This massive third volume of Page Smith’s “people’s history” of the United States reveals all the strengths and weaknesses of narrative history. Sharply drawn portraits of individuals fill its pages, while the “forces” and “problems” most historians find fascinating never raise their heads. Ambiguity, paradox, and irony melt away. Great men and women make Smith’s history, while the lower classes hover on the fringes, faceless and silent. The book focuses almost exclusively on New England and the Western frontier, virtually ignoring the confusing and enigmatic South. In the book’s one map, Smith sacrifices the South for an inset indicating the battles of the Mexican War.
This may be what “the people” want. This history is comfortably familiar—indeed, it is redolent of long-forgotten textbooks. Further, Smith’s focus on individuals does bring antebellum America’s writers and artists to life, and Smith is eloquent on the tragedy of native Americans. Anyone who can persuade Americans to read any history should be applauded. But is it necessary to ignore, as Smith does, the decades of labor by historians who have asked new questions of America’s past, who have rescued the history of neglected Americans, who have tried to write a history of as well as for the American people?
The present work was commissioned in 1967 as a replacement for the famous but idiosyncratic history of R. G. Collingwood, first published by Oxford in 1936 and revised a year later. It is a measure of the fast pace of Roman studies since World War II that Mr. Salway has written a wholly new book. Original approaches in archaeology, demography, and place name studies have yielded important results and have forced changes in commonly-held opinions. This is especially true in regard to questions on the extent of the population, military organization, Roman Christianity, and the continuity to Anglo-Saxon times. The author is at pains to bring the story up to date (to 1977, when the book was substantially finished), while he is, nevertheless, acutely aware of the enormous difficulties in arriving at a satisfactory interpretation of the mass of scattered evidence. But this is the most reliable survey to which we can now turn for the history of events in Britain from the invasions of Caesar to the fifth century.
This book seems to be directed toward sixth-graders and at times, given the level of the prose, to have been written by one, and not the best one at that. There is no new information here and not really any interpretation. There is a faithful reproduction of most of the cliches about the Russian Revolution. If there was a reason to publish this book, author and publisher have successfully concealed it.
Ten years in the making, supported by multiple National Science Foundation grants, the product of countless hours of computer time, this compact book seeks to demonstrate why the antebellum South failed to industrialize. Not slavery, Bateman and Weiss conclude, that is, not capital shortages, low technology, or problems of slave labor inhibited industrial development, but the planters’ unwillingness to set in motion forces that might undermine their status and power in an agricultural society (pp. 162—63). Does all this expenditure of capital and labor yield a return historians would regard as intellectually “profitable”? With its quantitative approach and extensive sampling of manuscript census returns, this study—along with Gavin Wright’s Political Economy of the Cotton South-— will remain for many years an authoritative econometric analysis of the Old South. But after finishing it you may want your money back.
There are two classical theories of English social history; that English law and civilization developed in an orderly, logical manner (Stubbs), and that England prior to the 18th century was riddled with violence and crime (McCauley). The latter school of thought fits well into the Marxist theory of peasant society and its evolution into a capitalist system via class conflict. Macfarlane gives a general assessment of English court records for the 17th century, then reconstructs the case of the Smorthwaits in Westmoreland, for which there is detailed evidence. Examining similar cases in France of the 18th and 19th centuries, in China of the 17th century, and in Sicily of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Macfarlane concludes that England does not fit the traditional Marxist system, being unlike all the other three. Nor does its history fit entirely into the Stubbs framework. This is a well-written, thought-provoking study, although Macfarlane by no means answers all of the questions he raises.
This is the most important book on law and 18th-century British colonialism since Charles Mcllwain’s The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. Reid, like Mcllwain, believes that the imperial crisis of the 1760’s and 1770’s is best understood as a principled dialogue between lawyer-statesmen, with varying interpretations of the British Constitution. But unlike Mcllwain, who analyzed the debate in terms of an English position and an American position (and then chose sides), Reid describes “the two constitutions” in terms of an emerging positivist conception of law as command of the sovereign and a more traditional conception of law as an array of customary restraints on government. According to Reid, the documents generated by the standing army controversy in Boston indicate that traditional legal concepts were consistently employed by all parties to the debate on both sides of the Atlantic. He then shows how ambiguities in the thought of imperial authorities weakened imperial law enforcement, for crown officials uncertain of their authority to act often did not act at all. Reid’s fresh angle of vision on the Revolutionary era casts bright new light on the motives and behavior of imperial officials, on the dynamics of colonial resistance, and on the evolution of constitutional ideas in England and America after 1783.
This is one of the best “you are there” books to come along in a long time. It is mistitled, because the rest of the world was not waiting for Pearl Harbor to be attacked the way we seem to have waited, but never mind that. Mr. Collier tells a very good story in exciting fashion, and moreover he gets his facts right. He is equally skillful at dealing with Vichy France, Yugoslavia, Russia, Germany, and a host of other countries involved in the great conflict. This is the kind of popular history that keeps the reader entertained and informed and the professional historians on their toes.
