The history of education may not be the hottest of academic fields, but it is difficult to imagine a perspective that gets us closer to the heart of a society. Here William Link displays the genre in its most sophisticated, subtle, judicious, and revealing form. Most historians write off Southern education as a mere wasteland, a natural failure of a static and backward society; the reformers of the turn of the century appear either as callous elitist racists out for social control or as men who merely saw a problem and set out to right it. Link eschews both stereotypes and instead portrays a society in subtle transformation. It is an evocative book that re-creates a central experience of virtually all rural Southerners at the turn of the century; it deserves a wide readership.
John Tebbel has condensed his four-volume History of Book Publishing in the United States in this one-volume work. Consequently, Between Covers is a comprehensive albeit general study. The book traces American book publishing from its origins in 17th-century Massachusetts, to the foundations of the great publishing houses in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the transformation of book publishing after World War II when business corporations bought the old houses. Tebbel, also, briefly examines the development of university presses, the burgeoning children’s literary market in the 1920’s, and religious book publishing. Descriptions of Alfred A. Knopf, the Harper Brothers, George Putnam, and other publishing giants enliven this otherwise encyclopedic account. As a condensed version, Between Covers omits much. In particular, Tebbel dispenses with footnotes/endnotes, thereby preventing the reader from expanding upon the brief accounts he offers. Tebbel’s bibliography is only a listing of works he says will be easiest for the general reader to secure through his local library or Inter-Library Loan service. Nevertheless, this work is useful, beginning reading for those anticipating a career in book publishing.
This is a kind of oral history, the kind where the author puts the words in the mouths of the speakers. A well-known journalist, Engelmann all too readily fudges the line between objective reporting and personal prejudices. The result is an idiosyncratic account of life in the Third Reich that tells us more about Engelmann than anything else. Some of his personal recollections are interesting, but the book as a whole is of limited value.
There have been several accounts, mostly popular ones, of the last weeks of the Confederate government, two in the past four years alone. One might think, then, that Ballard’s short study is superfluous, but it is a solid scholarly work that aims higher than an exciting narrative of chase and capture. Ballard, an archivist, has done an impressive job of scouring manuscript collections and diaries for new evidence, and he has sifted judiciously through scores of books and articles to achieve the most accurate account of the flight of Jefferson Davis and his government. He concentrates on Davis himself, showing that he remained almost alone among his entourage in refusing to accept defeat. Focus on Davis also allows Ballard to develop his central theme—that the circumstances of the retreat, Davis’s unflagging devotion to the cause, and the harsh treatment of the former president after his capture revived his sagging reputation and transformed him into one of the principal Lost Cause heroes. Before surrender, many Southerners had come to blame Davis for battlefield defeats and homefront hardships, but the final days of his presidency, much like Lincoln’s assassination, seemed to erase memories of dissatisfaction. This is a stimulating idea in a modest book.
A study of political power in the Muscovite state from its founding to the beginning of the reign of Ivan IV (“the Terrible”), Professor Kollmann’s work is based on a study of Boyar family histories. She approaches the subject from an angle previously neglected by Western scholars and in so doing makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of old Russian history.
Parry contends that English politics of the 1860’s and 1870’s “cannot be understood if it is treated merely as a secular activity,” and thus he provides us with an impressive synthesis of religious attitudes and party politics to show the cogency of his argument. With this detailed analysis of the intellectual background and consequent factions among Gladstone’s party, Parry has done much to give us a clearer understanding of Victorian politics.
Six Galleons is a very attractive work of scholarship about Spain’s imperial defense in the early 17th century. Phillips has traced the history of six Armada ships from their construction in 1625—28 through their service in the defense of the Indies during the following two decades. Woven into this substantially documented microhistory is the larger history of shipbuilding, provisioning, voyaging, staffing, the Indies trade, royal government, and imperial strategy during the early part of Spain’s long decline as a European power. The book is handsomely produced and written with affection for the subject.
The 20th-century South has seen dizzying change. Within recent memory, segregation has abruptly faded, cities have prospered, malls have sprung up like mushrooms along miracle miles, Jack Temple Kirby brings to life these changes as they affected those left behind: the farmers and other dwellers in rural places. Using oral history and rich memoirs, Kirby beautifully conveys the complexity and poignancy of the transformation. He deals with folk culture and mass culture, cotton South and mountain South; he gives blacks and women prominent space, and he refrains from romanticization. It is a book anyone curious about the modern South would do well to read.
This appropriately titled book takes as its theme the troubled relations between France and Britain after the War of the Spanish Succession. While not an original theme in itself, Black probes the roots of this antagonism and reveals that there was little commitment on either side of the Channel to any kind of lasting rapprochement. He supports this belief not only with references to the relevant diplomatic documents but also by demonstrating that public opinion opposed the formation of a second Anglo-French alliance to replace the one that had failed during the 1730’s.
