short story. This collection corrects that lapse of memory in no uncertain terms for each story demonstrates her talent without repeating the manner of its neighbors. The stories also illuminate Miss Buck’s comprehension of the complexities of the human character as well as her immense sympathy for those complexities.

Curving Road, by John Stewart. Illinois $6.95; paper $2.45

One of the first collections in the new Illinois Short Fiction series, Curving Road is an appropriate book for introducing Stewart’s work to an American audience. Stewart, a native of the West Indies, writes very neat, aesthetically pleasing stories; his prose style is flexible but not warped by gimmicks that are the trademarks of contemporary fiction. Although the stories are grounded in certain specifics of the Black Experience, Stewart’s exploration of ethnic distinctiveness is thorough. The strength of his fiction lies in its illumination of a common humanity. Those who long for a return to intelligible fiction will find this collection rewarding.

GENERALA Southern Album, edited by Irwin Glusker. Oxmoor House $39.95

A collection of strikingly bland photographs, poorly reproduced, of Our Southern Heritage, each accompanied by brief but appropriately saccharine remarks by Famous Southern Authors. Willie Morris’s pretentiously disjointed rhapsody on The Meaning of The South That Was (Sic Transit Gloria Mississippi) sets a new standard for nostalgic trivialities about those ephemeral lost joys of childhood, cotton, and coons. O Temporal O Mores! O Dixie! Mais où sont les nègres d’antan?

Mud Show: A Circus Season, by Fred Powledge. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

As every child knows, the circus is a place filled with elephants, clowns, balloons, popcorn, and pleasant memories. As every adult knows, the circus is a haven for social misfits, con artists, thieves, and eccentric, if talented, performers. Of course, both are correct. Powledge spent a season with the Hoxie Brothers’ Circus—a mud show, meaning a medium sized circus which travels from town to town never staying longer than a night—gathering material for this book. It was time well spent. Mud Show is a lively and balanced portrayal of a small but important part of Am


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading