Historians are hypocrites when it comes to sports. Along with millions of other Americans, scholars pay enormous attention to contemporary athletic competition, all the while ignoring the role of sport in the past. But with books as good as this one coming out, that situation is bound to change. Elliott Corn combines colorful, witty, powerful narrative with enormously sophisticated analytical rigor, and the result is a book that anyone remotely interested in America’s 19th century should read. Gorn eschews easy romanticization, facile denunciation, or the self-inflation of his topic’s importance. The boxers and their audience thus emerge as fully human and fascinating characters, and their society—the historian’s subject, after all— emerges with a new and revealing dimension.
This imaginative study of a single state deserves prizes for recent, American, and local history alike. Callcott argues that Maryland allows us to examine in pithy detail the suburbanization, bureaucratization, and modernization that have overtaken us since the Roosevelt years. On one level these large developments and their double-edged effects appear in terms of political history, and it suits Callcott’s purposes that by and large Maryland governors bear marked resemblance to presidents—especially in their discomforts (Nixon and Agnew fell about the time of the Mandel disgrace, but for equally close parallels see Eisenhower-Theodore R. McKeldin and Truman-William Preston Lane). While making the case that political history teaches us most about life in the past, Callcott interweaves chronological chapters with thematic overviews of population change, communism and the Cold War, the civil rights revolution, shifting fashions in education, and the growth in environmental awareness. Highly instructive as well on the heterogeneity, “the four cultures,” of Maryland, Callcott nicely demonstrates its “unusual blend of the mellow and fresh”—and the point that “state history is a useful avenue toward understanding the world.”
The South, to all appearances, is becoming richer, more like the rest of the country. But tabulations of income, wealth, education, and health care consistently reveal that the region lingers at the bottom of every category. Phillip J. Wood attempts to make sense of this puzzling situation by looking at the state that has become synonymous with both high technology and low wages, good education and bad labor relations: North Carolina. But the author—a political scientist—has merely shaped existing scholarship into an appallingly schematic and circular analysis that substitutes jargon for empathy or insight. The problem he addresses is real, however, and worth further study.
This collection of essays on historical attributes of the family is rooted in the demographic documentation of colonial New England that produced previous volumes by the author about the family and witchcraft. A newly-written introduction summarizes the current state of knowledge in American family history. No great modification of that apparent consensus is here attempted; the concern is to substantialize corollaries and middle-level statements. This professional focus is balanced by a comparative strategy that brings the products of this endeavor to bear upon contemporary issues associated with the family. One wonders if the popular reader will countenance the comparison offered of the conditions of social change from the colonial period and from the 1980’s.
If you want to understand Russia, put the Bolshevik Revolution second on your reading list. It was about power, not ideology, and power is no harder to understand than a punch to the jaw. First study the Civil War, the awful conflict that shaped the modern state; and this new book by two veteran British journalists is a good place to start. The Allies of World War I should never have become involved in the mess in Russia, but Winston Churchill and others pushed the leaders, and future generations were stuck with the consequences.
The author introduces this fascinating study of bourgeois social politics as “an attempt at history from the top down.” It examines the construction of a conservative consensus around the questions of social relations and social reform after the consolidation of the bourgeois republic. The emphasis, therefore, is less upon conflict between classes than upon conflict within one class: the ruling bourgeoisie. Social reform became the tool of this class for gaining the loyalty of the working classes against the forces of revolutionary socialism and syndicalism. Elwitt describes the interaction of government, business, and social science in forging a ruling-class coalition around the social question masterfully, combining a meticulous attention to detail with an ability to keep the larger issue in sight. This issue: the translation of social theory into political practice, is central to an understanding of domestic politics in late 19th- and early 20th-century France. This book is a valuable contribution to the literature on French social and political history.
David Davis is famous for his monumental studies of slavery and antislavery, studies that span millennia and the entire Western world. Some readers of this volume, then, may be surprised to discover that Davis has another side, an interest in popular literature and mythology, a light sense of humor that finds little opportunity to emerge in his necessarily sober studies on the problem of slavery. The essays reprinted here range from the early 1950’s to the early 1980’s; some deal with violence, some with the American West, some with cultural history, and some with the subjects with which Davis is synonymous. What the essays have in common is a humanity, compassion, and knowledge that gives one faith in the possibilities of modern scholarship.
By writing a history of the impact of plants on social, political, and economic history the author popularizes techniques perfected by historians of the Annales school. Quinine, potato, sugar cane, cotton, and tea are the protagonists of this absorbing history. More than a little, this is a history of the decline of the British Empire. Although professional historians will rightly object to some of the reductive generalizations of this exposition, it is nonetheless lively, informative, and provocative.