Klein once again has produced a good solid work. The most important contribution is his analysis of the synthesis of African and American culture (languages, art, religion, kinship systems, etc.). In addition, Klein impressively examines the complex and differing role of the “free” colored under the various slave systems (Portuguese, Spanish, and French). And finally, the work tells a lot that is new. Facts and conclusions are drawn from the most recent sources. Indeed, this is an important piece of literature and is indispensable to serious students of slavery.
All but one of the ten papers collected here were originally given by their English and Continental authors at a University of Nottingham conference in 1984. All attempt to synthesize and advance the scholarly debate on the “rise of the gentry” in late medieval Europe. Although written by academic specialists, the essays address questions of general interest. One paper on England, for example, notes the variety of gentlemanly roles, whereas another discovers that the gentry often married for love instead of material advantage. Other essays discuss the different models to be found on the Continent; one even asks, “Was There a German “Gentry”“? A useful exercise in comparative scholarship.
Boskin traces in this historical study the inception and development of the comic Sambo character in American literature, art, and thought. The Sambo image was manifested by plantation slaves, the minstrel man, the black valet in the 1930’s, the buffoonish black characters on early 20th-century radio shows, and the grinning blacks on 1920’s postcards. By the 1960’s the effects of World War II and black attempts to eliminate the Jim Crow stereotype caused this stereotype to disappear from American culture. Boskin uses lively language and period illustrations to bring his subject to life. But he never examines how blacks worked within this stereotype, which makes his study one-sided and one-dimensional.
Theodore Hamerow has long been admired for his cautious and thoughtful writings on 19th-century German social history. This, his ninth book, bears those same qualities, though it is the doing of history which is now the subject. Although a few of the chapters, like the comparison of the “old” and the “new” histories, bear few revelations, the book is generally marked by the author’s unflinching candor and clear-sightedness. He shows a great deal of sympathy—indeed, empathy—for the lot of graduate students and has some useful pieces of advice for this benighted race. And, as befits an historian, Hamerow warns us against viewing the recent professionalization and institutionalization of history as an enduring phenomenon: by dint of socioeconomic forces, we may well be reentering a period of the amateur historian. As his appendix on “The State of Nonacademic History” shows, such a turn of events would be far less tragic for the muse of History than for our bloated academic factories.
This is the story of survivors, the second successful unit (the first was The Mongols) of a scholarly series entitled “The Peoples of Europe,” which presents the origin and status of European tribes from prehistory to the present day. Each volume describes the culture of a specific society. The legacy of the Basques reveals their violent nature, fierce independence, enigmatic character, proud tenacity, and sorrowful failure to achieve sovereign nationhood in their Western Pyrenean homeland in the south of France and north of Spain. (A few may even be found elsewhere such as in Nevada, where they retain nonetheless their unique Basqueness in every respect, including their bizarre language, which is unlike any other in the world.) They have endured to resist assimilation by neighbors and conquerors alike with no indication that they will ever yield. One can eagerly look forward to future fascinating volumes on the Thracians, Picts, Franks, Armenians, and Illyrians, among others.
The commemoration of the Constitution’s 200th anniversary has spawned numerous exhibits, presentations, and monographs about its origins. Within the later category, Charles L. Mee’s The Genius of the People is one of the less spectacular works. It is a popular history that examines the personalities, events, and issues shaping the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Mee uses his narrative history to argue the Convention was divided between those advocating states’ rights and the “centrists,” who supported a strong national government. This position ignores the idea that a middle ground existed composed of delegates who sought to compromise both sides. Although Mee attempts to study all the delegates who participated in the Convention, his study is unbalanced by his initial in-depth depiction of a few Virginia delegates. Additionally, Mee has overlooked several current editorial projects involving the founding fathers and neglected some authoritative works, notably Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of George Washington, for his subject matter. Fortunately, the celebration of the Constitution’s bicentennial should produce better scholarship than this study.
The overall project will eventually include eight volumes; this contribution offers 32 essays covering 950 pages. The editors assume that readers will be familiar with the overall history and structure of the university or, complementarity, are interested only in the specific subject matter of each topical/institutional essay. Important themes include: the significance of political factors for Oxford’s internal affairs (this topic is presented in a depth of coverage not afforded other themes), the central role of the Church of England (perhaps the predominant “career” of graduates), the ever-present concerns of finance (probably the best preserved variety of documentation), the possibility for personalities of individuals to be given substance and texture (does the greater individuation in science, especially in comparison to literature, reflect the circumstances of that time, or the different strategies of contemporary historians of different disciplines?), and a self-fulfilling disdain for the outside world.
