The author of the now classic Poetry of Experience and, most recently, of The Mysteries of Identity has gathered here 12 essays written over the last 20 years. They range from Wordsworth to Freud, from Browning to Eliot and Pound and, finally, Mailer. Underlying this collection is a powerful vision of both romanticism as such and of the “continuity of nineteenth and twentieth-century literature.” Characteristically graceful in style, these essays are exemplary as close readings of texts which shed light on the patterns of cultural history.
The latest installment of McGann’s project to define and argue for a sociohistorical critical method is his most wide-ranging, challenging, and ambitious book to date. Largely through the use of Blake, McGann sets out to establish a criticism that is both postmodern and socially engaged. The book is perhaps too tied down to the terms of debate set by fashionable contemporary critics, particularly de Man, and the countless references to figures in the Western tradition and to currently practicing academics give the book a certain diffuse, name-dropping quality. But McGann has the erudition and the moral courage to bend academic criticism to the big tasks and questions: what is literature? What, if any, function does it have today? What, if anything, can criticism do to vitalize it? McGann’s exploration of these and other questions is provocative and exciting.
In this solidly researched and well-written and organized study, Jeffrey Steele divides the literary foot soldiers of the American Renaissance into two camps. Those who found transcendent reality within the human psyche include Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Fuller; those less optimistic souls who found more trickery than transcendence there include Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne. Steele teases out parallel arguments between the Romantic Jung and the demystifying Freud, between phenomenology and Jacques Lacan, and suspects that the duality is one that will stay with us. His perspective—on psychological myth-making—is more original than the ideas he presents so well—but this is a book that anyone interested in American literature, or in arguments about Romanticism, will find well worth reading.
The dreary title describes but scarcely illuminates the fascinating subject of this book by the distinguished author of The Return of Martin Guerre. By applying the methods of literary analysis to archival documents she shows how requests for royal pardon are linked to fiction. As she remarks, reading 16th-century letters of remission is like having the Decameron in one’s hands. Her book is not only a social history as such but a means to the reading of Renaissance fiction as a clue to historical “reality.”
Often too easily dismissed as a principal organ of “neo-conservation,” The New Criterion is nonetheless one of the finest journals concerned with contemporary art and literature now available. It is especially well known for the “bracing acerbity” of its criticism, and it frequently contains excellent satire of contemporary intellectual fashions. This collection of essays dealing with events and controversies of the 1980’s in the arts is highly provocative and serves as a fine introduction to a lively critical journal.
Written in a vivid, idiosyncratic style, this book offers a close reading of Tennyson’s major poems during his formative period. Although the author stands against the “sterilities” of the New Criticism, his exposition of the life in Tennyson’s poetry is profoundly rooted in the new critical approach. Objecting to a view of the poet’s work as historically contaminated, the author celebrates its “grandly minor music.”
The analysis moves from St. Anthony to St. Augustine to Saint Jacques (Derrida). The author justly points to the importance of ascesis in cultural history, and he persuasively argues the centrality of ascesis in contemporary textual interpretation. But a history that moves from St. Augustine to Stanley Fish and Company is somewhat grotesque—lacking in restraint, proportion, and taste. Taste? What’s that?
The idea behind this book is good—to explore the mechanics of repression in 19th-century novels in a nonjudgmental way, open to the possibility that repression has its merits as a psychic force. The introductory chapter is very valuable for anyone interested in studying the psyche in Victorian literature. But Kucich tries to push his point too far when he maintains that repression is used aggressively as a power play. This is sometimes true, but his insistence on it in every case he looks at makes his close readings of individual books rather tendentious.
This wide-ranging book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of modern fiction. Hayman attempts to categorize and analyze a number of the basic techniques which distinguish the writing of fiction in the 20th century. Though his insights are not particularly novel or original—most readers will already be familiar with what Hayman has to say about the self-generational character of modern fiction, for example—he does a good job of laying out his argument and providing examples to illustrate it. Hayman discusses Joyce at length and has some perceptive pages on Beckett. But the book has the added virtue of dealing with less famous writers, such as Sollers and Roussel, and even with some obscure ones, such as Goytisolo and Maurice Roche. The principal limitation of the book is its failure to engage the current critical debate about modernism vs. post-modernism. Despite a jacket blurb which claims that this “is an important book about post-modernist fictional strategy,” the word post-modernism does not even appear in the book’s index. Hayman never takes up the question of whether a writer like Beckett is doing something essentially different in his fictional strategies from what a writer like Joyce did.
