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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1993

ISSUE:  Summer 1993

The second of five volumes, this collection of essays brings together the work of 12 distinguished historians of medieval literature and culture. Charting the family, communal, devotional, and artistic existences of women in the millennium from the end of the Roman Empire to the Italian Renaissance, the authors map women’s oppression at the hands and pens of medieval clerks, merchants, and moral philosophers. They emphasize as well the ways in which medieval women were able to fashion “a room of their own”: the power of female mysticism, the holy role of motherhood engendered by the adoration of the Virgin Mary, and the achievements of women vernacular writers. Analyses of medieval popular culture and art are woven together judiciously in this comprehensive and well-informed volume.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSBritish and American Commercial Relations with Soviet Russia, 1918—1924, by Christine A. White. North Carolina $39.95

This book is particularly useful at a time when public debate over aid to the former USSR, never heated, has cooled down to the level of bureaucratic infighting in Washington. ‘Although Professor White did not have access to Soviet archives she managed to find an astonishing variety of unpublished sources in the West, and she has unearthed some important but neglected published works in Russian. This is a fine study of the question of aid in the early days of the Lenin regime.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAmerican Home Life, 1880—1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services, edited by Jessica Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth. Tennessee $34.95

A collection of ten original essays which explore topics of “house history.” The contributors deal not only with the material objects of daily life but also with their social use and significance. Especially noteworthy are Linda M. Kruger on home libraries, Ruth S. Cowan on housework, Schlereth on home utilities, and Daniel E. Sutherland on domestic service. All essays have useful notes for further reading, and the numerous period illustrations nicely complement the texts.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA Social History of Greece and Rome, by Michael Grant. Scribner’s $20

When a man has published upwards of 30 books, many of them historical discussions of considerable scholarly importance, he may be forgiven one or two which seem to do no more than float pleasantly on the surface. In this volume, the social history of the classical world is presented in some hundred pages as the history of women (Greek and Roman), of men (rich and poor), and of serfs, slaves, and freedmen. It is filled out with several appendices, including one on the status of foreigners, and another on why Marx as an historian is not to be trusted. The historical evidence, however, is drawn largely from the narrative sources and the literature, which limits the view to that from the top down, as it were; and, contrary to good methodology, a single example is often used to make a proof. There are also noticeable gaps. Very little, for example, is said about the social transformation brought about by the Christian conversion, especially with regard to women; neither the legal nor the economic development is given adequate treatment; and the important geographical differences and influences are largely ignored. On the whole, this is a brief introduction to a. vast subject, but one which may, nevertheless, interest the layman enough to lead him on to some of the more substantial works.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA William Appleman Williams Reader, edited by Henry W. Berger. Ivan R. Dee $16.95 paper

William Appleman Williams was one of that increasingly rare breed, an historian who could write the English language almost as well as Gibbon and Macaulay and needle pompous politicians—and fellow historians—as effectively as A. J. P. Taylor. He loathed academic politics, conventional wisdom, and the idea that history had to be dull to be correct. This is a splendid collection of excerpts from his works, and it is a treat.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSW. J. Cash and the Minds of the South, edited by Paul D. Escott. Louisiana $29.95

It is remarkable that we would still care enough about W. J. Cash to write and read so many books about him. After all, he published only one book in his abbreviated life— The Mind of the South, in 1941—but that book was so powerful and rich that it has never stopped being read in the half century since it was written. This collections of essays grew out of a Conference at Wake Forest University (Cash’s alma mater) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book. Many hundreds of people attended to hear prominent historians assess the man, the book, and the legacy of both. It would be hard to imagine a more diverse set of readings of any book of nonfiction, the assessments ranging from warm endorsement to caustic dismissal. It is that diversity that makes this an especially interesting and rewarding collection.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSWhere Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and the Kalmyk Nomads, 1600-1771, by Michael Khodarkovsky. Cornell $34. 95

