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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1998

ISSUE:  Spring 1998

This collection of 11 essays, nine of which were published previously, deals with the writing of history in the Middle Ages and with the writing of medieval history in the modern period. Once past the first three chapters, which divert the reader into the thorny thickets of “post-modernist” neologisms and old theories in fancy dress, we come to the valuable heart of the volume which consists of a discussion of medieval history as an American academic discipline and seven revised articles on French historiography and the work of the St. Denis school. It is here that Spiegel, in elegant and thoughtful fashion, and with a deep understanding of the period, provides us with a skillful analysis of the sources, their inter-connections, and the motives of their authors, which makes this a very useful and worthwhile book.

The Nation as a Local Metaphor: Württemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871—1918, by Alon Confino. North Carolina $19.95

Anyone interested in nationalism must read this book. Confino takes one step past recent observations that nations are “imagined communities” to describe how broad ideas of the nation take hold on the local level. Amassing a staggering array of visual and archival evidence, Confino attempts to speak across disciplines. Some readers may refute Confino’s reliance on a Durkheimian model of the collective, but they should keep reading. His treatment of a range of cultural episodes, such as “Heimat museum mania” (Chapter 6), is suggestive throughout. A skillful guide through the thicket of nationalist practices.

Historia Patria: Politics, History and National Identity in Spain, 1875—1975, by Carolyn P. Boyd. Princeton $49.50

Drawing on much original material gleaned from archives, newspapers, educational publications, teachers’ manuals, and numerous other sources, Boyd paints a picture of the conflicts over education and national identity in the one hundred years between the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and the death of Francisco Franco in Spain. The battle was an ideological one clearly, and one of the battlegrounds was the classroom, out of which grew ideas which would confirm or challenge the existing political order. Control—or rather “to instill a collective sense of history and identity”—was everything, yet Spain somehow failed to articulate a national policy because it could not agree on who was to educate the young. “Rather than forge consensus, national history became yet another obstacle to political stability and social integration.” This is a superb, original, and challenging book of interest to students of Spain, modern Europe, and the teaching of history.

Fort Donelson’s Legacy: War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862—1863, by Benjamin Franklin Cooling. Tennessee $38

Cooling, the author of an earlier work on the fall of Fort Donelson, picks up the story of the Civil War in the West in the spring of 1862, but this new book is not a conventional military narrative. In common with recent work by Charles Royster, Joseph Glatthaar, Mark Grimsley, and Stephen Ash, Cooling’s study traces the changing attitudes of the officers and soldiers of both sides toward civilians, as well as the effect of war upon these civilians—especially the often obscure skirmishes and partisan raids which Cooling does such a good job of relating to the major campaigns. Some readers may feel that he devotes too much detail to these local actions and too little attention to the key battles, but those actions have been dealt with at length in other books; it is the coverage of the “everyday” aspects of the war—raids, occupation, local resistance, arrests and confiscations, and small-scale battles—that is new and worthwhile here.

The British Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years, by Brian Moynahan. Random House $65

The British Century now joins its companions in this Random House series The Russian Century and The Chinese Century. The handsome collection of photographs in this voluptuous volume benefits from concise, intelligent commentary on every page. The work leads us through the extraordinary decline of a country practically without economic or cultural rival just one hundred years ago. High school teachers who struggle to keep the attention of their MTV-age students might recognize in this appealing book the perfect crash course in recent British history.

Three Thousand fears of Chinese Painting, by Yang Xin and others. Yale $75

This gorgeous, abundantly illustrated work by a team of distinguished scholars of Chinese art is promoted as “the most comprehensive survey of Chinese pictorial art available.” Individual chapters deal with the major periods of Chinese painting from the Paleolithic period through the 20th century, including those of the major dynasties. The chapter on recent Chinese art is especially fascinating, for it reveals the degree to which the traditions of China are still very much alive, despite the incursion of Western pictorial ideas. A feast for the eye!

Spain’s Golden Fleece: Wool Production and the Wool Trade from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, by Carla Rahn Phillips and William D. Phillips, Jr. Johns Hopkins $49.95

One might think that this is yet another esoteric study of a limited, overspecialized topic. The wool trade in Spain? Who cares? In fact, this book is an extraordinarily important and well documented analysis of one of the most significant topics of early modern European history. Carla Rahn and William D. Phillips recreate a world in which the wool trade was the single most important economic element, supporting tens of thousands of individuals at all levels of society, from the aristocrat and merchant who benefitted from the high profitibility of the business to the debt-ridden worker who struggled to maintain his family with his meagre earnings. The wool trade generated more foreign income than any other aspect of the Spanish economy before the expansion of the Empire, and even well into the 16th century it represented a major source of foreign exchange (Spain exported between seven and 14 million pounds of washed wool per year). The book is loaded with tables, graphs, notes, and sources; it also contains an extensive bibliography.

The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters 1957—1963, by Philip Nash. North Carolina $45 cloth, $18.95 paper

In this engaging account of the Jupiter nuclear missiles deployed in Italy and Turkey during some of the most tense times of the Cold War, the author provides an in-depth and insightful exploration of the decision process in U.S. policy at that time. Nash presents a well-researched, and thoroughly documented—with some material only recently declassified—examination of the debate over the deployment, usefulness, and removal of these missiles. He concludes that the missiles, although seen as too soon obsolete and more a nuisance than an asset by many in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, were deployed in order to preserve the credibility of the U.S. in the eyes of its allies, as well as to avoid any perception of U.S. lack of commitment by the Soviet Union. This is a very useful work and well worth the read.