Those familiar with Denis Donoghue will not need this review; they know what to expect, and they will not be disappointed. It is unlikely that anyone interested in American literature has not read at least part of this pleasurable collection of essays (one half of the book) and “brevities” (the other half); it is also unlikely that they would fail to be rewarded by a second perusal. In his introduction, Donoghue suggests that the value of this collection is that it is relatively free from a prescriptive critical context, free from theoretical pedantry; in the opening essay, “America in Theory,” he seems to reflect on that hope, considering the relationship between national mythology, political enactments of that mythology, and literary and critical enterprises. Moral responsiveness may be the controlling perspective of this book, but it is an organic form of control. As Donoghue makes clear throughout this work, the task of writing, reading, and understanding literature is a matter of character. Ultimately, Donoghue directs us, as he says Kenneth Burke directed him, to “the glowing possibility that a book of criticism may also be a work of art.”
Puzzled by Hamlet? Not to worry: Peter Mercer has solved the enigma. After quoting Bernardo in the first scene (11.35—9), Mercer tells us: “For centuries critics have pondered on the mystery of Hamlet’s delay, yet here we have. . .a minor character who is quite unable to reach the main clause of the first sentence of his story.” Thus Mercer argues that Hamlet cannot achieve a swift revenge “in a world where the most insignificant of characters is given to such leisurely circumlocution, such an epic largeness of discourse.” This sounds like a clever idea, the sort one instinctively gives an A to in a graduate seminar paper. But let’s pause and consider the general proposition that people who speak with “epic largeness of discourse” drag their feet when it comes to revenge. Take, for example, the first epic that comes to mind—the Iliad. Here we have a lot of characters who speak with “epic largeness of discourse”—in fact they more or less inaugurated the trend—and yet they positively jump at opportunities for revenge. Indeed, they serve as a model to Hamlet of how he ought to behave as a revenger. So much for the Mercer thesis. Evidently, we’ll have to ponder the Hamlet mystery a little longer.
The urge here—to redeem 17th-century Puritan values and ideas—is a good one, similar in many ways to that present in Sacvan Bercovitch’s work. And the author does a fine job of discussing Puritan values as they struggle to survive in 18th- and 19th-century America. Milton’s poem serves as a statement describing “the broad course of modern Anglo-American development down to the verge of our own day,” the tensions in the poem being those America has struggled with. Fine. But why do we need Milton to help us here? The struggle is not Anglo-American, as the divergent paths of England and America have indicated. It is American.
Originally published in French in 1974, this highly acclaimed series of interviews between two prominent French writers is now available in English. These conversations shed light on Dumas’ sometimes enigmatic concepts of meaning in silence and, conversely, power in language; her view of the evolution of gender and sex roles in Western society, and her reflections on writing as a craft. Although the two women’s conversations sometimes wander with abandon, much insight can be gleaned in both their silence and their speech.
Carmel Jordan shows how Yeats’s imagination connected the Easter Rising of 1916 with some of the oldest motifs and metaphors in Irish culture. Jordan makes some interesting and original connections. But her book could hardly be called a work of conventional, level-headed scholarship; everywhere she proclaims a fervid sympathy for the most violent and romantic forms of modern Irish nationalism. Caveat emptor.
The question of personality and impersonality is crucial in modern thought, due in large measure to the main tenets of self-styled modernists like Pound and Eliot. Ellmann reads their works carefully, the literature and the criticism both, to show what they make of impersonality and what difference it makes in their work. Informed by recent theory, especially the psychoanalytic kind, and well versed in the literary scholarship, this work is an important contribution to the study of modernism.
Was the slave South a capitalist region, like the rest of the United States, or was it something else, something archaic or chivalric? Historians have turned to this problem over and over again, and yet have not moved any closer to a consensus. Surprisingly, one of the facets of the region’s history that has not been explored in light of this problem is the very nexus of capital and social structure—banks. While the history of banking may not sound exciting, it is a useful window on the Southern economy. Southern bankers, it turns out, were not a clearly defined group, and their views did not differ much from those of bankers elsewhere. They supported the dominant cotton economy but had their eye out for other investment opportunities. Parts of the South thus looked much like the North, while other parts intently followed a separate Southern path. The picture continues to get more complex but no clearer.
In this “hybrid political-labor history,” Nell Irvin Painter contends that the fundamental themes of reform which surfaced in America between 1877 and 1919 were supplied by the working classes. In contrast to previous interpretations of this age offered by Robert Wiebe and Samuel Hays, among others, she argues that much of the reform undertaken by the middle and upper class arose out of fear of working-class violence as much as devotion to emerging bureaucratic ideals. Painter’s lucid narrative is structured around the tumultuous years of 1877, 1886, and 1919, and the enduring conflict she finds in American history between “protectors of hierarchy” and “partisans of democracy,” those willing to acknowledge the existence of conflicting interests within American society and fight for equity accordingly. Her attention to the role of labor, farmers, and immigrants will have to be wrestled with by all students of this period.
