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Notes on Current Books, Spring 2001

ISSUE:  Spring 2001

The title of this genuinely fascinating story is more than a little misleading; for “weroanza” (Native American for “big chief”) Elizabeth was only indirectly involved in the early efforts to establish English colonies in America, and none really took root until Jamestown in the reign of her successor. Giles Milton adroitly chronicles the complex history from the days of John Cabot (1497), through the misadventures of various and sundry, little-known adventurers early in the 16th century, and, later, of prominent Elizabethan figures like Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Richard Grenville and including gifted characters like Ralph Lane, John White, and Thomas Harriot. A popular history firmly based on the latest research (and a little bit slanted toward the latest politically correct trends) Big Chief Elizabeth proves to be a wonderful story of heroes and hard cases, courage and folly, trials and errors, and of bold dreams that finally came true.

California Sabers: The 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry in the Civil War, by James McLean. Indiana $35

California and its citizens stood far removed from the great military events that unfolded during the Civil War. Just one substantial group of Californians journeyed eastward to serve in the conflict—approximately 500 men who eventually made up a significant part of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Commanded initially by Boston aristocrat Charles Russell Lowell, the 2nd Massachusetts fought in major operations from Gettysburg through Appomattox, waged a hard-fought campaign against John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans in northern Virginia, and played a particularly noteworthy role in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. California Sabers presents a straightforward, quite traditional military history of the regiment with a special focus on the West Coast troopers in its ranks. Little concerned with the social, demographic, and ideological questions that interest practitioners of the “new military history,” McLean follows his subjects chronologically, progressing from one campaign to the next and devoting nearly half of his narrative to events in the Shenandoah Valley between July and November 1864. It is an often gripping story that should appeal to readers drawn to military action in the Virginia theater.

The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848—1914, by J.W. Burrow. Yale $29.95

There is no shortage of fact in Burrow’s dense, 253-page survey—the second in Yale’s Intellectual History of the West series. Indeed, Burrow does an admirable job of balancing a mountain of fact with the comprehensibility of linked narratives in his account, and he presents a dense, though readable, history of one of the most dynamic and controversial periods of European thought. The book is organized around five primary themes: science, social evolution, community, notions of the self, and various religious and pseudo-religious developments. Burrow seems to have a particular fondness for cultural and political developments in Russia— refreshingly enough for a general European intellectual history survey. In general, Burrow shows how the intellectual wildfires ignited in the wake of the 1848 revolutions were spread by individuals who met in the vibrant, newly-commercialized European capitals and who traveled more easily than ever before thanks to developing transportation networks. He paints a picture of a Europe in which intellectual developments closely mirrored and often influenced an indefinite set of related changes in the modern world whose effects were less to be thought about than undergone. Perhaps this is why Burrow’s book feels—despite the objective, scholarly tone of an intellectual history survey— particularly relevant and contemporary.

Homophobia: A History, by Byrne Fone. Metropolitan Books $32.50

Is hatred and/or fear of gay people “the last acceptable prejudice,” as the author asserts? Is it in fact the case that, as he states, “most warring factions—men and women, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, blacks and whites—have been united in one eternal hatred”? Perhaps not, if deceased Yale historian John Boswell is to be believed. Even if these premises are slightly overstated, homophobia has shown itself an intransigent and therefore striking cultural problem. Fone has tackled an immense topic and produced in this historical survey a highly informative, if somewhat partial, account of how hard it is to swim against this particular tide. His book is to be recommended, however short it may be on the difficulty of being a lesbian. Written in clear, flowing prose, Fone’s history deserves a wide readership.

Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776—1871, by Adam Zamoyski. Viking $35

Focusing as it does on rapturous joy and blind faith in human possibility, this book details the emotions that goaded revolutionaries on various continents in the 18th and 19th centuries. The author of an impressively loose biography of Chopin, Zamoyski here brings to life the stirring feeling of sweeping change. Zeal for nationhood, for the heady exultation of membership in a mythologized group, brings with it certain problems, as Zamoyski shows. The entertaining author leaves us with the persuasive idea that Europeans and Americans of this era were much more alike than unlike. This work of social history is an admirable accomplishment.

A Place Called Appomattox, by William Marvel. North Carolina $34.95

Marvel’s book is history in the way that I like it most. He presents a clear, intelligent narrative account of the history of the small Virginia town of Appomattox Court House, leading up to and during the Civil War. There is little information about the famous surrender itself; in Marvel’s words “that brief incident has been done to death, and all the sources appear to have been mined.” Rather, he takes the casual fame of Appomattox as a starting point to examine the life of one otherwise not so significant area. He writes of marriages and business deals, the gradual establishment and expansion of the town, the ravages of the war. One comes away with a renewed sense of just how difficult life was then, and just how devastating the Civil War was for the South. Marvel’s singular gift comes in the presentation of the narrative. While clearly the result of extensive research, the book reads as a sympathetic, interesting, poignant story of the life and people of a small rural town.

Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914—1918, by Roger Chickering and Stig Forster. Cambridge $54.95

Great War, Total War is the third volume in a series examining the concept of “total war” specifically as it applies to the First World War. Colloquially, the term “total war” has been employed to refer to wars that entail complete mobilization of the belligerents’ domestic economies and the absolute fixation of societies toward the prosecution of the war. In this work, the concept of “total war” is employed as an analytical device to capture the colloquial understanding. This work brings together leading historians from many fields in an effort to broaden the scope of the narrower treatments of the First World War that focus strictly on military strategy and economic mobilization. Great War, Total War examines the impact of how the First World War exemplified the changing realities of warfare, brought war directly to noncombatants, introduced the element of “unlimited warfare,” necessitated fully mobilized economies and finance, and affected societies as a whole with disastrous consequences. While all of these topics have rich historiographical traditions, this work brings them together to demonstrate how and why the Great War must be seen in its totality. This book is fascinating and should be read by anyone who is interested in the role that warfare plays on the development and destruction of society. It is a sobering account of what governments, societies, and individuals are capable of when their energies and hatreds are fully mobilized.

Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, by Barry Schwartz. Chicago $27.50

This is a history of the American collective memory that has repeatedly remade Lincoln. Schwartz explores the two, often contradictory, Lincolns, and how they have been transformed into national myths that have come to symbolize the United States in vastly different ways. It is not surprising that the real Lincoln often has been twisted to illuminate the ideals of the nation rather than reflect the realities of the man. The author previously dealt with George Washington.

Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents, by Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov. Yale $35

This latest collection from the Yale Annals of Communism series represents another triumph. Comprising more than 150 documents from Soviet archives combined with insightful commentaries from the two authors, Stalinism as a Way of Life gives voices to the people who lived through the Soviet 1930’s. By presenting these expressions as part of a lived reality, the authors succeed not only in presenting a remarkable picture of the mentalities and behaviors that Stalinism produced, but also the ways in which these mentalities in turn perpetuated Stalinism.

Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, by John C. Willis. Virginia $55 cloth, $19.50 paper

John Willis examines the “forgotten time,” the several decades after the Civil War during which blacks achieved economic success in the Mississippi Delta. Whites returned home after the war and struggled to reconstruct the plantation without slavery. Economically beset, these planters reluctantly sold wild back country lands to freed people. The “New South frontier” represented the “promised land” for many freed people. As the black back country farmers grew in economic and political strength, they came into conflict with their former masters. Improved by the labors of blacks, back country lands attracted the interest of white planters and merchants. By the turn of the century, whites exerted economic pressure through both fraud and lien laws to drive blacks from the ranks of back country landholders. The Mississippi Delta by the early 20th century had become a plantation empire. The days of black economic success had almost been forgotten. Willis brings attention to these years. He introduces the reader to the white planter and the merchant as well as the black farmer of the back country. Beautifully written and rich in texture, Forgotten Time offers an important reminder of a nation that still has not fulfilled its promises.

An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean, by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. Pennsylvania $55 cloth, $22.50 paper

When the conflict broke out, opposition to the revolution was not restricted to the Metropole. Though linked by blood, marriage, and, most importantly, trade to the 13 colonies of the mainland, colonists in the British West Indies did not support the American insurrectionists when the war started. Fearful of the effect the revolutionary spirit could have on their islands, British West Indian colonists actively sought to limit its spread. An Empire Divided explores the various factors that led to the development of the radically divergent attitudes toward Crown rule and independence. Yet the usefulness of O’Shaughnessy’s analysis extends beyond its informative contrast of multiple plantation societies in the British Empire. It provides another perspective for viewing the Revolution and its meaning.

France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart, by Raymond Jonas. California $40

In a fascinating and long-overdue narrative, Jonas tells of France’s profound devotion to the Sacré-Coeur—a legend combining nationalistic and religious elements in which Jesus offered his heart as a symbol of divine love for humanity only after making specific requests of France and her king. Jesus’ apparitions to Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, giving France the special status of “Eldest Daughter of the Church,” occurred late in the 17th century when Louis XIV, the Sun King, was still on the throne. But it was in the throes of the 19th century when the cult reached its greatest fervor, beginning with the beatification of Marguerite-Marie Alacoque in the 1830’s and culminating at the turbulent fin de siècle with the construction of the inimitable basilica of Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre on the highest hill in Paris. “Prior to 1789, the Sacred Heart addressed anxieties about apostasy, error, and schism,” Jonas writes. “Afterward, it challenged a revolution held to be hostile to Catholic belief, public order, and the essentially Catholic nature and vocation of France.” There is little wonder, then, that the cult of the Sacred Heart grew stronger as the country endured a series of political upheavals, and eventually grew to represent a Christian patriotic alternative to a secular, republican culture. Jonas’s study is a thoroughly enjoyable account of one of France’s most remarkable traditions.

Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, by David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly. Virginia $19.50

In this highly readable volume, the authors set in motion an Old Dominion often portrayed as static. Their narrative follows white and black Virginians as they moved from the Chesapeake to the Blue Ridge and beyond. This book expands on the excellent catalog produced for the Virginia Historical Society’s exhibition commemorating the centennial of Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier” thesis. Unfortunately, the authors adopt rather uncritically Turner’s 1893 language, even when they disagree with him. By framing their debate in terms of “free land,” for example, they ignore Native Americans altogether. Consequently, they dismiss as “fashionable” historians’ fruitful paradigm shift to a “borderlands” approach, which emphasizes cultural interaction and power relations. Thus, Fischer and Kelly fail to engage the fine and diverse scholarship of Stephen Aron, Richard White, William Cronon, Karen Kupperman, Michael McConnell, Gregory Dowd, David Usner, James Merrell, Helen Rountree, and others. Fischer and Kelly are more successful in their portrayal of the diversity and diffusion of Virginia culture and in their account of white Virginians’ nostalgia for a nonexistent, stable “Old Dominion.” The book is copiously illustrated, but the maps anachronistically delete Kentucky and West Virginia from Virginia’s colonial and antebellum territory.

Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: War at Sea 1756—1815, by Bernard Ireland. Norton $49.95

This beautiful book includes not only numerous excellent reproductions of contemporary paintings, but clearly-designed diagrams of ship construction and naval strategy and tactics. Individual chapters focus on the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, the Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars, exploration, and the British Navy in the 18th century. The focus is almost entirely on the British Navy to the exclusion of much detail on, for example, the French and American navies. But that is a relatively minor flaw in what is otherwise a fine piece of naval history. The text should be pleasing to general readers as well as professionals.

The Big Picture: A Short History of Religions, by John D. Loftin. McFarland $35

Loftin’s “picture” is “big” indeed, attempting as it does to encompass humanity’s religious excursions from prehistoric times to the New Age in less than 300 pages. The book reads like an undergraduate term paper written late at night with the aid of encyclopedia articles. Unsubstantiated generalities, undocumented assertions, and blatant inaccuracies mar many pages. For instance, the chapter titled “The Axial Age” dates the period from 800 bce to 200 bce, then inexplicably includes Christ and Muhammad in its sweep. It is not clear what purpose this book in intended to serve, or what audience.

LITERARY STUDIES Words Alone: The Poet T. S. Eliot, by Denis Donoghue. Yale $26.95

Eliot has been ill handled in recent years, perhaps inevitably so, given his dominance at mid-century. And perhaps it was inevitable that this backlash would induce its own backlash, with scholars springing vigorously to Eliot’s defense. While much of this reaction is marred by defensiveness as much as the accusations are drawn with a prosecutor’s pen, these defenses have also produced some remarkable works of genuine and communicable intelligence—partial keys into Eliot’s cryptogrammatical poems. Donoghue’s book takes its place beside Christopher Ricks’ T.S. Eliot and Prejudice as exemplary among these. Focusing, as the title implies, on the language, the “words alone” of Eliot’s writing, Donoghue argues that Eliot’s writing models a certain form of estrangement from language—or makes us recognize an estrangement always there—that is communicated through the radiant hieroglyphics of his language. In-between discussions of many poems (including a happily thorough analysis of the “Four Quartets,” and even a just treatment of “La Figlia Che Piange,”) we get to see a meticulous mind at work among the briar-patches that are Eliot’s poems. Donoghue has also managed to set Eliot in a conversation with Wallace Stevens which, admittedly, seems a bit unfair—Stevens was a very pretty writer, but his rumored “philosophical” sensibilities were all, like his favored idealism, superficial. Indeed here as elsewhere one senses that a bit of score-settling has infiltrated Donoghue’s agenda, perhaps without his full awareness. In any event this is a wonderful book, with much to recommend it. When the recovery of Eliot gets underway—as it inevitably will—in the near future, the first explorers back to the scene will find in this book a cache full of supplies on which they will gratefully draw.

Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature 1830—1930, edited and introduced by Monika M. Elbert. Alabama $39.95

Monika Elbert, associate professor of English at Montclair State University, has brought together a collection of essays by feminist critics pairing female and male authors in order to reveal the artificiality of the barrier between domesticity and the male public sphere. Although these essays are not exactly groundbreaking—questioning the legitimacy of the “cult of true womanhood” is well-trod ground by now— each one aims to re-envision historical and pedagogical misperceptions of women’s exclusion from the public sphere. The essays themselves are clearly written and well-argued—of particular interest are Lucinda Damon-Bach’s study of Susan Warner’s novelistic critique of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Dawn Keetley’s socio-historical investigation of Mary Grove Nichol’s spirited response to the medical profession’s construction of female invalidism—thus making this a useful text for general studies of the period.

Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, by Isaiah Berlin. Princeton $45 doth, $16.95 paper

Henry Hardy, one of Isaiah Berlin’s literary trustees, has brought together in one volume several of Berlin’s essays on three of the most idiosyncratic but also eminently insightful thinkers of the 18th century. Berlin’s power to portray intellectual figures both in the context of their social milieu and according to their own personal development is strikingly evident here. Hovering in tone somewhere between intellectual biography, didactic survey, and critical investigation, Berlin sets out to discuss three thinkers who have been largely slighted by standard histories of philosophy, but who have gained prominence in recent years thanks to their critical stance toward Enlightenment rationalism which accords well with similar critiques coming from many fields in contemporary theory. Vico’s extraordinary sociological genealogy is really the hero here (nearly half the book is accorded to him and it), although Berlin displays a singular respect and even reverence for the uniquely opaque and even bizarre style of Herder’s anti-Kantian teacher Hamann. Herder himself merits only a relatively brief chapter sandwiched in between the two more flamboyantly engaging figures. Berlin’s prose is as clear in these discussions as anywhere, and this volume should present an excellent introduction to anyone for whom the 18th century means philosophically only the luminary figures of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Kant.

Lost Words: Narratives of Language and the Brain, 1825—1926, by J.S. Jacyna. Princeton $45

This book concerns a seemingly narrow subject: a century of medical writings on “aphasia,” a condition involving the loss of the ability to form spoken words. But the author, a historian of medicine with a penchant for literary criticism, has a large goal in mind. J.S. Jacyna’s real subject is how the history of conceptions of language and the history of the study of the brain became rhetorically intertwined beginning in the early 19th century and how the resulting discourse has affected modern understandings of the self. His detailed readings of the narrative strategies employed in often obscure medical texts will probably only be of real concern to specialists in 19th-century medicine and, especially, the history of neurology. But as the conclusion to this book makes abundantly clear, anyone interested in comprehending the establishment of the material conditions of language and, ultimately, the elevated status of “the brain” in modern culture will benefit from knowing more about the creation of aphasiology within a small circle of 19th-century doctors.