The Footnote: A Curious History, by Anthony Grafton. Harvard $22.95

Footnotes are so easily taken for granted or misused that we forget they have a history, and it is such a story that we are given in this learned and thoughtful book. The author focuses on Leopold von Ranke, who played a vital role in modern positivist history and in documentary history. Footnotes, Graften observes, guarantee nothing, but they are that “messy mixture” of art and science known as modern history. His learned book should prompt practitioners of the footnote not only to think about the history of the genre but also about its possibilities. For, like the text, the footnote when used well can be as pleasing and suggestive as it is useful. Indeed the history of wit and elegance in the footnote remains to be written in the wake of Grafton’s book.

Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, by Richard M. Ketchum. Henry Holt $30

While academic historians busy themselves with the mysteries of race and gender, popular historians are racing to satisfy the reading public’s appetite for well-written and informative history. And in the case of this book, doing it successfully. Relying on a wealth of primary sources, such as letters, diaries, battle orders, and memoirs, Ketchum vividly describes the action and consequences of the Saratoga campaign, provides colorful pen portraits of the major participants, and gives the political context as well. This is old-fashioned history at its finest—a rollicking good story told with an eye to entertain as well as to instruct.

The Trial of Democracy: Black Suffrage and Northern Republicans, 1860—1910, by Xi Wang. Georgia $58

Some political stories are worth retelling because they expose the historical roots, the persistent legacies, and the ironies of our national existence. The successful reconstruction of the United States after the Civil War amidst the glaring failure to secure elemental political rights for millions of Southern blacks is a story that serves each of these purposes. Wang’s account is doubly worthy for it extends beyond the local and immediate origins of this failure and in so doing provides a fuller account of the national-level forces and long-term costs of our successful reconstruction.

Grave Matters: A Lively History of Death Around the World, by Nigel Barley. Henry Holt $25

Rituals performed for the dead and how they have lifted mankind from mere hominids to sentient, reflective beings is the thematic genesis of this ironic and witty book of anecdotes. Anthropologist Nigel Barley describes how other cultures in Africa and Asia, Europe and the Americas, both past and contemporary, formulate prescribed behavior for expressing emotions at final rites. Western society, for example, dictates formality and rigid self-control at funerals, whereas the Nyakyusa of Malawi think the deceased’s relations need cheering up, hence they sit and talk and laugh until the relatives laugh too. Many societies, both past and contemporary, place emphasis on preserving the bones of the deceased, whereas in America the aim is to preserve the flesh as well, as seen in the lingering cadaver of Walt Disney in a California freezer. Cannibalism, self-mutilation, or even sex may seem gruesome or even shocking in a more primitive culture’s rites, but the author points out our own practice of turning over the bodies of our relatives to virtual strangers to “strip, eviscerate and do with as they will.” Such ironic bite is part of the book’s appeal. As is much wit, such as seeing the postmortem video as a throwback to scaffold speeches.

Shifting Fortunes, by Daniel Nelson. Ivan R. Dee $22.50

A brief and useful survey of the history of American labor since 1820. Nelson, one of the pre-eminent authorities in this field, clearly and effectively describes and analyses the sources of labor’s shifting fortunes since the onset of American industrialization.

Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, by Eamon Duffy. Yale $30

This nicely-illustrated book, a companion to an upcoming television series, looks good on the coffeetable. Reading it is another matter. The colorful and sometimes sordid lives of the popes possess a great deal of attraction for the general reader, but Duffy’s narrative is too textbook-like and uninspired. Because of this, his highly biased perspective, particularly in his account of the last two centuries, is annoying rather than entertaining. Attentive readers will notice a number of minor factual errors as well as statements based on tradition or hearsay rather than solid evidence. The large number of typographical errors does not work to the credit of the publishers.

Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory, by Carol Reardon. North Carolina $29.95

Pickett’s Charge may well be the single most famous military event of the Civil War— symbolic of the brave, yet quixotic romanticism of the Confederacy for some, and of the unyielding dedication of the North to the cause of Union for others. Yet all such evaluations of Pickett’s Charge, as Reardon so capably shows, reflect the power of myth-making rather than historical reconstruction. Indeed, the hold of Pickett’s Charge on the public imagination for the past 135 years is due far more to its symbolic power than to its military significance in determining the outcome of the war.

Relics, Prayer, and Politics in Medieval Venetia, by Thomas E.A. Dale. Princeton $79.50

This book examines the 12th-century frescoes in the crypt of the Cathedral of Aquileia in relation to the relics of the crypt, those of Saint Hermagoras, who, according to legend, was a disciple of St. Mark. Since the Carolingians promoted the city’s role as patriarchal see of Venice, the Venetians were prompted to steal the remains of St. Mark from Alexandria in order to promote their own ecclesiastical status. The frescoes, as Dale shows, do not deny the Venetian possession of Mark’s relics; they focus on the mission and death of Hermagoras that consecrate Aquileia as the patriarchate of Venice.