For a decade now, the historiography of the 19th-century South has been dominated by various efforts to gauge the degree of continuity between the antebellum and postbellum years. Laurence Shore argues that the question itself has misled us. The same men led the South from the 1850’s through the 1880’s, he believes, and judging from their public pronouncements the only thing that changed in their ideology was the moral value they placed on white labor. Before the war, they disdained manual labor for nonelite whites; after the war, they celebrated it. Shore explores this theme from several angles and quarrels with a range of historians along the way. And while he has a point, he sidesteps the most important issue: regardless of what apologists said, there was a world of difference between living in a slave society and in a former slave society.
In this captivating social study of 14th- and 15th-century English peasant life Barbara Hanawalt makes special use of coroners’ inquests into accidental deaths to provide a “vignette” of the peasants’ daily routine. Objecting to the “straw families” that past historians have created, marred, she claims, by an overweening sense of nostalgia for a lost age, or, alternatively, an ethnocentric derision, Hanawalt argues that we have more in common with our medieval predecessors than normally assumed. In particular, she argues that the biological needs served by the family have not changed and that the medieval solution to such traditional familial problems as providing for the newborn or controlling premarital sex bear a striking resemblance to our own.
Preston has written an indispensible, concise, and, above all, comprehensible short history of the Spanish Civil War. This is a clearly-written condensed overview, illustrated with photographs which underscore the devastation and waste of the “Spanish tragedy.” Preston judiciously distinguishes between the immediate causes of the war and its long-term structural origins, finding that it was “the culmination of a series of uneven struggles between the forces of reform and reaction which had dominated Spanish history since 1808.” He makes sense out of the confusion of conflicting interests, political groups, and social pressures which informed the war, and guides the reader through the plethora of alphabet-soup factions vying for power on both sides of the struggle. Preston is clear as to where his sympathies lie (with the supporters of the Republic), but the book is balanced, interesting, and valuable.
William Montell, frustrated with social scientists’ sweeping generalizations about Southern violence, has used oral history from a group of counties on the Kentucky/Tennessee border in an attempt to test and infuse those generalizations with detail. A good idea, but unfortunately the book combines the weaknesses of both approaches: the oral history becomes merely a series of anecdotes about “killings” and the generalizations remain ungrounded in any satisfactory base of theory or evidence. Few things, it seems, are more fascinating than an intimate account of one crime—and few things duller than a superficial account of many crimes.
The authors treat one of the most exciting, yet difficult and complex, periods of history with precision and clarity. Their scholarship is compressed into a very short, informative, and readable book. But this is not a work of synthesis alone. The authors present their own views and make their own presence felt by a judicious use of the first person plural. Its brevity notwithstanding, the book presents controversy and nuance and directs the reader to more detailed discussions by means of ample footnotes. Students and general readers will gain an understanding of the workings of the late Roman Republic.
The proud Ukrainian nation had never accepted the 17th-century union with Russia, and when the 1917 Revolutions struck the Ukraine tried to sever the connection. Stalin and the Bolsheviks never forgot and never forgave. In 1932—1933 Stalin deliberately starved the Ukraine as part of his campaign to subdue the Ukrainian people. It was the first and so far the only mass man-made famine in recorded history. Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, has documented this almost unbelievably horrible story. All Americans should read it.
This is one of the most stimulating and provocative books on Greek tragedy to appear in years. It includes essays on individual plays, such as Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Hippolytus, as well as three synoptic essays dealing with central issues in the interpretation of Greek tragedy. Much of the intellectual excitement of the book stems from Segal’s efforts to view Greek tragedy in the light of contemporary critical theory. Drawing upon structuralism, semiotics, psychoanalysis, and various forms of poststructuralism, Segal gives a freshness to his discussion of familiar texts. And there is nothing simply fashionable about Segal’s approach—this is not a case of someone trying to be the first kid on the block to deconstruct Oedipus Tyrannos. Segal takes only the best of contemporary criticism and applies it judiciously. Above all, he writes clearly and coherently: indeed, he makes better use of contemporary theory than most of the contemporary theorists he draws upon. To some extent, Segal’s approach does become a matter of old wine in new bottles; many of the points he makes about tragedy were made nearly two centuries ago by Hegel. Still, Segal’s use of the vocabulary of contemporary theory will no doubt stimulate debate about Greek tragedy, and this is a valuable contribution.
Here is yet another book which purports to deliver the “essence” of modernism. Like so many books of its kind that homage the academic canon, Dickie’s book leaves one to assume that T.S. Eliot “invented” modernism out of his own aesthetic difficulties. Subsequent writers, or at least those that mattered, acknowledged his genius by their response and resistance. This argument, already tired, is made still more dubious in Dickie’s hands because of the way in which she wants to identify modernism with the long poem: “Long in the time of composition, in the initial intention, and in the final form, the Modernist long poem is concerned first and last with its own length.” This kind of simplification can add little to either our perception of “Modernism,” or of the nature of the long poem in our time.