It is time for a revival of interest in the Crusades, which have not been much in favor in the past 40 or so years. Setting off ostensibly to recover the holy places from the infidels, in reality to do a spot of killing and plundering, the Crusaders found adventure and in the process lost whatever they had that passed for souls. Professor Riley-Smith of the University of London brings us up to date on the latest scholarship in this excellent study,
Probably the surest indication that the “new history” is doomed is the refusal of amateur historians to adopt it. Gene Smith, author of the acclaimed When the Cheering Stopped, is such an amateur, and in this splendid survey of the summer of 1939 he brings some formidable skills to bear, skills the professionals might well envy. With an eye for dramatic detail and an ear for the offbeat, telling quote, Smith transports the reader back to that last summer before the Old World really came to an end. The book deserves a wide audience.
Out of the complicated tangle of dynastic politics in late 15th-century England was woven the tapestry of blood and roses which included in its scenes the rise and fall of Richard of Gloucester, the removal of the young princes, and the successful gamble of Henry Tudor to gain the throne. The victory at Bosworth field decided the fortunes of a family, but it did not insure a strong succession. One of the merits of this book is to show how vulnerable were the kings to the efforts of the pretenders to unseat them. The first serious revolt was mounted by hostile magnates using Lambert Simnel, the son of an Oxford merchant, as their puppet. Posing as the earl of Warwick and crowned in Ireland as Edward VI, Simnel was backed by a large aristocractic alliance, strengthened by a force of German mercenaries sent over by the Yorkist Margaret of Burgundy. Their army invaded England in the summer of 1487 and was defeated by royalist forces at Stoke. As a detailed narrative of these events and a scholarly discussion of their significance for Tudor history, even down to Henry VIII’s desperate search for a male heir, this is an important and useful monograph.
The Mensheviks (“Minorityites”) were losers, as any party that accepts such a name should be, and as such they have received very little attention in the West except for one apologia pro sua vita after another from within their own ranks. Now Brovkin appears to perform the kind of meticulous dissection other political corpses have received, and the result is an interesting and enlightening look at some little-studied corners of Russian revolutionary history.
The “Old South” is a non sequitur. Everywhere west of Georgia, the society we think of as Southern did not take on its familiar shape until the 1830’s. Before that time, Southern history was largely the history of the frontier, of Indians and land lotteries, of dog-trot cabins and razorback hogs. After the 1830’s, farms slowly grew into plantations, and the Old Southwest strove to take on a patina of age. But even on those new plantations, John Hebron Moore makes clear, things were moving quickly; the methods of agriculture underwent a revolution, and steamboats and railroads wove the South more and more tightly into the economy of the world. Moore, one of the most distinguished historians of this region, offers wonderful detail about this deceptively stable society. His book should force us to abandon easy stereotypes about the antebellum South.
In this follow-up to their history of Europe 1890—1939, two Australian scholars seek to make sense of the unpredecented changes in the economic and social fabric of Europe that attended World War II and its aftermath. In a narrative blessedly free of the “new history,” with its absurd groveling before the natural and physical sciences and mathematics, they present an intelligent summary and from it draw admirably plausible if modestly tentative conclusions. An excellent study.
For three days in July, 1863, Confederate and Union forces battled near the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. Historians have celebrated this struggle as the high-water mark of the Confederacy and the turning point in the Civil War. This 600-page book recalls the events of one day of the Gettysburg conflict, the crucial second day. In many respects, the issue was really decided in late afternoon of that summer day when Robert E. Lee unleashed his unsuccessful assault on the Union positions. Author Pfanz, a former National Park Service historian at Gettysburg, has done a masterful job of describing military maneuvers and providing a chronology of the important decisions made by battlefield commanders. Readers expecting a predominately anecdotal recounting of the struggle, á la the Bruce Catton approach to Civil War history, may be disappointed with Pfanz’s concentration on logistics. Nevertheless, this is and should long remain the definitive history of the bloody afternoon and evening of July 2, 1863.
It is pleasant to see that studies of high politics can still be published in today’s academic market. Thus it comes as a disappointment that Hawkins’ work, if ably written, nonetheless unearths no new material, espouses no new thesis, and unnecessarily shackles itself with too narrow an approach. For example, in retelling the account of the Conservative government of 1858—59—in fact comprising the lion’s share of the book—Hawkins makes no attempt to place it within the context of its minority status, which was the dominant factor behind all of that ministry’s motivations and behavior and cannot be ignored. Nor is the crucial management of the party rank-and-file ever investigated. The bibliography looks impressive, but much more could have been done with it.