The West Point Atlas of American Wars: Volume II, 1900—1918, Chief Editor, Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito. Henry Holt $75

Since its original appearance in 1959, The West Point Atlas has been regarded as a classic of military mapmaking, despite a few minor errors and an unsatisfactory rendering of elevations. It offered not only comprehensiveness but also an effective linkage of maps with the narrative and interpretative text. Formerly in two volumes, the Atlas in its revised form is the present small volume on the First World War from what was once an unwieldy volume covering both World Wars and Korea. As was the case with the new version of the first volume, there are few substantial revisions in either text or maps in the treatment of World War 1. This is certainly a tribute to the virtues of the original edition, but some may be disappointed that, despite the publisher’s claims, there are so few emendations to account for new research. Still, we can always be grateful when classics come back into print.

Burgundy to Champagne: The Wine Trade in Early Modern France, by Thomas Brennan. Johns Hopkins $39.95

Wine lovers are likely to enjoy this scholarly study of the wine trade in early modern France. Wine was one of the principal modes of commerce. Wine brokers played a central role in French society and demonstrated that economic exchange was a contest of power as much as a satisfaction of needs. The author has marshaled a broad array of sources and statistics that together reveal as much about the growth of international economy as they do about the unquenchable desire for what remains one of France’s leading exports.

LITERARY STUDIESNightmare on Main Street, by Mark Edmundson. Harvard $22.95

“Several years ago,” Edmundson begins his study, “for no reason I readily discerned, I began watching horror movies.” What follows is a wholly engaging, splendidly inventive meditation on popular culture in America and its uneven relationship to literary Romanticism. Edmundson convincingly divides our current obsessions into modes of Gothic horror and facile attempts at transcendence. One of the delights of this book is the inspired ease with which the author segues from The Texan Chainsaw Massacre to Rousseau, from Oprah to Wordsworth, from the culture of S and M to the poetry of Shelley, These comparisons are knowingly outrageous, but always suggestive, and often moving. For Edmundson’s admirable goal is to recover, often in the most surprising places, hints of the kind of imaginative power that sustained our greatest prophets of self-creation.

Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme, edited by Kim Herzinger. Random House $27.50

When trying to define what is meant by postmodernism in fiction, one inevitably thinks of the strange short stories that flowed from the pen of Donald Barthelme. Alternately dazzingly brilliant and maddeningly obscure, at one and the same time enigmatic and revelatory, these stories continue to fascinate readers and critics alike. Though he died prematurely at the age of 58, Barthelme still appears in the “new book” category, thanks to the efforts of his literary trustees and his editor, Kim Herzinger. This volume collects his non-fiction, drawing upon a wide range of sources and thus forever simplifying the task of scholars and admirers of Barthelme who wish to track down his thoughts on literature and aesthetics in general. Roughly a third of the volume is devoted to a series of interviews with Barthelme, which help to illuminate his career as an author, though inevitably his answers to the questions often raise new questions on their own. The volume includes a witty and eloquent tribute to Barthelme by his fellow postmodernist and neighbor on bookshelves everywhere, John Barth.

The Endless Text: Don Quijote and the Hermeneutics of Romance, by Edward Dudley. State University of New York $21.95

Don Quijote traditionally marks the end of Romance and the beginning of the modern novel. For Dudley, it is an “endless text” which encodes the traditional rhetoric of Romance in a book which is subtle and unending in its appeal. After theorizing the background of narrative, and after looking at Romance in historical context, Dudley analyzes key episodes in the Quijote in order to coax out of the novel the “disguised Romance text” which informs the stories, characters’ words, and narrative flow, from multiple sources (some as early as ancient Celtic tales). This original and beautifully-written study adds substantially to our knowledge and enjoyment of Cervantes’ masterpiece.

The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny & Imagination, by Caroline J. Simon. Michigan $14

Caroline Simon’s title is inspired by the idea in Dickens’ David Copperfield that one needs a disciplined heart in order to become the hero of one’s life story. Her thesis is that love gives one the knowledge of one’s true self, and that imagination is the capacity which leads to this knowledge. She analyses what she calls “voluntary” relationships such as, neighborly love, friendship, romantic and marital love, and inter-gender friendship. To illustrate her theme, she uses examples from various works of literature; in the belief that narrative tutors our imagination. She states her point of view as “Western, modern, Christian, feminist,” and the Christian ideals of love and community inform her text. This is a well-written book drawing on a wide range of scholarly work; it offers both interesting critiques of major literary works and insightful comments on our relationship to ourself and those we love.

Seeds From a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual journey, by Clark Strand. Hyperion $19.95

Seeds From a Birch Tree accomplishes many things. It gives a definition and history of haiku, offers lessons on how to read and compose haiku, presents an introduction to Zen Buddhism, and includes a brief autobiography. It succeeds in each endeavor. As a critic, Strand is a sensitive reader who can illustrate why a poem has (or doesn’t have) merit. As a writer, his advice is astute and practical. He offers useful specific assignments, and is just as good when making general observations: “If one wants to use poetry as a spiritual practice, first one has to be a poet; otherwise, it is all a sham.” Using his own experience for reference, Strand shows how learning to write haiku and acquire the “haiku mind” offers a way to understand the world. His is a worthy and worthwhile pursuit. This book should sit on readers’ shelves next to their copy of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. It is cut of the same fine cloth.

American Literary Scholarship: An Annual, 1995, edited by Gary Scharnhorst. Duke $60

This excellent series, published annually since 1963, continues with another fine survey of the year’s work on American literature. Canonical figures such as Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, and Faulkner receive separate treatment by chapter in Part I, while Part II breaks the remaining authors down by period. This volume also features a redesigned and rewarding section on scholarship in foreign languages. In the event you were wondering about recent Scandinavian contributions to the field, rest easy: it’s all surveyed right here. While this book is a must for research library collections, it also will prove invaluable for serious scholars who wish to keep up-to-date.

