Jack Greene abhors historical simplifications, particularly those that have long tied the complexities of American social development to the Procrustean bed of New England culture. Drawing on two decades of scholarship in this field, Greene argues not that Puritanism is unimportant but that it has been given too prominent a role in the nation’s history. Early American cultural patterns, he says, were the product not “of any one predominant region but of a powerful social convergence among all four broad cultural regions—the Chesapeake, New England, the Middle Colonies, and the lower South.” Greene, nevertheless, emphasizes “the continuing centrality” of the Chesapeake—Virginia in particular—in this process. Others have presented similar arguments, but few have done so as convincingly or lucidly as Greene has. This book will significantly influence the writing of American history in the 1990’s.
In a seminal essay of the early 1950’s, the historian C. Vann Woodward suggested that Southerners who had thought deeply about their own past might have something special to offer the rest of the country: an understanding of what it meant to be defeated. That understanding, Woodward thought, could act as an antidote to an America arrogantly asserting itself throughout the world. Tennant McWilliams’ book is a subtle exploration of the evolution of Southern ideas and actions about foreign policy. He finds that Southerners at the turn of the century were, as Woodward suggested, skeptical of empire building, but that they increasingly became more “American” as the decades passed. By our own time, the South has become among the most militaristic of regions, even as it adapted to other national ideals and standards. That could not have been what Woodward hoped for 35 years ago.
In recent years the fashion has been to identify the American founders as “classical republicans,” devoted more to the ancient ideal of civic virtue than to the modern, Lockean one of enlightened self-interest. In this densely argued, enormously learned book, Pangle challenges this fashion, arguing that the founders created a radically new sort of republic, based on a secular philosophy of personal freedom and more or less limitless self-assertion. Like Locke, their chief inspiration, the founders worried about the obvious limitations of this philosophy; but they hoped that it would generate a freer country, if not a nobler one, than had ever existed before. Not everyone will be persuaded, but Pangle’s thoroughness and erudition, and above all the high philosophical seriousness he brings to his work, make it hard not to admire him. He has written an important and challenging book.
The author of the classic The Mediterranean focused on his native country in this his last work. It is in many ways an historical love letter to France, to a France which Braudel knew as a boy—to a land of “a fabulous range of landscapes, ways of thought, racial groups, and cheeses.” Braudel focuses on the “diversity” of France, on its jigsaw puzzle of regions, its geography, towns, forests, and dialects. His book is lively because it is teeming with anecdotes, quotations, and even personal reminiscences which make it an absorbing and moving work.
When the executioners are executed, then the executioners of the executioners, then . . .sometimes one loses track of the original victim. In one of the most consequential murders of this century, the second-ranking Soviet official (behind Stalin), Sergei Kirov, fell to an assassin in December 1934. Who gained? Above all Stalin, who was rid of a potential rival, a man genuinely popular in the Communist Party and the country at large. But how to prove that Stalin ordered the killing? Khrushchev began an investigation that by 1964 had produced more than 100 volumes of evidence, evidence now slowly reemerging under glasnost. Until all the facts are in this book stands as the best summary of the circumstantial evidence in the public domain.
Volumes have been written about the economics, the politics, the military strategy of the Confederate States of America. But here is something new: an examination of the rhetoric and symbolism of the Confederacy, the process by which the new nation gave itself identity and purpose and galvanized the support of its citizens. Faust naturally considers political rhetoric, but she also examines—with fascinating results—painting, popular literature, and sermons in search of the central themes of the Confederate ideology. And she takes that ideology seriously, treating it not as mere propaganda but as a genuine reflection of the values of the nation and as a social force of considerable power. “The moment when southerners explained themselves to themselves,” Faust says, “was the moment they came closest to explaining themselves to us.” We are lucky to have so gifted an historian to transmit the message.
This book, the first full history of British juvenile magazines, is a welcome addition to the still small field of the history of children. Drotner has made a thorough study of this area of juvenile popular culture, asking who read the magazines and why. She finds that magazines acted as emotional interventions into the daily lives of their young readers, serving to organize the contradictory experiences of their lives. With this in mind, she assesses not only the changing views of childhood but the class and gender diversities persistent in children’s popular culture.
Melvoin takes a close look at a critical period in the history of Deerfield, Massachusetts from 1665 to 1715. He takes the experiences of Deerfield to be illustrative of the processes—and costs—of settlement on the colonial New England frontier. The frontier experience, Melvoin not surprisingly emphasizes throughout, was one of war. Melvoin presents a scholarly, readable account of the lives of colonial Americans and the evolution of their institutions during the bloody period of white settlement and Indian displacement.
