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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1989

ISSUE:  Spring 1989

Every American knows the story of how some Northerners came South after the Civil War to, depending on your point of view, exploit a prostrate region or help implement a new and more equitable political order. But no one has recognized or documented the thousands of Southerners who went North after the Civil War on more private missions. Daniel Sutherland had uncovered a stunning amount of material about these people, tabulating statistics on 571 of them and reading in dozens of manuscript collections from all over the country. These men and women, most of them young, moved to Northern cities and farms in the late 1860’s—often reluctantly, and almost always with a sense of guilt at abandoning the South. Many of them flourished there, but many others failed. Sutherland tells all their stories in revealing detail and in a lively prose style designed to appeal to the general reader.

That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession, by Peter Novick. Cambridge $49.50 cloth/$15.95 paper

A history of the ways historians have written history may not sound appealing, but in the hands of Peter Novick it becomes a wonderfully revealing account of the evolution of social thought in our country. This 629-page tome, imposing both in its subtitle and its bulk, will be fascinating to anyone interested in the way America has understood itself and its past over the last century. Novick traces the transition from what now appears to have been a naive belief in the ability of “facts” to speak for themselves, to troubling questions about the relevance of history in the decades between the World Wars, to our own tortured attempts to find some point of even temporary certainty on which to stand. Throughout, Novick takes a humane and even-handed approach, and the journey is surprisingly engaging.

The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German Identity, by Charles S. Maier. Harvard $22.50

A debate has raged in Germany in recent years over the meaning of the Holocaust and of its place in German history— whether it was a unique event or whether it was comparable to other national atrocities. There is so much fine analysis of the limits of history in this clever book that the Holocaust and all its horror is trivialized. One must turn to Primo Levi’s recently published last book, The Drowned and The Saved, as an antidote to this cunning exercise in sophistry.

England and the Crusades, 1095—1588, by Christopher Tyerman. Chicago $39.95

This impressive study charts the influence of the Crusade movement on the politics and society of early- and late-medieval England. Most important, in Mr. Tyerman’s view, is the way in which the Crusades provided a fertile field for nascent English nationalism and then, once nationalism took root, lost much of their appeal, both for the kings who orchestrated them and the crucesignati who vowed to fight in them. Mr. Tyerman’s research has yielded valuable evidence, and his admirably lucid argument sheds new light on a complex and bloody period in English history.

The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860—1935, by James D. Anderson. North Carolina $32.50 cloth, $10.95 paper

Few things so struck Northern observers in the South immediately after the Civil War as the burning desire of blacks of all ages to learn. The schools were filled with children during the day and adults during the night. A series of Northern philanthropists poured millions of dollars into Southern schools, in the faith that black education could uplift both races in the region. James D. Anderson has written a bitter history of the failure of white supporters, black leaders, and Southern white opponents to provide a suitable education for those blacks so eager to learn. At every turn, Anderson finds expectations and appropriations too low, dishonesty and self-serving too great as whites sought to train blacks for subordinate roles. The evidence he amasses is impressive and depressing, but one cannot help but wonder if good intentions and positive change did not figure more into the story than he believes.

The Coming of the Greeks. Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East, by Robert Drews. Princeton $29. 95

The movement of Indo-European speakers into Greece came about by means of a technical and social innovation: the chariot as a fighting device. The populations involved had their origins in eastern Anatolia and made this particular movement about 1600 B.C. Drews knows that each or all of these claims are highly contestable, and a major virtue of this work is the skill with which close to 200 years of scholarly debate is discussed. His own methodology is a comfortable mixture of old and new styles. He prefers lexical approaches to language, yet he skillfully skewers the longstanding image of “waves” (advancing a credible political model for those quasimythic invasions). This volume draws together a considerable range of disciplines to offer a well-constructed explanation, and it is in an entirely civilized prose.

The French Revolution and Enlightenment in England 1789—1832, by Seamus Deane. Harvard $25

Here is a study by an Irish author of the English reception of French thought, written on the sound principle that “what the English thought of the French was a reflection of what they thought of the English.” Beginning with Edmund Burke, English authors of diverse political persuasions argued that the French Revolution, or at least its excesses, owed to a detached rationalism that was quite foreign to England. France thus came to stand for what the English most wanted to avoid becoming.

History of the Goths, by Herwig Wolfram. California $39.95

This is a revised and rewritten version, in a dense English translation, of the author’s second German edition of a book first published in 1979 (Geschichte der Goten). Through a fresh examination and reassessment of the Latin and Greek sources, Wolfram provides a wealth of detail on the formation of the Gothic tribes, their migrations, and the later history of the Ostrogothic and Visigothic settlements. The theme is the integration of the Gothic tribal organization into late Roman imperial society, so that Theodoric’s regnum in Italy and Leovigild’s in Spain are seen as creations, and political-social reflections, of the imperium Romanorum. The moral is that the traditional nationalistic view of the Goths as ancestral Germans has to be abandoned in the light of the fragmented, heterogeneous and Romanized tribal regna. There are original and provocative ideas and conclusions presented here, supported by an armory of references in 157 pages of notes, and it is safe to say that neither the Goths, nor their historians, will ever be the same again.