Postslavery Literatures in the Americas: Family Portraits in Black and White, by George B. Handley. Virginia $57.50 cloth, $18.50 paper

Handley is interested in literary representations of the complex social and political relations which followed the abolition of slavery in the Americas. More specifically, he wants to contest the idea that histories of slavery can only be comprehended as part of a national history. While acknowledging that slavery existed in very different forms throughout the Americas, he argues compellingly that postslavery writing from different locations and moments in time demands a rigorous comparativist approach. What emerges from this analysis are “uncannily similar postslavery cultural quandaries” in seemingly disparate writers. Handley covers roughly 1880 to the present, and compares fairly well-studied American novelists, like Toni Morrison and William Faulkner, to lesser-known writers from Cuba and the Caribbean, like Cirilo Villaverde and Rosario Ferré (many of whom he translates himself). His readings are situated in a carefully researched historical and political context and make a strong case for a more international approach to the study of slavery.

What Makes Us Think?: A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue About Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain, by Jean-Pierre Changeux and Paul Ricoeur, translated by M.B. DeBevoise. Princeton $29.95

In the grand French tradition of public, intellectual debate comes this latest dialogue between two of the country’s foremost thinkers: hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricoeur and neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux. At stake, human cognition, consciousness itself, our very identity. The book, as skillfully translated by DeBevoise, is intoxicatingly dense and provocative. Reading Changeux and Ricoeur skirmish over this contested ground is like listening to Rachmaninoff’s brilliantly difficult Third Piano Concerto. This is not, however, a book for those new to the subject. Ricoeur and Changeux are formidable thinkers, and those not familiar with the philosophical history from which these two so often draw may find themselves left behind.

Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and the Other Arts, by Daniel Albright. Chicago $25

The general themes of this book are the coordination of artistic media and collaboration across the arts in modernism. Daniel Albright surveys a large field, taking up the Brecht-Weill partnership, the Picasso-Satie-Cocteau Parade, musical and scenographic experiments by the Italian Futurists, dadaist cinema, theater music by Les Six, and the Stein-Thomson collaboration. The specific virtue of Albright’s method, however, is in his analyses of the small units of a given work and his reading of the ways in which attempted interart consonance is stretched to its limit or, conversely, where purposeful dissonance and operations out of phase can suddenly generate unexpected convergence. The book’s greatest interest is its stress on the place of music within the study of the comparative arts in the early decades of the 20th century.

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, by Dipesh Chakrabarty. Princeton $55 cloth, $16,95 paper

Debates about the appropriateness of applying social and historical concepts derived from European experience to the rest of the world have been at the forefront of scholarly discussions for some time now. Chakrabarty raises the stakes and the level of theoretical sophistication in these debates in his latest work which examines Marxist historicism in terms of Heideggerian hermeneutics in the context of post-colonial Indian literature and politics. Chakrabarty draws out a distinction implicit in the first volume of Marx’s Capital between the dialectical forces of abstraction imminent to the development of capitalism and the social and cultural elements of history that escape capital’s logic. He points to the importance of these external elements, particularly insofar as they hold potential to warp and transform the historical development of capitalism in non-Western states. His analysis alludes suggestively (though perhaps not quite rigorously enough) to Heidegger’s various discussions of historicity and “dwelling”—pointing to the universal applicability and usefulness of such categories to the radical particularities of different cultures. Most importantly, Chakrabarty engages deeply and with well-articulated insight the complexities, contradictions, and political ambivalences inherent to colonial and post-colonial Bengali writing and culture.

Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today, edited by Michael P. Clark. California $50 cloth, $19.95 paper

In a varied collection of essays written by such noted theorists as Stanley Fish, J. Hillis Miller, Wolfgang Iser, and Jacques Derrida, the literary-critical work of long-time University of California, Irvine professor Murray Krieger is explored and evaluated. In an attempt to reengage the question of the aesthetic in the wake of historicist and political modes of criticism in the academy which have attacked aestheticism as ideologically suspect if not outrightly totalitarian, Krieger has pushed for an examination of the aesthetic concepts of the organic and the symbolic in ways that do justice to their internal complexity and continued relevance. The essays collected here address these concerns broadly as they range from Miller’s analysis of irony in Friedrich Schlegel’s hyper-romanticism to Derrida’s intricate dissection of the concept of testimony in relation to Paul Celan’s poetry. Throughout the collection a sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit contrast is maintained between Krieger’s post-naïve retrieval of organicism and the allegorical and historicist tendencies of Paul DeMan’s deconstruction. As the need for alternatives to the anti-hegemonic hegemonies of political and historical criticism becomes more and more apparent, Krieger’s work—as this collection amply demonstrates— will continue to be especially relevant.

Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings, Volumes I and II, edited and translated by D.R. Shackelton Bailey. Harvard $19.95

Greatly admired in antiquity and the Renaissance, no complete translation has been rendered in English since 1678. Composed during the reign of Tiberius, this compilation provides valuable insight into the religion and morality of the Silver-Age Roman gentleman. Nothing is now known of the author, except that it might be supposed that he was a rhetorician and historian of modest station and means. Shackelton Bailey’s Latin text has been compiled independently, although benefiting from considerable recent scholarly work on the various extant manuscript versions. The translation is highly readable and authoritative, true to the Latin intent and the English idiom. This is a splendid and useful addition to the Loeb Classical Library.