Having learnt from Rosalie Colie and Ralph Cohen, Barbara Lewalski has for ten years been exploring the importance of genre to the understanding of Renaissance literature and contributing to the revival of genre criticism. Her anthology testifies to her success: its 18 essays—all useful, some brilliant—range from general theory to examinations of epigram, sonnet, pastoral, georgic, satire, comedy, and epic hymn, with of course much attention to mixed forms. The best essays treat generic structuring in particular works and groups of works; all suggest as a necessary next step a more comprehensive theory of genre itself, one which will help to organize and normalize the diverse wisdom of a collection such as this.
This book collects 14 of Crews’ essays and reviews published in the last 15 years. There are five pieces at the end of the volume which take up particular authors and critics, but the title is really describing the more general focus of the first nine essays, namely the author’s case against psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Anyone who has spent much time in an English department recently can vouch for Crews’ contention that these schools of thought have often been taken up uncritically and passed on as revelation by mesmerized adherents. But Crews is himself not as vigilant as he might be, and he often seems to have gotten his version of deconstruction from these same lotus-eaters. For example, his claim that deconstruction would abolish all constraints on interpretation is a common but altogether misleading notion of what people like Foucault, Fish, and Derrida have been saying; it’s not a question of whether there are constraints on interpretation, but of whether one thinks of them as being locked somewhere in the beyond, outside of time and history. His essays on psychoanalysis suggest that Crews, like his friend Adolph Grunbaum, does believe in such timeless constraints, and that since Freud did, too, psychoanalysis, at least, must agree to be judged by them.
For the first time in studies of the 18th-century novel, this book examines in detail and with impressive breadth the careers and contributions of Britain’s female novelists. Spencer labors under the necessary burden of having to introduce the reader to rarely-discussed names and lives—including those of Delariviere Manley, Jane Barker, and Penelope Aubin—but her argument runs smoothly and persuasively nonetheless. This is a volume full of intriguing information and anecdotes as well as corrosive analyses of Augustan attitudes toward women and the persistent struggle of women writers for literary autonomy and professional success in the marketplace. It is a must read for any student of the 18th-century novel.
There are those who find Kenner the most lucid and riveting literary critic of his generation; his new book on the influence of technology (subways, typewriters) on the literature of high modernism provides plenty of moment-by-moment evidence of why one would think so. It does not have the spectacular tautness of The Counterfeiters, to which it is something of an epilogue, and the controlling generalizations swing a bit loosely below the surface. But the detail work—such as a breathtaking juxtaposition of Wallace Stevens’ wife and Ezra Pound’s picture of a coin press—is as astonishing and satisfying as ever.
It takes a great deal of courage—one might even say foolhardiness—to name one’s book Signifying Nothing, but Malcolm Evans is nothing if not courageous. He—an Englishman!—takes on no less a target than Queen Elizabeth II in his opening paragraph, and that is just the beginning of his strident iconoclasm. In any case, one is pleased to report that seldom has a book so fully lived up to its title. It was only a matter of time before deconstruction caught up with Shakespeare and went to work on his plays with a vengeance. Here is the result. This book is sometimes shrill, sometimes pretentious, sometimes snide, and sometimes oh-so-clever, but it is always left-wing, always boring, and always silly. Before condemning the book completely, one must acknowledge that it contains a memorable footnote: “On the semiotics of the beaver, see Vonnegut, 1974, pp.30—1.” That about sums up the level of this treatise.
The focus of this analysis of ten French writers is the appearance of a new relationship between these writers and the world that emerged from World War I. This “consciousness of history” was responsible for an important transition in French literature of the interwar period. Bitter memories of the war experience and anxiety about the future combined to produce a body of literature that drew a number of disturbing conclusions about the human condition. This book is valuable as a study of how a common experience evoked generally similar responses among individuals who apparently had little else in common in terms of political, social, and educational background.
The proceedings of a bicentenary conference on Samuel Johnson (1709—84), this collection makes disappointing reading, testifying to the current pervasive stagnation in Johnsonian studies. One distinguished author provides “A Fresh Look at Samuel Johnson’s French” (shaky); too many essays begin in the timeworn ways— “The common view of Samuel Johnson has long been that he was at best uninterested in and at worst hostile to history,” writes an elsewhere interesting younger scholar— and proceed to the timeworn results. Only three essays of the 14 included here open interesting vistas (oddly, they appear last in the volume): Thomas Curley on “Johnson, Chambers, and the Law”; Isobel Grundy on “Johnson’s Developing Epistolary Style”; and Brian Gorman on “The Lives of Otway and Congreve.”
Delicately assertive, this book dwells and swells on the odd spirituality of decadence—without straying from the subject Tennyson, without wrenching literary history out of true. Notions of personality and impersonality, cradled in close reading, grow palpable yet remain precisely unidentifiable. To one not in the mood it all might seem either sensible or rhapsodic, but let the reader beware: Albright’s style is seductive as a dream.