Middle Tennessee Society Transformed, 1860—1870: War and Peace in the Upper South, by Stephen V. Ash. Louisiana $32.50

The community study has become a staple of American history, a way to discover and relate just what the sweeping changes of the past meant to real people in real places. Stephen Ash’s book examines the rich band of slaveholding territory that cut across the center of Tennessee as it was rocked by the stormy decade of the Civil War. While the vast majority of case studies—especially those with the word “transformed” in the title—tell the story in one form or another of the coming of industrial capitalism to a previously untouched community, this story is just the opposite. Middle Tennessee started the decade more urbanized and market-oriented that when it ended the decade, as the war and its aftermath set this prosperous community back on its heels. Ash has performed immense amounts of research and writes well; the sad story is interesting and instructive.

Sugar is Made With Blood: The Conspiracy of La Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba, by Robert L. Paquette. Wesleyan $29.95

This lengthy book answers a vexing question about a famous episode in Cuban history: was there a social revolution in the making in 1843—44? With important new evidence (but without the benefit of Cuban judicial archives), the author argues that there was “country-wide plotting” to lead the slaves into revolution, that the key players were free people of color and British interests, and that the conspiracy failed because of internal divisions and the decisive brutality of Governor O’Donnell. Despite the author’s best efforts the conspiracy itself still is a mystery. Here is a book to please both Eugene Genovese and David Brion Davis. It should surprise other historians of slavery in the Caribbean who have written that the Year of the Lash was little more than Spanish hysteria and the program of a Machiavellian governor.

La Capital: The Biography of Mexico City, by Jonathan Kandell. Random House $24.95

Here is a history of today’s biggest city from the Aztecs to the present—a vast subject treated in a hefty volume. The author, a Wall Street Journal editor who grew up in a sheltered area of Mexico City, offers a lively chronological narrative flecked with pithy observations, colorful details, and some memorable sketches of people. The trouble is that the city’s life too often is represented only in national events and the public lives of national leaders and their intimates. Kandell does best with what he has seen, heard, and smelled for himself. Too few of the 575 pages of text are rooted in this kind of intimacy or a clear vision of the city’s past as that of a place in process.

Passchendaele: The Tragic Victory of 1917, by Philip Warner. Atheneum $24.95

Of all the battles of the First World War, Passchendaele and the Somme have come to represent the epitome of the bloody futility of war. In this account of the Passchendaele campaign, Mr. Warner presents a ground-eye’s view of the mud, terror, and destruction which characterized this engagement and made it one of the most hideous of the war. He builds his narrative around contemporary accounts (mostly British) of the battle. In addition, he discusses the politics and attitudes of the British General Staff which made such a costly campaign possible.

Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition, by Michael Richter. St. Martin’s $35

The subtitle is the key to Richter’s valuable interpretation of a thousand years of Irish social history. Uniquely, Ireland lost neither its language nor its culture to Latin Europe. At the same time, a deeply imbedded political fragmentation insured its protection against whole-scale absorption into the English governmental system. Nevertheless, Irish society continued to be open to outside influence. One of the important themes of the book is that, while the insular cultural revival of the 7th and 8th centuries is rightfully emphasized, the close ties of Ireland to the continent are of fundamental significance. There are interesting pages on the gains and losses for both sides in the period of direct English intervention from about 1160 and on a reassessment of the consequences of the Viking invasions. A translation of the original German edition of 1983 (Irland im Mittelalter. Kultur und Geschichte), this is a sophisticated essay in historical interpretation which gains immeasurably from having been written by a foreigner who exhibits “neither Irish self-pity, nor English self-righteousness.”

Heaven: A History, by Colleen McDannel and Bernard Lang. Yale $29.95

This is more a coffee table book than a serious treatment of a curiously overlooked aesthetic and theological theme. The study is certainly comprehensive, but the narrative follows a more popular line than the intellectual history warrants. For example, the highly dramatized Mormon conception of the afterlife is given ten pages or so; Schleiermacher’s radical revision of the classical Protestant view of heaven is only parenthetically discussed. Even so, there are enough illustrations, anecdotes, and bizarre descriptions to make Heaven a hell of a good time.

Nuts and Bolts of the Past: A History of American Technology, 1776—1860, by David Freeman Hawke. Harper & Row $18.95

This book provides a lively and informative description of the history of American technology from the Revolutionary War to the onset of the Civil War. Hawke makes liberal use of anecdotes and primary source materials to color his accounts of both the inventor and the invention. Objects portrayed include, among others, the steamboat, the Remington rifle, Colt 45, the cotton gin, and the Otis elevator.

LITERARY STUDIES Hugo von Hofmannsthal: The Theatres of Consciousness, by Benjamin Bennett. Cambridge $59.50

Hugo von Hofmannsthal has never received the critical attention he deserves in the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States. The way the academic world divides up its subject matter may in part be responsible for this unjust neglect. Hofmannsthal’s early work as a lyric poet and dramatist tends to be studied only in German departments, while his later career as the librettist of Richard Strauss’s greatest operas, including Der Rosenkavalier, is left to music departments to investigate. As a result, few scholars have essayed the full range and depth of Hofmannsthal’s achievement. Bennett’s book goes a long way toward correcting this deficiency, tracing a number of central problems which connect his early and late works. He does an excellent job of setting Hofmannsthal’s work in the context of German intellectual history and viewing it as a response to a sense of cultural crisis. He includes detailed analyses of key works such as Ariadne auf Naxos and The Tower. Bennett’s argument is sometimes dense and requires careful reading, but it repays the effort. Together with the recent publication of a translation of Hermann Broch’s Hugo von Hofmannsthal and His Time, Bennett’s book may well lead American readers finally to appreciate the stature of one of the greatest Austrian men of letters of this century.