A delightfully written and unusual study of the first House of Valois, the seven men who ruled France from 1328 to 1498. The book is not a chronicle of the high political events of the era or a social history of the common man. It is rather an account of the personalities of these kings and their families as deduced from the chronicles, iconographic documents, portraits, and political events of the period. There is little of battles, less of politics, and hardly any of economics in this treatise. But it is a humanistic book of the highest order—a study of men of varying talents and inclinations faced with the burden of majesty—”perpetually exposed,” she writes, “to the anguish of the world.” There is material here in abundance for a would-be Shakespeare to dramatize the human condition in tragic shades.
The period of international history from 1945 until the present is normally called the Cold War. Though there have been a number of occasions when the end of this conflict has been predicted, and even proclaimed, it is hard to argue that a new era in East-West relations is upon us when Russian troops are in Afghanistan and Ronald Reagan is in the White House. This book, the first in a two-volume set, traces the history of the first decade of Soviet-American postwar relations. It discusses both the history and the historiography of the Cold War in order to provide a balanced view of the events and the interpretations of those events, which have dominated the study of American foreign policy and international relations. Thompson rejects both the orthodox and revisionist accounts of the origins of the Cold War and constructs a third interpretation based on the observations of the statesmen who were involved and writings of leading American diplomats and scholars. This is an important book because a necessary prerequisite for ending the Cold War is understanding how it started and what it is about.
This massively documented analysis attempts to recount the involvement of an international elite of scientists, technocrats, and businessmen who conceived, managed, and determined every aspect of nuclear power since WWII. Pringle and Spigelman place the responsibility for such hazards as radiation, high costs, waste-disposal problems, plant safety, weapons proliferation, etc. on scientists like Leo Szilard, Fermi, Teller, Albert Einstein, as well as on many others who seem to have permitted, after 1942, numerous engineers, politicians, and military officials literally to take over their projects, which in their own admission required further research and development. Detailed accounts of Soviet efforts actually to build the bomb and their increasingly efficient approaches to spying; of Indian policies which drove the state to bankruptcy; of Israeli-French cooperation in actually making a bomb, leave the reader bewildered as to the logic behind the ruling elites around the globe and their careless decision-making process (probably well intended, but undoubtedly self-serving) in affecting the lives of millions of people.
Are we at present, in a stage of folly? Arc there acts of deception, collusion, or simply ignorance of badly needed safety arrangements? The authors address these questions and offer new ideas which can and must be examined. They reject the actual deterrence policies (MAD) as “truly insane” and go further in asserting that any expansion of nuclear-electricity generators could lead to catastrophies and must be stopped.
Our ignorance of the effects of nuclear radiation on human beings compels the authors to choose a minimalist approach toward the use of atomic power in an age of great affluence—and equally great anxiety. Despite the scientific marvels post-WWII has witnessed, the question of utmost concern today seems to be the wisdom of all those who perceived in nuclear power the ultimate solution for our energy needs. Maybe they were shortsighted. This massive investigative report (578 pages) is must reading.
No people takes more delight in being scolded than do the French. Now comes M. Peyrefitte, eight times a minister, to tell the French that they should be more like the Swiss (decentralized), the Japanese (disciplined, aggressive), the Americans (bold, reckless), and the Dutch (tenacious seekers of profit). One might object that the French would no longer be French, but never mind that. Peyrefitte has done his homework, and he presents a brilliant tour de force, the message of which is clear; the Catholic countries of Latin Europe have to learn from the Protestant north if they are to compete in the modern world.
The untutored observer might think that economics was hardly hidden in the politics of the 1980 election; given the inflation, unemployment, and interest rates prevailing on November 4 of that year, most would probably agree that the “economic issue” was the most important of the campaign. The contributors to this volume seek a deeper meaning, however, in trying to determine what the pattern of interestgroup wins and losses meant for the American political economy as a whole. Their ideological presuppositions, ranging from conventional liberalism to neo-Marxism, are far from unchallengeable, and the book contains some glaring errors. (The name of Mr. Reagan’s counselor is Edwin Meese, not “Meece.” ) But as an interpretation of an electoral triumph of the Right as viewed from the Left, The Hidden Election deserves a hearing.
The American Constitution and its creation are not always taken seriously. The Constitution is thought to mean whatever the Supreme Court wants it to mean, and the Constitutional Convention of 1787 is variously described as an upper-class conspiracy or the product of America’s first smoke-filled room. The essays in this book, and especially those by the late Herbert J. Storing to whom the book is dedicated, demonstrate that the ideas embodied in the Constitution by those who created it are worth careful reexamination. Without glorifying the founders, the book treats them as politicians capable of statesmanship engaged in the extraordinary act of writing a constitution. It invites us to rediscover the spirit and spiritedness of the founders because their ideas and institutions have survived for nearly 200 years and because the example of their statesmanship may help us to survive even longer.