Addressing Postmodernity: Kenneth Burke, Rhetoric, and a Theory of Social Change, by Barbara Biesecker. Alabama $29.95

In this spirited reassessment of Kenneth Burke’s possible contributions to theories of social change and postmodernity, Biesecker attempts to resuscitate the place of the art of rhetoric in current debates about relations between structure and subject. Using what she identifies as deconstruction in its truest Derridean spirit, she reads Burke’s writings on rhetoric and motive against Habermas’ universal pragmatics and develops a well-argued case for the centrality of an understanding of rhetoric in contemporary theory’s delicate balancing act between the annihilation of the Enlightenment subject and the desire for a radical politics of possibility initiated by post-structuralism and its kin. By giving a close reading of three of Burke’s seminal works, she develops what she calls a “new theory of social change that takes rhetoric seriously into account.”

Necessary Madness, by Gregg Camfield. Oxford $55

This dense academic monograph on the humor of domesticity in 19th-century American literature is written from the perspective of gender and domestic ideology. Rejecting the claim that there was a difference between the humor of men and women during this period, the author treats pairs of humorists, male and female—Washington Irving and Fanny Fern, Mark Twain and Marietta Holley, etc. Humor is inevitably a difficult topic, which requires a light touch that is absent here. The author nevertheless sheds light on domesticity at the center of American culture.

English Drama, 1586—1642: The Age of Shakespeare, by G.K. Hunter. Oxford $65

The Oxford History of English Literature is now completed with a bang, more than 50 years after it was begun.(The planned Old English volume has been abandoned, perhaps in the face of a less educated readership.) This 15th volume takes its place with Douglas Bush’s and C.S. Lewis’s, until now the best. It makes a huge contribution, overcoming the formidable problems of combining stage history with history of drama, and of putting Shakespeare into perspective without diminishing his eminence. In a clear, attractive style, free from jargon, Hunter tells the story of a protean art; relating individual plays to trends and contexts social or political. He does not achieve all this without the disproportions exigencies of space tend to force. Satire receives no separate treatment; masques are treated perfunctorily; and a play as good as Fletcher’s The Scornful Lady (here rightly acclaimed) gets no more space than Lyly’s Campaspe. There is a bibliography, and an annals of performances, updating Schoenbaum and Wagonheim, The indices, adequate for names and titles, are not analytic enough to be useful on topics.

The Major Prose of Thomas Henry Huxley, edited by Alan P. Barr. Georgia $50

Thomas Henry Huxley, eminent Victorian, man of letters, and early defender of Darwinian principle, has all but vanished from print. This volume corrects the problem by collecting the most important works by this essential figure in the history of science. Included here are the full text of Man’s Place in Nature, “On the Physical Basis of Life,” “Agnostocism,” and “A Liberal Education and Where to Find It.” Alan P. Barr’s superb biographical introduction provides keen insight into Huxley’s life and work.

The Flow of Art, by Henry McBride, edited by Daniel Catton Rich. Yale $35 cloth, $16 paper

Already in his 40’s, Henry McBride was hired as a writer for The New York Sun just months before the infamous 1913 Armory Show which both revolutionized how Americans interacted with art, and launched McBride’s career as an art critic. In 1920 he was invited to write a monthly essay on modern art by the editors of the newly refurbished periodical The Dial. This volume in Yale’s recent Henry McBride Series on Modernism and Modernity is a reissue of his collected essays on the post-1913 modern art movement. McBride’s writing is not opaquely academic, nor is it popular-media simplistic. To sit down and read these exhibition reviews and critical essays is to enjoy an informative and personal chronicle of 20th-century art through McBride’s well-researched and often anecdotal prose.

Edmund Wilson: Centennial Reflections, edited by Lewis M. Dabney. Princeton $12.95

One of the great literary figures of our century, Wilson is richly deserving of the attention he here receives as critic and historian. The contributors include Morris Dickstein, David Bromwich, Andrew Delbanco, and Paul Berman, among many others. Often the commentaries are highly provocative. Witness Daniel Aaro’s observation that Wilson was not an acute “political diagnostician,” nor was he a sharp student of government. On a more positive note Jed Perl focuses on aesthetic details of Wilson’s clear-headed and wide-ranging writings. There are also fascinating anecdotes about Wilson the man, especially a delightful story about Wilson and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The reader can find this on his own. For lovers of Wilson this will be a real page-turner!

From Emerson to King: Democracy, Race, and the Politics of Protest, by Anita Haya Patterson. Oxford $49.95

A brilliant study of Emerson’s thought showing that much of its vitality as “protest” emerges from the complex American identity it forges—an identity intermingling the freedom secured through “rights” with the deep and permanent ties of “race.” Weaving together the rhetorical and literary appeal of Emerson’s thought with its “political logic,” its function in and for a divided nation, Patterson amply documents the strengths of Emerson’s “rhetoric of contradiction.” These include harnessing Utopian energies for social critique, a strategy vital to contemporary thinking on African-American identity and activism, as shown through the work of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cornel West.