Every Kremlinologist or now Russianist trained in political science should be required to read this book, one of the most enlightening studies of the development of the nationality problem in the old Russian Empire to come along in some time. Concentrating on the Mongol, Buddhist Kalmyks, Khodarkovsky casts his net widely enough to draw in the Oirat (a people, not an expression, the political scientists should note), Tatars, and many other exotic peoples who came under Russian domination long ago. This is a fascinating, strangely timely book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSSouth Carolina in the Modern Age, by Walter B. Edgar. South Carolina $34.95 cloth, $14.95 paper

This handsome and compassionate work is the first contemporary history of South Carolina in more than a quarter of a century. Edgar, director of the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Southern Studies, has divided the text into four detailed essays: the first goes from the gubernatorial triumph of racist Ben Tillman to the reelection of President Woodrow Wilson (1891—1916); the second from Wilson to the start of WWII (1916—1941); the third from the war to the unchallenged reelection of Gov. Robert E. McNair, a refreshing “New South Governor” (1941—1966); and the fourth from McNair to the social changes caused by industry, urbanization, and desegregation (1966—1991)

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSDeath and the Afterlife in Modern France, by Thomas A. Keslman. Princeton $17.95 Kentucky $33

Societies display some of their fundamental value and fissures in their behavior toward death. Keslman offers a fascinating survey of the experience of death in France, focusing on the 19th century. He finds that French people, whether Catholic or secularist, were deeply attracted to rituals and therefore struggled over them. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the politicization of funeral rites, as the clergy and republican officials disputed control over cemeteries. Preparing for a death (one’s own or that of others) helped French people to define themselves and their enemies. lages contained 35 percent of the German population in 94 percent of communities in pre-Second World War Germany. Unlike France, where Eugen Weber has argued that the railroads, schools, and the army proved powerful agents of modernization, Rinderle and Norling find that school consolidation, the automobile, and television finally brought the German village into the mainstream of national life.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia, by Sheila Fitzpatrick. Cornell $13.95 paper

In this useful collection of her previously published work, Professor Sheila Fitz-patrick gives her many admirers a chance to review the evolution of the relationship between culture and politics in the old Soviet Union. Battles on the cultural front, scandals, horrors, and diversions come together in a unique harmony that marks a mature scholar.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Nazi Impact on a German Village, by Walter Rinderle and Bernard Norling. Cornell $13.95 paper

Despite this volume’s misleading title, readers interested in German history will find an insightful and well-written tale of life in a small village in Baden-Wuerttemberg within its covers. A social history of Oberschopfheim from its earliest days to the present, this work shows the continuities of life in a small German village whose customs and traditions survived intact until after the Second World War. The authors find that, like most European peasants, the inhabitants of this village simply wanted to be left alone and were for a long time, even by the Nazis who didn’t have time to spare for such “backwaters.” Previous works in English on this subject have focused, as too much history does, on the urban experience of historical events, forgetting that small vil-

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia, by Laura Engelstein. Cornell $35

Before the present century, Russian attitudes toward sex tended to present a bewildering mix of cultural values, tabops, and practices. As the 19th century neared its end, and an increasingly restive intelligentsia— broadly interpreted—quickened and deepened the search for liberating new codes and mythologies, there occurred at once an awakening and a retreat in the understanding and articulation of attitudes toward sex and gender. Professor Engelstein brings her immense erudition and sensitivity to play in this stunning, path-breaking work.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSDid Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith?, by J. A. Leo Lemay. Georgia $22.50

In this brief, well-researched book, J. A. Leo Lemay reviews the evidence surrounding the controversial question, “Did Pocahontas save Captain John Smith?” In three chapters, Lemay examines the history of the dispute within the scholarly community, discusses the eight (and a possible ninth) appearances of the Pocahontas episode in Smith’s writings, and presents the circumstantial evidence pertinent to the case. His conclusion? “At first I was uncertain,” writes Lemay. “I think that if I had found that the facts proved Smith a liar, I would have labeled him one. But as I analyzed the evidence, I became convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he told the truth. Pocahontas saved him.”