Kinnard seeks to assess the development since 1947 of the office of Secretary of Defense by an examination of what he sees as five pivotal secretaries—James Forrestal, Charles Wilson, Robert McNamara, Melvin Laird, and James Schlesinger. Although he establishes the international and domestic environments within which each secretary operated, his focus is on the bureaucratic politics incident to one critical issue during each of their tenures. These issues range from the interservice competition of the Forrestal years to the tight budgets under Wilson, the coupling of new managerial techniques and an unpopular Asian war in the McNamara years, Vietnamization under Laird, and the strategic speculations of Schlesinger. This then is not a complete survey of the evolution of the office of Secretary of Defense or even an in-depth analysis of the administrations of the men studied. Rather it is a series of suggestive and readable vignettes, useful for an understanding of the issues examined and of the bureaucratic problems and styles of five important managers of U. S. defense policy.
While we are all aware of the energy crisis our country faces in the 1980’s, Clark and Page seem to be overzealous in their description of our dependence on “some of the most unstable countries in the world.” Clearly, the root cause of our energy vulnerability lies in the fact that we overconsume just about everything. In addition, it should be obvious to observers that our industries are utilizing World War II vintage plants and overpaying wages to both blue and white collar workers. Similarly, while the employer is keeping slightly ahead in net income, his/her productivity is constantly declining. With these serious matters facing us, it is difficult to accept the accusation that OPEC is the culprit.
Clark and Page have a superb description of solar energy as an alternative source for future generations. However, both authors are pessimistic about the possible nuclear exchange between superpowers, given the inherent shortages of energy sources, thus generating stiffer competition among those who amass power.
While streamlining our outdated methods of centralization and overconsumption will help ease the shortages we face, it would have been useful if the authors had also analyzed the necessary revisions of workers’ and citizens’ belief in the work ethic and a sense of unchauvinistic yet genuinely proud patriotism.
In this impressive study Professor Perimutter discusses the several varieties of fascism, communism, “corporatist praetorianism” in Latin America; “Arab-Moslem oligarchic praetorianism”; and “African despotic praetorianism.” He sees modern authoritarianism as based on control of mass movements; ideology, in his view, counts little or nothing, at least after the seizure of power. Control of the army is a key factor in successful authoritarian systems, but it is not generally realized that the civil-military relationship in many instances is a highly complex one involving many factors other than mere coercion.
As the Reagan administration intensifies its propaganda against Central American countries, perhaps what is most illuminating about this particular book is how it shows, in the prototypical case of Nicaragua, that the fall of the Somoza dynasty and the rise of. the leftist Sandinista government was brought about almost solely through the outrageous insensitivity and avariciousness of the Somoza regime, and not through Communist infiltration or outside (Cuban/Russian) intervention. Somoza considered himself a friend of the U. S. , a bulwark against communism. His people considered him a brutal and greedy tyrant, and the popular revolution that ended his clan’s domination culminated in the ousted leader’s assassination. Diederich, an American Time-Life correspondent in Central America since 1952, chronicles Somoza’s savage career. There are many fascinating firsthand accounts and eyewitness reports, but there should be more documentation of the complex economic and sociopolitical realities. But perhaps the journalistic approach says it all: at Somoza’s funeral in Miami, Reagan supporters distributed leaflets to the mourners, who cheered Somoza’s son as their new “leader” and who saw in the coming administration a hope for Central America—a frighteningly cyclical scenario that underscores America’s consistently misguided and shortsighted approach to the crucial events in Latin America.
Remini, who at Columbia in the early 1950’s studied under Dumas Malone, now offers the second installment of his own multi-volumed presidential biography. Jackson material makes for splendid reading: the general’s bullet wounds and bad health, family life and personal losses, service in the Senate, defeat in the House as an 1824 presidential candidate, his victory and the “inaugural riot” four years later, the Peggy Eaton affair, Bank War, and quarrel with John Marshall over Indian removal. Remini’s discussion of Jackson’s grass-roots support might have been more sophisticated, drawing on the recent work of quantitative historians; his treatment of social mobility and economic change in these years is more lively than penetrating. But his effort to treat Jackson as influencing his age (rather than being a “symbol” for it) and his attention to the popular hero as reformer and republican (as opposed to “spoilsman” and “democrat”) properly adjust older interpretations and assure this trilogy a prominent place in Middle Period historiography for a long time to come.
