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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1986

ISSUE:  Summer 1986

Bertram Wyatt-Brown is one of the most innovative and prolific American historians writing today. He honors no shibboleths, hews to no line. His scholarship ranges widely, bringing together everything from classical literature to the latest sociological tract. This book reflects Wyatt-Brown’s major preoccupation: the tension and conflict between Northern and Southern culture. These essays take us through the psychohistory of abolitionism, the fate of W.J. Cash, the dynamics of the proslavery argument, and the connection between honor and secession. Wyatt-Brown is always provocative, and those who see more similarity than difference between antebellum North and South will be provoked. They will also be stimulated, and that is the greatest strength of Wyatt-Brown’s scholarship.

When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861—1917, by Jeffrey Brooks. Princeton $37.50

This book is a major breakthrough in research in modern Russian history. It is an extension to Russia of the inquiry into the history of popular culture that has become well established in application to Western Europe, and it is unusually rich in new findings, some of which have serious implications for the understanding of the Russian Revolution. Much of the book is about literature written, surprisingly enough, by peasants for peasants. Four themes of Russian popular fiction are found to be dominant: freedom and rebellion, national identity, science and superstition, and success. The subject of freedom and rebellion consists largely of literature on banditry, and the Russian public showed as much favor for the literary genre as it did for the bandits themselves. The author’s thesis is that during the last few generations before the Revolution, “the Russian common readers began to think of themselves and the world around them in increasingly individualistic and self-conscious terms” and that they were therefore developing an ethos more like that of the public in the Western world, all of which trends disappeared very quickly under the literary controls instituted by the new Bolshevik regime. The book is indirectly the most substantive and articulate contribution to the debate on the inevitability of the Bolshevik Revolution in more than a decade.

Sword over Richmond: An Eyewitness History of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, by Richard Wheeler. Harper & Row $21.95

In 1862, the ever-cautious Gen. George B. McClellan concocted a plan to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond through an approach from the east. By transporting the bulk of the Army of the Potomac by ship from Washington, D.C. to Fort Monroe, Virginia, he began his ill-fated Peninsula Campaign. This book details the fighting, beginning with the siege of Yorktown through the final battle at Malvern Hill. Wheeler’s account is unique in that it is based almost entirely on the recollections of participants and observers of the conflict. This approach works well when re-creating the experiences of the average soldier, but the reminiscences of key figures such as McClellan are obviously self-serving. A bothersome feature of the book is the absence of footnotes, a baffling ommission since the author relies so heavily on contemporary accounts.

The “Spider Web”: Congress and Lobbying in the Age of Grant, by Margaret Susan Thompson. Cornell $29.95

Many historians believe that congressional ethics hit rock bottom during the 1870’s. The Credit Mobilier scandal and the infamous “Salary Grab” are usually cited as the prime examples of the day’s political corruption. Much of the blame for this perceived illegality has been laid at the feet of lobbyists, who unabashedly purchased the votes of senators and congressmen. In her study of House lobbyists during the Age of Grant, Professor Thompson draws conclusions that differ significantly from the stereotype. She believes that lobbyists served a positive role in government by assisting representatives in making decisions necessary to the operation of an expanding, multistate economy. The problem with the book, however, is that it is long on theory and short on documentation. Much of the “lobbying” that Thompson has identified relates to the internal organization of the House and to patronage appointments, activities that persons in and out of government had attempted to influence long before Grant became president. What we want to learn is how railroad, insurance, and manufacturing lobbyists affected legislation and the means that they used to accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, the book is unenlightening on this score.

The Issue of War: States, Societies, and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941—1945, by Christopher Thorne. Oxford $22.95

Thorne, who has already authored two distinguished works on the Pacific War and its antecedents, now ambitiously analyzes the conflict’s effects on all the societies involved while describing the international context in which it was fought. Even before 1941, the international system had undergone tremendous change, resulting in dangerous uncertainties. Contributing to the rising tensions were the technological and economic developments dramatically transforming Asian societies. The war intensified these changes and greatly influenced attitudes in many areas. Thorne pays particular attention to the feelings of colonized peoples toward both the colonizers and the Japanese and to the ironically similar assumptions of racial superiority held by both sides. The Issue of War, which draws upon a staggering array of sources, presents the conflict in important new perspectives and demonstrates its true complexity.

The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, Vol. III: The War in the West, 1861—1865, by Stephen Z. Starr. Louisiana $32.50

The third and final volume of Starr’s monumental study of the Union cavalry in the Civil War concentrates on the Western theater of the conflict. The title is a bit misleading, in that the book encompasses Sherman’s march through Georgia and his northward push into the Carolinas, while it does not include campaigns west of the Mississippi. This observation aside, one surely cannot fault the author for not being thorough. Like the first two volumes, this book details the role of the cavalry in minor skirmishes as well as in major battles. Attention is given even to mundane logistical issues, such as the difficulties provisioners had in finding large numbers of suitable mounts. A solution to this problem often was not forthcoming, so that many a cavalryman did some of his fighting on foot. It is sad to note that the author died soon after completing this award-winning trilogy.