Womersley argues that Gibbon’s attitude toward history progressed during the course of writing The Decline and Fall from a “philosophical” approach, which looked for universal patterns of human behavior in the past, to one which more readily accepted anomaly and difference— which accepted the past, that is, more on its own terms. By applying close stylistic analysis to the three installments of Gibbon’s history (1776—1781—1788), Womersley endeavors to show how this transformation of historiographical attitude implicated a transformation of Gibbon’s attitude toward literary expression and toward the enterprise of translating the past into language. This thought-provoking book argues The Decline and Fall is less an architectonic than an experimental marvel.
A compact and yet fairly comprehensive rendering of the main causes, of the course, and of the consequences of the French Revolution. The author is a master of his subject, and this shows both in the quietly authoritative manner of his account, and in his emphasis on some aspects of the story— particularly the significance and the relatively autonomous character of the “popular” component of the Revolution—to which he has devoted much of his previous scholarly work.
The story of Virginia’s experience in the American Revolution is one of more than passing local interest. As the largest and most populous of the 13 states, Virginia was an important source of military manpower and supplies as well as leadership both military and political. The new forms of government that evolved in the Old Dominion during the war years had as great an impact on the new nation as the victory at Yorktown. This is a tale more of survival than of triumph, however. Repeated British invasions up the state’s broad waterways shattered its economy and administrative structure. Virginia’s leaders, Professor Selby says, saw this as a moral failure, and the resulting recriminations may have hurt the Patriot cause as much as enemy action, inflation, and shortages. Virginians hung on just long enough to win an interminable war of attrition. Selby’s book does not merely update Hamilton J. Eckenrode’s 1916 work of the same title. Rather, he has produced a piece of original scholarship that gives readers a significant cross section of the Revolution.
In this age of ascendant Republicanism, carefully groomed politicians, and television advertising, it is often hard to remember just how different things were only three decades ago. Then, the South was the sole property of white Democrats who dominated an electorate chopped down to a minority through restrictive and oligarchical voting laws. Even those allowed to vote became apathetic; only about one of five eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. The region’s representatives constituted a massive voting bloc in Congress, but no president—except the accidental one from Texas—was chosen from the South. Dewey Grantham, a leading historian of Southern politics, gives here a brief overview of the emergence and fading of that solid South. This work of synthesis and summary breaks no new ground, but it is a cogent and powerful reminder of what the South was not long ago.
With so many books in recent years covering the great battles of the American Civil War, it is remarkable that this is the first full-length work devoted exclusively to the entrenchment-dominated fighting around Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia in May 1864. It is a prodigious feat of research, but Matter’s prose will win no prizes, and his maps, though numerous, are still too few and fail to show land contours. When will military historians learn that turgid descriptions of troop dispositions are often impossible to follow without detailed maps showing every major change of position, and weigh down the text besides? The author also makes the mistake of postponing most of his analysis (what little there is of it) until a concluding chapter which often introduces new facts and always seems to be composed of bits surgically excised from the chapters to which they logically belong. On the other hand, the book is full of revelations large and small. The battle was, for example, far more complex and mobile than most accounts suggest, and, even more surprisingly, was neither planned nor guided very closely by the high command of either side. Matter is far more sensitive than most military historians to the uncertainty, confusion, and lack of evidence which prevent a clear and definite understanding of what actually happened in Civil War battles and why. Despite flaws of presentation, this is an essential work for those who follow the recent explosion of Civil War battle narratives.
They began coming to Russia looking for farm land in the time of Peter the Great. Encouraged by the Russian government, they became model citizens and unusually productive farmers—industrious, thrifty, and sober. All this did not endear them to the Russians, who all too often shared none of these qualities. Still they came, and in such numbers that in the late tsarist period they were recognized as a legal community. Professor Long has written a sympathetic, scholarly study of these Volga Germans who were to be so cruelly mistreated by the Bolsheviks.
The latest volume to appear in the authoritative Wesleyan edition of Fielding’s Works, Professor Goldgar’s edition of The Covent-Garden Journal (1752) is exemplary in every respect: his scholarship is impeccable and his prose a pleasure to read. We now have a reliable, superbly annotated text of the periodical in which Fielding appears in the full maturity of his powers as an essayist, commenting sometimes humorously, sometimes with unfamiliar gravity, on the manners, taste, and morals of the age. Since, moreover, the Journal was designed in part as a vehicle to promote the Universal Register Office, an ingenious business venture Fielding conducted with the help of his half brother John, Goldgar also reprints the Plan of that delightfully quixotic enterprise. Also included are generous selections from the “Covent Garden” columns of the Journal, in which we glimpse Fielding functioning in his capacity as magistrate. In his introduction Goldgar expertly sketches the biographical and historical contexts in which Fielding produced these works, and he demonstrates their importance to an understanding of Fielding as moralist and social reformer.