Perhaps you might not want to know John Ruskin personally, though numerous friends were undoubtedly devoted to him, but this first-rate book about a peculiar man of undoubted genius will give you a full and intimate acquaintance with the man, his gifts, and his foibles. The story of his parents and his relationship with them, of the girls and women to whom he was attracted and what happened in each instance, his travels, his devotion to art and especially to Turner, his writings, his teaching, his strict religious upbringing and later loss of faith: all this and more Joan Abse relates in absorbing fashion, in a distinguished style. Ruskin’s old age was not a happy one, plagued by mental and physical illness and almost overpowering depression, but even then he could write: “What is the world coming to? I wish 1 could stay to see!”
This biography of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein has everything going for it but insight into its subject. A protégé of Montgomery, Nigel Hamilton had access to materials that constitute a biographer’s dream, and yet the result is a disappointingly lifeless, flat, and ultimately boring account. That such a nasty little man as Montgomery should have risen to such heights is a remarkable story; that someone close to him in his last years proves unable to tell it in a satisfactory manner is vexing. We shall have to wait for a more skillful investigator to tell us Monty’s real story.
Four sets of letters are included here: those of the Hodgdon family, to Sabrina Bennett, from Mary Paul, and from the Trussell family to their foster daughter, Delia Page. The young women in these letters all left farm or village homes and worked, for long or short periods, in the burgeoning New England textile mills. Though young, they were not children abused by industry. The mills offered them a chance to make their own money (however small change it seems to us) and live independent lives. Work in the mills seems to have bridged the gap between girlhood and marriage. Some of these letters are more literate than others, but none is outstanding in style or content. What they reveal is a way of life that was as different from the 18th-century life that preceded it as it is from our own. Thomas Dublin’s introduction is clear and perceptive and sets the scene for the letters that follow.
Edmond Genet of Ossining, New York, deserted from the United States Navy to join the French Foreign Legion. After a few months, his request to be sent to flying school was approved, and he became a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, the founders of the American mystique of combat flying. He did not last long. On April 16, 1917, he became the first American to die in combat after this country entered the war. His diaries are interesting, as those of the common soldier always are, but they would have been even more so with more professional editing and indexing.
One of the illustrations in this volume is a Beerbohm cartoon showing Dante Gabriel Rossetti, corpulent, in his studio, addressing a black-clad Christina: “Well, Christina, your heart may be like a singing bird, but why do you dress like a pewopener?” That indicates as well as anything the divided life that Georgina Battiscombe portrays. On the one hand, there is the poet of lyric joy, both earthly and heavenly; on the other, the dutiful daughter who would submerge herself in her mother, the strict Anglican who would give up love and marriage for religious scruples. This is an admirable, though not an exciting book. Christina Rossetti is carefully delineated, and many of the puzzles that surround her are rationally explained even when they cannot be fully removed.
Along with everything else in England, the art of biography seems to have deteriorated badly. We know we are in trouble with this one when Mr. Carlton has Eden in the House of Commons before the end of the fourth page. We learn nothing of the man’s background, nothing of his disastrous marriage, nothing of his college years (not to mention the even more important years at Sandroyd and Eton). We can read old newspapers and learn more about Eden in the 1930’s and 1940’s than we do from Mr. Carlton’s account; and as for the postwar years, well, they were bad enough for Eden without his biographer reducing them to trivia. This is a disastrously bad book.
Donald Woods was an editor of a popular South African newspaper until 1977, when he was banned by the government for his stand against apartheid. Ultimately, he was forced to flee the country in order to publish a biography of the late black activist, Steve Biko. In Asking for Trouble, Woods describes his childhood on a tribal reservation, his career in journalism, and his exciting escape, but it is his perspective on apartheid that makes this book so valuable. As a student, Woods supported apartheid, but he gradually became one of his nation’s most outspoken and dedicated civil rights supporters.
Lady Longford examines the lives of eight individuals as well as the Bronte sisters in this collection. This is more of a coffee table book than a scholarly or original view of any of the women she includes. Nonetheless, it is a good introduction to people as varied as George Eliot, explorer Mary Kingsley, and Dr. James Barry, the female surgeon who posed as a man her entire life. These sketches are informative and entertaining enough and very beautifully illustrated. Lady Longford’s opening essay on the history of education and employment of women provides some interesting facts and insights to the period. This is a very tame book about a certainly less than tame group of people. You could give it to your grandmother or your little sister in the hopes that she would go out and get another more challenging book in the field.
This is literary biography at its best. Professor Raitt of Magdalen College, Oxford, has had access to materials unavailable to previous biographers of Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, and more importantly he has penetrated to the essence of the writer’s life as no previous investigator has. Villiers wrote Contes Cruels, a brilliant set of short stories, and he was the author of the symbolist drama Axel, which set France to speculating about the nature of the author’s unique genius. He influenced Maeterlinck, Valéry, and even Yeats. This biography does him justice.