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSNo Friends but the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds, by John Bulloch & Harvey Morris. Oxford $25.00

The Kurds are the world’s single largest nationality without a state. Scattered over five countries yet sharing a common language and culture, the plight of the Kurds first came to global attention during the Gulf War. This book oflfers the first detailed and comprehensive history of the Kurds, from antiquity until the present. In addition, the authors, both of whom have years of experience in the Middle East, detail the emergence of various Kurdish resistance and guerrilla organizations in Turkey and Iraq. The text is enhanced by maps and photographs.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSFate of the Country: The Civil War from June to September 1964, by Don Lowry. Hippocrene Books $27.50 Yale $42.50

Drawing heavily on documentary sources and eyewitness accounts, this significant contribution to Civil War history is the first of four volumes that evocatively recaptures the unified campaign waged by Ulysses S. Grant in the final year of war. Examinations of the conflicts in Georgia, Mississippi, the Shenandoah Valley, and southern Virginia are especially well done. And Lowry’s portrayals are balanced and convincing.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLITERARY STUDIESA History of Modern Criticism, 1750—1950. Vol. 8: French, Italian, and Spanish Criticism, 1900—1950. By René Wellek.

While predictable in all technical respects, the long-awaited conclusion of Wellek’s magnum opus contains a substantive surprise. The qualities and defects of its predecessors are present and accounted for. Wellek oscillates as easily as ever between panoramic views and incisive summaries of key works. Consequently, he is no more immune than before to the risks and perils of that approach: superficiality, dogmatic judgment, and incomplete articulation. New and arresting are extended passages that record Wellek’s contact with such critics as Mario Praz and Albert Beguin, along with shrewd yet sympathetic appraisal of their lives and personalities. Worthy of The American Scholar at its best, these professional portraits moralises are more than a counterpoint to the old formalist’s public impersonality. They invest the valedictory volume with a rich immediacy that will attract readers long after its arguments and judgments have gone the way of all criticism, metacriticism, and theory.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Emergence of Romanticism, by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky. Oxford $2935

This is one of those books which seem strangely destined to catch a rising tide. The uncertain world into which we now stumble is already witnessing a kind of neo-Roman tic revival, and thus Professor Riasanovsky’s study of the rise of 18th- and 19th-century Romanticism comes along at just the right time to offer some clues, perhaps, to what we are in for. He discusses several British and German authors, sets them in a general European context, and provides a splendid guide to their agonizing journeys on the search for meaning in life, for God. Highly recommended.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSDevolving English Literature, by Robert Crawford. Oxford $65 (cloth), $22 (paper)

Crawford examines how “English” literature has been constructed as a cultural object, points out how slippery the conception is, and shows how the literature has consistently drawn strength from the farflung “borders” of the British empire. In the first three chapters, Crawford treats Scotland as a starting point and test case, and he then looks at American literature. modernism, and postmodernism as phenomena which, directly and indirectly, drew from Scottish precedents. Crawford is aware of the current theoretical debates in the profession, and yet his aim is “not deconstructive but creative.” He offers judicious criticism (not special pleading), objective history (not historicism), and clear prose (not trendy jargon). Even the Scotophobe Dr. Johnson would be impressed.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSFear of Diversity: The Birth of Political Science in Ancient Greek Thought, by Arlene W. Saxonhouse. Chicago $29. 95