Reconfiguring Modernism, by Daniel R. Schwartz. St. Martin’s $45

In this series of essays on art and literature, the author develops a number of interesting analogies as he links Manet and Henry James, Cezanne and T.S. Eliot, Picasso and Joyce. He is especially suggestive when he claims that Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness under the influence of Gauguin’s writing, and he is no less stimulating when he explores the deep impress of modern painting on Wallace Stevens. This is a book from which both scholars of literature and art history will profit. Schwartz reminds us that these twin stories of art and literature cannot ultimately be divided despite our academic categories.

After the Death of Literature, by Richard B. Schwartz. Southern Illinois $29.95

Echoing the title of Alvin Kernan’s book The Death of Literature (1990), the author, a scholar of Samuel Johnson, reflects on the so-called “culture wars” of the last two decades. His main point is that such academic battles are far removed from life itself. He dreams of a scholarship not divorced from life, and for this perspective he is to be applauded. Unfortunately, however, his book is written for fellow academics and will find few readers outside of the academy. There are, nevertheless, some shrewd observations on literature in Schwartz’s dovetailing essays, especially on the detective story.

Twentieth-Century Southern Literature, by J. A. Bryant Jr. Kentucky $16.95

The story of Southern literature, it could be argued, rightly begins in the 20th century, just as the story of 20th-century literature rightly begins in the South. Whether or not one agrees with this proposition, J.A. Bryant Jr.’s Twentieth-Century Southern Literature must certainly be cited as evidence, given both the breadth and the depth of its coverage. Bryant’s treatment rightly centers on the Southern Renaissance, that remarkable mid-century flowering of literary achievement that encompassed, most prominently, the Fugitive and Agrarian movements, and the novelists Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner. The strength of this book, however, lies in its close scrutiny of what came before, and especially what came after, the Southern Renaissance—including Bryant’s attention to women and minority writers, his awareness of regional differences within the South, and his judicious treatment of the contemporary scene. An exceptional overview of the last hundred years of Southern writing, Twentieth-Century Southern Literature deserves a place alongside the best of the literature it chronicles.

The Divine Guido, by Richard Spear. Yale $60

This study of religion, sex, money, and art in the world of Guido Reni is an ambitious psycho-analytical analysis of art in context. Building on D. Stephen Pepper’s classic portrayal of Reni’s psychology in the 1971 Art Quarterly but disingenuously failing to acknowledge adequately this contribution, Spear writes here a series of dovetailing scholarly articles on various aspects of biography and cultural history. Although the subject is fascinating, the author learned, this book does not invite the uninitiated reader. There is indeed a thin line between erudition and pedantry, and the author unfortunately crosses it.

LIVES & LETTERSThe Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 27: September-December 1793, edited by John Catanzariti et al. Princeton $75

Thomas Jefferson’s reputation has taken a beating in recent years, and this most recent volume of the Jefferson Papers, which documents the final months of Jefferson’s tenure as George Washington’s secretary of state, will not restore much of the lost lustre. In a modern presidential administration, conduct like Jefferson’s would be grounds for instant, ignominious dismissal. During these months Jefferson was deeply involved in organizing a party opposed to the administration, activities amply documented in the present volume. But the Washington administration was not a modern presidential administration, and critics of Jefferson’s political career, like those examining his private life and his views on slavery, should avoid applying the standards of our time to the profoundly different circumstances of the late 18th century. By offering us a complete record of Jefferson’s correspondence for these months, John Catanzariti and his colleagues compel us to consider Jefferson’s conduct in the political and intellectual context of his time—a welcome antidote to the present-mindedness of recent contributions to Jeffersonian literature.

Mrs. Keppel and her Daughter, by Diana Souhami. St. Martin’s $25.95

This double portrait—of Alice Keppel, one in a line of King Edward VII’s mistresses; and of her daughter Violet, the restrained lover of author and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West— illustrates with gossipy strokes the hollow, tedious, wasteful values of Edwardian England. Even Souhami’s narrative gets tedious: the country-house-to-country-house social routine, the extensive wardrobe inventories, irritate; however, Souhami’s in-depth research highlights the wicked and naughty observations of English high society that Sackville-West includes in her novel The Edwardians: “Their conversation seemed to consist in asking one another what they had thought of such and such an entertainment and whether they were going to such and such another . . .these are the people who ordain the London season . . .inspire envy . . .and snobbishness . . .they spend money, and that is the best that can be said of them.” Souhami’s popular history does much to reveal further the vulgarities of Edwardian England’s well-known whore to royalty, Mrs. Keppel, and the struggles of her daughter’s more singular spirit, whose greatest love affair was crushed by her mother and other assorted hypocrites.

Without, by Donald Hall. Houghton Mifflin $22

Whom Donald Hall is without, of course, is his wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia after an extended illness. This book recounts of their last months together and Hall’s life after her passing. It serves as a moving elegy for her life and work, and it spares none of the pain she and Hall experienced: the illness brought on by treatments, the pain of a bone marrow transplant, the dementia and incontinence. But it is not the horror of the death and dying that remains with the reader after he has finished this book. It is the clear presence of mutual love and two people’s persevering in the face of hopeless circumstances. When Hall quotes Kenyon on her death bed saying, “”Dying is simple,” she said, “What’s worst is . . .the separation,”” we understand their loss. This is a sad and painful book, but it is buoyed by integrity and enduring emotion.