Frank O’Connor is a modern master of the short story whose new collection could not be more welcome, since these exuberant and consistently excellent stories spanning three decades come from books now out of print. Although O’Connor writes from his own perspective as an Irish Catholic, his humanity is broad enough that the world he re-creates becomes our world, even if we are neither Irish nor Catholic. Exploring almost the whole of Irish society during the early part of the century, O’Connor draws his priests, children, young men, and middle-aged women with equal deftness, humor, and compassion. His subjects range from small to large, from the domestic rivalry in the gem, “My Oedipus Complex,” to the Anglo-Irish conflict in his best-known story, “Guests of the Nation.” More often, O’Connor will intertwine these subjects, as in the bittersweet “Uprooted.” O’Connor’s language is unfailingly true to the wit and vitality, harshness and music of the Irish tongue. Even when reading these stories silently to ourselves, we cannot help but feel we are hearing them. In the end, the vision of Ireland they give to us is full and rich and unforgettable.
Sorrentino’s epigraph, taken from Dante’s Inferno, announces his concerns in Crystal Vision. “Great grief seized me at the heart when I heard this, for I know people of much worth who were suspended in that limbo.” Sorrentino’s limbo is Brooklyn, circa 1947, where such characters as Fat Frankie, Cheech, The Arab, and Irish Billy languish on street corner and front stoop, in candy store and corner taproom. What Sorrentino attempts, in 78 short chapters of mainly dialogue, is to realize the unrealized potential of these “people of much worth.” He allows them to tell us the neighborhood myths that at once sustain and imprison them and transform both tellers and their tales into artists and art. With Aberrations of Starlight (1980) and now Crystal Vision, Sorrentino establishes himself as a major novelist, a cross between Studs Terkel and John Barth, whose work deserves our attention.
There is not one weak piece in this superb collection of short stories, most of which have appeared in magazines such as Antaeus, Atlantic Monthly, and TriQuarterly. Wolff’s prose is straightforward and clear, his themes important and deep. The characters vary from a scholarship boy trying to fit into an upper-class boarding school, a wounded hunter trying to find safety, a golden anniversary couple realizing they do not know what they have to celebrate. Neither trendy nor self-absorbed, Wolff’s realistic stories are forceful and hard-hitting looks at the most elemental forces of human emotion. This is the kind of literature that lasts. Raymond Carver thinks Wolff may be a “young master,” and he probably is. This is the most memorable, moving book this reviewer has read in a long time.
This surprisingly absorbing tale is told in three parts, each allegedly a short story submitted to a mystery magazine between 1917 and 1939. The story involves the disappearance of Madelaine, a beautiful young French woman, from her very formal English finishing school. Recounted in retrospect by one of Madeline’s fellow students, each retelling of the story reveals more about the changing psychological and social boundaries of the girls’ school and, by extension, of post-Victorian society. The evocation of the period rings true as do the insights into how the characters react when their enclosed and rigid world is affected by war and the “modern way.” What initially appears to be a merely engaging mystery in fact turns into a more substantial study of character and society.
The Jews of Frankfurt were a distinguished, cultured, affluent community. This sprawling novel traces the history of one fictional family in that community from the peaceful, comfortable years of the early 20th century down to the beginning of the Holocaust. It ought to be the kind of stuff made for a Jewish Galsworthy, and indeed it is; the trouble is, Ms. Tennenbaum does not have the master’s touch. We see an endless parade of interesting characters that make up the Wertheim family; but their interactions with each other and with German society are merely penciled in, along too straight a line. This is a good try that did not succeed.
The premise of this spy novel is a good one: Kim Philby, the aging British traitor who has lived in Moscow for a couple of sleazy decades, wants to come home to Britain to live out his days. He contacts British intelligence, and the wheels start to spin. Has the man really come to his senses, found his roots, or is it yet another KGB ploy? Who will get the biggest black eye if he comes back, the Russians whom he rejects or the British who pretend to forgive and forget? All this is promising, but in the end we have not ingenious resolution of dilemma but cliché.
Novels about the madness of the nuclear age have enjoyed little success with either public or critics, but this one deserves to succeed with both. Jean More is poisoned by radiation while working at a nuclear facility. She sets out to seek revenge against the company that operates the plant, and that brings her into contact with the protagonist, David Lum. Jean is killed in a mysterious plane crash. David tries to piece together the story of her life and finds that life reads a bit like that of the real-life victim, Karen Silkwood. This is a little masterpiece.
Guy Davenport mixes historical fact, a philosophical imagination, and an almost hallucinatory prose style to create short stories that are at once marvelous, frustrating, and original. Davenport is not concerned with storytelling; his obsessions are with perspective, the play of time, linguistic experimentation. His accomplishment is to take the many classical referents in which he delights and inform them with a three dimensionality that is alive with all the convolutions and perturbations of an exciting modern mind.