This is a very good book with a very bad title. By invoking the favorite buzzword of today’s academy—”diversity”—and suggesting that the Greeks somehow lived in fear of it (a condition that presumably would have to be called “heterophobia”), Saxonhouse’s title, together with the jacket blurb and much of the book’s rhetoric, panders to the multicultural Mafia that dominates American education and that has created hostility to the study of the Greek classics. One can sympathize with her desire to get a fair hearing for her ideas, but, as Saxonhouse herself admits, her title should have acknowledged that the Greeks experienced “both awe and wonder at the multiplicity of the world we see around us as well as the trepidation that the multiplicity will overwhelm us.” This book’s excellence lies precisely in the way it shows how genuinely diverse Greek thinking was. The only thinkers Saxonhouse portrays as really antipathetic to diversity are the pre-Socratic philosophers. In her richly detailed and incisive readings of the Greek dramatists and Plato, she shows how open they were to a multiplicity of view-points, and in her treatment of Aristotle, she views him as celebrating the variety and heterogeneity of human ends. In short, with her patient and careful attention to texts, Saxonhouse reveals a Greek world with a genuine diversity of ideas and opinions that puts to shame the uniformity of dogma that masquerades as multiculturalism on today’s campuses and that no doubt tempted her into her misleading packaging of her work.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Counter-Arts Conspiracy: Art and Industry in the Age of Blake, by Morris Eaves. Cornell $37.95

The rambunctious William Blake famously bashed the aesthetics of Sir Joshua Reynolds. He had reason to do so, for although a great poet, William Blake was a minor figure as a painter and graphic artist, a fantastical doodler, overshadowed by the Academy. Morris Eaves correctly observes that, as engraver and painter, Blake occupies a place in the history of arts that is not secure. The author develops a highly ingenuous and contrived theory of conspiracy, rooted in political and commercial history’, to clarify Blake’s position in English art history. Conveniently, matters of aesthetics are given short shrift.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSStrategies of Poetic Narrative: Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Eliot, by Clare Regan Kinney. Cambridge $54.95

In this thought-provoking book, Kinney applies narrative theory, which has generally been limited to prose fictions, to the following poetic narratives: Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde,” Book VI of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and, in a code to the book, Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Employing a variety’ of critical approaches, though mostly formalist, Kinney successfully argues that it is the tension between the lyric impulses of poetry and the narrative impulse of fiction that gives these poems their particular power. She is most convincing when discussing Chaucer and Spenser, but the book’s greatest virtue is in pointing out an area of literary studies in need of further research: the narrative discourses of poetic fictions.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSModern Romance and Transformations of the Novel: The Gothic, Scott, Dickens, by lan Duncan. Cambridge $49.95

Among books on the English novel written during the last couple of decades, this is one of the most imaginative and compelling. Duncan explores how romance—the recovery of ancestral forms—functioned as the generative principle of the novel when the novel was becoming a form of national significance. Resisting the doggedly materialist and literalist methods that have shaped much recent criticism of the novel, Duncan offers fresh, inventive, astonishingly responsive interpretations of Scott and Dickens—interpretations that awaken us to the imaginative power of the texts being examined. In this book every page swarms with ideas. Highly recommended.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Decline of Modernism, by Peter Bürger, translated by Nicholas Walker. Penn State $35 cloth, $15.95 paper

Well known for his groundbreaking study The Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984), Burger collects in this volume some of his important essays from the last decade. His subjects range from Diderot and de Sade to Benjamin, Foucault, and Wyndham Lewis, from literary institutions and the question of genius to subjectivity, aestheticism, and the avant-garde. In the title essay of the collection, Burger convincingly refutes widespread efforts to distinguish postmodernism from modernism, revealing the underlying persistence of modernism, despite its supposed repudiation. Strongly argued, well-reasoned.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSFreud and His Critics, by Paul Robinson. California $25

From the scientific to the philosophical, the ignorant to the resentful, critics have been launching attacks on Freud with extraordinary frequency and ferocity since the 1970’s. Robinson’s valiant defense of Freud carefully scrutinizes, analyzes, and demolishes three of the most reputable of these attacks: Frank Sulloway’s argument that Freud’s thought was little more than derivative biologism, Jeffrey Masson’s accusation that Freud’s abandonment of the seduction hypothesis was a cowardly evasion, and Adolf Griinbaum’s contention that Freud’s views lack empirical foundation. Revealing that each of these critics is blinded by his own prejudices, Robinson recuperates the imaginative vitality and originality of Freud’s thoughts—the “whole climate of opinion,” in Auden’s words, that still shapes our intellectual world and that we ignore or dismiss at our peril.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSWhere My Heart Is Turning Ever: Civil War Stories and Constitutional Reform, by Kathleen Diffley. Georgia $30