This book includes Cobbett along with Crabbe, Austen, Clare, and Wordsworth in its discussion of place in literature, and treats only one Romantic author in a book devoted to the Romantic period. Both decisions are interesting ones that should yield fruit. But Sale is neither a scholarly writer—he refers to Raymond Williams’ important book on his subject as The City and the Country, though he gets Pride and Prejudice right—nor a particularly interesting one. His flabby critical impressions of the works he treats are not compensated for by his weakly nostalgic glimpses of the places that inspired them. Closer to Home is a curiously stale book, given the evidently personal interest Sale feels for his subject and his authors.
This book undertakes an extraordinarily important and exciting task: to treat 19th-century American literature as a phenomenon that is trans-Atlantic in crucial ways. Weisbuch’s interesting generalizations are grounded in case studies of pairs of writers that should have been considered together long before now: Melville and Dickens, Whitman and Wordsworth, Thoreau and Coleridge, Poe and Shelley. The book is clumsily written (the cute title is representative) and relies too heavily on Harold Bloom’s idiosyncratic theorizing. But I agree with Weisbuch when he boasts that “this study represents something new.” His book is an example of the fruitful challenges to institutionalized academic literary study that have characterized the 1980’s.
With the publication of this volume, readers can finally judge for themselves the analysis of “Tintern Abbey” which Jerome McGann praised in his The Romantic Ideology back in 1983. Levinson’s essay turns out to have been well worth waiting for. She brilliantly reveals the political context of “Tintern Abbey,” a set of facts which Wordsworth in effect tried to cover over but could not wholly conceal. Levinson starts from the seemingly obvious but hitherto unnoticed fact that Wordsworth’s poem is precisely dated on the eve of Bastille Day, and goes on to show the complex of data which associated Tintern Abbey with revolutionary politics (above all the fact that the ruin had become overrun with houseless beggars). Drawing upon McGann’s critical analysis of romantic ideology, Levinson analyzes “Tintern Abbey” as a perfect example of the Romantics’ swerve away from direct engagement with their concrete political and historical situation and toward a withdrawal into a detached aesthetic stance. Levinson’s work thus falls squarely in the middle of the movement of New Historicism, which is quickly coming to dominate literary criticism in the Anglo-American world. Three other essays, dealing with “Michael,” the “Intimations Ode,” and “Peele Castle,” make up the rest of the volume. This book is one of the most original and illuminating studies of Wordsworth to appear in years.
Jacques Barzun joins other language scolds like John Simon and William Safire who keep wagging their fingers (and tongues) at those who misuse the English language. Here he brings together a selection of articles written over the past 43 years, and he reminds us that good writing is never out of style. With wit and humor, he inveighs against colloquial speech, poor scientific writing, unnecessary and silly new words, malapropisms, ignorant copy editors (one tried to change the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá into what might have been a new culinary delight, Chicken itzá), etc. In turn prescriptive and descriptive, the author dissects some true howlers perpetrated in the name of written English and pronounces us generally “lazy” in our writing and speaking habits, although the force of his argument is somewhat undercut by his own irritating insistence on using “vocables” when plain “words” would do.
In this volume Professor Miller attempts to reclaim deconstruction from the charge of nihilism by using it to examine “the ethical moment” that arises in any act of reading or telling a story. His analyses of Kant, de Man, Trollope, James, and others are characteristically intriguing and deftly written. But nagging difficulties remain because Miller emphatically separates the ethical challenge of literary or philosophical works from historical or political contexts, and he also insists that it is both characterized and rendered “undecidable” by the terms employed by the texts themselves. These speculations are provocative, but in the end Miller may only be proposing a kind of new “ethical formalism.”
Nietzsche is not easy to take on his home territory, and when transplanted to Russia he becomes downright impenetrable. This collection of essays by some leading scholars does, however, illuminate some corners of Nietzsche’s influence upon the 1890—1917 generation of Russians; such giants as Merezhkovsky, Fyodorov, Blok, Bely, Balmont, and Bakhtin were all influenced by the gloomy German. This is a book for the specialist, a good book.
Romney Marsh is a very small sixth continent indeed, tucked away in the south-east corner of England, but it has been inhabited in its time (and perhaps still is) by a varied assortment of writers, including Henry James, H.G. Wells, Conrad, Stephen Crane, Conrad Aiken, and numerous others, whose manners and milieus Finlayson absorbed while himself living in Romney Marsh. Literary gossip was never put to better use than in this book. Its appeal is very real though limited.