William R. Taylor explored in Cavalier and Yankee (1963) myths about the character of the old South. Richard Gray, in a much-needed addition to Taylor’s study, examines how Southerners from the 17th century to the 20th century have been involved in “writing the South” to create a regional consciousness that permeates beyond geographical boundaries and into a Southern individual’s identity. William Byrd of Westover in the 17th century depicted Virginia in letters to England as a highly-aristocratic Eden. Later, William Gilmore Simms created a stereotypical Southern cavalier to serve as a virtuous counterpose to the acquisitive Yankee character. After the Civil War, a second cavalier myth evolved nostalgically celebrating the “Lost Cause” of the South. William Faulkner and Eudora Welty have equally been influenced by a Southern regional consciousness that has persisted into the 20th century despite economic and political changes to the region. Although Gray’s work sweeps over broad areas of Southern history, his comprehensive endnotes compensate for omissions and generalizations in the text.
Flaubert Writing explores the problems of representation in Flaubert’s literary production. Considering the act of narration as problematic because it leads to self-alienation, Ginsburg maintains that meaning in the Flaubertian text is not something prior to the text, but an effect obtained through temporal development and endless repetition of different paradigms. Flaubert Writing is both an outstanding study of Flaubert and a brilliant example of poststructuralist criticism.
In her introduction Diana Benet stresses the fact that all of Pym’s novels center on the need to love something, someone, no matter what or whom or how. She explores mainly the lives of women and their relationships, frequently frustrated and failed, with other people. Benet takes up in turn each of Pym’s novels and traces her development “from the comic to the tragic and from a feminine to a universal vision.” Benet first discusses the four early novels under the chapter heading of “Excellent and Less Excellent Women.” The next chapter concerns the four succeeding novels, from Less than Angels to An Unsuitable Attachment. She next analyzes the two “tragic” novels, The Sweet Dove Died and Quartet in Autumn, and concludes with the return to the comic perspective in A Few Green Leaves. If Benet had waited a little longer to write this book, she would have been able to include another novel, An Academic Question, written between the two serious books and reflecting an unsuccessful attempt to write in another vein (Pym described it as “a sort of Margaret Drabble effort”). Aficionados of Barbara Pym may find Benet’s book to be of some interest in refreshing their memory of various characters and their actions—and reactions, but an even better way to do that would be to reread A Very Private Eye, that assemblage of diaries and letters edited by her sister Hilary and a friend, Hazel Holt.
Science fiction is becoming increasingly respectable as a form of literature and attracting more and more attention from academic critics. This book approaches the subject by surveying ten classic examples of the genre, including Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. The list is well chosen, and Manlove uses each work to illuminate the distinctive nature of the others. Unfortunately, a great deal of each chapter is given over to plot summary, and as a result Manlove does not leave himself time to probe the works he discusses very deeply. Given the paucity of serious criticism of science fiction, almost any solid book on the subject would be welcome, and Manlove does have interesting things to say about the ten authors he includes. And he does provide a useful bibliography, both of the writings of these authors and criticism about them. But this book is only a beginning: science fiction still awaits a major critic to explore the field, along the lines of what Leslie Fiedler has done in his writings on Farmer and Olaf Stapledon. Harold Bloom, are you listening?
Norman Page and Tony Tanner are among the eminent scholars who have written on Hardy’s connection with the visual arts. Yet Bullen suggests that past studies have inadequately explored the connection between image and idea in Hardy’s fiction. His new study successfully reveals how Hardy used his incredible sensitivity to light, color, perspective, and form to better express meaning and emotion, and thus to show, as Hardy asserted, that “the beauty of association is entirely superior to the beauty of aspect.” The inclusion of 36 glossy black-and-white plates does not, however, justify its steep price.
In the preface the author states: “This inquiry explores the intersection of gender, psychology, and art in the career of Virginia Woolf.” In two parts she dissects The Mother-Daughter Relationship and The Woman Artist. In the second part she dissects Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Between the Acts as especially applicable to her thesis. The last chapter deals with female literary history, in no new fashion. The only novelty is the repeated error of Wilchisea for Winchilsea—a minor matter, one must admit, but nevertheless a factor in determining the validity of her conclusions. There is nothing new here, and the retelling of the old is not very interesting or convincing.
Delicious, to hold a volume that traces by its inclusiveness the development of a career. Such is this 700-page encyclopedia of finely-featured erudition, in the form of critical essays, that the poet dispensed bit by bit over a 60-year period. Moore displays a shrewd attitude toward examples of funkiness found in art or nature; her manner is epigrammatic and decorous, her style sharp even during the “pre-scientific” years of criticism. She offers advice which could explode in less responsible hands: “We need not be seriously horrified by scholastic digressiveness, cultural playfulness, or intellectual wastefulness of aesthetic abundance.”