Where My Heart Is Turning Ever is the first volume of an impressive three-volume study which examines the many short stories that appeared in popular magazines during the Civil War and Reconstruction, stories that—as a group—have until now been largely ignored by literary critics. In this volume, Diffley classifies the stories into three genres—Old Homestead, Romance, and Adventure—genres “whose disequilibrium in representing matters of race, political section, and gender paralleled Congressional wrangling about the postwar constitutional amendments,” and she shows how the congressional and literary rhetoric of the time transformed “family ties” into “national ties.” Her text includes three complete stories by Mark Twain, John W. DeForest, and Rebecca Handing Davis. Future volumes will offer a taxonomy of these stories and will examine them in light of reader-response theory.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSNarrating Discovery: The Romantic Explorer in American Literature, 1790—1955, by Bruce Greenfield. Columbia $36.50

When one thinks of discovery narratives, it is most likely the early American accounts of contact with the New World that come to mind, such as were written by John Smith, William Bradford, or William Bartram. But Bruce Greenfield, in his fascinating and suggestive book, has chosen to focus on Romantic discovery narratives of the early 19th century and ask “whether they presented the western lands as inhabited countries or basically empty, politically unmodified, spaces.” Through readings of individual narratives—including Lewis and dark’s History, living’s Columbus, and Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym— Greenfield investigates the relationships between Euro-Americans and Indian peoples as well as the cultural conflicts and rhetorical strategies that were an inherent part of the genre. Narrating Discovery shows not only how the frontier came to be seen both as foreign and as home for early Western travelers but also how later writers modified and altered the idea of what the frontier narrative should in fact involve.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSWriting Women’s Literary History, by Margaret J. M. Ezell. Johns Hopkins $32. 95

Ezell’s work forces a reshaping of the way in which feminist writing has been viewed by undermining the ideological politics played by past critics of women’s writing. Her treatment of Margaret Cavendish illustrates the point. We are shown her work through the eyes of previous editors in order to see how their patriarchal ideologies, not her work, create a skewed, male-oriented critical view that clearly treats as secondary the text and writer. So the importance of Ezell’s work lies in the way in which its revisionism allows us a new view of 17th-century women writers.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSKing Henry V, by William Shakespeare, edited by Andrew Gurr. Cambridge $34. 95

The New Cambridge Shakespeare is producing marvelous editions, and Gurr’s is no exception. Instead of yet another redaction of Holinshed and the Famous Victories, he includes an analysis of the use of those sources. We also find a performance history right up to Branagh. And there are some helpful illustrations, though one might ask why devote an illustration to the linstock rather than, say, the mines. The edition is more accessible than is the Arden, but there is not much to distinguish it from the more recent Oxford editions, which seem to be aimed at a similar audience. I hesitate to recommend either above the other, which speaks well of both.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLIVES & LETTERSPartriarch: George Washington and the New Nation, by Richard Norton Smith. Houghton, Mifflin $24.95

That George Washington was the glue that held the new American Republic together through its shaky first years is generally acknowledged. That he was a natural politician, who mastered and controlled his two brilliant subordinates in the cabinet, Thomas Jeflerson and Alexander Hamilton, is debatable. Yet in this narrative history of the Washington presidency, Smith argues that it was Washington’s vision, rather than Jefferson’s or Hamilton’s, that provided a blueprint for the young nation. The details of that plan and the events of the Washington administration are not always clearly drawn, as the author crams every detail and anecdote about the heroic Virginian into a chronological framework that jumbles major policy issues of the 1790’s with the social whirl of New York, Philadelphia, and the minutiae of managing Washington’s Mount Vemon plantation. Smith’s gift for vivid characterization will assure him a wide readership, but this portrait of the first president will provide them more heat than light.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Passion of Michel Foucault, by James Miller. Simon & Schuster $27.50