An examination of attitudes toward Germans in British fiction, in the period 1890—1920, this book is highly interesting. Firchow looks at the works of writers such as Conrad, Forester, Kipling, Lawrence, and Shaw, finding a variety of perceptions, usually either “angelic” or “diabolical.” By World War I, the focus of the book, the most common outlook was art anti-German one, and Firchow discusses less how this happened than the fact that it did. His thesis, that such “hun-hating” literature had a direct influence on the war, though an essentially sound one, is not fully verified by this work.
Stevens once described José Rodríguez Feo, a young Cuban editor of a literary review called Orígenes, as his “most exciting correspondent.” In this superbly edited collection Coyle and Filreis present the entire extant correspondence between the two men. The result is a wonderful book, showing us a more playful side of Stevens than other correspondents were privy to (not long into the correspondence Stevens addressed Rodríguez Feo as “Dear Caribbean” and “Dear Antillean,” to which Rodríguez Feo would respond, “Dear Wallachio”). The letters also give us, by way of Rodríguez Feo, a vivid portrait of Cuban literary life in the decade of their correspondence (1944—1954). Coyle and Filreis have done an exceptional job in organizing and introducing this material, and the book is an important addition to the already impressive list of Stevens scholarship.
Tiepolo’s gorgeous paintings possess tremendous narrative force and vitality; what they lack in cerebral control (the kind so evident in Canaletto, for example) they amply make up for in sweeping grandeur and dramatic tension. He was a master at painting scenes full of interesting perspectives, floating bodies, revealing details, and swirling action. To call this a traditional life-and-works art book does not demean its impressive scholarly rigor and pleasant style. Rather, it underscores Levey’s concern with tying Tiepolo’s life (1696—1770) and artistic milieu to his incisive paintings. Levey, Director of the National Gallery in London, documents Tiepolo’s career from his native Venice to his commissions in Germany and finally to Madrid, where he was called by Carlos III to work on frescoes for die throne room of the imposing Royal Palace. Tiepolo died in Madrid a few years before the arrival of Goya and his revolutionary new style of painting. The author discusses individual canvases and frescoes, relating them to their artistic antecedents and placing them within Tiepolo’s own aesthetic development. The book contains 170 black and white and 70 color illustrations, sensibly coded to the text for easy reference and beautifully reproduced in sharp detail and subtle color.
For those who never flew in combat, and for those who did and were charmed survivors, John Muirhead chronicles his own experiences as a B-17 pilot flying out of southern Italy. Muirhead was involved in many of the war’s toughest air campaigns— the raids on the Messerschmitt factories at Regensburg and the oil fields at Ploesti— raids that occurred early in 1944, when the Germans still had plenty of experienced fighter pilots. With his second raid on Ploesti, Muirhead’s war ended, and the book continues with a description of his days in a Bulgarian POW camp. This work is at its finest when the pilot turned author simply describes what he saw: It was terrifying! But too often, Muirhead strives to reflect upon the events of his past in an overdone, philosophic prose that partially cripples the whole, like a bomber churning along with one prop feathered.
Claude McKay, who has generally been regarded as one of the lesser lights of the Harlem Renaissance, emerges in this superb biography as an immensely gifted man who never found the financial security or personal peace that he needed in order to use his literary talent to its fullest. He was raised among the Jamaican elite, but his confrontation as an adult with legal racism in the United States launched his lifelong quest for a political, moral, or religious system that would foster the development of a strong, valid identity for all blacks.
It has been said that films about Vietnam began with the advocacy of diose who stayed home, then portrayed the fantasies of men who wished they had gone, and only recently (as in Platoon) have given us the impressions of those who actually did go. Booklovers know that all along veterans have written jolting and thoughtful accounts of their experiences. A former Marine sergeant, memoirist, and poet of standing, Bill Ehrhart has proven one of the most compelling witnesses. His latest work, reading like a novel, documents his troubled return to American society—the sorting out, looking-into process that produced so many veteran suicides. Ehrhart’s tortured progress through Swarthmore and the corridors of memory and heart finally takes him to sea, where a deckhand friend suggests he become a writer. Anyone concerned with human growth and the scar this war left on our country will read Marking Time profitably and be glad that Ehrhart followed that advice—and his own instincts.
This comprehensive biography of Julius Caesar is also a study of the fall of Rome composed with an eye on events of the last two generations in the United States. Kahn traces Caesar’s education from birth to death, his confrontation of class conflicts accentuated by technological change and the demands of a rising entrepreneurial and commercial class. In the end, Caesar recognized the futility of massive retaliation against his enemies, a possible lesson for our times.