The Red Wheelbarrow: Selected Literary Essays, by Robert Coles. Iowa $24.95

As the title of this work suggests, its presiding genius is William Carlos Williams, whose undivided careers as poet and physician have inspired Cole’s work. Just as Williams inspired Coles, Coles might will inspire others with his own plain, unaffected, ordinary language—free of pretentious academic “cant and double-talk.” The essays presented here—which range from Dickens and Kafka to Southern literature and, finally, to Williams himself—are sympathetic, humane reflections on how literature teaches us to live our lives, to love, to endure.

In the Margins of Cervantes, by John G. Weiger. England $30

Weiger deals with the multiple voices in Don Quixote and other works by Cervantes, focusing on the narrative techniques which lead to an “unstable” text: “. . .the real Miguel de Cervantes does not appear anywhere in Don Quixote, despite many opinions to the contrary.” Cervantes’ awareness of the reader and of the reader’s role in the creation of the work of literature is analyzed here. Weiger sees Cervantes as a self-conscious writer, ever cognizant of the shifting line between literature and life and the “reality” of literature. This is an interesting book which makes some solid points and addresses complex issues. It is attractively printed and carries a very good title.

England in the 1880’s: Old Guard and Avant-Garde, by Margaret D. Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner. Virginia $28.50

Trollope, Pater, Rossetti, Ruskin, Meredith, Yeats, Conan Doyle, Gilbert and Sullivan are all here in an absorbing prolegomenon to the history of English literature in the 1880’s. This book will be of special interest to collectors, who enjoy tracing the histories of books and of their illustrious readers. Here we discover Edmund Gosse’s copy of Henry James’s Partial Portraits, John Singer Sargent’s copy of Vernon Lée’s Euphorion and Henry James’ copy of John Addington Symonds’ Renaissance in Italy. Well illustrated and beautifully produced, this volume is a fitting homage to the age of William Morris, when book-making was still a craft.

Darwin and the Novelists, by George Levine. Harvard $27.50

Levine is concerned with the relation of Victorian fiction to Darwinism, but he makes few claims about influences. Rather, he seeks to situate Darwin with Dickens and Trollope in a tradition at once literary and scientific. The concerns they share— language and realism, chance vs. design— are so general, and expressed in such different ways, that the shared Zeitgeist remains elusive. Levine’s mastery of both scientific and novelistic materials, however, is exceptional.

Safe at Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel: Saul Bellow, Margaret Drabble, Anne Tyler, John Updike, by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. California $19.95

As its title suggests, this volume belongs to that growing body of works (including Carolyn Heilbrun’s recent Writing a Woman’s Life) which analyze the ways in which fiction gives meaning to our lives. Unfortunately, the author separates art from life, writing in a distancing academic jargon, clumsily speaking of “progress novels,” of “midlife progress narratives,” of “life course fiction.” She tells us that from such books we “learn strategies for constructing life stories as ameliorative sequences.” Such “prose”—said to be brilliant on the book’s dust jacket—will attract that growing body of English professors who condone the jargon of “strategies” and “thematizing.”

Writing Differences: Readings from the Seminar of Héléne Cixous, edited by Susan Sellers. St. Martin’s $24.95

This collection’s failures point to a general crisis in French feminist theory—it is beginning to sound anachronistic just as it is being made available to English-speaking audiences. Cixous’ texts read now like Rimbaud, now like lyrics from a 60’s lovefest, now like Carol Gilligan high on absinthe. The tributes and imitations of her students, and Susan Seller’s uninspired introduction, show the extent to which Cixous’ most devoted followers have failed to move beyond their teacher. Readers unfamiliar with Cixous’ French milieu might find this book unreadable; those who can read it might feel as though they have read it all before.

Revisionary Plan: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics, by Harry Berger, Jr. California $48

He doesn’t put it this way, but Louis Montrose, in his introduction to this volume, suggests that the author has played the St. John the Baptist to the Jesus of the New Historicism. Berger has gathered together writings from over the last 30 years, some previously unpublished, which demonstrate his critical range. Although he concludes in his “afterword” that he now stands in debt of the new historicists, he recognizes that he and they are still in a sense New Critics.

Political Constructions: Defoe, Richardson, & Sterne in Relation to Hobbes, Hume, & Burke, by Carol Kay. Cornell $29.95

Kay grounds readings of novels by Defoe, Richardson, and Sterne in British political philosophy and political history, taking her general model of political analysis from Hobbes’ Leviathan, specifically his insights “into human competition and ignorance, which require the political solution of consent to authority.” Kay seeks to appropriate for political philosophy and history an organizing role in the study of texts that has been the preserve of epistemology and social theory. While Kay’s argument will not convince everyone, the book is well researched, well argued, and well written.

A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature, by Alfred Kazin. Knopf $24.95

The pleasure here is to observe a long-time critic, essayist, and teacher rereading familiar texts. The nominal continuity of this work is “place” as that element in literary imagination which motivates and monitors a distinctively American consciousness. Familiar themes in cultural history (the Frontier Thesis and its vicissitudes, the city’s architectural mediation of immigration and elitism) interweave with the canonical jewels of our literature (from naturalists and Jefferson’s Notes to Chandler and Bellow.) Substantive contributions include an extensive selection of visual art, which considerably assists the arguments, and attention to California as an essential corollary of New England premises. But the distinctive merit of the book is Kazin’s drive to utilize his obvious command of these works in order to illuminate the moral twists of American history. The outcome is typically suspended, but the reading is enthralling.