This collection of short fiction follows Sommer’s Nearing’s Grace, one of the best first novels of 1979. In these stories the author handles an impressive variety of tones and narrative strategies, but he doggedly pursues a single underlying aim: to discover what is valuable and durable in our lives by exposing all the junk and self-destruction that is so much a part of our contemporary culture. The epigraph that Sommer has chosen for his book (from a work by Jim Harrison) neatly states the crie de coeur that is woven into each story: “I don’t want -to live on earth, but I want to live.”
If half of these stories were deleted from this volume, this would be a very good book. Unfortunately, the collection is so uneven the reader must wonder whether Connell is an incompetent with moments of insight or a genius with incredible lapses and blind spots. The more experimental pieces such as “At the Crossroads,” the title piece from a previous book, are simply in a different league from the masterful “The Walls of Avila.” Connell is a prolific writer. These stories were written over a 20-year period and are selected from nearly a dozen other books. Twice nominated for the National Book Award, Connell has received some notice, and some of these stories make it worth wading through the others to reach them. Connell just needs to be a more critical editor.
Only a couple of the stories in this collection fall short of the generally good quality of the work. The characters and situations Stockanes deals with are familiar: an aging businessman’s routine relationships with his wife and mistress, a group of people in an old folks home, a middle-aged spinster’s desire to marry. Clearly, the writer is not interested in being merely shocking or clever but in writing simply and believably about ordinary emotions and people. He writes well about how our habits determine and create us. The stories that work less well are those that are too much like what we’ve read before, another loss of innocence to the town bad girl story, for example. Nonetheless, most of these stories are worth the time to read them and will stay with the reader. Stockanes is a competent, humane craftsman.
This collection of short stories is the kind of book you would love if it were 1965 and you were a sensitive, lonely, adolescent girl who wrote passionate, “poetic” diaries. With one exception, all these pieces are first-person narratives about lonely, passionate, etc. girls who are just too sensitive for this tough world. This book is so dreary and self-indulgent it’s embarrassing. As a document of adolescent sensibilities this could be useful, but that was not the book’s purpose, and we can at least assume the author is not a teenager anymore. How Ms. Gibson managed to be a co-winner of the City of Toronto Prize for Fiction with Margaret Atwood (for another book) is baffling. This is a pouty, awful book.
Pickering studies the influence Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Some Thoughts Concerning Education had in the century following their publications on the development of children’s books in England. He shows that direct and significant connections exist between English children’s books of that century and Locke’s ideas concerning the sources of knowledge and belief, the causes of good moral character, and the best means for filling the tabula rasa of a child’s mind with truths, (the right) beliefs, and sound moral dispositions. Locke, he claims, influenced both the theoretical framework of children’s books and the content of these books. Pickering defends his thesis by giving an extensive study of the various types of children’s books of the time, of their authors, and of their publishers. Pickering’s work is one which, at its best, follows Locke’s advice that one’s work both instruct and delight the reader.
In her preface Coral Lansbury says that “it is the purpose of this work to demonstrate that Francis Freeling and his Post Office report did more to shape the structure of Trollope’s novels than did any writer,” and this she does in a series of chapters detailing rather minutely the legal structure of Trollope’s novels, the style acquired from Freeling’s requirements, “plain, simple and unadorned,” and the “rational world, the ideal universe of law in which cause and consequence exist in a state of logical accord” which Trollope created in “all his novels devoted to English society.” One telling point made throughout the book is Trollope’s demand that “the reader must judge for himself.” To Lansbury, “this requires more than a passive acceptance of the narrator’s interpretation of events: it calls for the active participation of the reader in the elucidation of character and the moral verdict to be reached.” If you have never read Trollope with this in mind, now is the time to begin.
A widely respected writer, teacher, and editor, Daisy Aldan assumes that poetry is the product of self-awareness, sensate focus, and linguistic control. Her manual dwells on the first three causes, leading the compliant reader through a series of increasingly difficult exercises to the point where the limits of innate talent can be readily discerned. Like Betty Edwards’ best seller, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, this book, properly used, can undo some of the damage done in our school system. And who knows? It may even launch a genuine poet or two.
The Word is a humorous and at times ribald look at the history of the English language. Starting with Proto-Indo-European, the author examines the evolution of English as a whole, as well as explaining the changes individual words inevitably undergo. It differs from G. L. Brook’s Words in Everyday Life in covering more topics, albeit less thoroughly, and in emphasizing American rather than British English. The general reader will find Laird’s book both enjoyable and highly informative.