World War II buffs often find the Nazi submarine exerting a kind of reptilian fascination: beautiful and deadly, they both attract and repel, and knowing they were doomed lessens the drama not at all. Hoyt, a skilled journalist, is clearly obsessed with the U-boats, but in a positive sense. Here he tells their story so thoroughly that ultimately the reader grows a little weary, but for most of the book the cruise through the dark waters of the Western oceans continues to exercise its spell.
On the basis of a careful reading of the evidence, including more archival sources than any Western scholar has yet seen, Professor Robbins of the University of New Mexico seeks to revise the standard view of the provincial bureaucracy in the late tsarist period. Far from being the venal, corrupt, ignorant band of bureaucrats described in much of Russian literature, public servants were more often than not highly professional men dedicated to clean, honest government. This is a splendid revisionist account.
This first volume in the Everyday Life in America series provides a general introduction to colonial social and cultural history. A synthesis of current literature on 17th-century America, Hawke’s thematic approach ranges from the colonists’ English origins, family life, farming techniques, the growing complexity of colonial society, to gender and race relations, aesthetics, manners and morals. While the scope of Mr. Hawke’s efforts must be applauded, the quality of his analysis is uneven, and at times simplistic. The book’s strengths include a fascinating discussion of early American material culture—land use, art, furniture, and other artifacts of everyday colonial life.
People who make intelligent films and those who enjoy them recognize an enormous debt to the Russian pioneers in the first new art form of this century. In this handsome, masterfully edited and produced voume, two British specialists on the Soviet cinema bring together more than 150 key documents, several appendices, and several score well-chosen illustrations. The result is a veritable textbook on the subject, with a difference: the work reads like a novel. Outstanding.
This judicious survey of current historical scholarship honors both the force of models and the complexity of data. Taking both Roman and Germanic material into consideration, the authors trace a thousand years of varied Western European domains. The earlier theme of contestation between church tenets and traditional practices is sustained in the later attention to the everpresent force of a “politics” of negotiation which modifies and individualizes the accepted rules. Thus it is striking that creative rewriting occurred with almost the first appearance of genealogies. Judging from the research reported here, historians have learned many descriptive styles from social scientists but are still disposed to favor the particularity of a given circumstance over and against the analytical motive.
Anyone who knows anything about Southern history knows about C. Vann Woodward. His books have educated generations of Americans about the origins, burdens, and strange careers of Southern history. Yet the man behind the books has only been glimpsed; even his recent intellectual autobiography told us little about his personal life. This new biography is a fascinating portrayal of the historian’s life and times, written with a judicious mixture of veneration and objectivity. This account of Woodward’s youth in Arkansas, coming of age in Atlanta, political twistings and turnings, rise to professional prominence, and personal tragedies enriches our appreciation of both the work and the man.
“The story of Cicely Fairfield, who became Rebecca West,” writes Victoria Glendinning, “is not only a narrative but a web of perception, constantly modified.” If it were only the story of Cicely Fairfield, it would never have been told. The story of Rebecca West is something else: the story of a brilliant, abrasive woman attractive to many men and attracted to many. She was also a prolific writer from early years on and continued writing to the last—and she lived to be 91. She survived her sisters, her husband Henry Andrews, and many friends, but not her son by H.G. Wells, Anthony West, who continued to write with animus about her. Lives of writers are all object lessons of no value whatsoever. It is of no use to read the life of Rebecca West as a cautionary tale. Read it simply for pleasure.
Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, was undeniably a central figure in a crucial epoch of British constitutional development. Commencing his public career in moderate Parliamentary opposition to Charles I’s more despotic measures, he became one of the King’s advisers and perhaps his chief polemicist. For 15 years (1652—67) he served as the chief minister to Charles II. While his History of the Rebellion rapidly became the type of unreliable and biased “party history,” it played an important role in the development of modern historiography. While Ollard appears to have an admirable command of his sources, particularly of Clarendon’s extensive correspondence and journals, he has not succeeded in synthesizing them into an interesting and coherent work of narrative and analysis. His prose is clumsy, obscure, and repetitive, and his syntax contorted and over-stylized. He fails to introduce his many quotations from Hyde’s writing adequately or includes them without apparent purpose or need. This biography is as plodding and dull as its subject was accused of being.