Shakespeare’s Invention of Othello: A Study in Early Modern English, by Martin Elliott. St. Martin’s $35

In its concentration on a close reading of Othello, this book runs counter to the predominant trends of contemporary Shakespeare criticism. By carefully elucidating both the First Folio and First Quarto texts of Othello, Elliott hopes to resolve the controversies which have long divided critics of the play, from A.C. Bradley to F.R. Leavis. In particular, Elliott conducts a lexical and syntactical investigation, arguing that we often misread Shakespeare because we are unaware of how the English language has changed between his day and the present moment. Elliott relies heavily on the OED to recapture the meaning of Shakespeare’s language, which he feels is often closer to Chaucer’s English than to ours. Elliott’s approach inevitably seems old-fashioned compared to what passes for the cutting edge of Shakespeare criticism these days. But in fact his enquiry is more genuinely historical than the so-called New Historicist readings, and it yields many dividends. At times Elliott gets bogged down in the details of the text and threatens to lose sight of the forest for the trees, but he does have illuminating comments to make on Othello as a whole.

The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy, by Vereen M. Bell. Louisiana $22.50

At the onset of his study Bell identifies McCarthy as “our best unknown major writer,” an odd but apt compliment to this spectacularly talented but endlessly mysterious novelist. Bell pays ample attention to the talent, expressing—appropriately—the pure wonder that anyone must feel on encountering McCarthy’s incandescent prose. And he casts much more light on the mystery than anyone else has, though freely admitting that he finds McCarthy’s work difficult. Indeed he makes sense of the difficulty, of the fiction’s seeming resistance to interpretation, by arguing that McCarthy’s fictional project is precisely to express the dense, vivid specificity of the world and its power to upend whatever conceptual grids are imposed on it. Beyond this generalization, Bell is content to provide sensitive and imaginative readings of the five novels, without trying to gather them all under the net of some comprehensive “thesis.” The result is a superb critical study, which ought to help make McCarthy accessible to the large readership he deserves.

Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free, by V. S. Pritchett. Random House $17.95

In some ways Antón Chekhov stands alone as the quintessential Russian writer. Tolstoy knew the upper classes and understood history; Dostoevsky explored the depths of human psychology; Pushkin was at once a genius and an aesthete of the first magnitude. But Chekhov, grandson of a serf and son of a petty shopkeeper, knew his Russia and his Russians—high and low—as no one else. Himself of humble parentage, V.S. Pritchett obviously feels a kinship with the great storyteller, and in this exploration of Chekhov we find unexpected beauty and sensitivity in the stories as well as the plays. A fine study, highly recommended.

An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers and Related Writings, by Henry Fielding, edited by Malvin R. Zirker with, textual introduction by Fredson Bowers. Wesleyan $75

This volume of the Wesleyan Edition of Fielding includes, in addition to An Enquiry, five other social or legal pamphlets written by Fielding between 1749 and 1753 while he was a magistrate: A Charge Delivered to the Grand Jury, The Case of Bosavern Penlez, Examples of the Interposition of Providence, A Proposal for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor, and The Case of Elizabeth Canning. A long general introduction places the six pamphlets in their biographical and intellectual setting, and discusses the history of their publication and reception. A critical unmodernized text of the pamphlets is provided, followed by a textual apparatus. Especially commendable in this excellent book are Zirker’s extensive annotations; for example, they provide full references for, and explanations of, the many legal doctrines, statutes, and commentaries Fielding mentions.

The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett. Georgia $40

This handsome volume—edited by Jerry C. Beasley, text edited by O.M. Brack—is the first fruit of the Georgia edition of Smollett’s works, which will eventually produce authoritative texts of the canon of this often underrated 18th-century novelist and man of letters. The textual apparatus has been held to a chaste 25 pages, and the introduction and annotations are aimed at the general reader as well as the specialist, both of whom will find much delight and instruction in them. The inclusion of nine illustrations from 18th- and 19th-century editions suggests the enthusiasm and care that have gone into the production of this book.

Words in Time: A Social History of the English Vocabulary, by Geoffrey Hughes. Blackwell $24.95

Did you know that silly originally meant “happy” or “blessed,” that garble did not mean confuse but to sift out the “garble” or refuse of spices. Virtually every page of this book abounds in such fascinating cases from the history of words. The author’s purpose is to relate semantic shifts with social change. He focuses on politics and journalism, discussing chilling examples of institutionalized verbicide in the marketplace as well as political double-talk.

The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, by Malcolm Bradbury. Viking $18.95

Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Conrad, Mann, Proust, Joyce, Eliot, Pirandello, Woolf, and Kafka are the subjects of this excellent introduction to modernism. The lives and literary careers of these masters are presented in a series of vivid, highly readable profiles which are accessible to the “common reader.” They are presented by a writer who is not only a widely known novelist but himself a fine scholar of modernism. Bradbury offers his readers various approaches to his subject, mercifully free of academic jargon and posturing.