Anglo-Norman England 1066—1166, by Marjorie Chibnall. Blackwell $39.95

William the Conqueror’s victory over Harold at Hastings brought English society to a cultural crossroad. Would Anglo-Saxon traditions continue in existence or would they be replaced by the ways of the Normans? In this book about the first 100 years of Norman rule, Professor Chibnall reveals that neither culture triumphed, but a melding of the two occurred, a process that emphasized the strengths of each. For instance, the post-Conquest common law reflected the durability of the Anglo writ system, while the Normans’ centralized feudal court system predominated. The author’s conclusions are in keeping with other recent studies of the period which recognize how this assimilation accounted for unique, Anglo-Norman institutions.

Masters and Statesmen, by Kenneth S. Greenberg. Johns Hopkins $22.50

This book is difficult to criticize because the author is so tentative in stating his conclusions. Professor Greenberg believes that “the political culture of American slavery” ultimately accounted for the Civil War. Drawing on republican ideology which is so pervasive in recent American historiography, he contends that slaveholder-statesmen were fearful of being “enslaved” by Northerners who would destroy Southern society. They reacted to Northern attacks on slavery as affronts to their honor, thereby precipitating armed conflict. The problem with this analysis is that Greenberg never establishes that planters dominated Southern politics, especially on the state level. He makes constant references to South Carolina, but most scholars agree that the state’s domination by the planter class was not typical for the region. The reader is left with an hypothesis that is theoretically not very original and empirically unproven.

The Contentious French, by Charles Tilly. Harvard $25

The title notwithstanding, this is not a national character study. It is sociologist-historian Charles Tilly’s most accessible and refined work yet on his familiar themes of collective action in French history and the effects of state-making and industrial capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is more history and narrative than sociology in this latest book—it covers a longer span of time (from the 17th century), treats particular cases at some length, suppresses nearly all the tables and graphs that the research must have generated, and provides not a single footnote to the abundant newspaper accounts, manuscripts, and other sources studied by Tilly and his research assistants.

Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1865—1930, by George C. Wright. Louisiana $27.50

Afro-American history appears to be in need of new perspectives. This book’s research in traditional sources is impressive, its coverage broad, its writing clear. But although it adds a great deal to our knowledge of Louisville’s black experience, it adds little that is new or surprising to our knowledge of the larger patterns of the Afro-American experience. We know a considerable amount about the oppression blacks faced for so many generations, and in the last 20 years we have learned a great deal about blacks’ quietly heroic efforts to cope with and overcome that oppression. But even the most sympathetic historian has yet to penetrate “the veil” that separated post-Civil War blacks from white society and from public history. As a result, the history we have of Afro-Americans from Reconstruction through World War I is generally thin and uninspiring. And this book, despite the skill and good intentions of George Wright, is no exception.

A Fractured Society: The Politics of London in the First Age of Party, 1688—1715, by Gary Stuart De Krey. Oxford $34.50

An important and impressively researched study of urban political culture, this book demonstrates that Whig and Tory electoral divisions were based on real social, economic, and religious divisions— and not always the ones historians would have expected. The Whigs tended to be well-to-do dissenting merchants (especially overseas merchants) concentrated in the Inner City; though originally radical reforming supporters of the Glorious Revolution, their defense of that revolution led them to become repressive elitists. The Tories represented the outer wards, with old-style moneylenders and artisans hurt by the Whig commercial revolution; though still defenders of Church and Crown, their City policies were radically populist—and very successful, even after 1715. De Krey’s writing style is rather creaky and dull, but this is his first book, one that will garner him praise as much for its treatment of City society as for its conclusions on politics.

The Web of Southern Social Relations: Women, Family, and Education, edited by Walter J. Fraser, Jr., R. Frank Saunders, Jr., and Jon L. Wakelyn. Georgia $25

Histories of the South appear to be entering a new phase, one in which the easy answers no longer suffice. Race, class, and gender now seem more complicated than we assumed only a decade or two ago; nothing can be taken for granted, nothing explained away by “common sense.” The essays in this collection could serve as an excellent introduction to this new historiography. They range widely in subject, embracing Indians, plantation mistresses, schools, freedmen and freedwomen, progressive reformers, and poor whites. Each of the essays follows its own agenda, and while some are more elegant or insightful than others, each is marked by a willingness to venture complex—if not always provable—explanations for complex phenomena. They probe areas of Southern life recently thought beyond the realm of study, and they are exciting.

Soldiers of the Tsar: Army and Society in Russia, 1462—1874, by John L.H. Keep. Oxford $55

Keep surveys the development of the Russian army and “service state” from the 15th century until the dawn of the age of modern mass armies. The focus of his work is on personnel rather than weapons or tactics and attempts to portray the history of the Russian army through the experience of its officers and men. Although Keep makes a case for the fact that the Tsarist military changed more in the four decades after 1874 than in the four centuries before then, the chronological scope of the work naturally presents problems.

The Victorian Mirror of History, by A. Dwight Culler. Yale $25

In this study Culler has provided a reading of Victorian concepts of history. He does not, like Hayden White, make arguments about the “literary” structures of Victorian histories but attempts rather to illuminate how ideas about history shaped the thematic concerns of period poetry and intellectual prose. Culler’s argument is that the Victorians came to regard history as a mode of self-perception, but he does not argue that the picture thus produced was either stable or even similar for different writers. Culler’s larger purpose is nothing so critical or grand. His aim is to identify an historically specific way of thinking and to use it to make discriminations among writers.