This close and scrupulous reading of the Parmenides respects Plato’s work as both imaginative literature and philosophy. While recognizing the work’s structure as dialogue, the author stresses its “dramatic wholeness” by demonstrating that Plato stages it as a drama. Arguing further that the Parmenides is unmistakably connected with the Republic, Miller thus offers fresh insight into the latter work, as well.
De Armas provides a brief and erudite history of the myth of Astraea from classical antiquity through Renaissance Europe in order to analyze its appearance in Spain, a country which “contributed as much or even more to its popularity. . . .” It is in the plays by Calderón de la Barca where the clearest evidence exists that the Astraea myth was used for important cultural, artistic, and political ends. “The return of Astraea in Calderón can be seen as a longing within the human psyche and as an active enterprise of a nation that dreams of universal empire.” De Armas discusses how the playwright used the Astraea figure to comment—however obliquely—on current political and social matters. Examples are taken from Lagran Cenobia, La vida es suéno, El mayor encanto, amor, and Los tres mayores prodigies. The study is a sophisticated explanation of Calder6n’s use of astrological allusions and the link between astrological material in the plays and veiled political references and meaning.
This is an important book that should have been much better than it is. Seeking to undermine the critical commonplace that Romanticism discarded the baggage of generic distinctions in literature, Curran attempts an ambitious history of Romantic poetry precisely through the genres in which it was written. But his chapters on “The Sonnet,” “The Hymn and Ode,” “Romance,” “Epic,” and “Composite Orders” depend crucially on the same theory—of ahistorical genres that trap lesser poets but that greater poets transcend—which gave rise in the first place to the kind of literary theory Curran seeks to dislodge. This is insufficiently historical history.
Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten first became acquainted in May 1913. Thus began a friendship which lasted until her death in 1946. The first letters were mostly formal notes, but they quickly changed, although it was not until 1934 that Van Vechten, who had been writing “Dearest Gertrude” for some time, began addressing her as “Baby Woojums.” In turn, he became “Papa Woojums” to her. The correspondence reveals demands and dependence on both sides. Van Vechten worked strenuously to get Stein’s unpublished writings into print and to promote her in various ways. Her last letter to him was written a month before her death, when she was already very ill. This is a remarkable correspondence. In it Gertrude Stein is revealed as not just a monolithic oracle given to repetitious logorrhea, but as a warm and understanding human being who needed support and sympathy and who received these in abundance from Carl Van Vechten.
Trebitsch was Shaw’s German translator who stored everything Shaw wrote to him—letters, telegrams, postcards—in his bank vault for later sale. They are so rich in irrepressible Shavian opinion, advice, and social commentary as well as financial affairs that Shaw must have known this. Trebitsch is at once adoring and naïve, with an eye on the main chance. He appears to goad Shaw into writing even more frequently; secretly disobeys his hero’s prohibitions against cuts and changes; and after 50 years of successful collaboration pleads for (but is refused) an original play manuscript. But despite Trebitsch’s detractors, Shaw remained loyal and kindly to the end of his life (the collection ends only weeks before Shaw died). The Shavian mixture of tenderness and wit are here bound together by the fierce ego which carried him, still protesting, through two world wars and a depression seemingly without turning a hair. But this collection, carefully edited, also shows a shrewd, tyrannical Shaw well worth reading and studying.
“Love and Admiration and Respect” examines 30 years of correspondence to trace the intimate friendship dramatist Eugene O’Neill shared with his editor Saxe Commins. The first “Substantial” account of their relationship emerges in 1921 when Commins, then a dentist, performed bridgework for O’Neill. Commins’ love of literature eventually drew him into an editing career at Random House, where he worked with O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and W.H. Auden. Yet, the O’Neill-Commins’ correspondence moves beyond publishing-related questions to reveal how O’Neill confided in Commins about his personal life and turbulent marriage to Carlotta Monterey. Dorothy Commins has done a professional job editing her husband’s papers. Moreover, this volume of letters revises earlier portraits of O’Neill as “gloomy and brooding” and reveals instead a caring, vulnerable man.
Like a glowing, throbing light in darkness, Delmore continues to draw his readers. Here amidst the Benzedrine, beer, wine, rum, broken marriage, and breakdown is a voluminous flow of fragments— aphorisms, drafts of poetry, book reviews, movie criticism, observations on sex, politics, music, sports, literature, philosophy, impressions of friends and contemporaries, even jokes—all tinged with the pathos that gives meaning to the life and myth of the man.