LIVES & LETTERS Young Shakespeare, by Russell Fraser. Columbia $29

The first question to ask of any new biography of Shakespeare is, put simply, Why? Russell Fraser knows this, and yet he also knows that most of the biographies have failed to satisfy, tending toward either the unsupportably fanciful or the unnecessarily circumspect. Charting a middle course, Fraser picks his way skillfully through the detritus of Shakespeare’s early life, giving a clear sense of the texture of the times and drawing hundreds of intriguing parallels between the poet’s background and his art. Along the way he explodes some old saws and repeatedly deflates Bardolaters who claim, for example, that their pristine hero would never stoop so low as to make money through usury. Learned and lively, this is critical biography at its best.

Allen Tate: A Recollection, by Walter Sullivan. Louisiana $16.95

“Dr. Mims,” said Allen Tate as a brash Vanderbilt senior to a venerable but pompous professor, “I came by to tell you that I have a fellowship in the Yale English department for next year. And I wanted to point out that I got it without any recommendation from you.” Thus, Sullivan’s “Recollection” makes clear, did Tate go through life, never hesitating to inflict his waspish temper on whoever offended his personal or literary proprieties. He was a difficult man, as the author—his friend for 35 years—freely acknowledges; and yet he was loved by a great many people, respected by a great many more. This beautifully written, consistently fascinating little book, though not a formal biography, goes further than anything else has in explaining Tate the man in both his strength and weakness. Sullivan brings to the book, besides his personal knowledge of its protagonist, a keen eye for the telling detail and a novelist’s ability to make it reveal character. There will in time be big, densely footnoted biographies of Tate, but one doubts that they will come as close to the life of their subject as this graceful memoir.

Sor Juana, by Octavio Paz. Harvard $29.95

This remarkable book is already a classic in its original Spanish version. Paz has written an exciting biography of one of the great poets and intellectuals of 17th-century Mexico, a biography which includes a presentation of the historical, philosophical, literary, religious and political context of Sor Juana’s life. Her achievements in secular letters were even more astonishing for the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated society, a nun in a church hierarchy which demanded absolute obedience, and the low-born daughter of an unidentified father in a society which prized family ties and connections. Her dazzling brilliance, wit, beauty, and learning earned her a place in Mexican high society (her convent cell became the intellectual center of Mexico City). Sor Juana was a strong, articulate woman who maintained her independence in the face of mounting criticism, which finally managed to silence her. She was defeated by church representatives who had always been uncomfortable with, and opposed to, her secular learning. Her works were prohibited, her personal library sold at bargain prices. A life of independence and defiance was finally ended in submission—she wrote nothing during the last two years of her life. But her work lives on. This book is an extraordinary achievement.

Gerald L. K, Smith: Minister of Hate, by Glen Jeansonne. Yale $25

What’s in a title? In the case of this biography of Gerald L.K. Smith, obviously everything. Many probably have no recollection of Smith. During the New Deal years, he was a hell-fire and brimstone preacher with a popular radio show. Every week he brought his anti-Semitic and anti-Communist messages into living rooms across the country. During the 1960’s, he turned his attention to race and became one of the most rabid defenders of segregation. In light of Smith’s activities, it is no wonder that Jeansonne did not become enamored of his subject as biographers are often prone to do. What is amazing is that the author has devoted his talents to telling the story of a despicable minor character on the national stage. But then again this book may serve as a reminder that our people are easily taken by those who mask their hateful ideas in religious trappings.

Edward I, by Michael Prestwich. California $29.95

It is so often the case that royal biographies reflect more the striking events of the reign than they probe the lives of the monarch (one thinks of the Becket controversy and Henry II, or Magna Carta and King John), that it is gratifying to have this carefully researched, well-balanced, and up-to-date study of Edward the king. Professor Prestwich, one feels, has done the most that anyone can do, amid the superabundance and contradictory nature of the sources, to bring out the significant qualities of the man within a comprehensive narrative of his early successes and later failures at home and abroad. Although Edward’s first commitment was to the restoration of crown rights, and there is no denying that his management of political affairs resulted in fundamental contributions to English administrative and legal development, he died with the Scottish problem unresolved, with the monarchy heavily in debt, and with an openly hostile baronage. Through a lively interpretation of these changes, the force of the king’s personality is expertly brought out in what will certainly be the standard scholarly assessment of the reign for years to come.

Vallé-lnclán: The Theatre of His Life, by Robert Lima. Missouri $35

This heavily documented biography of Spain’s most original modernist playwright and novelist is spoiled by Lima’s leaden prose, hackneyed phrasing, and recourse to cliché. Lima reveals that Vallé-lnclán led a busy life, but he pays little attention to the real meaning of his works. His irritating insistence on VI as “Man-Artist-Mask” reveals nothing about his subject, an extravagant poseur whose sparkling prose went underappreciated in its time. The book also contains confusing chronologies and comic misinterpretations (according to Lima, VI’s comment that a certain actress “knows how to shout” reveals that VI “admired the style of María Guerrero as a tragedienne”). It is a shame that this study is so pedestrian; the subject deserves better.

Grey Is the Color of Hope, by Irina Ratushinskaya. Knopf $18.95

By their enemies shall ye know them, and when the Soviet government branded the poet Irina Ratushinskaya a dangerous state criminal it demonstrated its complete moral bankruptcy. This was the Russia of Andropov, the man Western journalists and some political commentators called a liberal. Not only was it savagely brutal, it was also about as stupid as governments come. By making a martyr out of this supremely talented woman, by giving her Gulag memoir the vast audience her poems would probably never have commanded despite her genius, Andropov’s Russia in the end did the cause of freedom and hope a great favor. A brilliant book.