Though its subject is potentially fascinating, this book is a stunningly lame performance, one of the most truly brainless treatments of Shakespeare to appear in recent years. Levith manages to combine a remarkable set of antithetical vices: his discussion is both brief and tedious, simplistic and incoherent, pedantic and ignorant of the basic scholarship in his area. The book reads as if it were assembled from a series of note cards, not in any particular order. In his discussion of Venice, Levith somehow fails to mention the single most important Renaissance history of the city (Contareno’s) and shows no knowledge of the two most incisive critical analyses of Shakespeare’s Venice (W.H. Auden’s and Allan Bloom’s). The lack of sophistication in Levith’s discussion is perhaps best indicated by this comment on The Merchant of Venice: “In his play, Shakespeare is saying that being a merchant is not the bad thing; being a Jew is.” Or consider this spectacular bit of confused argumentation, offered without the slightest explanation: “The two legal systems at odds generalize to two opposing visions of man’s destiny: the Christian (that is, Protestant) and the Jewish (that is, Catholic).” Did anybody read this book before it was published? Certainly no one should bother to now that it is.
This small and pleasant book is derived from transcripts of discussions with Wallace Stegner during a visit to Dartmouth in 1980. Many readers will find the informal tone appealing as Stegner addresses such matters as the relationship between talent and training, the role of the teacher in the creative writing classroom, and even the history of creative writing programs in the U.S. Little is said here that will surprise those who have thought much about creative writing and its place in the academy, but Stegner’s remarks—delivered with a generous dollop of decency and good sense—ought to be interesting and useful for many beginning writers.
In this second volume of an anticipated three-volume series, the authors examine how women writers both influenced, and were influenced by, the increasingly fluid cultural constructions of gender in finde-siécle Europe and America. In exploring the life histories of several prominent women authors (e.g., Wharton, Cather, Dinesen), they demonstrate the extent to which an emerging feminist ideology shaped the content of these women’s writings, as well as their lives. Most compelling in this regard is their recognition of the dialectic between individual choice (e.g., Cather’s long-term lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas) and collective angst over the “disordering” effect of such gender-crossings. This wedding of individual and social experience is carefully explored in the section “Reinventing Gender,” in which the cultural significance of transvestism and lesbianism, as well as the emasculating/defeminising impact of World War I is discussed by the authors. By combining anthropological and historical orientations with literary criticism, Gilbert and Gubar have made yet another significant contribution to studies of the historical construction of gender in Western culture.
Some of the founders of modern drama, such as Ibsen, may seem dated today when we see their plays staged, but Strindberg remains a man ahead of his time. His dream plays seem as bizarre and avantgarde as ever, and only recently have staging techniques begun to catch up with his experimental vision. This collection of essays by an international assemblage of Strindberg scholars attempts to come to terms with his dramatic achievement, especially in dream plays such as To Damascus, The Dance of Death, and, of course, A Dream Play itself. The essays come at Strindberg from all angles, including efforts to place him in an historical and cultural context by relating him to such important influences as Nietzsche. Most of the essays are enriched and enlivened by careful attention to the stage history and reception of Strindberg’s plays. Particularly valuable are the many photographs of notable Strindberg productions which appear throughout the volume, allowing us to get a concrete sense of how such directors as Ingmar Bergman have staged his works.
The subject, “William Carlos Williams and the Visual Arts,” has inspired a small industry. This should come as no surprise to readers of Williams’ precise, “objectivist” descriptions of a red wheelbarrow, a sycamore, broken green glass, or the number 5 written on a fire truck. Or to readers familiar with Williams’ ardent interest in the New York art scene of the early century. No one has treated this by now heavily worked territory with as much cogency and erudition as Peter Schmidt. His links between discussions of visual art and the American literary tradition are sometimes tenuous, but his readings of such knotty works as Kora in Hell are quite convincing. Schmidt’s prose is worthy of its subject, refreshingly free of verbal hijinks.
With all the elegance, clarity, and learning we could expect from the author of Interpreting Greek Tragedy and Pindar’s Mythmaking, Princeton’s distinguished classicist surveys the use of Orphic material in Ovid, Seneca, Rilke, and—most illuminatingly of all—Virgil’s fourth Georgic, with side glances at appearances from Milton’s Lycidas to Adrienne Rich’s “I Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus.” An introductory survey traces variants of the Orpheus myth and its bearing on the “triangle” of art, love, and death; all non-English passages are translated for the use of non-classicists.