A fascinating biography of one of the most influential figures in the history of American popular music. Daughter of a black American musician she never saw and a white British music hall singer she seldom saw, Mabel spent the first half of her life in England and France. But her realm was really extra-territorial. Realm was a word that occured easily to Mabel’s admirers, who included members of the British royal family. A lady to her fingertips at all times, as a singer she was queenly, her mastery of a lyric so exact, her projection of it so sensitive, she created loyal subjects from the 1920’s in Paris until 1984, her last year, in New York. Composers like Cole Porter and Alec Wilder loved the way she interpreted their songs. Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, Bobby Short are only some of the stars who sat at her feet—and got more famous. She was a favorite of Manhattan cafe society from the 40’s on but popular, too, with college students—and priests. (She was a devout Catholic from childhood.) Haskins tells Mabel’s story through those entertainers, friends, and neighbors who knew her best and loved her as an artist and as a person. A Mercer of a biographer, Haskins has struck the right note in the absolute center of it. With nostalgic photos.
It is amazing how timely this book is, though it was first published in France in 1964 and has only now been translated. (Lawrence Rosenwald’s translation is quite fine.) Gonnaud considers Emerson as an active respondent to the social, political, and economic movements of his time, a scholarly perspective that is now de rigeur but was very much against the grain in the field and era of Matthiessen and Whicher. But in another sense Gonnaud is happily out of step: he does not indulge in the Emerson-worship that links the ahistorical studies of the 1960’s with the supposedly more rigorous historicism of the 1980’s. Current studies would still have us believe that mid-19th-century America was the “Age of Emerson.” Of course it was not—it was the age of Jackson and Lincoln, of financial panic and civil war. Professor Gonnaud keeps this obvious truth firmly in view and is thus able to account for Emerson’s exasperatingly fragmentary thought and style as well as for his genuine greatness. An Uneasy Solitude could well become the standard intellectual biography. It has been extortionately priced by its American publisher.
The images are familiar: the Lewis Hine photographs of ragged boys and girls staring intently at the camera, the rigid rows of dingy mill-town houses, the bland assurance on the face of the vested mill owner. All those elements appear in this book, but many others emerge as well: a close-knit world of mobile workers, a touchy defiance among laborers of all ages and genders, mill hands proud of their lives’ work and their place in Southern society. This book, built around scores of interviews, affords a level of detail about mill workers never permitted before. No major surprise or novel argument lies within the book, but hundreds of fascinating stories do.
When revolutions occur, somebody has still got to run the bureaucracies. Curt Prüfer, whose career spanned the imperial, Weimar, and Nazi periods, was such a behind-the-scenes civil servant, a member of the professional foreign service. A kind of Teutonic Archie Bunker with better diction and no real heart under the cloddish surface, Prüfer may well have been as typical of the German bureaucracy as Mr. McKale makes him out to be. In any event his story has a certain depressing charm about it in this well-done book.
Kelly’s subtitle—”the “Confessions” as political philosophy”—announces the argument of this careful analysis of Rousseau’s classic autobiography. Kelly amply demonstrates how and why Geneva’s most famous citizen shaped his life in accordance with principles ennunciated elsewhere in works more overtly philosophical. What this “close reading” does not do is place the Confessions in any sort of historical or literary context—a singular lapse given Rousseau’s own fascination with problems of history and writing.
Based on 15 years of meticulous research and intensive study of heretofore inaccessible material made available only through the generosity of Elizabeth II, this is the definitive and fascinating biography of legendary Prince Charles Edward Stuart whose ill-fated campaign to restore his exiled father as King James III of Great Britain resulted in the last bloody civil war in Scotland in 1746, leaving unhealed wounds which are present to this day.
It is a piece of good fortune to have, so soon after her death in 1981, a thorough biography of Caroline Gordon, the Kentucky-born novelist and, by virtue of her marriage to Allen Tate, a member of the Agrarian literary circle of the 1930’s. Close Connections is prodigiously researched, and it paints a clear picture of Gordon as a passionate, difficult, unhappy woman, devoted equally to her art and her husband. Waldron also provides fascinating glimpses of the Tates’ literary friends—Ford Maddox Ford, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, and others—and offers a superb portrait of the Southern Agrarians as a literary community, criticizing and supporting one another throughout their careers. The only real disappointment is the presentation of Tate, who emerges from Waldron’s highly partisan account of Gordon’s marriage as a sort of comic-opera villain. It is hard not to feel that this is only half the story, but Tate’s side of it will no doubt be told in time; for the moment we can be thankful to have Gordon’s told so thoroughly and well.
What’s to be said of a brand-new tome on British spying and spy-catching which 1) characterizes all Cambridge Apostles of the 20’s and 30’s as Communists or sympathizers; 2) identifies Anthony Blunt as a counter-espionage agent; and 3) seriously entertains the idea that Kirn Philby was prompted in SIS to serve as a conduit of disinformation to the Soviets? The biography can, of course, be read as sheer entertainment; and as such, it may work, thanks in no small measure to its tireless name-dropping, rumor-mongering, and abuse of the term exquisite.