The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited by Bonnie Costello. Knopf $35

The publication of Moore’s letters is a true event. Spanning more than 60 years and long-term correspondents such as Pound, Eliot, H.D., and Elizabeth Bishop, they offer a window into the formation of Moore as a poet, her poetics, and the modernist movement. Moreover, with warmth, wit, passion, and honesty we have a remarkable picture of Marianne Moore. The editors have performed a herculean task in forming this tight collection from more than one hundred archives and thousands of letters. The book is arranged into eight chronological periods, each with a brief and effective introduction. Secondary information is wisely limited to that which is necessary, and a useful glossary of names is provided. With this wonderfully produced selection of her letters, one can’t help but wait for a collected letters to appear, for if you weren’t drawn to her letters by her poetry you will surely be drawn to her poetry by her letters.

The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell, edited by J. A. V. Chappie and Arthur Pollard. St. Martin’s $24.95

Elizabeth Gaskell had one of the most distinctive voices among Victorian fiction writers and was one of the few who could give Charles Dickens a run for his money, as she proved when she published her industrial novel North and South in Dickens’ own magazine, Household Words, as an answer to and a corrective of his Hard Times. Thus this substantial collection of Gaskell’s correspondence, running to more than one thousand pages, constitutes an important contribution to Victorian studies. The letters provide insight not only into the life and opinions of Gaskell herself but also into the whole age, since her correspondents included such eminent Victorians as Carlyle, Ruskin, Dickens, the Brownings, George Eliot, and Florence Nightingale. Unfortunately, this volume is largely a reprint of an edition published originally in 1966; it confines itself to providing a list of corrections of errors in that earlier edition, but does not print several hundred Gaskell letters that have surfaced in the intervening years. Even though incomplete, however, the volume provides a rich and intriguing portrait of Gaskell as an author and as a person.

Brassai: Letters to My Parents, translated by Peter Laki and Barna Kantor. Chicago $29.95

Nicknamed the “Eye of Paris” by Henry Miller, Gilberts Brassaï was one of the great European photographers of the 1930’s and 40’s. This volume of letters to his parents and early photos, some published for the first time, chronicles the rugged and fascinating years of the struggling artist’s life as student/apprentice in Paris and Berlin during the 1920’s and 30’s. This is a detailed and candid collection by a young man whose later friendships included Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Man Ray, Pierre Reverdy, Picasso, and others.

Burning the Days: Recollection, by James Salter. Random House $24

“Pleasure and inconsequence on one hand, immeasurable deeds on the other.” This is how, two-thirds of the way through his new memoir, Salter sums up watching a moon launch while making love to his mistress; it might also be said about his life. Salter’s fiction has always been stunningly opaque, and the thematic arrangement and taut style of his “recollection” make you look hard for the man behind the aesthetic. West Point, flight training, and dogfights yield language that is vivid and revealing of character, Salter’s own and the men who lived and died in his squadron; but for Salter the screenwriter, words (and names) become a kind of currency, tickets to a closed and lavish world that swallows the middle of life. His reticence about the disintegration of his marriage is laudable but suspect, because it has the effect of quickening the artistic life around it. As he watches the astronauts, one of whom flew in his squadron in Korea, Salter writes: “There was wreckage all around, but like the refuse piled behind restaurants I did not consider it—in front they were bowing and showing me to the table.” This, and other, exquisite cracks in the surface reveal a portrait of a man for whom flying and writing are vital, heroic, even as they suck life from ordinary things, an ultimately stirring affirmation from a man who is as good as his words.

Casanova: The Man Who Really Loved Women, by Lydia Flem. Farrar Straus & Giroux $24

The title is a delicious instance of understatement. So prolific was Casanova in his love of women that he has given his name to our language as a synonym for “lover,” like his mythic counterpart, Don Juan. The author touches on the wonderful legend that Casanova assisted Da Ponte in his libretto for Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Did he really assist on this work to which his own life was so closely tied? Did he really love all the women he said he loved and in the ways he said he loved them? To what degree are his memoirs a kind of autobiographical novel? This spirited study compels us to contemplate again a fascinating man and his remarkable “life.”

Bright Paradise: Victorian Scientific Travellers, by Peter Raby. Princeton $14.95

Although the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 is credited with altering the way we look at the world, Darwin certainly was not working alone. In Bright Paradise, an engaging narrative of the rise and fall of scientific traveling in the Victorian age, Peter Raby follows some of the most interesting characters in the history of science, watching as they attempt to complete the great Linnaean jigsaw puzzle, whose missing pieces they traveled to the ends of the earth to find and catalogue. Working from a mixture of primary and secondary sources, Raby tracks such travelers as Thomas Huxley in Australia, Richard Lander and Heinrich Barth in Africa, Henry W. Bates in the Amazon, Richard Spruce in the Andes, Joseph Hooker in the Himalayas, Alfred Russel Wallace in the Malay Archipelago, Mary Kingsley in West Africa, and Marianne North in South America. Although he avoids footnotes in this general overview, Raby does include some brief bibliographical notes to help the interested reader locate further information on his fascinating subject.

George Washington: A Life, by Willard Sterne Randall. Henry Holt $35

It would be hard to imagine a biography of Washington more Whigish than Randall’s. Based on archival research in the Feinstone’s collection of American autographs, Randall’s Washington is a teflon-coated Mona Lisa who dances with native Americans, writes poetry, saves the nation, and invents democracy. Even as colonial doctors gash the life out of him on his death bed, the old man responds with dignity. Indeed, it was not just blood that poured from those veins—or so Randall would have us believe— but the stuff of rugged individualism that passes for American character.