Jean Stafford: A Biography, by David Roberts. Little, Brown $24.95

Mirroring the two genres of publication in which Stafford excelled, this book has a double orientation: in contents and format, it is part literary, part journalistic. Among the most rewarding sections for the average reader of Stafford’s relatively slim oeuvre are the accounts—partly gleaned from notebooks surviving in archives, partly based on well-informed speculation—of the numerous books Stafford wrote before Boston Adventure; full-length novels which went unpublished and often were destroyed later by the author. Detailed outlines of her largely troubled love life as well as her lifelong addiction to alcohol and susceptibility to disease make for fascinating reading and call forth the reader’s human sympathy for the fate of this brilliant stylist. Stafford’s correspondence with Robert Hightower was one of the biographer’s most revealing sources, while some other personal material is not yet accessible. David Roberts has skillfully packed the results of scrutinizing interviews into his text and banned all references to the back, making it sometimes awkward to verify quotes. The contrasts between Stafford’s stormy years, 1934—1948, her brief and sudden years of triumph, and her 24-year-long decline are certain to leave the reader with compelling, sometimes harrowing, images.

Paris, New York 1982—1984: A Memoir, by Kazimierz Brandys. Random House $17.95

These haunting and painful memoirs of an exile are a meditation on culture. Like his friend Milan Kundera, the author is concerned with “authenticity,” with “self-formation,” with “wisdom” and “freedom.” His ideals are set against the harsh reality of what he remembers of Poland and what he now finds in Paris and New York. A sad but inspiring book.

The Life of Andrew Jackson, by Robert Remini. Harper & Row $27.95

This is a condensation of Remini’s award-winning three-volume biography of Jackson. It is fast-paced and engagingly written, offering all the passion and pyrotechnics of an extraordinary life. Remini is no apologist for Jackson’s excesses, temper, or poor judgment, parceling out blame when he thinks it is due. But events like “the Trail of Tears” get lost in the celebration of Jackson’s inexorable march to his destiny. More useful is Remini’s treatment of the Bank War and the changes Jackson brought to the presidency. Despite the heroic cast of the book, this is certainly the best (and handiest) life of Andrew Jackson.

A Russian Civil War Diary: Alexis Bobine in Saratov, 1917—1922, edited by Donald J. Raleigh. Duke $29.95

Educated in the United States at Cornell, Alexis Babine returned to Russia at just the wrong time, the autumn of 1917, as an English teacher in a provincial town on the Volga. He had become something of a foreigner at home, but he had a good eye and kept it open, and he faithfully recorded the agony of his native land. Professor Raleigh has done yeoman service in rescuing this important account from obscurity. It is a must for those who seek to understand the early days of the Soviet regime.

The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, edited by Paul Jay. Viking $29.95

A mere topical index of this collection would encompass any dozen works in literary criticism and cultural history. The Great War and artistic self-formation; knowing all of the important cultural and literary names of the 20’s through the 40’s; editing and journalism back when editing really mattered; serving as a witness to the formulation and execution of probably the most significant projects for a criticism in the American century; the “left” of the 30’s and its travails in the 50’s; and how one comes to write a history of one’s own life. That the friendship endured is of course enough reason to follow their respective accountings of humanity in its life-course. But what truly recommends the volume is their prevailing critical (in the best sense) motive, which deftly impels a generous honesty of and for each other.

Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, by Anne K. Mellor. Routledge, Chapman & Hall $25

Mellor has produced the best comprehensive study of Mary Shelley’s life and career. Interweaving biography and literary criticism, Mellor offers fresh and challenging interpretations of Shelley’s works. She focuses, of course, on Frankenstein, but also includes discussions of works less frequently analyzed, such as The Last Man. Mellor is centrally concerned with Shelley’s view of the nuclear family; she documents how Shelley’s own deprivation of a normal family life as a child shaped and colored her literary preoccupations. Drawing upon original archival research, Mellor corrects many false impressions of Shelley which have accumulated over the years. Clearly written and well organized, this book contributes significantly to the critical reevaluation of Mary Shelley which has been going on for over a decade and which has justly elevated her to a major figure in 19th-century literature.

Autobiography, Vol. II: 1937—1960: Exile’s Odyssey, by Mircea Eliade. Translated by Mac Linscott Ricketts. Chicago $19.95

When he died in 1986, Eliade’s memoir remained unfinished, breaking off after his arrival in Chicago, where he established the History of Religions as a vigorous force in the American academy. He had survived political imprisonment in Romania, political appointment (and the German blitz) in London, and political exile from his homeland. In France, after the war, he completed his epic novel, The Forbidden Forest, and the groundbreaking Patterns of Comparative Religion, Yoga, and The Myth of the Eternal Return. Admirers of the earlier Journey East, Journey West may find that instead of reading like a Bildungsroman, Volume II sometimes lapses into a travelogue of lectureships and publications. But the best parts evoke the sense of destiny that Eliade found camouflaged in his life, art, and in the “terror of history.” The comments on his fiction are invaluable; his memories of death and love poignant.