The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784—1898, by Edward M. Coffman. Oxford $35

Coffman has produced a long-overdue social history of the pre-1900 U.S. Army which is sure to remain the definitive work on the subject for years to come. After an introductory chapter on the fledgling army, covering the period from the Revolution to the War of 1812, the author devotes one chapter each to the experiences of the officers, enlisted men, and military dependents before the Civil War, then treats each again in turn for the period between 1865 and the Spanish-American War. Coffman’s comprehensive study leaves one to wonder only why no one has exploited this rich subject before now.

LIVES & LETTERSZachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest, by K. Jack Bauer. Louisiana $29.95

Zachary Taylor is one of those historical figures who attained prominence by being at the right place at the right time rather than through any real intrinsic ability. Before the Mexican War, he was an unexceptional career military officer, holding rather unattractive commands in the South and the Southwest. Yet he was in Texas at the war’s outbreak, and thanks to some able subordinates and the ineptness of the Mexican generals, he won important battles at Monterrey and Buena Vista. Soon after the war, this man who knew little of politics and who rarely, if ever, voted in elections, was handed the Whig Party’s presidential nomination in 1848—because of his military record! Taylor died less than 15 months after assuming the presidency. During that short time, he exhibited no more leadership ability than he had as a soldier. Professor Bauer had given a nice review of Taylor’s military career, but he could have devoted more space to the domestic politics of his administration. The critical issue was slavery expansion, and events leading up to the Compromise of 1850 are still debated by historians. The author could have better assessed Taylor’s role in this process by incorporating the interpretations of other scholars.

William Marshall, The Flower of Chivalry, by Georges Duby. Pantheon $15.95

William Marshall was thought to be the ideal knight in his own time; a biography commissioned by his son transmitted his fame to later generations. Now Georges Duby has used the story of William’s life to explicate the social realities of life in Plantagenet England. In the hands of Duby this tale of a knight-errant who rose to be the most powerful man in the realm demonstrates the ways medieval values were entirely unlike our own. A man’s youth lasted until marriage—nearly 50 in William’s case. Largess, not economic wealth brought status. And family ties to uncles were often stronger than those to natural parents. As always Duby is a master of narrative who manages to re-create the color and excitement of this strange world.

Mr. Justice and Mrs. Black: The Memoirs of Hugo L. Black and Elizabeth Black. Random House $22.95

The appearance of these diaries is a fitting commemoration of the centennial of the birth of one of America’s truly great jurists. The volume begins with Justice Black’s previously unpublished recollections of his childhood and early legal practice. Written in 1968, they are warm, rich, and revealing of how the early experiences of a “country boy” shaped the principles of a constitutional faith that left an indelible imprint on constitutional law. Alas, Justice Black’s memoirs only reach 1922 in a career that lasted almost another 50 years; including 34 on the Court (from 1937 to 1971). Mrs. Black provides a brief sketch of the intervening years between those and her own loving diary which begins in 1964. Her diary comprises about two-thirds of the book. It is, as Justice William Brennan writes in the foreword, “a love story, tender and touching, and a picture of a great man . . .[in] a vibrant if sometimes turbulent period of the Court’s history.” No less than insight into Justice Black’s communion with the Constitution, these memoirs offer inspiration for all Americans.

The Money Game in Old New York: Daniel Drew and His Times, by Clifford Browder. Kentucky $28

Daniel Drew epitomized the “robber barons” whose financial manipulations terrorized Wall Street investors of the mid-19th century. While Drew never attained the lasting notoriety of a Jay Gould or a Cornelius Vanderbilt, he was certainly a major speculator of his day. Unfortunately this first major biography of “Uncle Daniel” has some serious shortcomings. The author emulates the sensationalist journalism of Drew’s age (perhaps because he relies so heavily on newspaper archives), thereby presenting his subject as something of a buffoon. While Drew surely had many homespun qualities, he was also a shrewd financier with exceptional talents. Nor does the book move beyond the popular seedy image of Wall Street to consider the nation’s major financial problems and the role that the market played in the economy. Readers seeking more than a stereotyped version of the market based largely on anecdotal sources will not be satisfied with this account. Nevertheless, the author does have a knack for telling a story, and, in all seriousness, his book often reads like a good novel.

The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Vol. 5: 1853—1855, edited by Lynda Lasswell Crist. Louisiana $37.50

The fifth volume in this series, covering the first half of Davis’s tenure as secretary of war, continues the high standards of previous volumes, with detailed annotation and nearly literal transcription of documents. Nevertheless, this volume suffers from some of the problems of selection which marred Crist’s debut in Volume 4. While all of the Mississippian’s correspondence could not possibly be included, surely a mere 150 pages of letters (out of 557 pages in the book) will not suffice. Most of the remaining pages are filled by a very useful calendar listing each item extant and its provenance, but it also shows how many important letters were excluded and how many relatively insignificant ones found their way into print. The presence of many important letters in the 1923 collection by Dunbar Rowland should not preclude the treatment of such letters to modern transcriptions and annotation.

A Wider World: Portraits in an Adolescence, by Kate Simon. Harper & Row $14.95

Best known for her travel books, the author has written a sequel to the first volume of her memoirs, Bronx Primitive. It is a vivid picture of New York City during the Depression in which we follow Ms. Simon from James Monroe High School to Hunter—with journeys into Harlem and Greenwich Village as well. Against the background of politics and literature she focuses without sentimentality and with wry humor on the pain and awkwardness of adolesence. Sublime is the chapter, “Birds Do It. . . .”, which describes an episode when the author was to have been seduced in the woods but fell asleep instead, amid “millions of blossoms” and frog eggs.

Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed, by David Nokes. Oxford $24.95

This is a useful critical biography of a man whose deceptive and even satiric presentations of himself in his journals and his works make him a very difficult subject for the biographer. Nokes has decided to relate the known facts and the legends about Swift on the assumption that both give insight into his character, for many of the legends were fostered by Swift himself as a way of hiding from the world and at the same time presenting himself to it. Nokes’ narration of the life is quite readable, and his criticism strikes me as judicious and perceptive. He also has mastered the critical and biographical material on Swift and incorporates this material unobtrusively and relevantly into his own account of the life and work.

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: Historian of the Old South, by Merton L. Dillon. Louisiana $20

For nearly 40 years after 1918 U. B. Phillips was accepted as the authority on American slavery. Owing to his outmoded and condescending attitudes toward blacks, his reputation went into steep decline after World War II, but the scholarship has remained daunting. Simultaneously pioneering and comprehensive, his work remains the best place to see slavery evolving over time and space. Merton Dillon has crafted an elegant biography that follows this son of a Georgia merchant, born in 1877, to the heights of national academic prestige in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Along the way, we catch fascinating glimpses not only of this genteel but ambitious man but also of the early stages of academic professionalization. Dillon strikes just the right tone throughout, and the tale he tells is both cautionary and inspiring.

Hester Thrale Piozzi: Portrait of a Literary Woman, by William McCarthy. North Carolina $28

Piozzi is here presented as a feminist heroine caught in a Gothic web of anxieties and influences. The narrative is compelling, though sometimes at the expense of reducing critical issues to biographical issues and social issues to sexual issues. The value of this work outweighs such criticisms. In the 18th century women writers were widely published, read, and discussed and deserve to be so again. McCarthy’s well-researched and informative study will help to make that possible.

Rich Kids, by John Sedgwick. Morrow $17,95

In a sense, this book dilates almost ad maestitiam on the topos “Money can’t buy happiness.” Yet it is finally much more than a set of sob-stories about America’s young heirs and heiresses and how they both love and hate their money. Sedgwick’s anecdotes about minor Rockefellers, Mellons, Pulitzers, and Pillsburys argue convincingly for a major social-psychological study, focusing on hedonism and guilt, alienation and the impulse to social commitment, as well as the disjunction between sophistication, knowledge, and understanding.

Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory, by Naomi Lebowitz. Louisiana $25

This is the latest entry in the “psychobiography” subfield of Kierkegaardiana; yet it is more than just that. The author, an English professor and a dialectical philosopher, brings considerable analytical skills to the texts. She views Kierkegaard as “a negative body in a negative age,” a soul turning in upon itself in a time of spiritual decline and incoherence. Kierkegaard, who had one of the most complex and serious attitudes towards authorship of all time, requires that anyone who wishes to understand his philosophy and theology must also be a literary expert. This work suffers from no lack of sophisticated insights into Kierkegaard’s technique. However, Lebowitz fails to develop any unique central thesis which adds to the observations of such standard Kierkegaard interpreters as Lowrie, Mackey, and Taylor.

The Courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, by Daniel Karlin. Oxford $24.95

Daniel Karlin makes expert use of the many letters that passed between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett both before their first meeting on May 20, 1845, and during the months that followed until their marriage on Sept.12, 1846, and departure for Italy on September 19. In Part One he sets the scene, describes the background, works through First Letters, First Meeting, Secret Lovers, Marriage and Elopement. In Part Two he writes of The Poetry of Love, Letters and Meetings, Other People, Mr. Barrett, and Elizabeth Barrett’s Return, ending with her Sonnets from the Portuguese, which are also letters to Browning. This is a more than interesting account of the development of love, though sometimes a little confusing in its weavings back and forth.

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, by Patricia Buchanan. Scottish Academic Press $24

There has long been need for a new and more sympathetic study of Queen Margaret, daughter of Henry VII of England and wife of the popular and chivalrous James IV of Scotland; Buchanan’s new book partly fills the need. Too often, she adheres to long-discredited interpretations, especially about England, ignores many recent works, and indulges in unnecessary and unsupportable novelistic speculations as to what might have been running through the minds of her subjects at a given time; footnotes and maps would also have been helpful. On the other hand, Buchanan writes well, and her interpretations are sound and often insightful. Any scholarly work which sheds light on the dark confusion of Scotland in the years between the death of Margaret’s husband at Flodden in 1513 and the accession to full power of their son in the 1530’s is welcome, and this one is entertaining in the bargain.

Bloomsbury/Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey, 1924—1925, edited by Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick. Basic Books $21.95

Introduction and epilogue set the scene for this correspondence. More than 200 pages of letters and telegrams were written by James and Alix Strachey between Sept. 23, 1924, when they parted in Berlin, and Oct.2, 1925, when Alix returned to London. At the time they were separated they had been married a little over four years, and the letters, which always begin Dearest Alix, Dearest James, and end with fond protestations of devotion, are a mixture of love and psychoanalysis, a mixture which was also maintained throughout their married life. Alix loved to dance and frequented dance halls and cabarets in Berlin; James dined with relatives and mutual friends. They were both in analysis, Alix with Karl Abraham until his illness prevented, James with James Glover, while at the same time he had two patients of his own in analysis. The contrast between life in Berlin and life in London shows vividly in all the letters. It is too bad that there weren’t other lengthy separations in their lives so that there might have been other fascinating letters to read.