Steichen, by Penelope Niven. Crown $45

Carl Sandburg reported that the great photographer Edward Steichen compared his own commercial enterprise as a photographer to that of Michelangelo working for the papacy and plutocrats. This suggestive detail comes from a rich and monumental biography of one of the major photographers of our century. Here we learn about Steichen’s relations to Picasso, Matisse, and Rodin, and much more. This book will be indispensable to anybody interested in the history of photography and its broader connections to art history.

Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $35

This handsome volume contains a biography written like a novel—a happy idea (as Austen might have put it) which allows the author to include all kinds of interesting details, such as facts about money, clothes, and houses, of which his subject surely would have approved. She might not have approved of Nokes’ revelation that one of her brothers (apparently autistic) was sent away at the age of six and never seen or mentioned by the family afterward, but this is an interesting discord for the modern reader to ponder. Writing a novelistic biography also allows the biographer to speak, as it were, from the interior of his subjects, and here is where his approach is less successful. We see Nokes trying a little too strenuously to make his claim that Austen was rebellious and even radical by nature. Like a novelist, he uses the voices of his “characters” to make his own argument. Unlike his subject, he often makes his own voice too evident among them.

The Secret Life of Aphra Behn, by Janet Todd. Rutgers $40

Aphra Behn (1649?-1689), playwright, poet, translator, and Royalist spy, comes dramatically to life in this definitive, 550-page, heavily footnoted biography by Janet Todd, a British professor of literature. Todd provides analysis of Behn’s many plays, poems, and perhaps Behn’s most enduring work, the novel, Oroonoko, based on Behn’s experiences in Surinam. Todd reveals how this remarkable writer, with no formal education in the classics, kept her identity secret in the published versions of her plays, until she gained undeniable recognition. Todd traces Behn’s literary career from tragicomedy to farcical comedy and social satire. Like Dryden, Behn was pro-king, anti-mob, a Tory who opposed the Whig agitation of the 1680’s. She spoke out against the tyranny of unsuitable matches, the narrow sphere alloted women, and what was particularly unconventional, took full advantage of the libertarian and libertine freedom of the theater of the Restoration to uphold sexual passion for pleasure and to demonstrate through her female characters that women were capable of sexual desire. Accused by many of plagiarism, Todd demonstrates how Behn improved her sources by “making taut and theatrical what was lax and prolix.” Viewed by some detractors as “lewd,” Behn nevertheless gained the respect of Wycherley and Dryden and a tomb in Westminister Abbey.

FICTIONPreston Falls, by David Gates Knopf $25

Preston Falls is the grimly and grippingly funny dissection of a disintegrating personality and a marriage. When we first meet Willis, he’s a successful New York public relations executive with a Westchester marriage and two kids. He also possesses, or is possessed by a suspiciously ramshackle country house in upstate Preston Falls and a truck to match. Willis’ infatuation with rural dilapidation presages his descent into hell—a downward path blazed with vividly doomed and demonic characters. This long-awaited second novel by the celebrated author of Jernigan reads as though Flaubert recast a theme by Dostoyevsky and dipped it briefly in an acid bath of Beckett. Gates effortlessly braids together the ironic, the tragic, and the hilarious.

All Around Atlantis, by Deborah Eisenberg. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23

In her third collection of stories, Eisenberg renders seven distinct scenarios—though not literally nightmares (an uptight boarding school, a contentious family vacation, a concert pianist amidst a political revolution etc.)—all are nightmarish enough in that her characters must negotiate through their personal hells; resentment, embarrassment, contempt, fear, disgust, confusion. Here is the ultra-negative side of sophisticated urban lives at the end of our century. In the first story, we find that the “undiminished vigor of [Francie’s] mother’s resentment toward absolutely everything was warming, in its way— there must have been love to produce all that hatred.” In lyrical and gleaming prose, the author explores and reveals adult hypocrisy and folly.

The Case Has Altered, by Martha Grimes. Henry Holt $24

This is the 13th mystery featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury, and his supporting cast: Melrose Plant, Sgt. Wiggins, Marshall Trueblood, and others. The book’s setting is the Fens in Lincolnshire, where two women are murdered—one is shot, the other strangled. The accused in both cases is Jury’s inamorata, Jennifer Kennington, and he pursues this case more doggedly and with greater passion than those with which he has been concerned in the last few outings. While Grimes is a leisurely storyteller, the plot is agreeably convoluted, the characters sharply drawn, and the setting wondrously depicted.

New Stories from the South; The Year’s Best, 1997, edited by Shannon Ravenel. Algonquin $12.95

Robert Olin Butler’s preface sets the tone for this year’s collection of stories by both wellknown and emerging writers. Standouts include Judy Troy’s “Ramone,” Lee Smith’s “Native Dancer,” Ellen Douglas’ “Julia and Nelly,” and Charles East’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” One of the stories, “The Green Suit,” set paradoxically in New York City, has a wild and memorable cast of characters. Reading “Along a Wider River” by Janice Daughtery is as scary as witnessing a crime and not getting caught. “Mojo Farmer,” by Brad Vice, an M.F.A. student at the University of Tennessee, is only three pages but packed with backwater voodoo. And former MFA student Mark Vassalo makes a big impression with “After the Opera,” his story written in lieu of a paper for a graduate seminar on Shakespeare.