Though it claims to discuss the role of the perceiver in constructing visual and verbal objects over the past four centuries, this book is actually a reader-response account of certain 20th-century French poems. In an account studded with such terms as “texturality,” “architexture,” “liminiality,” “intertext,” and “outscape,” Ms. Caws attempts a “poetics of perception” for modern (particularly surrealist) French verse, making some loose analogies to the experience of painting. Her own words in the preface aptly summarize the book’s chief defect: “With all due respect to the right and the evident, I should like in my own work to temper this discoverable reading with some private obsessions, in no way proper to reading,” The purpose of such imaginative autobiography is not clear.
Cook brings recent work in social history to bear on the study of Shakespeare’s audience and questions the conventional wisdom that the lower and working classes figured significantly in an Elizabethan playwright’s calculations. The poor were in fact too poor to spend much time playgoing, while the privileged loomed far larger than democratic hindsight would like to think. Little is ventured about the consequences of this readjustment for our understanding of particular plays, but the single point is well made and well taken.
Otis was one of the few professional classicists to speak something like the same language as other literary critics. This posthumous book on Aeschylus’ Oresteia is brief and sometimes quite technical; the lay reader should be warned that its argument is more controversial (and less innovative) than the notes reveal. But it is a spacious and important argument—the tragedy of Agamemnon virtually changes the structure of the cosmos itself—and those grateful for Otis’ books on Virgil and Ovid will find here as well an unusually urgent and detailed entry into a famous but distant classic.
Seeking to chart the maze of John Ruskin’s imagination, conceived as a double labyrinth, this probing study is ambitiously written in a style intended to be sympathetically parodic of Ruskin’s. In the words of Harold Bloom, quoted on the book’s dust jacket, if the reader “struggled” with Fellows’ study, he would have a “deeper . . . gateway into Ruskin’s literary mind.” And struggle the reader will, with a critical prose that in its chic opacity makes a travesty of its own parodic ambitions. Enter Fellows: “Less reductively, Part One is concerned not only with the synoptic encompassment of orthodox geometries, of museum concentricity and the consequences of vacancies/absences that are either “kindly” or a kind of deadly satin with the serial, transitional middle missing. . . .” Exit reader!
Perhaps the most obvious forte of this treatise is the serious attention it gives to several relatively obscure literary-historical works. Themes such as the individual and his world view, the critical environment and political conditioning, are correlated in a study that examines these works in the company of much better known ones. The author’s choices are well considered, his approach disciplined, and his association of particular themes to particular works intelligent. All this does much to shed light upon the cultural and creative enterprises during a period of disorderly transition of power (from Ming Dynasty to the Ch’ing). In the process of doing this, the author makes a case for those important but otherwise forgotten works, giving them “minor-classic” status. Scholars will be especially delighted by the specialized information provided in the copious end matter.
What a fine poet Sylvia Plath was! And how moving it is to read through this record of her morbid, but exquisite, sensibility. Even though her reputation has been compromised by both her personal legend and feminist martyrology, this volume reveals a tough, sure talent that need rely on neither. Ted Hughes has arranged the poems as much as possible in order of composition—from the first self-consciously British landscape poems to the extraordinary meditations of 1961—62 on the depravity and degradations of the biological life. Although the early work is often derivative (Dickinson, Hopkins, Emily Bronte, Dylan Thomas), it is never less than interesting, and it moves relentlessly to an expression of the haunted Gothic imagination that makes Plath a colleague of Poe and Faulkner. She is our poet of disease, hallucination, and sin, in whom the spirit seems always to “escape like steam,” as she says, before the weight and intensity of the physical world. Only in poems could she hold it, make it durable and pure.
Warren has spoiled his readers lately by lavishing us with dazzling poems. Thus our disappointment in Rumor Verified, the least impressive of his three latest collections, is especially acute. Missing are the carefully plotted, nostalgic narratives and, for the most part, the intensely imagined metaphysical lyrics of Now and Then. Gone too, by and large, is the autobiographical impulse that enlivened the marvelous, seemingly effortless anecdotal poems of Being Here, In the mostly short lyrics of Rumor Verified, Warren continues to question the nature of our being here. But in far too many of the poems the Old Metaphysician’s abstract musings and interminable questions seem so mechanical that readers will suspect them of being merely Warren’s artful means of implying he’s said more than he really has. Still, so long as we are getting poems like “Chthonian Revelation: A Myth” and “What Voice at Moth-Hour,” two very different poems, only the most ungrateful of readers could wish Warren were publishing, let alone writing, fewer poems.
In this book Adrienne Rich continues her conscious effort to implement her dream of a common language. Her poems make our male-oriented speech convey the full significance of the abuses or contributions of women, and expose “amnesia-language,” her term for history which leaves no record of woman’s point of view. This collection contains fine tributes to Emily Dickinson, Willa Gather, Mary Colter, and the suffragist leaders, often in the context of meditations on present friends. Rich is at her best in the elegiac mode, though her power to control wrath and make it effective is also great. Here she seems largely concerned to reconcile these two attitudes—”anger and tenderness: my selves” which she now views as “angels, not polarities.”