Move Closer: An Intimate Philosophy of Art, by John Armstrong. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $27

With a strong pragmatist’s leaning, Armstrong argues for an intimate relationship with art. In order to demystify the subject, he deploys key and colloquial terms, for instance: affection, information, and reverie. While information, the stuff of art historians, “does not foster affection” for a piece of art, Armstrong’s goal is to encourage reverie, an associative appreciation of art. In actively viewing a piece, a person can come to contemplate and then invest her or himself in art. With its fine color and black and white plates, Move Closer is pleasant enough, but it seems caught between lay and scholarly audiences. The pragmatist risks obviousness and Armstrong’s argument, while intelligent and filled with worthwhile discussions of a variety of pieces, offers little that is new to anyone but the neophyte.

Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age, by Roger Kimball. Ivan R. Dee $28.50

This liberal reader reports with surprise how appealing is the new work by conservative intellectual Roger Kimball. Kimball blasts contemporary intellectuals such as Richard Rorty and warns us, “Once it abandons its vocation as the love of wisdom, philosophy inevitably becomes the gravedigger of its highest ambitions, interring itself with tools originally forged to perpetuate its service to truth.” Unlike Rorty, Kimball still believes there is such a thing as truth—and Kimball invests the lion’s share of his cerebral and moral energy in promoting it. It may not be, as Kimball laments, that “so much of intellectual life has degenerated into an experiment against reality.” Even so, many readers (some liberals among them) will likely find his lively prose and old-fashioned sensibility quite entertaining.

A Poetry of Two Minds, by Sherod Santos. Georgia $17.95

Though it is perhaps unfashionable to say, I must confess I have never much enjoyed Sherod Santos’ poetry. His prose, however, strikes in me a different chord. A diverse collection of lectures, reviews and journal notes, A Poetry of Two Minds, provides a rough map of this young poet’s mind. A bold analysis of Shelley’s Ozymandias; an insightful review of C.K. Williams and Charles Wright; a thoughtful reflection on the contemporary state of American poetry; these all chart the various folds and contours of Sherod’s poetic thought, and, more importantly, probe the way in which poems create themselves—the primary thread of the book. It is a unique and thought-provoking anthology of observations. Perhaps the most revealing chapter is “Subject Matter,” which Sherod calls a “day-book.” Here we find an uneven seed-bed of poetry— reflections, observations, images, “the omnium gatherum of everyday life”—young shoots, the first plantings set to perish or bloom in time. To read A Poetry of Two Minds is to travel through a foreign yet familiar landscape; it is “an India of the mind.”

Feeding on Infinity: Readings in the Romantic Rhetoric of Internalization, by Joshua Wilner. Johns Hopkins $35

Notions of internalization have abounded in literary critical discourse over the last few decades. And perhaps in few fields is the term asked to carry more weight than in the study of Romanticism, where the term proliferates, and where some form of internalization (of Biblical or romance patterns of thought, for instance) is regularly invoked as a solution to the vexed problem of defining Romanticism itself. Yet for all the frequency with which the term is used, internalization remains a poorly understood and underanalyzed concept. In his ambitious study Feeding on Infinity, Joshua Wilner seeks to clarify the explanatory power of the discourse of internalization. Drawing liberally on a wealth of methodological perspectives (psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and gender studies among them), Wilner examines the complex psychological and rhetorical structure of internalization while also considering the historical evolution of that structure as an index of the “continuing story of patriarchy’s decline in the West.” Wilner offers sensitive (if occasionally convoluted) readings of texts by writers from Rousseau and Wordsworth to Benjamin and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. At times, readers are likely to wonder how the several strands of the argument hold together. Nonetheless, Wilner’s book opens up a rigorous line of inquiry that is at once timely, valuable, and genuinely fascinating.

LIVES & LETTERS The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach, by Alice Kaplan. Chicago $25

Unabashedly personal, Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons yoked together disparate ingredients (autobiography, scattered close readings, and psychological speculation about anti-Semitic writers), in a way that challenged even the post-modern notion of method and discipline. The Collaborator repeats the performance with two departures: Kaplan oddly refers to her work as a “study” (i.e. a disciplinary product) and she embeds her research in a broad ethical-legal issue (the lightness or wrongness of executing a traitor convicted for his verbal behavior). Drawing heavily on existing research (especially that of Michel Laval) but also presenting some important new evidence strenuously pried loose from French government archives, Kaplan vividly reconstructs Brasillach’s life as a wayward elite and third-rate novelist who turned cheer-leader and tattler for the German occupants of Northern France. Even more interestingly, Kaplan reconstructs Brasillach’s purge trial using not only the transcript, (whose brilliant rhetoric she ably sums up and comments on) but all that she could glean about his prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury. It is in these gleanings that Kaplan falters: she relies on uncriticized anecdotes from interested sources, falls back on social-psychological guess-work where facts are scarce or non-existent, and plays to the reader’s stock responses. On the ethical-legal side, she raises vitally important questions which, as a popularizer, she does not explore as fully as required to justify her abrupt and blunt conclusion: that Brasillach was guilty of treason but that his death sentence was excessive and, worst of all, it made of him a potential posterboy for the new French Right. Behind Kaplan’s judgment lies a pervasive instability of attitude toward her subject: was Brasillach attractive or repulsive, pitiful or contemptible, a naughty child out of control or a moral monster? Kaplan’s wobbling is even more awkward than this summary suggests, for she takes pains to foreground (as in French Lessons) that she is not only Jewish but the daughter of a Nuremburg war-crimes prosecutor. Accordingly, her Brasillach seems to be playing out his drama in the shadow of Kaplan’s ever-looming self-preoccupation. Which brings us back to square one.