In this useful book on Dryden’s once most popular and now most neglected poetic work, Reverand examines the thematic structures of the Fables. He locates the poet’s central concerns in the context of his difficult life after the accession of William III, when his most characteristic assumptions on legitimacy and political stability had been called into doubt. This doubt, in turn, gave rise to the rife contradictions Reverand traces through concepts such as the heroic ideal, various forms of love, and kingship, as Dryden mediates on them in his last collection of poems and translations. Though he explicitly denounces certain deconstructive ideals, Reverand’s basic method owes much to the most valid post-structuralist practices in its pursuit of Dryden’s final ideas about issues that occupied his whole career. He is especially subtle in interpreting the meaning of Dryden’s departures from his sources in Homer, Boccacio, Ovid, and Chaucer. The book is enlivened by the author’s frankly personal tone and occasional bursts of welcome humor.
What a wonderful idea—an anthology of Lewis’s works! But how difficult the task is, given the sheer range and quality of the author’s work. We get here the full texts from his fiction—Perelanda and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe—but only snippets from such historical works as the Allegory of Love and Fifteen Poets, and scattered fragments from other autobiographical, theological and critical works. Maybe such an anthology is an impossibility. Scarcely the “essential” Lewis, this is more a miscellany, which, if it attracts readers to Lewis’s works, will nevertheless have served its purpose.
For 20 years critics have predicted a revival of Sir Walter Scott which has never come. The novels have received some attention, the poems—more popular in their own time than those of any Romantic but Byron—almost none. Nancy Goslee seeks to restore works like Marmion and The Lady of the Lake to the High Romantic tradition by reading them with an eye to theories of imagination, of romance vs. history, oral us. literate, and the roles of women. The reader had better have Scott’s poems very freshly in mind to follow her detailed and allusive account—and thereby, too, to separate this book’s wisdom from its extraordinary burden of charitable overreading, for both are crucial to Goslee’s effort at rehabilitation of Scott the forgotten Romantic.
This posthumous collection of 19 previously published essays, 14 of which review critical works or volumes of poetry, testifies to its author’s skills as a reader of, and listener to, modern American poetry. Ehrenpreis shows an acutely appreciative ear for the sounds of verse, as in the essay on Elizabeth Bishop, rightly judged by the editor of this collection, Daniel Albright, to be especially fine. But as Albright himself admits in his balanced introduction, the essays vary in quality. Ehrenpreis’s insistence on “the relation of character to style,” a phrase from the book’s subtitle, produces mixed results. When his musings on biographical matters combine with careful attention to specific poems or passages, the results shine, as in the Bishop essay. But when the biographical approach substitutes for that attention, the results are more modest, as in the essays on Dickinson and Pound. At its best, this volume offers a general audience briskly written introductions to American poets from Whitman to Plath, with Frost, Williams, Moore, and Roethke among the notable omissions.
The Spanish Renaissance prose drama Celestina (1499) is found to be heavily influenced by the Senecan tradition, a new reading which the author vigorously defends by demonstrating that Celestina’s jocular humanity flows from Spanish 15th-century interpretations of Senecan morality. Most of the influence on the authors of Celestina was transmitted through the oral tradition or from their readings of glosses, commentaries or translations of Seneca’s works, rather than from the original texts. But the influence is undeniable and tracked here with skill.
When Jonson beat a murder rap in 1598 by doing a sight translation from a Latin Bible, he was exploiting a loophole in English law which had made literacy something of a mitigating circumstance. He was also giving memorable form to a paradigm he repeated in various ways throughout his life whenever the destitution and poverty of his physical circumstances threatened and challenged a supremely noble intelligence to higher things. The literary career was something new under the sun in late 16th-century England, and Riggs’ book shows us with astonishing sensitivity the ways in which Jonson was a man made by consistently overestimating its possibilities. The moral of the story is the miracle wrought by the powers of sublimation, and anyone who has marveled at Jonson’s work will be confounded to discover what he had to work with. A book that lives up to its subject.
This volume provides a solid and comprehensive introduction to the life and work of Oscar Wilde. Raby has an obvious appreciation for his subject, and gives a balanced and judicious assessment of Wilde’s achievement as an author, neither under- nor overrating him. Raby writes clearly and organizes his material effectively, interweaving his account of Wilde’s literary career with the details of his biography. He places particular emphasis on Wilde’s work as a dramatist, and supplies useful information on the stage history of the most famous of the plays. Since the volume is intended to provide a general introduction to Wilde, it is perhaps unfair to criticize it for not analyzing its subject more deeply. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that Raby does not explore the kinds of issues critics have recently been raising about Wilde. For example, Raby does not consider in what ways Wilde’s homosexuality might be relevant to the interpretation of works such as Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest. Still, for the general reader or the undergraduate student, this volume will undoubtedly prove helpful.
The late Mr. Clark set out in this work to give the Western reader a look at the real Lenin, the flesh-and-blood creature whom three generations of Soviet hagiographers have turned into a superbrain, Western writers into a revolutionary automaton. Alas, the well-intentioned effort did not succeed. We have here the known facts of Lenin’s life, some of which Mr. Clark confused, and not much insight into the human side of the man. Nothing new emerges from the book, and Lenin awaits his biographer.