Famous People I Have Known, by Ed McClanahan. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $13.95

Actually the really famous only appear at the beginning and end, and then mainly in elevators; far more interesting to McClanahan are the lesser lights who passed his way, such as Jimmy Sacca and the immortal Little Enis. These endearingly bizarre characters and McClanahan himself become the real stars of these autobiographical sketches, which are rendered with wit, energy, and self-deprecating humor and at the same time pay a touching tribute to Sixties Americana.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Theophrastan “Character”: The History of a Literary Genre, by J.W. Smeed. Oxford $47.50

The genre called “character” had its beginnings in a short work by Theophrastus that was probably produced about 319 B.C. It described certain human types such as the Drunkard, the Miser, the Happy Man, and the Wise Man. The writing of “characters” came to be a part of rhetoric and of education in general in the Renaissance. The flowering of the art of character writing in the Western world took place in England, France, and Germany from the 17th to the 19th century, Smeed traces the genre with skill and care, providing interesting examples and discussing the contribution of “character” to novels and plays. His book is not merely the most comprehensive study of the genre that we have; it is also a reference book that provides an extensive bibliography and “index of types treated in the Form of “Characters.”“

Literary Meaning: From Phenomenology to Deconstruction, by William Ray. Blackwell $24.95 cloth, $9.95 paper

The fact that books such as this exist is a marvelous, unwitting indictment of academe today. The theories of interpretation of Iser, Holland, Bleich, Culler, Eco, and Stanley Fish are surveyed here, as if they were the creations of world-historical thinkers. The author is unapologetic about the fact that nowadays students spend so much time reading these academics, whose writings at best are of ephemeral value, rather than reading the classics. He argues further that the poststructuralists are now liberating the text from the “authorities”— that in future literary study will be “less obsessed with controlling truth.” O yeah, huh??

The Politics of American English, 1776—1850, by David Simpson. Oxford $24.95

We often say of windy books that they should have been articles; this windy book should have been two articles, one on Noah Webster and early attempts to construct an “American” language, the other— and better—one on linguistic ideologies in the novels of Cooper. In this format Simpson might have said his (useful) piece, without needless interlardings of modern socio-political jargon and comparisons to what he all too easily supposes to be our continuing linguistic sins.

Society and History in English Renaissance Verse, by Lauro Martines. Blackwell $24.95

Readers approaching Martines’ latest offering expecting the insightful commentary and splendid elucidation distinguishing his earlier Power and Imagination may be somewhat disappointed. Too much of the book, one feels, is devoted to an apology for the brand of historicism which—thanks especially to the critics at Berkeley—needs no justification. Had the author given more space to explicating the English poets in the same manner he had the artists of the Italian Renaissance, this work would surely have carried a far greater significance for the field of Renaissance studies.

Georg Lukács and His Generation 1900—1918, by Mary Gluck. Harvard $25

This is an original and fascinating contribution to the current reevaluation of Lukác’s significance. In a somewhat different way, it should take its place alongside of J.M. Bernstein’s 1984 The Philosophy of the Novel, which also considers the relations between Lukác’s Hegelian and Marxist periods. But Mary Gluck’s book should be far more accessible to the general reader. It offers an exciting narrative, sweeping in scope, and one that carries us deeply into the “aestheticism” of early century Hungary and of Lukác’s earliest work.

Broderie Anglaise, by Violet Trefusis. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $13.95

The introduction to this book, first published in 1935 and now translated from the French by Barbara Bray, is by Victoria Glendinning, author of Vita, a life of V. Sackville-West, who is here represented by Lord John Shorne. The story is a retelling of the love affair between Violet Trefusis and V. Sackville-West, which in fiction was also told in Sackville-West’s novel Challenge and in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and in actuality was chronicled in Nigel Nicolson’s Portrait of a Marriage. Slight and artificial, the book is valuable only as it gives another point of view.

Silent But for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, edited by Margaret Patterson Hannay. Kent State $27.50

Why is it that books written by women about women are so often dull and tedious? This one is no exception. This collection of 14 essays, mainly by women, on a number of Tudor women who had enjoyed exceptional educations bears down heavily on the thesis that only religious discourse was permissible for women who sought to write, whether in translation or creatively. There is something to be said for this point of view, but anyone who looked at all carefully into the writings of Elizabethan women could find much to be said on the secular side. Some of these essays are more informative than others. One of the best is the final essay, “Struggling into Discourse: The Emergence of Renaissance Women’s Writing,” by Gary F. Waller, which somewhat broadens the general outlook.

Ruskin’s Poetic Argument: The Design of the Major Works, by Paul L. Sawyer. Cornell $25

This is the best book on Ruskin since Elizabeth Helsinger’s Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder, perhaps since Rosenberg’s Darkling Glass. With clarity and grace, Sawyer constructs a history of Ruskin’s mind from readings of all the major works, emphasizing his spirituality, his economics, and his psychic disturbances—showing in each case how these concerns shape individual literary works. Neither critical biography nor biographical criticism, Ruskin’s Poetic Argument is a triumphant blending of both.