This book, which brings together many of the poems John Logan published in five books from 1955 to 1973, conveniently provides more grist for the academic mill. So concerned is Logan with religion, myth, philosophy, art, and the life and work of other poets that many of his poems seem almost to ask for analysis. Consider these: “A Dialogue with La Mettrie,” “The Death of Southwell,” “The Lives of the Poet” (Rimbaud), “A Century Piece for Poor Heine,” “Monologues of the Son of Saul,” “On Reading Camus in Early March,” “Homage to Rilke,” “Poem, Slow to Come, on the Death of Cummings,” and “On the Death of Keats.” Such titles and the epigraphs that sometimes follow do call attention to themselves, but the best of the poems proper are unself-consciously learned. They wear their allusiveness well. What’s more, these intelligent poems are spiritually intense. In an early poem Logan admits that flesh is his “failing,” Still, he writes with the understanding that it is by means of the flesh that one discovers grace in daily life.
One cannot write about Daryl Hine without using words like “bravura” and “virtuosity.” Just look at his poems. In this selection of some five dozen, there are sonnets, a villanelle, a sestina, and poems in couplets, quatrains, terza rima, ottava rima, and Spenserian stanzas. Formally, these poems sometimes seem deliberate tours de force. Still, Hine must be the most dazzling technician alive. He is also a dazzling wit who likes to pun and mix levels of usage— so much so that, were it not for his linguistic erudition, he could seem glib. Indeed, he can be overly clever. Erudition of another kind is reflected by his subject matter, often drawn from literature. Hine can be merely bookish, and those who judge poems by their “sincerity” will not like his poems. But Hine is a poet’s poet, and in a time when mindless shredded prose often passes for poetry, no one who fancies himself a poet ought to ignore this book.
This volume collects nearly a lifetime’s work by a poet who has earned considerably more recognition than he has collected. Bronk’s is a direct, unadorned, unspectacular poetry of statement, which at times attains both the simplicity and bite of the classical epigram. It is also a poetry concerned generally with questions of knowledge and action in a universe in which humanity is an observer merely and “nothing matters that we are or do”—an exercise in what Wallace Stevens called “the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice.” In fact, Bronk is like Stevens in his preoccupation with the way mind and imagination can bring us to the reality of a neutral, impersonal natural world. He has, however, little of Stevens’ highfalutinness or his exotic eloquence—is rather a frequently abrasive and vulgar poet of the vernacular. His voice is lonelier than Stevens’ and in ways more austere, I don’t suppose he is for every palate, but those with a taste for the fine, tart, and clear will find him refreshing.
Born in 1942, Dave Smith may be the only poet of his generation who already has written poems that are certain to matter years and years hence. Dream Flights contains his most ambitious poems, the best of which, apparently written in Utah, recount nightmarishly imagined homecomings to his native South. At the center of these long, elliptical narratives and lyrical (and equally elliptical) meditations is a specific, remembered event. The elliptical nature of the poems—as well as Smith’s technique of burying the original event within the poems, the effect of which is to understate it—demands all the attentiveness readers can muster, since Smith, an occasionally sloppy craftsman, may frustrate them by sometimes cramming the poems with details whose presence there seems to lack artistic necessity. But whatever one’s reservations, no one can deny the imaginative force of Smith’s utterly confident verse,
Dave Smith is not only the most talented poet of his generation but also the most prolific. Homage to Edgar Allan Poe was the second of two substantial volumes of his poetry (Dream Flights was the first) to appear in 1981, only two years after the publication of Goshawk, Antelope. Ask Smith how he can write so much, and he will say frankly that he’s not afraid of failing. This healthy attitude will surely impress anyone who reads Homage, especially if he comes to it after reading Dream Flights. But only ingratitude could make anyone dismiss Homage as a failure, for it contains many genuinely affecting lyrics that seem slight only because Smith’s capabilities are so huge. What’s more, Homage makes explicit what Smith’s followers have always known: Smith is a formalist at heart. (Some of these new poems rhyme. ) But it really is a shame that the title poem, a suite of six poems, fails to cohere, for it does contribute importantly to the reader’s sense of Smith’s Southernness. The problem is that the only thing Smith seems to share with Poe (who is rather incidental to the poem anyhow) is his status as a Virginian.
The poems that make up “Crafts,” the first half of this collection, poems about embroidery, carpentry, glassblowing, whittling, suggest, as poetry does, ways of living in the world, ways of seeing. But what is even more interesting is the latter half of the book, which Corey calls “Loves.” Here the poet unself-consciously takes us into his confidence and shares with us the things that charge his emotions, his imagination, his life. In an era of poetic solipsism, this expansiveness is both welcome, and more—it is necessary if the poet is to be reinstated in his rightful place as a craftsman who, rather than being anachronistic, really matters.