Considering the range and length of Lillian Hellman’s career, it is somewhat surprising that until William Wright’s study there has been no major examination of her life. She was, after all, a consummate dramatist, her fame launched with The Children’s Hour in 1934. And more than 30 years later, after several failures in the theater, she gained an even broader audience with her best-selling memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time. But it was her more volatile, flamboyant side that attracted as much comment, particularly her 30-year relationship with the hard-boiled detective writer Dashiell Hammett and a leftist political bent that found her in Spain during the Civil War, on the Eastern front in 1944 with the Russian army, and in 1952 as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Hellman spent much of her later life repeatedly denying she had ever been a Communist or had fabricated many of her European exploits, especially the story of Julia, for whom she supposedly completed a dangerous anti-Nazi mission. She probably was, and she did. Wright’s portrait, then, is sometimes hardly flattering, though nonetheless respectful, and serves admirably as the first in a likely string of Hellman biographies.
Blackett examines the lives and efforts of five, 19th-century Afro-Americans who worked to create a new America embodying racial equality. For example, William and Ellen Craft agitated British abolitionist sentiment and established a Georgia school to educate freed slaves. Blackett, also, discusses the careers of Robert Campbell, a Jamaican teacher; James W.C. Pennington, recipient of the University of Heidelberg’s doctor of divinity degree; William Harris Day, president of a Pennsylvania school board; and William Salla Martin, renowned for his help to the Union and Reconstruction efforts. This book is a remarkable tale of human triumph, tragedy, and ingenuity. Students of the Reconstruction era, social history, women’s history, Southern history, and Afro-American studies will gain much from Blackett’s well-written and meticulously-researched studies.
The summer and fall of 1779 were seasons of discontent for Nathanael Greene. Longing for “glory,” this Quaker merchant turned soldier found himself after four years of military service trapped in a tedious defensive war and saddled with burdensome duties as Washington’s quarter-master general. The 780 documents in this volume, many published for the first time, give ample evidence of Greene’s frustrations as he labored to supply and transport Continental troops in the face of acute shortages and rampant inflation. They also attest that his efforts were vital for the preservation of Washington’s army at a time when American strategy was reduced to simple endurance while waiting for a French fleet to appear on the coast and for British resolution to weaken. As in the previous volumes of this distinguished series, the editors serve readers well with accurate transcriptions accompanied by lucid, informative notes that put the details of daily occurrences into broad strategic and political perspective.
J. P. Nettl’s masterful two-volume biography, of Rosa Luxemburg remains indispensable to historians of politics and philosophy, but over the years some critics have complained that it neglects Rosa’s private life. Professor Ettinger of M.I.T. steps in with this new account to fill the gap. Drawing on an impressive array of sources, Ettinger fleshes out her subject in a way Nettl’s drier work does not aspire to do. The result is a new view of one of the most important women politicians and political theorists of the century.
Based on previously unavailable family letters together with diaries dating back to the 1890’s and written by a scholarly researcher with a uniquely intimate yet critical understanding of his subject, this is the first volume of a definitive biography by the nephew of a man whose fame as a leading 20th-century poet is closely matched by his similar acclaim as an historical novelist, essayist, memorable memoirist, and superb translator of the classics. The future volumes of this exciting work are anxiously awaited.
This book chronicles the transformation in Bobby Kennedy from the ruthless assistant to Senator Joseph McCarthy to the rueful advocate of social justice for all Americans. The turning point in Kennedy’s life followed his brother’s assassination. Mired in depression and barely able to cope with any sort of daily routine, Kennedy steeped himself in philosophy and history and eventually emerged an impassioned spokesperson for America’s downtrodden. Kennedy devotees will find in this work a favorable treatment of a complex public figure.
“Weary” is not a word which comes to mind while reading the autobiography of the late Pauli Murray (1910—1985). She was an indefatigable woman: civil rights activist, teacher, poet, a founder of the National Organization of Women, a lawyer, professor, and eventually an Episcopal priest. Her beautifully written autobiography conveys the vitality and strength of this woman who challenged racism and sexism with dignity and grace wherever she encountered them. In her struggles against legal and social injustice, Murray remained faithful to her own identity and heritage while respecting those of the people around her.
Sinclair Lewis compared being friends with Wolfe to trying to “be a friend of a hurricane.” David Donald has written a full portrait of this hurricane, a self-absorbed, obsessed, lonely genius. Despite his occasional mountain-boy pose, he was well-educated, his talents early recognized. But Wolfe never grew up. Aline Bernstein, the successful stage designer with whom he had a long, tormented love affair, mothered him; Max Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s, fathered him; each patiently tolerated his erratic behavior. Without them, his work may never have been published, but Wolfe abandoned them. Donald details the ways in which Wolfe incorporated events of his life into his fiction. But Perkins, and later his agent Elizabeth Nowell, had to extract publishable material from the disorganized mass of papers Wolfe produced in between his drinking bouts, his restless travels, promiscuities, and his agonizing bouts of despair. Wolfe’s death before his 38th birthday left no time for him to demonstrate his full potential. Donald is critical of his editor at Harper’s, Edward C. Aswell, for excessively tampering with the text of the posthumous novels. Even those who disagree with Donald’s assessment of Wolfe’s talent will find this a fascinating biography.