Although The Granite Farm Letters cannot compare in quantity or quality with the chronicles of the Jones family in The Children of Pride, they provide a vivid and detailed picture of life and people in the South before, during, and after the Civil War. Edgeworth and Sallie Baxter Bird were a devoted couple. Their two children were raised with careful attention to their education, intellectual, moral, and social. Granite Farm was a small middle Georgia plantation, prosperous before the war but never thereafter. A great deal of effort has been expended on this volume. Almost every person mentioned in the letters has been identified, often at considerable length; and, when a house or place is in question, you are told of its present condition. The letters are full and explicit. They give a detailed picture of life on a plantation. But truth to tell, these are not very interesting people. Their letters show them as they were: commonplace and conventional. That does not make the book any the less readable and informative.
Douglas Gresham is right in saying that “This book is not primarily a book about C.S. Lewis; it is a book about D.H. Gresham.” However, without Lewis this book would not have been written. Douglas Gresham’s mother, Joy Davidman, divorced his father, went to England, and married C.S. Lewis. She revamped and reorganized his home, The Kilns, and to some extent Lewis himself and his alcoholic brother, Warnie. Then she became ill and died. Lewis adopted her two sons. The older boy, David, more or less disappears from the story his brother tells. Douglas concentrates on himself and so continues, through his schooling, Lewis’s death, his marriage and removal to Tasmania, where he still lives. Lenten Lands will not add to Lewis’s reputation, but it does throw a new light on the man and thus will be of interest to his devotees.
Fray Luis de León (1527—91) is generally known for his beautiful poetry, his staunch resistance to the trials suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, and his fine prose commentaries and translations of Biblical and classical texts, but it is the poetry which is most remembered today. Thompson focuses on Fray Luis as a Biblical scholar, a man deeply immersed in the theological controversies which enlivened Golden Age Spain. Luis paid dearly for his independence of mind (he defended the use of the Bible in the vernacular, an idea prohibited by ecclesiastical authorities), but he ultimately triumphed over the forces of repression.
These 317 letters from James to Gosse, librarian to the House of Lords, boast a range of commentary from homely complaints against sciatica to sharp assessments of Anglo-American relations prior to WWI. In stately, lucid prose, James offers idiosyncratic and illuminating observations on both contemporary writers, such as Ibsen, Kipling, and Conrad, and the practical side of his own work, such as his search for an agent and his disappointments in the popular field of drama. Moore includes also a chronology of events in these writers’ lives.
For 48 years Francis Thompson seesawed between heights of achievement and distinction and depths of failure, opium addiction, and destitution. A failed doctor, a failed priest, a poet never too well known in his day and now, one would guess, almost entirely forgotten, nevertheless he attracted and held friends, most notably Wilfrid and Alice Meynell. The Meynells sheltered Thompson, controlled his finances, sometimes against his will, helped him to find employment. They supported him in and out of various religious institutions and hospitals—and inherited his published and unpublished works, which proved more profitable after his death than during his lifetime. His poetry may not be to the taste of readers today, but much of it is still well worth reading.
Completing the biographical study begun with her Young Edward Gibbon (1982), Craddock addresses the complex interaction of Gibbon’s personal life and his role as historian. Although she argues for the historiographical development of the “narrator” from volume to volume of The Decline and Fall, Craddock’s concerns are more biographical than critical. The specialist will find much interesting information and analysis here, but the book lacks the selectivity and narrative grace necessary to a popular biography.
The divine Anita created in Lorelei Lee one of the great characters of 20th-century American fiction—a worthy companion to Ring Lardner’s Alibi Ike and J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield. Admired by Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, and Aldous Huxley, her Gentleman Prefer Blondes is one of our most delightful if elusive classics. Loos’s long, fruitful life as storyteller and scriptwriter is the subject of this brisk, illustrated biography. D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, H.L. Mencken, Cole Porter, and Colette are just a few of the characters ancient glories of Hollywood and Broadway.
Edward Lear, a man possessed of a sense of humor rare among his fellow Victorians, led a fascinating life. He traveled extensively and exotically in countries like Egypt and Albania, created beautiful drawings and watercolors, and wrote the wonderful nonsense verse and limericks for which he is most celebrated. Susan Chitty tells his story in a lively style, with sympathy and wit. Hers is the first biography to pay close attention to Lear’s homosexuality.
This lengthy but unsatisfying biography of the elder Dumas is flawed by the author’s attribution of thoughts, feelings, and motives to his subject that cannot be verified. The book lacks introduction, notes, and bibliography, so the reader does not know how much information was drawn from Dumas’ personal papers, his published correspondence, and from secondary sources.