Elizabeth Longford’s memoirs are as diverse, colorful, and rich in detail as the pebbles that line a seashore. During her lifetime, Elizabeth Longford has attended Oxford University, where she met Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden, worked as a socialist for reform in England, run unsuccessfully as a political candidate, raised eight children, and written highly-praised biographies of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington. In 1951, Frank Pakenham, Longford’s husband, became First Lord of the Admiralty. The Pakenhams eventually became Lord and Lady Longford. One of the more interesting parts of the memoirs is Longford’s accounts of her friends—Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, and Graham Greene. Longford’s superb writing style makes this book well worth reading.
This is a noteworthy addition to Afro-American history by showing how Paul Cuffe (1759—1817) overcame 19th-century white prejudice. Paul Cuffe’s free black father taught him that by exhibiting Yankee and Quaker values whites would tolerate him. These values not only made Cuffe accepted as an independent merchant in British and American slave-trading capitals but also enabled him to become a successful maritime merchant in the Federalist era. Rather than turning his back on his fellow blacks, Cuffe worked on schemes during his lifetime to restore blacks to their African homeland where they could “Rise to be a free people.” Lamont D. Thomas’s perusal of extensive, previously unexamined archival sources makes his biography a definitive study of an important Afro-American.
Not only of interest to Conrad scholars, but to those who care about English letters around the turn of the century—about Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, George Gissing, Ford Madox Ford, and H.G. Wells. Especially interesting—students of modernism take note!—are Conrad’s remarks on Kipling, Stevenson, and H.G. Wells. The characterization of Wells’ small masterpiece, The Invisible Man, is unsurpassed. Turn to pages 126—127.
He was a strange old coot, the kind of grandfather who would give you a piece of sugar candy one minute, box your ears the next. No one ever called Leo Tolstoy a saint, at least no one in his or her right mind, but the man strove for sainthood and maybe that is what his life was all about. Richard Gustafson rightly emphasizes the religious motivation in Tolstoy’s writings. The man was obsessed by God, communed with him daily, and berated himself for his failure to live as he believed God commanded. He was unhappy all his life, but what a life it was.
In 1969 Phyllis Bentley produced The Brontës and Their World, a pictorial biography with 140 black-and-white illustrations. This new volume, The Illustrated Brontës of Haworth, by Brian Wilks, covers the same ground and uses many of the same illustrations, but adds to them many in color. There is an introduction by Victoria Glendinning. After two initial chapters on “The Brontës of Haworth” and “The Early Years” Wilks takes up in turn all the works, from the Bells’ Poetry Anthology through all the novels, with lengthy quotations from each. He not only fills in the background of the Brontës’ life more colorfully than others have done, but he sets forth several novel points of view not found elsewhere.
Palace is a poorly-written and often tasteless account of Baron De Massy’s life as a member of Monaco’s royal family. Beginning with his last encounter with his aunt, Princess Grace of Monaco, De Massy recounts how understanding Princess Grace was during his troubled child and adulthoods. De Massy’s mother created such a repressive home for her children that De Massy became a rebel at Europe’s top boarding school, Le Rosey. Wild nights in Monaco, a failed career as a race car driver, unsuccessful marriages, and expulsion from the Principality of Monaco ensued in De Massy’s later life. Palace is De Massy’s sensationalist attack on the Monaco royal family.
This superbly edited and magnificently presented series of letters, newspaper pieces, and reports written by Olmsted covers not only the work of the U.S. Sanitary Commission but of the establishment of the black community at Port Royal, South Carolina, and of the course of the first two years of military conflict. Detailed annotation and a biographical directory enrich one’s understanding of the documents, while an excellent introductory essay places them in the larger context of the Union war effort. The result is a lively firsthand account of Olmsted’s efforts through the Sanitary Commission to improve the health and welfare of Union volunteers, a task which required a highly developed and structured national organization. Included are fascinating pen-portraits of Lincoln, McClellan, and Grant. The result is an engaging volume essential for anyone interested in the North’s mobilization for victory.
The publishers claim this account of a woman’s sexual awakening is without parallel in modern letters. Brave words that return mockingly as the reader plows through much that is cloying and overwrought. It could be that Nin’s diary, written in 1931—32, appears a generation too late; this is 1987 and we’ve been here before. The title misleads, too. In addition to Henry Miller and his wife June, Nin has space for Eduardo and Hugo and Alfred and René, a special case, her amorous shrink. Some have sex with her, some talk to her about it, others give advice. Somewhere Nin complains that she does not have orgasm every time there is “fusion,” which is a bit greedy since she’s really interested in sex-in-the-head-and-in-the-diary. The diary fills in the background of Miller’s Paris novels, and those who remember dashing into Brentano’s on the Avenue de l’Opéra to buy the texts our Puritan legislators forbade us to buy at home may be a bit bewildered that, so great has been the evolution of taste, Nin seems less a pioneer than a self-serving and preposterous woman.