Privileged Moments: Encounters with Writers, by Jeffrey Meyers. Wisconsin $19.95

If you already like Jeffrey Meyers and his work, you will like this book. And if you don’t know him from Adam’s housecat, you will sure enough get to know him well before you are over and done with this odd little book, “part intellectual autobiography, part personal account of eight authors”—Allen Ginsberg, James Dickey, Ed Dorn, Arthur Miller, Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipaul, Francis King and J.F. Powers. Not surprisingly, there is a good deal more glitz and gossip here than substantive information or critical observation. But—let’s face it—glitz and buzz are exactly and curiously appropriate for our age and its rash of stars and superstars. When People magazine is the Bible of our celebrity-ridden culture, literature deserves its turn in the barrel. All in all, Privileged Moments is good fun as we learn about the personal virtues and vices of some of our heavy hitting literati.

Bellow, by James Atlas. Random House $35

Because so many elements of his life show up in his novels, Saul Bellow presents a fascinating subject. James Atlas does a commendable job of giving the reader a fair idea of who Bellow is, what makes him tick, and how he transforms his life into art. Atlas names the names of the people behind the characters, and he shows how events from Bellow’s life are altered when written into his fiction—sometimes amusingly, sometimes cruelly. Atlas knows his stuff. He had access to Bellow, his papers and friends. And he also knows Bellow’s books inside and out. This biography is almost as much fun to read as a new Bellow novel. Even as one discovers the limiting elements of Bellow’s personality (the need to be adulated, the ceaseless infidelities), one can still appreciate the strengths that led to the great fiction. In the end, Bellow emerges as a composite of his various characters, and still distinct from them. The distinction is what makes reading this work worthwhile.

Peiresc’s Europe: Learning and Virtue in the Seventeenth Century, by Peter N. Miller. Yale $40

This book explores the life of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, who lived from 1580 until 1637, and was one of the most well-known and lauded scholars of the Europe of his day. In successive chapters it charts the exemplary character of his life (especially as depicted in his friend Gassendi’s biography of him), his vision of the connections between learning, politics, and virtue, his theology, and his antiquarian’s delight in historical study, even as he recognized the futility of history’s charge. So to map the life of this Renaissance sage would by itself be an adequate scholarly project. But the book’s historical humility misleads, for in investigating Peiresc and the world in which he flourished, it casts new light on our own day’s understanding of learning and virtue, and suggests some of the abiding challenges to attempts to live the life of the mind in Peiresc’s day, and our own. Written with wit and vigor, this work has few pages that are without a new idea, a surprising discovery, a suggestive analogy, an abiding insight into the life of the mind as a life lived in public. The book makes us grateful for both Peiresc and itself— and for the former not least because he inspired the latter.

Niccolo’s Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli, by Maurizio Viroli. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25

The life of this political philosopher is by now well-worn terrain. Sebastian de Grazia earned the Pulitzer Prize for his study Machiavelli in Hell just a few years ago. Now a Princeton professor tries his hand and succeeds nicely in a solid translation by Antony Shugaar. Viroli’s product is short and no doubt easier to sail through than other biographies of the man who advised us to “Learn the way to hell in order to steer clear of it.” Viroli tries to explain Niccolo’s life through the beguiling smile Machiavelli sports in the famous portrait which hangs in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the city that so captivated the subject of this entertaining biography. When it comes to giving strategic suggestions for how to get ahead in life, Machiavelli ranks with Bacon and Montaigne so another biography therefore merits attention.

Doctor to the Front: The Recollections of Confederate Surgeon Thomas Fanning Wood, 1861—1865, edited by Donald B. Koonce. Tennessee $30

This welcome addition to “Voices of the Civil War,” the University of Tennessee Press’s excellent series of primary accounts, offers the writings of a young Confederate surgeon who served in the Army of Northern Virginia. The editor fashioned a revealing narrative from three principal sources: Wood’s private wartime letters, a series of articles he wrote during the conflict for publication in his hometown newspaper in North Carolina, and his perceptive postwar memoir. Wood saw much of the war in the Eastern Theater, commenting on famous military leaders, the campaigns they waged, and life on the march and behind the lines in Civil War Richmond. He also discussed a range of topics relating to medicine and medical care during the war, including the examinations required of Confederate surgeons and treatment of wounded soldiers in the field. “According to army regulations a regiment. . .was allowed ten gallons of whiskey a month. . .,” commented Wood in a characteristically interesting passage. “Its arrival was a great nuisance. It was intended for the sick, but no sooner did it come than the officers came boldly up and upon some pretext or other got it all, and when the real necessity arose there was none for the sick.” Doctor to the Front merits the attention of anyone seeking valuable first-hand testimony about the Civil War.

Adventures in Africa, by Gianni Celati. Chicago $20

Anyone was has lived in West Africa for any amount of time will recognize the culture and characters so vividly rendered in this short, but lively, account of a visit Celati, a renowned Italian novelist, made to Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania in 1997. Celati kept a journal of his travels, and the book reads with all the immediacy of the moment, full of fatigue, disorientation, irritation, and discovery. His descriptive powers are formidable and his musings on tourism and the tourist are wonderfully apt. It is particularly interesting to watch the process by which the author gropes toward some understanding of the culture flowing around him. Too often, however, this effort lapses into resignation.