As the title suggests, this book is a memoir, which interweaves biography and history. It is a vivid reminder that the history of the momentous events of the 1960’s has not been fully played out. Those who struggled through them will read this personal account, seeking to test their own experiences against those of the author. The prose is brisk, perhaps even breathless, giving an aura of melodrama to the recent history it recounts. Some readers will relish this style; others will find it corny.
This fine, epic biography covers Margaret Bourke-White (1904—71), famed photo-essayist whose stunning work launched Life as America’s leading photomagazine over four decades. Engaging, profound, and lucid, the account depicts White’s singular pursuit of the big picture, her instinct for glamour, and optimistic verve. Goldberg offers a critical assessment on her photography that remains of great interest and power today. A pioneer in photojournalism, White shot the memorable topics of her day with grandeur and originality. Her private side is seen as ambitious, independent, and insecure.
This long, detailed, emotional, feminist biography of Ellen Terry is a remarkable piece of work. Nina Auerbach fleshes out the actress from her acrobatic and Shakespearean childhood through her long and triumphant career into her sad senile end. Her family, her husbands and other companions, her two children, Gordon and Edy Craig (whose last name was self-adopted), and her friends and admirers are fully treated. The theater dominated her life and she dominated the theater, though not as the commanding figure Henry Irving was. The illustrations are many and revealing. One of the most interesting features of the book is the numerous accounts of Ellen Terry’s interpretations of her roles. A good example is how she saw and presented Lady Macbeth.
The title of this novel is an apt one. The time is 1486; the place is Cairo. The focal character is a young Englishman, Balian of Norwich, on pilgrimage to St. Catherine’s in the Sinai Desert and also with a mission to spy for the French on the strength of the Mamluke government in Cairo. There is never any certainty that the events of the story are actual, a dream, a dream within a dream—or a nightmare. The reader is likely to conclude that the latter is the reality. Another thing differentiates this novel from others: there are illustrations of Cairo—not the Cairo of 1486 but that of 1838. They are the work of a Scottish artist, David Roberts, who spent about a year in the Middle East but never returned there after he came back to London in July 1839. The illustrations here are taken from an edition of his work published in 1855—56. This is Robert Irwin’s first novel. In style, mood, erudition, allusion, it is reminiscent of the work of Robertson Davies and Lawrence Durrell.
Theroux, an excellent writer, has in this novel misplaced his talents to spin out a tiresome tale of a young artist/teacher as he plunges into an adulterous affair with a beautiful young woman named Ferol Colorado, a pathological liar. She is unhappily married for the second time and, while betraying her second husband, is on the lookout for yet another lover. But the artist, Kit, is also in love with meek, shadowy Marina. He’s also in love with himself. He disdains everything in the sardonic manner of a college freshman who has just discovered he has opinions. There are some penetrating insights, some witty, cynical comments, such as Kit’s the first time he visits Ferol’s home during her husband’s absence: “The worst moment in adultery is when you are climbing the stairs.” The story is told in the first person from Kit’s point of view, in admirable prose. To try to review such fine writing wasted on such unsympathetic characters and such a substanceless, immature story exhausts the vocabulary of exasperation.
These stories from the age before TV range across more than 75 years of Letcher County, of Kentucky history and life, and are Dickens-like in nature. Caudill’s Appalachia is a cruel place of coal fields, mill towns, and hard-scrabble farms where people work at “trades that consume lives as avidly as hungry Americans devour hamburgers.” The setting has bred a host of characters. There are “fee grabbing” constables who, since they were paid upon defendants’ convictions, sought out adulterous couples who were willing to pay their fines quickly in return for official silence. On the other hand, there is the defendant in a murder trial who refused to admit before the courtroom crowd that he was afraid when the man he killed attacked him. His pride led to his conviction. These finely Grafted pieces, like well-aged Kentucky bourbon, are smooth and potent and well worth a taste.
In the opening two pages of this novel ten characters are introduced, giving a reader the feeling of being in Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole when the dwarves start tumbling in. It’s as difficult to distinguish the characters from each other as it is the dwarves. But these are middle-aged Oxford intellectuals, and this is Iris Murdoch’s 23rd novel. As she skillfully explores the inner life of each character, the reader learns that these are not your everyday nine-to-five working people. They do work of sorts but spend much of their time drinking, going to bed with each other, and talking. Do they talk! About love, guilt, religion, goodness, destiny. Most of all they talk about David Crimond, who is writing the Book, a major philosophical treatise that synthesizes history, religion, art, politics. The others, the Brotherhood, who once believed in Crimond’s Marxist ideals, continue to support him while he writes, even though he has stolen the wife of one of the brotherhood. We are told that Crimond is learned and lovable. He is, in fact, an arrogant cad. There are admirable passages in this 607-page novel and some interesting insights into present-day England, but the constant shift in point of view blurs the focus, and the endless talk grows tedious. For devoted Murdoch admirers.