Former Park Service historian Robert M. Utley is one of our most experienced and most respected students of the Western Frontier of the United States in the 19th century. His Custer biography, in the new University of Oklahoma Press Western Biography Series, is, as expected, competent, readable, and restrained, and its appearance now is especially welcome after the remarkable popularity of Evan Council’s overrated Son of the Morning Star. The book, however, is much too short (series limitations, perhaps?), slighting Custer’s early life and Civil War career, and even omitting crucial information about the Little Bighorn battle. More damaging, Utley’s enthusiastically positive assessment of Custer’s military capabilities is, to this reviewer, completely unconvincing. Although willing to acknowledge Custer’s ample personality flaws, Utley tries too hard to absolve Custer of a large share of the blame for his defeat at the great Sioux village on the Little Bighorn in 1876— although Utley is surely correct to note that emphasis on Custer’s mistakes often leads historians to ignore the competence of the Sioux warriors and their leaders, especially Crazy Horse. More noticeably wrong-headed is Utley’s praise of the performance of the “Boy General” in the Civil War; he fails to distinguish dash, bravery, and charisma from tactical, operational, and strategic competence, and too often accepts the judgments of the press, of loyal subordinates, and of such notoriously bad judges of character and competence as Grant and Sheridan. Custer entered combat only in 1863 and was rarely accorded independent authority. Utley has similar praise for the lackluster General Alfred Pleasonton and makes other minor misjudgments about the Civil War. While better than most books on Custer, this is disappointing.
James Cox’s collection of essays on American autobiography is surely welcome to readers long accustomed to the creations of literary critics with ears of tin. For Cox is not just a critic; he is also a writer, and so is suited well to the study of what he terms “an act and a convention lying between the literature of the imagination and the literature of fact.” The book gathers together essays written over the course of 25 years; there are strange bedfellows here, including Emerson, U.S. Grant, and Shelby Foote. This last (the author of a massive history of the Civil War) Cox fits in with a shoehorn—his is a life work, if not a work about that life, the author claims abruptly. But let Cox have his essayistic license, and do read the book.
This autobiography of a world-class world traveler offers some hairsbreadth reading but lacks narrative development. Though the story is told in the first person, the words lack first-person intensity and reads like those of an as-told-to book. The anecdotes fail to build a convincing portrait of a British aristocrat who has survived the Eton “fagging” system, dynamited the film set of Doctor Doolittle, led combat troops in Arabia, and crossed the world vertically through the poles. The reader must hunt down the author’s psychology for himself. The victim of bullies at Eton, Fiennes learned at an early age to “switch off,” that is, to refuse to think about the tribulations of tomorrow, a discipline which served him well when negotiating jungles and icecaps. The absence of self-analysis in the book itself explains an aspect of Fiennes’ heroism. As Hemingway knew, reflection is anathema to action.
Salman Rushdie may never equal the brilliance of his second novel, Midnight’s Children, but in this, his fourth novel, he comes close. The Satanic Verses has all the excellences that made the earlier novel a publishing event: an epic sweep and feel for the larger currents of history reminiscent of Tolstoy, a comic genius for idiosyncratic characterization in polyphonic voices worthy of Dickens, together with the imaginative freedom of fabulation characteristic of Latin American fiction and its magical realism. The Satanic Verses may lack the organizing power of the central conceit of Midnight’s Children, but it is if anything a wider ranging novel. Not since Gravity’s Rainbow has any novel so successfully captured the cosmopolitan texture of modern life. Using two movie stars as his central characters, Rushdie also manages to convey the way in which the media permeate every aspect of 20th-century existence. Finally, The Satanic Verses confronts the problem of religion and modern life in such a direct and profound way that it has been banned in India, Pakistan, South Africa, and all the Arab countries. But this book is much more than the Islamic equivalent of Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. If you want to find out why Rushdie is arguably the most talented and significant author writing in the English language today, by all means read this book.
Suckow was born in Iowa in 1892, and died in 1960 after a lifetime of honing her craft. And these representative stories are crafted. Their seeming slightness is deceptive in the same way all Midwestern beauty, trapped by the immensity and similarity of the expanse, is deceptive. Her “postage-stamp” is small town and rural Midwestern life, and her subjects are the women and men who are trapped by it, reduced by it, restrained by it. Each of her characters ends in realized or unrealized isolation, standing lonesome like a cragged tree in an Iowa farmer’s field. But there is victory here, too, the victory of the human soul as it reaches across space to try to encounter another soul, also isolated, also alone. These stories are good. Suckow has been largely forgotten by America. But like Willa Gather she transcends, at her best, the limitations of place and era, and speaks to us, as yet another contemporary of hers, Faulkner, did, from the depths of the human heart. Suckow is much more than a “local-color artist”—she’s an artist. Highly recommended.