George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large, by Belinda Jack. Knopf $30

As the author of an exquisitely frank autobiography, The Story of My Life, and the publisher of 25 volumes of her Correspondance, George Sand has left little work for her biographers beyond a paring down of her abundant being. Since Sand’s life is—quite literally—an open book, almost all we can do now is wrap what we know in a pretty bow and call it a day. To that end, Belinda Jack’s concise biography makes for an attractive package. She expertly summarizes and clarifies those provocative moments of Sand’s life and career without succumbing to the stilted prose of a journalist. She does not try to psychoanalyze her subject, although she does spend perhaps too much time discussing the childhood of the woman born Aurore Dupin in 1804. Jack’s unceremonious style allows the uninitiated to enjoy Sand’s career as one might enjoy some juicy gossip—her affairs with Mussel and Chopin and her importance to Flaubert providing the most vivid material. Sometime near the height of her popularity, Sand scribbled the following aphorism: “Those who are filled with a true love for their art have nothing to fear.” As Sand’s latest biographer, Jack has performed admirably; she clearly loves her art, and thus has little to fear.

A Youth in the Meuse-Argonne: A Memoir, 1917—1918, by William S. Triplet, edited by Robert H. Ferrell. Missouri $29.95

William S. Triplet of Sedalia Missouri began his Army career as an underage 17-year-old volunteer in 1917 and ended it as a full colonel in 1954. His service in the First World War was in the 140th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Division and lasted until 1919, when he was appointed a first lieutenant. Like many American “doughboys,” Triplet approached the war with naïve optimism and, although he saw substantial fighting in the Meuse-Argonne region in 1918, no subsequent “disillusionment” can be detected in these pages. Triplet’s memoir, based on a diary he kept during his service, is indeed remarkable for its liveliness and humor. Ferrell’s editing and annotation is unintrusive and helpful, though the book is so readable that notes are in some respects unnecessary. This book stands out as one of the best of the few American memoirs of the First World War to have been published in the last several years.

Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life, by Janet Todd. Columbia $29.95

A respected critic of 18th-century literature and culture, Todd here powerfully depicts the paradoxes that characterized the life of writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Without idealization or condescension, Todd emphasizes the life in the works, thus arguing that Wollstonecraft’s writings are an expression of her complex and passionate life. Todd offers an expanded perspective, going beyond Wollstonecraft’s disastrous romantic relationships to explore with acute insight her subject’s often tortured relationships with family members. Todd aptly shows that these relationships, along with the economic and social burdens of womanhood defined Wollstonecraft’s life and writings. Her output and achievement were impressive: several novels (all experimental in form and content), and scores of political, historical and literary essays, book reviews and didactic texts, among the most significant A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which continues to be studied by scholars and students alike as an important, early feminist work. This well-written, thoroughly researched account is essential to an understanding of the social, political and economic forces which shaped the life of this important 18th-century thinker and writer.

Fighting Bob LaFollette, by Nancy C. Unger. North Carolina $39.95

This book, described as the first full-scale biography of Wisconsin governor, senator and Progressive candidate for U.S. president in 1912 and 1924, Robert La Follette, brings to the portrait information and perspective from the newly available La Follette papers lodged in the Library of Congress. These papers, combined with the author’s interest in family life and human psychology, provide an interesting portrait of this sometimes forgotten, but important American figure. Unger gives emphasis to the strong role that his wife and feminist, Bell Case La Follette, the first wife of a presidential candidate to go on the “stump,” played in his personal and public life.

The Letters of Christina Rossetti, Volume 3: 1882—1886, edited by Anthony H. Harrison. Virginia $60

The letters in this penultimate volume of its edition document the self-imposed reclusiveness this major Victorian poet (1830—1894) fell into after the loss of her mother, her brother Dante, and a young nephew, as well as many close friends. Religious matters, therefore, naturally figure greatly in the letters, two-thirds of which appear in print for the first time. As she withdrew from society, Rossetti became more active in her favored causes, including antivivisectionism and the protection of minors, and her letters provide an in-depth perspective on these and other public issues as well as on the personal values underlying her opinions. The outgoing correspondence is well served by an excellent introductory essay, detailed chronology, useful but restrained annotation, and a general as well as a recipients index.

Brothers ‘Til Death: The Civil War Letters of William, Thomas, and Maggie Jones, 1861—1865: Irish Brothers in the 48th New York Volunteer Regiment, edited by Richard M. Tremble. Mercer $35

With the way such materials are pouring from university presses, it seems like everybody and their brother saved their memoirs, letters, and other Civil War papers. The letters in this book, mostly written by two Irish immigrants home to their schoolteacher sister in New Jersey, provide some interesting documentation of the often overlooked coastal campaign of the Union Army in the Carolinas and Georgia. But the volume as a whole never rises above its admirable origins as a student exercise in hands-on history assigned to the editor’s classes. I do not necessarily suspect the accuracy of the five dozen or so students who transcribed the documents. The editor and the press, however, failed them in the totally deficient editorial apparatus. The unimpressive introduction, inadequate annotation, and unhelpful index all prevent this volume from making a solid contribution to Civil War scholarship.