Nevai joins a growing body of important new authors who have been selected as winners of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Short Fiction Award. Her 14 stories evoke a wide range of the reader’s emotions as she deeply but gently exposes the heart and soul of her characters confronting dilemmas or struggling to improve their lives. In “Star Game,” a woman attending a strained dinner party with old friends, including one who has a new teen-age lover, slowly realizes the many subtle ways in which their friendship has changed. A rural excavator in “Connor’s Lake” expresses his grief over a recent divorce by forming a 2-acre lake on his property while, at the same time, struggling to overcome his attraction to a friend’s wife.
In this successful fifth novel, a retired Foreign Service Officer exploits his broad African diplomatic background and impressive literary skill to pen an entertaining story involving the Ethio-Somali War of 1977. For some strange reason, he uses a pseudonym even though he reveals his photograph and Fauquier, Virginia address on the dust jacket.
Modern Russian-Soviet literature, enchained from the late 1920’s until Stalin’s death in 1953, continues to seek its voice. Aside from Dr. Zhivago, an intensely political novel in spite of itself, it has produced no really outstanding work. Andrei Bitov’s Pushkin House represents one of the better efforts of the past three decades, but ultimately it falls under the weight of its dense if positive philosophy, its many-layered historical setting, and finally its clumsy plot structure. For all those faults, it stands above most of the competition.
A love of sailing is used by the author as the backdrop for a stirring testament on the power of love, between a wife and a husband suffering from terminal cancer, to transcend tragedy. Rueful humor, elegant writing, and caring humanity are successfully interwoven to produce one of the best novels of the present season.
A stimulating collection of 17 short stories which introduces a writer of great promise, His easygoing style invites the reader into the lives of realistic, ordinary people. His fictitious characters include a psychiatrist who keeps a .38 pistol in his therapeutic arsenal, a cowboy who makes sure to strap his dog into a seat belt before taking him for a 120 m.p.h. spin in his Porsche, a female mechanic who offers to feed an alternator to a parts clerk, a doctor who thinks he is taller than everyone else, as well as a Texas ranger, a cat thief, a counterfeiter, and an admirer of rat snakes.
Some of these eleven stories recall the good black-and-white French and Italian films of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s. (One story is about the making of a film.) A selective accumulation of cinematic detail creates atmosphere, mood, builds tension. Highly original images stay with us: “He sleeps on his back and his nose rides the dream world like a keel.” Salter, whose novels Light Years and A Sport and a Pastime are greatly admired by a devoted following for their craftsmanship and subtlety, deals in polished surfaces and dark undercurrents, some darker than we may be looking for. The spirit rises at paragraphs about travelers in Europe that begin: “They had breakfast together in hotels with the sound of workmen chipping at the stone of the fountain outside,” but two of the travelers, yuppie New York lawyers, callously contribute to the delinquency of an Italian schoolgirl. There is a deep sadness to most of these stories, an emptiness to most of these lives, but the author leaves us less depressed than haunted. The title story is extraordinarily touching. A ghost? story won’t let go. A European film actor whose lack of real talent is about to catch up with him inspires memorable prose: “Tinted posters of him would pull from the sides of buildings. . . . He would smile across the alleys into the sour darkness.”
The author of 25 novels, almost as many collections of short stories, as well as essays, plays, and an engaging autobiography, the English writer, H.E. Bates, died in 1974 without ever having built the public following on this side of the Atlantic which his talent deserved. The present collection of 17 reissued stories is a welcome step forward to broaden his reputation. Readers new to Bates may share with his longtime supporters the pleasure they have in his genius for precise description, in his economy of plot and phrase, and in his gift to turn a simple and conventional incident, through a miracle of dialogue, into a remarkable encounter. Never false, never given to cheap effect, never overstated, Bates’ style is distinguished among modern writers. These vignettes of the lives of ordinary people, each of whom is shown in some way to be extraordinary, provide an attractive introduction to the work of a master craftsman.
This is a unique spy thriller in that the triteness on the dust jacket (“dauntless dwarf detective”; “pulse-pounding suspenseful adventure”; “fate worse than death”; “deranged killer”; “special hatred”; “keep his head”; “losing his love”; “mortal jeopardy”; “win back his soul”; “super-secret facility”; “deadly secret”; “perform miracles”; “unsuspecting power”; “sinister intrigue”; ad nauseum) is exceeded only by the literary quality of the text.