Or is this Ireland’s Donleavy in all his sins and some of his graces? Less a book about Ireland than a memoir, this brief, breezy, whimsical, and impish tale evokes the author’s rise to artistic glory, when he finally found in his home at Levington Park, with eleven toilets, a pot to piss in. Along the way, he drank and gabbed and caroused with other Dublin literati, and the reader plunges here into the author’s nostalgic and comic reverie.
With girlish enthusiasm, Marion Merriman remembers her husband Robert, whose “sense of adventure” led him from Reno to Berkeley to Moscow, and finally to Spain, where he commanded the Abraham Lincoln Brigades against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Part travelogue, part ideological journey, part memoir, this book is a lively, moving account of the Merrimans’ dual commitment to the republican cause (she was the only woman officially attached to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). Her tale encompasses the now famous battles of El Jarama, Brunete, and Teruel, and meetings with Hemingway (who based his character Robert Jordon in For Whom the Bell Tolls in part on Merriman), John Dos Passos, and Josephine Herbst. It draws upon her own memories, Robert’s diaries and letters, newspaper accounts, and journalists’ dispatches to recount a double story of love and war. Robert Merriman disappeared in Spain in April 1938.
The town of the title was Oxford, Georgia, the seat of Emory College before it was moved to Atlanta, and the time was the turn of the century, when the author was a little girl, who lived there in a run-down house with her widowed mother and her two brothers. Mrs. Buck, who seems to have total recall of all details, large and small, of that now remote time, presents a graphic picture of life in Oxford, the town built in 1836 to house the small Methodist college which its founders intended to be “a little modern Eden where no evil thing would ever enter”: no alcohol, no gambling, no money-getting of any sort. Anyone who grew up in the South around the time Mrs. Buck writes of will share many if not all of her memories. Time lends a glamor to the commonplace and makes this a truly glamorous book.
No one takes the quarreling, fragmented Russian émigrés of today very seriously, but we might well ponder what powerful forces their forerunners set in motion in the 19th century. Professor Miller of Duke University has written a useful scholarly monograph on some of the lesser-known Russians who lived out their political lives abroad a century ago, and his study adds considerably to our knowledge of their place in history.
This novel is, indeed, a celebration, one of love and life and the triumph of two people over the adversities of illness and death. The two are Teresa, a widowed American anthropologist, and Ewen, a Scottish geologist, the one recovering from cancer and the other from malarial fever caught in Africa, when they meet in the London of 1969. There are other memorable characters, too—Noel, a homosexual English aristocrat; Beverly Evans-Thomas, modern mourner of the martyred Charles I; and Frank Proctor, a muddle-headed officer of the CIA. Most of all, there is the black Jesuit priest, Pius, a 6′9″ member of the Dinka tribe. Ms. Settle skillfully interweaves the lives of her characters, intermingles past with present, and offers a marvelously rendered version of what it was like in London the year man went to the moon. The author is one of America’s most talented novelists, and here all her talents have come together in splendid profusion.
1935. The Jewish Vogels of Frankfurt send Manfred, 15, to foster parents in Baltimore—-just in case. No one there, that early in the Nazi era, neither the upwardly mobile Gordons, the rich Ottingers, the kids on the block, nor an almost sadistic high school mentor who sees Manfred as a prodigy-protege, really understands the terrible thing that has been done to him; he has been uprooted forever from his real parents and European heritage, wrenched, only half-willing, into a new American shape. Small wonder he does not quite fit. The Baltimoreans are evoked with elegant skill, but most indelible are Manfred’s Frankfurt family, half-pretending that nothing in their cozy, overheated world has really changed. The chapter describing Manfred’s departure by ship is a haunting classic of the genre. This is a beautifully written, superior addition to the literature of exile.
This novel is tiresome, with perhaps the most wearying central character in contemporary American fiction. Iris Otway, a writer in her early forties, home from hospital having suffered from a mysterious fever, is unable, or unwilling, to communicate with her husband or teen-age children. Nothing arouses her from her catatonic stupor until John, a former lover, appears on the doorstep, suitcase in hand, ready to move in. He is dying of an incurable disease. Into this clinical background are woven details of their early romance, of Iris’s slow recovery and John’s slow death. There are pages of John’s poetry and of Iris’s dreams, but we hear little from the patient husband who stands by while Iris cares for John. A Haitian housemaid, essential for such a self-indulgent woman, says things like “Dying is something we all come to.” The novel ends when Iris insists on flying to Cornwall, England in order to fulfill John’s final wish that his ashes be scattered there, an ending that makes as much sense as her husband’s unblinking eagerness to resume their married life for happily ever after.