In Be True to Your School, syndicated columnist Bob Greene has reprinted the daily diary he kept in 1964, a year in which America was still not shaken out of the tranquility of the 1950’s by the protests which would characterize the latter half of the 1960’s. Instead, 1964 was the year the Beatles swept America influencing young people like Greene. It was also the year of Greene’s first college interview, his first job at a newspaper, and of high school antics and romances. Cruising was a popular pastime for Greene and his friends. Greene’s book often deals with the trivial, but his daily routine is bound nevertheless to evoke memories of high school and 1964 among his readership.
Eighty-two short stories by 82 different authors representing 25 different countries; more than 800 pages of fiction: for a reviewer the urge is less to criticize this anthology than simply to report its dimensions and note with relief that surely here there is something for everyone. Halpern focuses on the genre, not the writer, and one turns again and again to The Art of the Tale with an awareness that this particular art is thriving, luxuriating in an ever broader variety. (If one misses anything, it’s comedy: our age seldom elicits an easy laughter.) This anthology is an end in itself—not a temptation to hunt down any set of anyone’s Collected Stories—but it is certainly a satisfying end: short stories fill a variety of moments, and this book has a story for (nearly) every moment.
Brackenbury had already published eight books in England before this one, her first to appear in America. The opening section, with its first-novel flavor, traps the reader in Alice Linnell’s memory of her growing up years. Suddenly, this lonely, oversensitive child is grown into wife, mother, university teacher, and poet, who trudges off to her psychoanalyst, but how she made this extraordinary progress is not revealed. The book takes on life at page 86 when Alice, riding the night train from Edinburgh to London to give a poetry reading, is raped in her sleeping compartment. Or is she? At about the same time her husband, Finn, is having an exhilarating sexual encounter with a woman he knows casually. That Finn and Alice have been happily married makes this twist even more interesting. But the author shifts back to Alice’s airless memories of her Cambridge years in the ‘60’s, related on her return journey as she dines on the train with a strange man. Or is he the rapist? Brackenbury writes fine prose, is skilled at characterization, has an observant eye, and a pen that sweeps details into an elegant line. In this book, however, she seems to have lost control of her plot.
From the first pages, Jeffrey County’s characters are familiar. They draw the reader into their story as if dropping in on the lives of friends and neighbors known before. Ford does an excellent job capturing time, place, and the feelings of her characters, and she has a real talent for dialogue that rings true. The zing in the story comes from the author’s directness and sense of humor, and the originality of her characters. Blanche, a spinster school teacher prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to have a child, is not easily forgotten, and Ford’s affection for her and the other characters is apparent. This is a very promising first novel—enjoyable from beginning to end.
When I read Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, I thought it one of the few truly great works of fiction written in recent decades and later found The life and Times of Michael K only slightly less pleasing. I was, therefore, very favorably predisposed toward Foe even though its pretext—a woman cast away on Robinson Crusoe’s island—sounded chillingly artificial. The first section, the woman’s memoirs of her island life, rewarded my anticipation, for I found Susan Barton an intriguing character and her Cruso (sic), her Friday, and her island world sufficiently different to prove a thought-provoking variation of Defoe’s vision. Unfortunately, this memoir ends on page 45; in the remaining 114 pages, with Cruso dead and Barton and Friday back in England in touch with “Mr. Foe” (i.e., Defoe), Coetzee abandons realism for a philsophical treatise all theory and the ethereal. Coetzee’s style is mesmerizing, driving, but even such verbal energy cannot sufficiently enliven yet one more discussion of deconstructive doubt, the fullness or falseness of language, the freedom and slavery of man, the meaning of meaning, etc. etc. . . ..
This book is about the lives of three young people eventually driven from their homeland by the traumatic experiences they face coming of age in Ireland in the 1930’s. The book is powerful, sad, and absorbing, as it interweaves very personal stories with the divisive forces of poverty, politics, and the church at work in Ireland then as now. It is a heart-rending story; the language is beautiful and evocative.
This is a collection of a-dozen little pieces previously published in The New Yorker and Harper’s, by a Canadian expatriate, all of which are set in her adopted Parisian home. Each is a gem, as dry and subtle as a glass of bubbly, in which the authoress captures that unique French esprit. We are happily once again presented with irrefutable proof that the short story genre is alive and flourishing.