The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound, by Balachandra Rajan. Princeton $30

Rajan is one of the most brilliant literary critics writing today, in both the good and bad senses of that word. The Form of the Unfinished is a meditation on the meanings and uses of closure—in works both finished and unfinished, intended and unintended fragments—from Spenser and Milton to Pound and Eliot. Closure itself is a way of negotiating between “meaning” and indeterminacy or “undecidability.” These terms may be appropriate for symbolist and postsymbolist writers; whether they can illuminate Paradise Lost and Don Juan is another matter.

Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance, by Victoria Kahn. Cornell $27.50

This is a difficult but important book which should be read both by intellectual historians and literary scholars. Kahn attempts in effect a history of practical reason in the Renaissance and of the ways writers organized their works—gave them an inferential structure—in order to teach prudence by enacting it, and so demanding it of their readers. This sophisticated way of making philosophic and literary concerns illuminate one another issues in genuinely new readings of standard texts (such as Sidney’s Apologie) and helps us to understand the period shifts both from medieval to Renaissance and (in an excellent chapter on Hobbes) Renaissance to Augustan.

A History of Modern Criticism, 1750—1950, Vol.5: English Criticism, 1900—1950, by René Wellek. Yale $22.50

This monumental study, begun in 1955, continues with studies of the Academic Critics, the Bloomsbury Group, and the New Romantics, and culminates with T.S. Eliot, I.A. Richards, and F.R. Leavis. As ever the author is judicious and fair-minded, balancing appreciative analysis with sharp criticism. Eliot, the dominant figure in this history, epitomizes the classical current of criticism which is contrasted with the romantic mode that Wellek, speaking of its “irrationalism,” finds so repugnant. Although he repeatedly acknowledges the influences of Victorian criticism on the so-called modernists, the author does not recognize the extent to which the writings of the latter are saturated with 19th-century notions of aesthetic criticism.

A History of Modern Criticism, 1750—1950, Vol.6: American Criticism, 1900—1950, by René Wellek. Yale $22.50

This companion volume to volume 5 on English criticism, 1900—1950, covers criticism from the American impressionists and naturalists, the New Humanists, the Chicago Aristotelians through Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and the New Criticism to the work of Blackmur, Burke, Winters, and Wimsatt. Especially salutary is the vigorous defense of the New Criticism against the standard misleading attacks. Also notable is the restrained but nonetheless forceful “Postscript,” which eloquently objects to the skeptical and nihilistic tendencies in recent American criticism.

In the Circles of Fear and Desire, by William Patrick Day. Chicago $17.50

Studies of genre and mode are clearly in the ascendant as scholars rediscover the powers and pleasure of kind. Among the most interesting and provocative products of the new awareness is this study of Gothic fantasy, which covers motifs, plot forms, character types, techniques, themes, and theses in every relevant work from The Castle of Otranto through Dracula to Psycho. Beyond formalism, the book convincingly argues that Gothic fantasy expressed and relieved middle-class Angst about identity, especially sexual.

The Writer and His Work: Henry James, by Tony Tanner. Massachusetts $17.50

Reprinting (with additions and refinements) the author’s British Council pamphlets (1979—81), this volume is probably the best available introduction to James. A fresh overview of James’ obsessions, preferred plot forms, narrative methods, and style informs a first-rate series of concise, readable critiques. Each major work and a few minor ones are treated, and with such tact as to impel the reader to plunge straightway into the novels themselves.

Interpreting Events, by Paul Hernadi. Cornell $22.50

Standing at the crossroad of historiography and mythography, such works as Camus’ Caligula, Shaw’s Saint Joan and— most recently—Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus constitute a new mode of tragicomic writing, which Paul Hernadi explores with his usual blend of finesse and erudition. To students of literary kinds and their theory, the volume is of special interest as the first major application of ideas outlined by the same author in Beyond Genre (1972).

In Hawthorne’s Shadow: American Romance from Melville to Mailer, by Samuel Chase Coale. Kentucky $24

Coale’s somewhat debatable premise is that Hawthorne’s vision was essentially Manichean, and that this dualism is at the root of his literary legacy. This idea is pushed to its limit, so that by the chapter on the postmodernists Coale has difficulty showing Hawthorne’s influence to be anything other than tenuous or negative. Far more convincing and appropriate, however, is the discussion of Southern writers, especially Faulkner, O’Connor, and McCullers, on all of whom Hawthorne’s shadow really did fall.

Milton and Ovid, by Richard J. DuRocher. Cornell $27,50

Discussions of Milton’s use of classical epic have usually concentrated on Vergil and Homer; DuRocher argues for a full-scale “dialogue” between Paradise Lost and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which the former can be seen as a Christianized “epic of change.” The result is good as a comparison of the two poems, especially on the religious gulf that consistently separates them in their resemblances; on individual loci, DuRocher is sometimes sharply innovative but often repetitive and vague, and a little thin on primary research. An honorable essay overextended into a book.

Grammar and Gender, by Dennis Baron. Yale $23.50

Amid the flood of recent commentary on Ms. and (s)he—on the multifarious ways, in fact, that antifeminism is embedded in our everyday language and syntax—Dennis Baron’s book shines out as a model of both lively learning and hard sense. His scope is suitably wide: he begins not in the 19th century, but in the Renaissance (when, for example Thomas Wilson argued that the locution “mother and father” is unnatural: the man must come first), and provides compelling examples of how not only our language, but our linguists have subscribed to a notion of the inferiority of Eve’s language. The book is chock-full of fascinating nuggets—about how the word “girl” originally included boy-children as well as girls, and how 19th-century women’s colleges, discomfited by the idea of female bachelors and doctors, awarded degrees like “Maid of Arts” and “Vestal of Philosophy.” The reader may tire eventually of false etymologies and skewed grammars, but no more compelling condemnation of the English linguistic tradition (following through right into the present) has yet appeared.