One could easily phrase a fitting subtitle for this novel: The Memoirs of a Sane Man. Other current American writers have at times shared Taylor’s interest in the Reasonable Man—Bellow and Updike come to mind—but no one, I think, has more finely illuminated a self secure in its sanity. A Summons to Memphis is the long and nearly uninterrupted monologue of its protagonist, Tennessee expatriate Phillip Carver, recounting the trials of his family. Also, it is a tale of revenge, for Phillip’s spinster sisters have summoned him home to help prevent the remarriage of their elderly father, the man whose willfulness has circumvented their own happiness. Inherent in both the monologue and the revenge tale is the lure of the solipsistic and the grotesque, yet one can sense Taylor deliberately eschewing these temptations. Sanity is seldom the raw material for an engaging novel, but in the deft hands of Peter Taylor, it provides the matter for a minor masterpiece. Read A Summons to Memphis for a sense of the world as, for its survival, the world must be.
This volume of short stories presents a narrative style even more spare and laconic than that by which Ms. Beattie has previously set her literary trademark. The subject is immediately recognizable as Beattie’s: she focuses particularly on those who are essentially alone in the world no matter what their relationships, individuals suffering from earlier losses who make admirably persistent, sometimes nearly half-conscious attempts to compensate in the present. Though this is a familiar scenario, Beattie strips away what might be extraneous material with relentless deliberation. This sometimes makes her stories seem parsimonious, too bare-boned, but in other instances, especially in the case of “Janus,” the result is a remarkable economy of quiet resonances and great emotional impact.
World War II has just begun where it began, in the Upper Silesian town of Gleiwitz on the German-Polish frontier. For a few days in early September 1939 the war is still only a sound in the distance, a shortage, a young man drafted, boastful headlines. A hurried wedding and a funeral in the same household are the main events for family members, guests, mourners, ordinary people all. But because of what we know about the regime they accept as normal, and about what lies ahead, the petty routines of provincial life, the self-deception, even the work of one character—Franz Ossadnik is a locomotive driver—become as sinister as the oppressive September light. We are allowed a look at a scene of horror still hidden from the townspeople and know that the cruelty of young boys is already more than a metaphor. This is part two of a projected tetralogy, and at the end it is clearly unfinished. But part one, The First Polka, is also available, and we feel parts three and four will be worth waiting for. Bienek, born in Gleiwitz in 1930, has his own voice from his own time and place, quiet, authentic, and powerful. The translation from the German by the late Ralph R. Read is sure and unobtrusive.
Elizabeth Jolley has been acclaimed by American as well as Australian readers and critics, and, as a writer, she may be all they declare she is; but as far as The Well is concerned, it is hard to join them. This is a very odd and rather disjointed book, very Australian in flavor and very peculiar in style. Some readers may like it; others may prefer to turn their eyes elsewhere.
The woman can write. Readers who liked Love Medicine will be delighted by Louise Erdrich’s new novel about some losers in North Dakota. It might be argued that everyone in that state is at a disadvantage, but that would be unfair. The bleak, uninviting northern plains are part of the story, as surely as some oddball half-breeds, closet homosexuals, lady butchers, and assorted misfits. The cast makes for a good yarn with a fair number of laughs along the way, and Ms. Erdrich puts the reader in the thick of things. Highly recommended.
This odd novel begins and ends with two people in an Italian resort, Sestri Levante, which has two faces: on one side a “wide bay of black sand,” on the other “the fine yellow sand of the Bay of Silence.” In between, there are the lives of Rosalind and William, filled with love and paranoia and terror, in London and in Larenguebec in France, near a nuclear reactor. Alternately, William and Rosalind tell the story of their lives, their marriage, their children, the madness that enveloped and threatened to destroy them. It is a terrible story that never loses its terror.
Having previously published a memoir, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, Simone Signoret, the French actress, again drew on her own past for this novel published in France in 1985, the year of her death. Despite a swollen cast of characters and her awkward storytelling technique, the reader eases into this family chronicle related against a backdrop of political events in France from 1922 to 1944. Some passages are clogged with facts; the story line zigs and zags; the undeveloped characters enter and leave without warning, and Signoret approaches each episode by skipping preliminaries, then backing up to fill in details. Written in a detached tone of amused tolerance, the story of two immigrant Jewish families is, nevertheless, told with warmth, humor, and an overall informed intelligence. It is a heady outpouring of a vital and prolific imagination which reads as though the author, perhaps aware of her limited time, felt compelled to hurry through her tale. Translated by Stanley Hochman.
In reviewing Frost’s North of Boston, Ezra Pound noted: “his people are real— and I wouldn’t want to meet any of them.” Without sharing Pound’s patricianism, we might note the similarity between Frost’s and Mary Hood’s people. They, and their pain, are very real, very familiar, very ordinary. And for that reason we might not want to meet them, because we know them already, perhaps too well for comfort. The last two stories fall away from the power of the preceeding six; but the rest are to be savored. As stories of lives seared by tragedy, there are none more satisfying.