The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau: Journal, Volume 6: 1853, edited by William Rossi and Heather Kirk Thomas. Princeton $65

Thoreau originally commenced his journal in 1837 as a conventional record of ideas, but by the period of the present volume, it had grown into the principal imaginative work of his literary career and the source of much of his published material. Journal, Volume 6 comprises a single notebook of almost 500 manuscript pages dating from 9 March to 18 August 1853, when Thoreau was busy revising Walden as well as earning a living as a surveyor; major passages found their way directly into the sixth draft of Walden, and many of his observations formed the basis of later ecological compilations, such as his Wild Fruits, unfinished at Thoreau’s death. The text of the volume, which is approved by the Modern Language Association and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is supplemented with ample editorial apparatus, including excellent historical and literary introductions, annotation, textual notes, tables of emendations and alterations, a description of later revisions, and cross-references to published versions. The editors are to be commended for presenting in its original form this important record of Thoreau’s interior life and valuable document of his significant natural history studies.

FICTION New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2000, edited by Shannon Ravenel. Algonquin $14.95

The 20 stories collected in the latest installment in this blue-ribbon series are not just the year’s best stories from Southern writers, or the year’s best stories about the South, or even the year’s best stories first published in magazines with Southern zip codes—although each of the selections meets at least one of these criteria. Regardless of province or provenance, these are arguably the best American short stories published in the U.S. between January and December 1999. Oddly enough, for stories written by such a wide range of writers and originally seen in such a variety of publications, there seems to be a link between all of these stories: memory and loneliness. Figuring most prominently in Alan Gurganus’ “He’s at the Office” (first published in The New Yorker), R.H.W. Dillard’s “Forgetting the End of the World” (from VQR), Mary Helen Stefaniak’s “A Note to Biographers Regarding Famous Author Flannery O’Connor” (from The Iowa Review), and Margo Rabb’s hilarious yet profoundly sad “How to Tell a Story” (from Zoetrope), memory and loneliness are the touchstones. As Ellen Douglas writes in her preface, “And I find in these writers a deep and sympathetic perception of the tragedy of human loneliness.”

O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life, by Thomas Wolfe. South Carolina $29.95

This is the original version of the American classic, Look Homeward, Angel. Working with the surviving handwritten draft, 17 ledgers of various sizes now held by the Houghton Library at Harvard, together with a carbon copy of the original typescript (the original ribbon copy was used by Scribner’s), Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli have established the text of the novel as Wolfe intended it, rather than the cut and edited version that was published by Scribner’s in 1929. In doing so they have also managed to dispel a number of long-standing myths: that the original was hugely long (it was shorter by a good deal than Gone With the Wind), that it was confused and incoherent before Maxwell Perkins spun gold from straw.(Truth is that Wolfe worked more closely with John Hall Wheelock than Perkins.) They also argue that O Lost, is a more inclusive and better book than Look Homeward, Angel. That is a subjective judgment call, but in any case, this book, “an act of resurrection and restoration,” is a major contribution to our literature and to the appreciation of Wolfe’s genius.

This is Where We Live, edited by Michael McFee. North Carolina $29.95

Editor Michael McFee has gathered the short stories of 25 contemporary North Carolina writers in this tidy volume. Not the best-known names in North Carolina fiction, the authors are talented writers with numerous publications and a few awards to their credit. Their work is published in well-known literary journals and popular magazines. McFee has sought geographic diversity by including pieces by writers who are natives or residents of the three main regions of North Carolina—Tidewater, the Piedmont, and Appalachia. And he has selected work varying in form from short short stories to novellas. A poet who teaches creative writing and North Carolina fiction at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, McFee has a nice ear for language as well as an eye for story. The stories are all well written, but some are more powerful than others. To my mind, the most memorable are: “Umbrella” by Sarah Dessen; “The Night Sky” by Peter Turchi; “Last Rite” by Ron Rash; “Carmen Miranda’s Navel” by P.B. Parris; “Piecework” by Peter Makuck; “Dancing with Father” by Candace Flynt; and “Shell Island” by Ellyn Bache. Conceived as a companion volume to the University of North Carolina Press’s 1992 volume, The Rough Road Home, the book follows a pleasant, well-beaten path, but is not a literary pathbreaker.

Blood and Guile, by William Hoffman. HarperCollins $24

When Walter “Raff” Frampton, the small-town Virginia lawyer of Tidewater Blood, hunts with Cliff and Drake, two life-long buddies, and Wendell Ripley, the owner of the West Virginia property on which the grouse hunt takes place, he was unprepared for the shooting incident that took Ripley’s life. While Cliff swears it was an accident, the local sheriff finds discrepancies in his story and indicts him for murder. As Walter investigates the circumstances, he learns bit by shocking bit details of the lives of his friends that test the limits of those friendships. This is a deceptively simple tale, well-plotted and well-told, that will appeal to readers of literary mysteries.

The Serpent’s Tale, edited by Gregory McNamee. Georgia $17.95

In his cogent and witty introduction to this collection of some 55 tales drawn from folklore and literature, editor McNamee reflects on the universality of human fascination with the serpent, throughout time and across cultures, by turns varying from admiration and respect to outright revulsion. In texts drawn from around the world, the snake is found variously to be deadly, crafty, wise, sympathetic, or symbolic, as well as an object both of scientific curiosity and whimsical speculation. Once bitten by this engaging work, the general reader will find himself charmed no less than the folklorist or natural historian.

The Rules of Engagement, by Catherine Bush. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24

Arcadia Hearne is a researcher at the Centre for Contemporary War Studies in London. Her work and her residence


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