Considered one of the finest authors now writing fiction in German, the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard has written a powerful evocative, and partially autobiographical novella. Using a number of themes and devices from Kafka and Mann, Bernard writes about two friends confined to a hospital: Wittgenstein’s mad nephew Paul and himself. Through their relations the author bleakly explores various aspects of contemporary culture—not in the least the alienation of the artist himself.
The sixth in a series of mysteries featuring painter Persis Willum gives new meaning to the term light entertainment. Using North Shore Long Island society as a backdrop, Watson’s breathy voice attempts to poke gentle fun at the “unimaginably rich” folk she finds there but only succeeds in being catty. The plot—which hangs on a slim thread of plausibility and equally thin motivation—is unsatisfying. And the writing is interesting only for the number of clichés the author can pack into such a small book. Light entertainment? This is sheer fluff.
The jacket of this book states that Fay Weldon “received an M.A. in Economics and Psychology.” Her academic background shows in this satiric novel mainly about women, abandoned, abused, taken mean advantage of, and, in the case of the two main characters here, deserving every bit of what happens to them. Weldon wields a pen dipped in irony and vitriol. If you laugh at her work (and it is comic), it will be with wry laughter.
This novel examines the in-depth feelings of a boy on the brim of manhood toward his older, more competitive brother and to his father, a man lacking in emotions and wantingness to be a man after a tragic riding accident deprives him of his wife and his will to live. The boy, Ladd Bodeen, is constantly being put down and criticized by his older brother, Tate, who has taken the place as head of the homestead since his father’s illness. On one last boyish adventure, Ladd treks across Florida’s alligator-infested swamp to bring back a band of wild horses and the white stallion who heads the bunch, the same stallion his father tried to capture many years ago. Not only does Ladd bring back the horses and the stallion, but he brings life back to his father, who for so long had been just a shadow in his life. Ladd learns what it’s like in the real world and he learns that it takes great will power and commitment to get what you want out of life.
If lace seems an odd subject for a lengthy historical novel, reading The Lacemaker will change any reader’s mind. The perils of lacemaking—poverty, blindness, persecution the major ones—are fully explored in a 17th-century setting. The center of the book is Gilonne Perdriel, the bastard daughter and granddaughter of lacemakers, who is apprenticed at the age of five, becomes a mistress of her art, and lives a life of hard work, excitement, danger, and emotion. This is a French fairy tale in the mode of the Brothers Grimm, in which love and hate, religious persecution, violence and adventure, comic and tragic figures are all mixed together. The ending may be considered a happy one; at any rate, it finishes off the long and complicated story neatly.
Readers who liked Ms. Colegate’s The Shooting Party— made into a film that proved to be James Mason’s last—will be intrigued by her new novel, which also captures some of the flavor of an England of yesteryear. A free-lance biographer, Catherine Hillery, unexpectedly receives a commission to write the biography of a minor British politician and gentleman farmer who died mysteriously in an automobile accident the same day Rudolf Hess landed in Scotland on his crazy mission to end the war. Was there a connection? Did the politician lead two lives, and, if he did, are there strange parallels with Catherine’s own rather dreary existence? A good read.
New York financier A. J. Strode is a greedy, unprincipled no-goodnik who ushers in each decade by taking a new wife and whose principal pleasure derives from breaking the spirit of anyone with whom he does business. But Strode finally meets his match when he tries to take over the House of Glass. Three stockholders prove to be as stif-necked and unprincipled as he is—and with a lot more to lose. Strode learns the hard way that blackmail can backfire, even when you are holding all the cards.
Tourgée, a carpetbagger and author, wrote this book in 1880 as a supplement to his immensely successful novel set in the Reconstruction South, A Fool’s Errand by One of the Fools. His purpose was to vindicate the credibility of certain events in the novel and to acquaint Northern readers with the scope, power, and brutality of the Ku Klux Klan. To do so he drew on testimony given before Congress in the early 1870’s. LSU Press has performed a valuable service in reprinting this account, complete with a short introduction and notes by Otto H. Olsen.
Washington, D. C. private-eye Leo Haggerty is hired to protect Jane Doe, the lead singer of a rock group poised to rocket to stardom. In the making is a mega-deal that will put the group on easy street, but Jane has her doubts. Losing control of her boyfriend, Axel, the lead guitarist, and of her life, she balks at giving up control of the group’s artistic integrity to a giant record company. When Jane receives death threats, Haggerty is brought in and proves to be the best friend the singer has ever had. Schutz has the formula down, but his characters never deliver the promised emotional punch. The story’s there, but as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone.