The Conversation of the Sexes: Seduction and Equality in Selected 17th and 18th Century Texts, by Roy Roussel. Oxford $15.95

This book does not have a thesis: rather, it is an exploration of the ways in which men who write about women imagine the conditions of love: about how, in Donne’s “Flea,” Fanny Hill, Pamela, Les Liaisons dangereuses, and Congreve’s plays male writers seek dominion while supposing they seek equality, and achieve love only when their efforts are frustrated (and so they come to terms with women’s difference). Roussel is clear, even elegant, and a gifted close reader of “conversation” (in its extended sense); he is also too self-absorbed, reluctant to generalize, and authoritarian in his very application of principles of sexual autonomy.

FICTIONGetting to Know the Weather, by Pamela Painter. Illinois $11.95

These scrupulously crafted stories, tender (how rare nowadays!) but devoid of gush, leave echoes like those of longer fiction, although fine-tuned to the range of the briefer mode. Pamela Painter eschews “hick chic” for the urban or small-town. She encompasses embattled housewives as well as the victims of underprivilege, both social and psychological. When the two worlds clash (“Sylvia,” “The Kidnappers,” “Patterns”), one feels genuine terror and pity. One detects an occasional whiff of the tour de force—a stereotype inverted just to see what it will produce—but usually the exercise comes off. And in the stories where character cracks under pressure, the rift in the golden bowl creates both humor and conflict. In many passages, such as the opening of the title story, deftly selected detail projects in a flash a whole lifetime of quiet desperation.

The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler. Knopf $16.95

If any book deserves to be a best seller, this one does. There’s nothing trashy about it. In Tyler’s fast-moving tenth novel, Macon Leary, an eccentric writer of guide books for travelers who hate traveling, sees the world outside his native Baltimore as a bewildering, alien place. When tragedy strikes, he begins to discover himself an alien even in his own neighborhood. “Rescued” by a broken leg, Leary retreats to the protection of his sister and brothers (eccentrics all) who still live in their childhood home. Leary’s struggle to get about with his temporary handicap forms a metaphor for his many other struggles—from training his dog to keeping his sanity. It is through Muriel, an irrepressible girl-of-all-trades, that Leary learns to accept life as inconsistent and asymmetrical—and to like it that way. Leary, his incorrigible corgi Edward, and the unlikely stranger Muriel who changes both their lives—these three are among the most memorable characters of current fiction.

The Collected Stories of William Humphrey, by William Humphrey. Delacorte $19.95

In this collection Humphrey proves himself a master at evoking place, mood, and characters caught in volatile situations. It is with equal conviction that he thrusts us into the lives of artists—compromised, disillusioned, failed—and into the lives of dirt farmers in Depression-era Texas, men and women forever waiting for the gusher which, if and when it does come, shatters dreams only more quickly and completely than does the gnawing poverty. Desperation, Humphrey’s great theme, seems to choke the air as tangibly as does the dust in his “Texas” pieces where characters, coming to see their static lives as valueless, risk death easily and foolishly in the vain hope of “escaping.” Perhaps the desperation of Humphrey’s characters—of artists struggling to make peace with the ideals that capture their minds, of poor farmers fighting to come to terms with the land that traps their bodies—perhaps this feverishness culminates in the collection’s final story, “The Last of the Caddoes,” in which an obscure, vanished tribe of Indians “possesses” an adolescent boy. In the boy’s search to discover his heritage, involving an excavation of the ancient burial mound on his grandfather’s farm, he alienates his mother and rejects his name—all for the sake of the ghosts inside his head.

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme. Louisiana $17.95

This startling first novel by a 38-year-old Maori woman from New Zealand has already won the New Zealand Book Award, England’s Booker Prize for fiction, and Mobil Corporation’s Pegasus Prize for foreign literature—plus extravagant praise from the critics. Hulme’s story is simple, perhaps shockingly plain, yet almost bottomless in its emotional depth, A reclusive Maori woman (a somewhat autobiographical figure), bitter at the world yet ironically made wealthy by a lottery, has her steely exterior pierced by an orphaned, psycologically-disturbed boy who, though of normal intelligence, refuses to speak for some mysterious reason in his past. The boy’s foster father, a rough-hewn Maori widower, is alternately protective and physically abusive of the boy. These three characters, and the way their love for each other develops, describe the limits of the story; but the author’s concern for the characters’ emotional life, as shown through the use of multiple point-of-view and stream-of-consciousness, is so obsessive in its purity that the reader doesn’t miss the lack of a depiction of a real social context in this admittedly long (440 pages) novel. Where Hulme is less successful is in her attempt to use the story as a metaphor for the current fate of New Zealand and the Maori people. Maori myth, culture, and language are constant themes in The Bone People, but Hulme is done in by her success; her tale is so universal in its beauty that it passes by the uniqueness of New Zealand on its way to higher literary heights.