Under African Skies: Modern African Stories, edited by Charles R. Larson. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25

This expansive collection of modern African short stories breathes with the depth, range, and variety of the continent itself. The collection includes writers from most of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan to South Africa, with individual stories originally published between 1952 and 1996. Larson’s brief introduction achieves its purpose of contextualizing the state of literature in Africa today—painting a grim portrait of what it means to be an African writer. He also provides short introductions to each author, detailing their background and other published works. This is an important collection, both for gaining a unique understanding of the last 40 turbulent years in Africa but also for providing a broad introduction to African short fiction.

The Farewell Symphony, by Edmund White. Knopf $25

One of our most gifted and penetrating writers, Edmund White has once again delivered in this moving and unsettling final installment of his “autobiographical novel.” The Farewell Symphony is a candid and at times exhibitionist work that combines—à la Baudelaire—the loveliest of transcendental prose with some of the most sordid of human experiences, leaving the reader to both weep and wince at the artistry of the page. At its core, White’s is a story about the many manifestations of love’s anguish: the hollowness and whirl of gay relationships after Stonewall; the ambivalent homesickness that comes from living abroad; the guilt of loving a mother too little; the loneliness of losing everyone to AIDS. For all his rich and revealing experience, White does end up alone. Indeed, the novel gets it title from a Haydn symphony in which the musicians leave the stage one by one until just a single soulful violin remains to hear the crowd’s applause. In The Farewell Symphony, White is that skillful, soulful musician, and he performs his haunting elegy spectacularly. This beautiful and disquieting opus is not to be missed. Nor, in all its graphic abandon, is it to be taken up lightly.

Within the Lighted City, by Lisa Lenzo. Iowa $19.95

Lenzo’s first collection subtly explores the racial tensions of changing suburban Detroit. The stories are at their best when they capture protagonists unwittingly crossing boundaries to find themselves in literal and metaphoric confrontations. For instance, in “Stealing Trees” two white teenagers who steal and transplant trees are stopped by a carload of black teenagers who shatter their illusion of suburban safety. While Lenzo has a knack for zeroing in on these moments, the characters and lives surrounding the incidents tend to remain underdeveloped as if you were reading a draft that needs working over. The writing, at times spare and precise, is at other times plodding and filled with wooden dialogue. Despite the flaws one is thankful for a sympathetic eye willing to tackle these issues.

The Church of Dead Girls, by Stephen Dobyns. Henry Holt $23

The ostensible virtues of small towns are well known—the warmth and friendliness of close neighbors, the unhurried pace of life, the sense of a caring and safe community. The flipside of this Eden is what sends thousands of young people fleeing to the cities each year: the lack of stimulation, the sameness of each day, the nosiness of those caring neighbors. In this novel in which three young girls disappear in a small town in upstate New York, Stephen Dobyns explores how fear and suspicion turn the idyllic into the nightmarish as everyone becomes a suspect and the slightest deviation from what is considered normal is grounds for attack. More than the killer is unmasked in this fascinating and grim story.

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, by A. S. Byatt. Random House $20

The author, one of the leading writers of fiction in England today, is well known for such powerful historical novels as Possession. Her writing, as readers of her Angels and Insects know full well, is immensely erudite, so much so that one often feels, reading her work, one is reading less a novel than a fictionalized disquisition on various topics, rendered always with immense erudition. Her present collection of five fairy tales reflects such learning and fantasy, and although they are called “fairy tales,” they are more about our world, at bottom, than that of the Arabian Nights.

A Change of Gravity, by George Higgins. Henry Holt $25

You have to be a good listener to enjoy one of Higgins’ many excellent novels; someone interested in the practitioners of petty crime, perhaps, or a banker coming under fire from the SEC. And you have to really enjoy talk—the kind of long-winded storytelling your garrulous old uncle tells that we rarely have time for nowadays. This is a story about friendship between a politician and a pol and about how politics works at its most elemental. It also attempts to explain how the rules of the American game of politics have changed in the matter of a generation. Have patience, take some time, read this book.

The Angel of Darkness, by Caleb Carr. Random House $25.95

New York, on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Our minds recall all the finery the gay nineties had to offer, but the narrator of this murder mystery tells a much more somber tale filled with crime, kidnapping and little gaiety. He is Stevie Taggert, saved from a life on the mean streets of Manhattan by the famous criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, whose exploits filled Carr’s earlier book, The Alienist. Again we tour the more tarnished precincts of Gotham’s Gilded Age; again we follow the trail of a psychopathic serial killer. The trail is, unfortunately, too long by half. After 600 plus pages even the appearance of such fascinating souls as feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and attorney Clarence Darrow does not justify the reader’s perseverance.

Circumnavigation, by Steve Lattimore. Houghton Mifflin $22

The characters in these heartbreaking stories lead dead-end lives; they are disaffected, without money, and have been abandoned by lovers or parents or both. In “Answer Me This” a man takes his aggression out on a car in a convenience store lot after his pregnant wife forgets to buy his beer. In the tour de force “Separate States,” a young girl’s success at blackmailing her father for attention ends when his mistress moves in. Lattimore knows that epiphanies have little place in the daily life of society’s underbelly. Instead he performs the difficult work of getting both inside and outside these worlds with a subtle matter-of-factness reminiscent of Raymond Carver, although funnier. Also like Carver, when eschewing minimalism he is a glorious sentence writer all his own. A noteworthy collection, debut or otherwis


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