In this short novel, Grumbach documents the lives of three talented women, describing each woman’s childhood (the best part of the book), then bringing them together as college roommates before wrapping up their later years, often in summary passages. Liz, the photographer, prefers freaks as her subjects; the similarity to Diane Arbus is underlined in a meticulously described photo-session with the Bronx Giant and his parents. Maud Noon, successful poet, Studied at Barnard with a cantankerous teacher whose similarity to Ezra Pound is undisguised. When Maud puts her head in the oven to die, the reader is reminded that the book’s title is from a Sylvia Plath poem. Minna, the historian, leaves her husband after a 39-year marriage and at age 60 has an affair with a college student. The reader has scarcely had time to know any of these women, nor has Grumbach made clear her purpose in drawing these parallel lives. Despite her elegant, flawless prose, this novel seems too slight to sustain the weight of three biographies that include two suicides, one unlikely marriage, an improbable love affair, and one violent death.
Ireland today—and 60 years ago—was no place for young men—or for women, young or old. Julia O’Faolain has concocted a complicated tale of violence, love, and hate. The old dispossessed nun, Judith Clancy, is not mad, though her wits come and go, and it is not until the end of the book that her old act of violence is recalled. Meanwhile, other lives have been ruined.
Known to more than a few of his American students who couldn’t pronounce his name as “Old Borax,” Antonin Dvorak came to the United States in 1892 to serve as Mrs. Jeannette Thurber’s pet director of the National Conservatory of Music. There ensued a series of adventures ready-made for a novelist with Josef Skvorecky’s gifts, and in this brilliantly entertaining romp we become aware of Skvorecky’s stature as never before. Never has poetic license been put to better use in the service of comedy.
Crews uses the familiar theme of a white male learning under the guidance of a more mature black male. In this 80’s version the white male, Duffy Detter, is a narcissistic fitness nut who motivates himself by listening to Hitler speeches. Duffy’s life is in shambles. His law partner is helping his wife sue him for divorce. Duffy’s fat, apathetic son despises him and his Zen-babble: “Where there is no style, there is also some style.” And Duffy is so disgusted with lovemaking to his mistress that he has to conjure up images of Nazi death camps, instead of baseball statistics, for sexual longevity. The black male who saves Duffy’s family life and marriage is a professional football player named Thump Walker. Everybody loves Thump—Duffy’s wife, his mistress, his kid, even Duffy, despite the fact that Thump has broken several of his teeth in a vicious handball game. At the end of this novel one is supposed to believe that Duffy becomes a human being and the family lives happily ever after. This will be impossible for most readers.
Ozick’s new novel is a beautifully written, moving, and sometimes funny tale of a man so in love with literature that he imagines himself the lost son of a Polish writer, Bruno Schulz, who was murdered by the Nazis. Lars Andemening is a Swedish book reviewer laboring in obscurity, living in a world of books and private obsession. The fantastic conceit of the novel and its European setting are wonderfully realized. Ozick manages to invest what could have been a bleak tale of a narrow life with the power of the fantasy that informs that life.
Ariel Dorfman is best known in this country for his novel Widows. In this his latest novel, translated by George R. Shivers with the help of the author, Dorfman is writing on a grander scale and with more ambitious aims. The Last Song of Manuel Sendero provides a new twist on the magical realism that is characteristic of Latin American fiction. The novel deals with a kind of prenatal revolution: in a nameless country, the fetuses suddenly refuse to be born in protest against the rulers’ injustice. The rebellion ultimately fails, but in the process it raises important questions about political life in Latin America. Dorfman weaves several plots around his central story, giving the novel a much more complex texture than Widows. Readers of Salman Rushdie will recognize that the premise of Dorfman’s novel is a kind of inversion of the central conceit of the Indian’s brilliant Midnight’s Children. Rushdie obviously learned a great deal from Latin American fiction, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude (and he pays tribute to Dorfman on the dust jacket of this book); the fact that a Latin American novelist is now being influenced by Rushdie is one more sign of the increasingly cosmopolitan and international character of contemporary fiction.
This first novel is an intimate exposure of a mother-daughter relationship. It is a reminiscence, though from exactly when or where Ann’s voice comes is unclear. She is unflinching as she reports the pursual of men and money by Adele, her mother. The delineation of daily existence lends verisimilitude to these characters; still, the unrelenting desperation, humiliation, and trampled hope may prove hard to bear— even tedious—for some readers. The author chose to limit physical perception of place (Bay City, Wisconsin, and Beverly Hills, California) which might have offered relief. Ann’s voice and tone are consistent and done masterfully; when the story occasionally slips into other voices, it is distracting. Ultimately, Ann reports her childhood as fairly as she is able. While she finds little to admire in these years, as an adult she transcends Adele: she is an autonomous creature with her own morals and opinions—a message of hope, perhaps, for all those dominated by strong-willed parents.
Gloag’s brilliant new novel takes so little time to finish and contains such an abundance of felicities one is tempted to read it twice, even in the same week. Oliver Darley, arrogant, selfish, inconsiderate, successfu