FICTION The Outskirts, by Stephen Stark. Algonquin $14.95

Stark’s novel involves the story of teenage angst played out in the Virginia springtime—a kind of Lord of the Flies in the Roanoke Valley. His characters, refreshingly enough, don’t drive fast cars or sniff cocaine. Instead, they listen to Mahler and actually enjoy it, finding connections in his themes of “resurrection and redemption” with their own adolescent and strife-ridden lives. The Outskirts is a courageous attempt, both in its plot and language to explore a difficult and often mysterious part of life. At times the action is a little unbelievable and the characters too precocious, their dialogue artificial. But, on these occasions, when the novel falls short, it falls short trying.

Gray Victory, by Robert Skimin. St. Martins $19.95

Historians love to toy with counterfactual interpretations. Imagine, in one example, how the United States would have developed economically in the 19th century had there been no railroad. In this engaging piece of fictional counterfact, Skimin—a keen student of history—supposes what might have happened had Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta failed and Lincoln lost the 1864 election to George McClellan. An armistice makes the Potomac an international border, in Skimin’s story, but the Confederacy hardly achieves the blissful state of moonlight and magnolias. Intrigue plagues the Confederate capital, where President Davis embroils himself in a personal quarrel with J.E.B. Stuart. Abolitionists plot another raid on Virginia, this one led by John Brown’s surviving son and a mulatto woman who delights in special mission. Richmond blacks, having heard the faint call of freedom during the war, train an underground army while McClellan’s minions struggle to hold the peace together. Skimin crafts his characters and their setting with such care that one cannot help but enjoy the ruse—and marvel at the story’s finale. A history lover’s delicacy.

Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler. Knopf $18.95

Jazz historian Martin Williams has written that Louis Armstrong’s genius lay in being able to transform the ordinary. Some of his most inspired recorded solos seem to float and soar above the less-than-memorable songs on which they’re based. Anne Tyler’s 11th novel is another triumph of talent and inspiration over material—up to a point. But Armstrong’s solos last only a few minutes. Ms. Tyler’s chronicle of an essentially dreary, disheartening day in the lives of some good-hearted but drab middle-class Baltimoreans lasts considerably longer. Her magic still works—Breathing Lessons is frequently funny and touching, and the sharp reality of her characters is never in question; but for one Tyler admirer at least, total, loyal interest in them began, at last, to waver and wane. Ms. Tyler has produced a wonderful body of work. Luckily we have so many more nourishing earlier novels to turn or re-turn to and can confidently await her 12th.

Remembering, by Wendell Berry. North Point $14.95

Having lost his right hand to a harvesting machine, Andy Catlett loses touch with his farm, his family, his community, and himself. Remembering his reasons for once choosing life on a small family farm—the vision of cattle drinking from a stream, the smell of freshly plowed earth, the goodness of life shared with family and neighbors— he rediscovers the redemption that awaits those of us who are willing to commit ourselves, fragmented and limited as we are, to a life in community with others. Berry writes beautifully, quietly, as one who has reconciled life as we know it with life as it might be. His novel should be read by all who seek to do the same.

The King of the Fields, by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Forrar, Straus & Giroux $18.95

Taking his storytelling prowess to the primitive countryside of Europe, celebrated novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer has woven the threads of power and savagery together in a tale that recalls life as a barbarian feast in which men dominate by killing and plundering and women bear offspring, tend food-producing fields, and otherwise imitate the actions of their leaders. In this living, breathing bloodbath one sees anger and jealousy as deciding who shall have and who shall go without. But, if Singer’s account of primitive life is fictional, has the real world which the stories imitate changed so much over the course of history? In this, his first novel in five years, Nobel laureate Singer reflects on the chaos from which a path to order may emerge. Translated from the Yiddish by the author.

Tracks, by Louise Erdrich. Holt $17.95

This is Louise Erdrich’s third and, to my mind, best novel. It is narrated from alternating perspectives by Nanapush, a middle-aged survivor of the Anishinabe tribe who remembers “the last buffalo hunt . . . the last bear shot” by his kinsmen, and Pauline, an Anishinabe who becomes a Catholic nun; they represent two possible futures (tribal renewal and Christianity) of the Ojibwa Nation in the early-20th century. The focus of the novel, however, is Fleur Pillager, who embodies the old myths, ways, and beliefs—like Caddy, though, Fleur is here and yet not here. She’s the focus of Erdrich’s beautifully lyric language—and a symbol for each character of the Other he or she cannot be.

Last Notes from Home, by Frederick Exley. Random House $18.95

Exley’s third novel, the last in the trilogy that includes A Fan’s Notes and Pages from a Cold Island, follows Exley the narrator as he travels to Hawaii to visit his dying brother. Along the way we hear an anxious, paranoid Exley—sometimes addressing Matt Dillon, sometimes his female psychiatrist, sometimes us—deliver a blistering and often hilarious critique of the characters and situations that cross his path. As usual, though, Exley’s main subject, and the butt of his most unrelenting criticism, is himself, his past, his capacity for meanness and self-deception. Never has Exley been more bitter or, paradoxically, more hopeful. And never has he been better.