Galdó’s richly textured novel of one hundred years ago (1886—87) paints a multiple portrait of adultery and lost honor in 19th-century Madrid. Set against a background of Madrid’s obsessions, social and economic order, petty jealousies, and class struggles, Fortunata and Jacinta recounts four interwoven tales of love and passion. Galdó’s vivid imagination and acute depictions of the Spanish capital’s inhabitants make this masterpiece both a critical and popular favorite (it has been called the greatest Spanish novel after Don Quixote). In the end, it is Galdós’s carefully orchestrated ode to survival. The excellent modern translation is by Agnes Gullon.
The consummate literary craftsman, Wright Morris writes in a spare prose, direct and emotionally powerful, if not at times devastating. These 25 stories, crafted over a period of nearly 40 years, are remarkably consistent in tone. The protagonists, who often suffer so quietly, seem at once immediate and yet so far from the reader; at times, the effect is photographic. From the first story included here, about the haunting death of a son, to the last one of the collection, in which death visits so prominently, there is a pervasive and wrenching sense of loss.
Drawing upon her knowledge of the media and the Washington social scene, Judith Martin crafts an entertaining, at times searing, comedy of manners reminiscent of 19th-century novelist Jane Austen. Alice Bard, much like Austen’s Emma, believes she can improve everyone-else’s life but fails to rectify her own. Upon losing her newscaster job because she is becoming older and less appealing, Alice decides to bring her archaeologist friend lone, who leads a very happy life in Greece, to Washington. In Washington, the two become involved in a humorous comedy of errors as they seek to uncover art fraud and smuggling and stage an opening for an exhibit of an art fresco depicting Helen of Troy. In the process, Alice becomes entangled in two love triangles that threaten her two friends’ happiness. Although Alice Bard’s monologue through Style and Substance makes the work a little difficult to pierce and stilted at times, the book is nevertheless refreshing reading.
In each of these stories Swados records the ache of loneliness, of disappointment, of broken dreams, or of the quiet desperation that he saw in people’s lives. He sweeps his pen over the panorama of life’s frustrations while sketching in the fine lines of setting: New York City, the south of France, or a tanker in the South Pacific. Swados, who died in 1972 at the age of 52, was the author of several novels and of the famous essay, “Why Resign from the Human Race?” He is no stylist; his writing is occasionally awkward, the conversations stilted, but this collection constitutes a small social history of Americans during the 40’s and 50’s: a serviceman about to ship out, urgently tries, in vain, to seduce a young innocent; a struggling couple hire a baby sitter and return from their first night on the town to find the sitter dead; a young scholar’s admiring wife discovers, while he studies medieval painting in France and she soaks up the culture, that he’s not the hero she longed for. The author’s son, Robin Swados, has written the introduction to this collection. Regrettably, the stories are not dated, nor are there notes on where each story was originally published.
Katz indicts the current welfare system for its failures, especially its stigmatizing of aid recipients as moral delinquents unwilling to work. He claims that historical circumstances created this defective system. He asserts that from its beginning welfare has served four main purposes: alleviating misery, maintaining the status quo, regulating labor, and providing patronage for politicians. Tensions between these goals blocked the development of effective policies and made welfare a bankrupt system. While this is a polemic parading as history, the argument is provocative and should prompt more work on this topic.
In the prefatory “Author’s Note” Coates Redmon summarizes what this book on the Peace Corps is all about: “an unconventional “mood-and-flavor” account that evokes the all-too-fleeting Kennedy years—the style, the dash, the daring, the rare humor, and most of all, the hope—as it was personified by Sargent Shriver’s leadership and inspiration.” For the hero of the story throughout is Shriver—indefatigable, constantly on the move (in person and around the world), able to sleep on airplane seats and awaken refreshed and raring to go. The other movers and shakers are not neglected. Their stories and accomplishments are narrated at length—all in the same rather breathless, tell-it-as-it-is style which characterizes the entire book. There are also numerous pictures of people and places. The whole book is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps, which is still going strong and still attracting the same brand of people as in the beginning.
Over the last hundred years, countries have debated a remarkably similar and constant set of policy options for dealing with international economic disorder. In Politics in Hard Times, Gourevitch explores the common political factors that shape economic policy choices. Focusing on three crisis periods—1873—1896, 1929—1949, and 1971 to the present— Gourevitch compares policy choices made in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. He considers the factors that influence policy decisions, including economic interests, party systems, state institutions, ideology, and international military rivalry. He examines the various policy options, from socialization of investment to tariffs and marke