Ransom, by Jay McInerney. Vintage $5.95 paper

Ransom is the first novel Mclnerney wrote, but the second one that he published. Bright Lights, Big City was the second novel that he wrote, but the first one that he published, and its precocious intelligence and sardonic wit propelled it to best-seller status. So fans of that novel should not expect a great deal of development in Ransom, which they will eagerly buy. Overly schematic in its design, the novel tracks the psychological development of Christopher Ransom, an American living in Kyoto, Japan, and does so, of course, by using his involvement with karate as a metaphor for the larger concerns of the novel. Read this as a piece of advanced juvenilia.

The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $16.95

This is a novel about writing an historical novel and of the fictional author’s pursuit for truth about persons and events in the past. The story is set in a Peru of the future, where American marines and Cuban-backed revolutionaries struggle for control of the country. Yet the author is obsessed with an obscure, unsuccessful coup attempt of the late 1950’s that was fomented by a middle-aged Trotskyite, Alejandro Mayta. Through a series of interviews and flashbacks, the author sorts through pieces of the past and attempts to resolve why the plot went awry. A surprising final chapter underscores that all history is really fiction, in that it inevitably reflects the biases of the narrator. Varga Llosa is a master of philosophical storytelling.

John Creasey’s Crime Collection 1985, edited by Herbert Harris. St. Martin’s $12.95

This medley of short mysteries opens with P.D. James (“Great Aunt Allie’s Flypapers”) and includes stories by Antonia Fraser (“Boots”), Joan Aiken (“Time to Laugh”), Michael Gilbert (“The Killing of Michael Finnegan”), as well as the editor of this collection and ten other crime writers. A short story may be—and these are— very well worked out, but there is never in a short story scope enough to flesh out the tale. So the whole is never entirely satisfying.

Collected Stories, by Tennessee Williams. New Directions $19.95

Few American writers have produced masterworks in more than one genre: who now reads Henry James’ plays or the poetry of Hemingway or Faulkner? I regret to note that the publication of Tennessee Williams’ Collected Stories will only reinforce the perception that American literary genius is “genre-bound.” Williams published his first story in 1928, his last in 1978 and the sum total for the 50 years effort was 49 short stories—not one of them likely to survive on its own merits. As a short story writer Williams was careless, often coy or cute in the worst sense and self-indulgent. Even the stories that eventually proved to be the rough material for some of Williams’ great plays apparently underwent an essential transformation between narrative and script as if the conception of actors acting breathed new life—and art—into Williams’ vision. If you wish to read Williams, turn again to Night of the Iguana or A Streetcar Named Desire: seek out the brilliance in the center ring, not the sad excesses of the sideshow.

Romance in the Roaring Forties and Other Stories, by Damon Runyon. Beech Tree Books $9.95

Hymie Banjo Eyes, Spider McCoy, Hot Horse Harry and Dave the Dude are just a few of the wonderful “guys” in these tales of romance set in the West 40’s during the Depression. “Romance” because all of these “guys and dolls” have hearts of gold, because although everybody seems to carry an “equalizer,” there’s no blood and gore. Runyon’s is an enchanted world of bookies who are magicians, of gangsters and their molls who are kings and queens, speaking an exotic language. It is the “patois of Broadway” that makes their “monkey business” very special.

Nine Women, by Shirley Ann Grau. Knopf $15.95

This is Shirley Ann Grau’s second collection of stories, offering an interesting assortment of characters ranging in age and social position—daughters, mothers, widows, lovers, friends, businesswomen; two of the stories deal with black characters. There is a woman who’s the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed her family, and spends her life flying from place to place, courting death; an ambitious realtor and her female lover who wants to have a child—theirs; a housekeeper whose employer dies mysteriously. Ms. Grau writes with a graceful simplicity, and she’s good at evoking a dreamlike atmosphere. Her conception of dramatic situations is engaging, varied, full of possibilities she doesn’t quite realize—perhaps the novel is really more her style. In all of these vignettes, one wishes for a bit more energy and for conclusions with more impact and intensity.

Holy Smoke, by G. Cabrera Infante. Harper & Row $16.95

Cabrera Infante may not be the greatest of the current crop of Latin American authors, but he is unquestionably the funniest. Here in his first book written in English he proves that he is as verbally adept in his second language as he is in his native Spanish. Holy Smoke might at first appear to be devoted to an unpromising subject: the history of the cigar in fact, fiction, and fancy. But by the time Cabrera Infante is through, one might think that the cigar is the central artifact of Western civilization. Much of the book is devoted to chronicling the achievements of the great cigar smokers in history and literature, from Robinson Crusoe to Groucho Marx. This epic account of the cigar allows Cabrera Infante to talk at great length about his favorite subject—the movies (the narrative begins and ends with a reference to The Bride of Frankenstein). And of course discussing the subject of Havanas gives Cabrera Infante a chance to reflect upon his native Cuba and its most famous cigar smoker, Fidel Castro (who we are assured used to bum cigars from the author). The last third of the book is devoted to an anthology of passages from world literature dealing with the cigar.

Last Seen Alive, by Dorothy Simpson. Scribner’s $13.95

Ms. Simpson’s major crime is in keeping this murder mystery put-downable. She begins well (in the Christie tradition) with the early-discovered corpse; her characters are warmly and richly drawn (in the Marsh tradition)—especially Inspector Luke Thanet, who has a realistic phobia of dead bodies—but a good beg


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