Following a sudden explosion at London’s Heathrow Airport (Terminal Two), in which the only major casualties are quite a bit of luggage and an airline ticket agent (who is transformed into a Coke machine), Dirk Gently rouses himself from a ragged slumber to investigate the cause of this event, which has been resolutely termed “An Act of God” by the media. With his characteristically zany wit, Douglas Adams thus sends his detective-hero on an other-worldly adventure, where Gently encounters several miffed Norse gods and more than a few grumpy eagles. The result is yet another hilarious, if (as always) slightly surreal science fiction-detective novel for this very talented author.
Cunning, provocative, sometimes bombastic—this book is a multigeneric assault on the enervation produced by the modern media and a trenchant analysis of the genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. In a book-length essay that runs continuously alongside 13 short stories about life in the Global Village, Fawcett argues that television and the Khmer Rouge have similarly threatened to liquidate cultural memory and individual imagination. At times, the connections are uncanny—flashing between the fiction and the argument. At other junctures, however, the discussion is more daring than persuasive, the “stories” only thinly disguised diatribes.
This novel about downward mobility in the 1970’s loosely conjoins several classic themes in American literature. The workplace as an inferno of physical repetition and uncivil personality is investigated in the protagonist’s various endeavours in the meat-cutting trade. The formation of ethnic and generational perspectives within the urban crucible is portrayed in the New York environs of the late Carter years. This narrator is always an outsider to these domains, someone yearning to regain the sureties of suburbia and prep school he unconsciously relinquished. But in and around this specific story are truly imageful considerations of perception and place which claim a lineage with those deepest examinations of the American ability to be motivated simultaneously in two directions.
Helprin made this year’s selections without knowing either the authors or the original publications. The result: several fine stories by lesser-known writers. Lucy Honig (Agni Review) creates electric connections among characters stuck in a subway. Hilding Johnson (Story Quarterly) releases the sensuosity of missionaries who live the better side of abstinence. G. S. Godshalk (Iowa Review), with affecting understatement, follows a young boy whose mother has abandoned him. Other lively stories represent a broad range of independent literary magazines. Four wide-circulation magazines are also generously represented. The Atlantic yields three impressive stories—a romp with Ralph Lombreglia, and lives-in-crisis from E.S. Goldman and Richard Bausch. The New Yorker is also strongly represented, most notably by the late Raymond Carver—departing from his usual style—and Robert Stone, who provides the final stunning moment in the collection. Louise Erdrich—Harper’s—and Tobias Wolff— Esquire—are solid in their trademark material. This edition features authors’ descriptions of the processes behind their stories. The introductory essay by Helprin raises worthy questions about the state of fiction. Unfortunately, he mistakes harangue for penetrating debate. Better, as he says, to let these smartly selected stories stand on their own.
A former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dean Rusk, periodically challenged his colleagues “to look into the relationship of ill health and policymaking” quoting John Foster Dulles, who confided that he would have dealt differently with the Suez crisis if he had not been stricken with cancer. Dr. Crispell and Carlos Gómez have risen to the challenge, drawing on Crispell’s nearly lifelong interest and research and Gomez’s training in policy analysis. The core of the book is three main case studies of presidential illness: Wilson, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, with documentation made possible by the Freedom of Information Act. The book concludes with a discussion of the 25th Amendment supplemented by the work of a U.Va. Miller Center Commission co-chaired by Attorney General Herbert Brownell and Senator Birch Bayh. Hidden Illness has received well-deserved attention by the national media.
From his distasteful subtitle to his final paragraph, Ronald Kessler indulges in character- and institution-assassination. Taking the indiscretions of some sex-starved young Marines to be a scandal of gigantic proportions, Kessler turns innuendo into fact, supposition into constitutional law, personal vendettas into holy truth. He hates former Ambassador Hartman and the United States Marines. He loves the FBI. He will find few readers; the market for such trash is not what it used to be.
Liberalism has become a pejorative term in much of American politics. John Hall, sociologist both at Harvard and the University of Southhampton, seeks to restore its historic meaning and give it new social content. Individuals are the custodians of moral values, and every individual should be able to choose his/her ends in life. Liberalism may be morally neutral about ends but not about the individual’s right to choose such ends. A liberal should be concerned not with whether politics is moral but with the consequences of political action. Liberalism offers an ideology that can compete with Marxism and fascism and can encourage economic growth among the widest range of countries, especially in the Third World. Hall proposes a new vision of liberalism that can make for a dynamic but peaceful world order.
If whatever you are trying to sell becomes part of the language, you have succeeded; Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika have entered the vocabulary of most of the world’s nations, the only possible exception being the USSR. Gorbachev, like Anwar Sadat, is much more popular abroad than at home, and part of the reason for that emerges in this collection of es