At Death’s Door, by Robert Barnard. Macmillan $15.95

The 16th of Barnard’s mysteries is an elegant composition in the English drawing room style. Roderick and Caroline Cotterel live quietly in the Sussex countryside, caring for his famous novelist father, Bernard. Then Cordelia, Bernard’s illegitimate daughter by a famous actress, comes visiting. She is writing a kiss-and-tell biography of her mother, Darne Myra Mason. The book’s centerpiece will be the highly publicized breakup of her parents, a subject on which Cordelia can vent her hatred of her mother. Dame Myra unsurprisingly shows up to put a stop to the book and just as unsurprisingly is murdered for her pains. The police muddle through their list of suspects and catch the culprit, but for the reader it seems rather passionless and, well, just a bit too well-mannered for words.

The Last Hero, by Peter Forbath. Simon & Schuster $21.95

This work of historical fiction is the story of the fabled Stanley (of “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” fame) who is sent by Queen Victoria to avenge the defeat and beheading of General Gordon in the Sudan. We are treated to triumph and tragedy; slavery and savage battles; courage, cowardice, and cannibalism. A bloody blockbuster.

A Question of Murder, by Eric Wright. Scribner’s $15.95

This is the sixth in the series of Canadian police procedurals featuring the laconic Charlie Salter. The crime plot, which involves threats to the security arrangements surrounding the visit of a certain English princess to one of Toronto’s gentrified neighborhoods, although satisfying, is almost incidental. The charm of Eric Wright’s book lies in the characters and their dialogue. Salter, his wife, son, and father, their interests, fears, and behavior, are far more real than the cast of most mysteries. They give this likable book its texture and its core.

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel, by Milorad Pavic. Knopf $19.95

An exotic, erudite pseudo-Arabian Nights sort of romance, this journey through time into the lost realm of the Khazars is promising. Its fantasy evokes Borges and Calvino; its execution results, however, in a pedestrian product comparable to The Name of the Rose. The publishers compare this novel to the recent bestseller Perfume—damning “praise” since the latter is kitsch. In any case it comes in two versions, “The male edition” and “the female edition”—either of which can be skipped as one returns to the Arabian Nights themselves. For all the commercial hype, a bust!

Glamorous Powers, by Susan Howatch. Knopf $18.95

The “glamorous powers” are the psychic powers of Ho watch’s fictional narrator, Jonathan Darrow, an Anglican monk who leaves his monastery in 1940 after 17 years of spiritual withdrawal and discipline to face the temptations of the secular world. In this second volume of her projected trilogy about the Anglican Church in the 20th century, Howatch derives much of her inspiration from a deep reading of William Inge’s works on Christian mysticism, but it is her varied cast of vividly drawn characters that will earn this book a large popular audience. Like her previous 12 novels, Glamorous Powers is a good read.

Scandal, by Shusaku Endo. Dodd, Mead $18.95

The hero of this novel, Old Seguro, is a literary giant, and he is a Christian. At an awards reception in his honor rumors emerge of his secret, sordid life in Tokyo’s red-light district. Seguro begins a desperate search to find the evil man who is his grotesque double. In the process, Seguro loses the security of his tidy, upstanding career and faces elemental questions about the sources of good and evil, the debts of a Christian writer in Japan, the emptiness of his marriage, the frontiers of sensuality, and the significance of his own career. Coming from Endo, whose biography largely patterns his fictional hero, this represents the soul-searching of an aging author who ponders the limitations of his achievement and at least suggests ventures into new and bolder territory.

Mascara, by Ariel Dorfman. Viking $17.95

The hero of this new novel by the author of The Last Song of Manuel Sendero possesses no recognizable face, and therefore no memorable identity. “I have been an erasure. Everybody will go through this process of disappearance, once dead. I am the only one who has had to experience it while still alive.” Such total anonymity is both frightening and liberating, for it allows him to wander unknown in the margins of other people’s lives until the day when a power-mad plastic surgeon reveals to him a shocking secret. Dorfman, who left his native Chile after the 1973 coup, is one of the major voices of Chilean fiction in the world today.

War Story, by Derek Robinson. Knopf $18.95

Robinson, a veteran of the RAF and expert student of early flying machines, writes about aerial combat in World War I the way Hemingway wrote of hunting but with humor. This volume takes a schoolboy into France in the summer of 1916 and follows him from neophyte to fatalist in the weeks before the Somme offensive. Robinson’s work beautifully combines the human, the organizational, and the mechanical—and thus on one level explores modern life. But first it introduces us to the diving characteristics of the BE2C and one’s feelings as the earth comes up to meet him.

The Marshal and the Madwoman, by Magdalen Nabb. Scribner’s $16.95

Marshal Guarnaccia of the Pitti Palace finds himself investigating a seemingly purposeless killing in a poor quarter of Florence. By dint not of brilliant deduction but of nagging police work, Guarnaccia exposes the murderer. This is the sixth in Nabb’s series involving the Marshal and continues its high quality. The mystery is absorbing, the characterizations precise and penetrating, and her re-creation of a Florentine August is vivid and compelling.

Remind Me to Murder you Later, by James Boylan. Johns Hopkins $15.95

The absurdist title is from the author’s strange tale, “Fugue for Violin and Three Stooges.” These short, sometimes very short, stories and variations on the short story will delight readers who enjoy the cunning, often grotesque confections of post-modernism—especially the work of Donald Barthelme. Notable in this collection are a whacky lexicon of D words, called “Day to Die,” and a coy “Dictionary Art Review,” which provides the disparate missing images of armadillos, metronomes, and other animals and objects from diverse dictionaries.

The Lyre of Orpheus, by Robertson Davies. Viking $19.95


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