The collapse of the Russian Empire and the Revolutions of 1917 will long provide grist for the historical novelist’s mill, and until a better one comes along, all will be measured against Dr. Zhivago. Ms. Kane makes a game try here in this first novel, and some readers will find Princess Anya Sviridova a delightful heroine. Torn between an American diplomat and a fanatical Bolshevik peasant (yes, peasant), struggling to survive in a mad world, the princess moves toward a melodramatic destiny. All quite overblown, of course—in the way of all Zhivago’s imitators.
Elmore Leonard, scoot to the side; Detroit, pay homage to Cajun country. Dave Robicheaux is on the loose again, fighting some of the baddies who got away in The Neon Rain, and before the rainy season the bayous will run red. Robicheaux and his second wife are minding their own business when a whole shrimpboat-load of drug-trafficking and Contra-aid shenanigans literally falls out of the sky on them. James Lee Burke tells as exciting a story as anybody writing in the genre today, and this second Dave Robicheaux novel is a real treat.
One of the best of the Silver Age Russian writers, Leonid Andreyev remains virtually unknown in the West. A master of the psychological vignette, Andreyev drew stark, disturbing, often sensual portraits that leave a curious aftertaste in the imagination. In this superb collection, his granddaughter—who never knew the writer—has published some of his best work, including “The Seven Who Were Hanged” and “Abyss.” Readers who have not yet discovered this master are in for a rare treat.
A unique story about a small town that literally could be any place in America. These people know what everybody else is doing, and they each appear to know the other’s secrets. Especially the children, who seem to hold nothing back. These people apparently have the same needs, wants, fears, and desires as do people of today. They are also a community that tries not to grow with the outside world too much. As the town grows old and the children move on to bigger and better things, the close-knitted community dies out. And the most significant items left are the old houses that seem to drift away with each rising of the river. A story about the good old days.
“Selected to provide a full view of Gutman’s work and to illustrate the development of his ideas,” the essays in this collection, many heretofore unpublished, attest to the intellectual sincerity of a man who inspired a generation of scholars to reach beyond the confines of consensus history. Of particular value to younger scholars will be Ira Berlin’s interpretive introductory essay exploring the development of Gutman’s ideas from his unlikely beginnings under the tutelage of Richard Hofstadter to his untimely death in 1985. Charting the course of his tempestuous nomadic career, Berlin finds the major theme of Gutman’s work to be the exploration of the relationship between power and culture, combined with a concern that workers be seen not as the product of forces or statistics, but as living individuals creatively carving out their own existence.
When the British have a political scandal there are plenty of juicy facts to enable the press to have a field day titilating the awaiting public. Twenty-five years ago it was gradually revealed that a cabinet minister—John Profumo—had been sleeping with a call girl—Christine Keeler—who was also enjoying the favors of a Russian diplomat. Profumo lied about it to the House of Commons, was obliged to resign, and the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was almost toppled. Among the glittering cast of characters involved and central to the affair was Stephen Ward, osteopath and ambitious innocent who walked the narrow path between high and low society. The chosen and convenient scapegoat, Ward’s sensational trial for living on the immoral earnings of prostitutes led to his taking his own life when conviction seemed inevitable. This book skillfully retells the tale with a bias toward a restoration of Ward’s reputation. Christine Keeler remarked 20 years later, “It was silly, wasn’t it? Silly Profumo, silly Stephen, silly me.” But sad, too.
Secrecy is government’s middle name everywhere; in the Soviet Union it is also the first and last name. On the theory that public knowledge can hurt whoever is in power, every Soviet leader until Gorbachev has tried to hide military reverses, diplomatic setbacks, crop failures, railway and aircraft accidents, low production figures—in a word, everything. As Oberg, a NASA specialist on the Soviet space program, indicates in this book, that may be changing in Gorbachev’s Russia. After all, if one wants to set an example by disciplining those responsible for disasters, one really has to put out the word.
Harry Kalven, professor of law for many years at the University of Chicago, was one of this century’s foremost authorities on American constitutional law. When he died in 1974, he was nearing completion of a manuscript on freedom of speech. More than a decade after his death, his son has edited and published this study. In some respects the book is wanting. Constitutional law often changes rapidly and, as the book’s section on libel illustrates, much of what Professor Kalven wrote is already dated. There are also major gaps in the study, the absence of any discussion of “symbolic speech” being a good example. Still, the author’s insights on topics such as obscenity and political association are enlightening, and the material is presented in a lucid, engaging style that will inform the general reader as well as tho