This biographical study provides valuable interpretations of Michel Foucault’s mysterious life and enigmatic work. During the years since his death in 1984, this French philosopher has come to be considered perhaps the most important thinker of the century. While some would dispute this status, it’s certain that in the 1980’s and 90’s, his work has influenced liberal arts scholarship more profoundly than that of any other philosopher or literary critic. Popular texts also demonstrate the extent to which Foucault’s startling ideas have been disseminated. The introduction to Susan Fauldi’s best-selling Backlash, for example, borrows from the conception of power described in Discipline and Punish. Miller’s accessible prose should ensure that his book will also reach a wide readership. He lucidly analyzes such important but overlooked subjects as Foucault’s relationship to his own homosexuality and to the politics of homosexuality. That the book’s thesis depends upon an examination of Foucault’s private life and of what Miller describes as an obsession with death will seem ironic or inappropriate to some readers familiar with the theory of the individual subject Foucault introduces in “The Death of the Author.” Miller is well aware of this irony, though, and he justifies his approach convincingly.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSDiderot: A Critical Biography, by P. N. Furbank. Knopf $30

Any intellectual who could charm both the sans-culottes of Paris and the autocratic Empress of Russia (Catherine the Great) has earned our respect, and Denis Diderot (1713—84) remains one of the most enduringly attractive of the philosophes. In this engaging, perceptive new biography, P. N. Furbank effortlessly guides us through that exciting world of the generation just before the French Revolution, a generation that prepared us for the modern phenomenon of the intellectual in politics. This is one of the best books of the year.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSInside Gorbachev’s Kremlin: The Memoirs of Yegor Ligachev. Pantheon $27.50

No nation produces quite such a cast of characters as Russia, and with these memoirs of Yegor Ligachev we marvel at the spectacle of a pigheaded buffoon from Siberia who just does not get it. He truly, sincerely believes that he is a democrat, a liberal, and a humanitarian. The fact that he wanted to preserve a system that was the antithesis of all this troubles him not at all because he cannot believe that he could be wrong. This is one of the strangest exercises in self-justification to come out of Russia in the last decade, and it is frightening to think that its author might have come to power there.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSShakespeare: His Life, Work, and Era, by Dennis Kay. Morrow $23

This is a lucidly written, intelligently argued biography. While Kay expresses interest in the ways each era refigures Shakespeare, his main concern lies in re-constructing the world Shakespeare actually experienced. The book is exhaustively researched; Kay details more, for example, about Ann Hathaway ’s forbears than one might want to know. He is never dry, however; and, while he sticks close to the facts, he is not afraid to interpret them. Kay is especially interesting on the commercial development of the theatre, and the role this played in Shakespeare’s development as an artist, but he is interesting everywhere. A recommended book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSIgnatitis of Loyola. The Psychology of a Saint, by W. W. Meissner, S. J., M. D. Vale $35

This biography of the founder of the Society of Jesus is based on the conviction that psychoanalysis and Catholicism are complementary rather than antagonistic disciplines. Loyola’s conversion from courtier and soldier to ascetic and saint is described as a lifelong struggle to overcome aggressive and libidinal impulses. Meissner is unflinching in his analysis of the unattractive aspects of Loyola’s personality— masochistic tendencies, authoritarianism and, above all, narcissism, although his psychological journey is seen ultimately as one of spiritual ascent. This is clearly a 20th-century clinician’s view of 16th-century personality (Meissner could be faulted for his sometimes pedestrian treatment of the historical context), but both subject and diagnosis are compelling nonetheless.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAnthony Trollope, by Victoria Glendinning. Knopf $30

What gives this biography weight is not the uncovering of any new facts, but the engaging sympathy Glendinning has for Trollope’s mind, as she deftly weaves into the pattern of his outward life multiple references to events and themes in his fiction. Family, religion, politics, marriage— the great topics of Trollope’s canon— are explored in abundant detail. Glendinning’s biography succeeds not only as the story of a creative genius but also as a critical appreciation of the novels, which she knows thoroughly.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-Century Venice, by Margaret F. Rosenthal. Chicago $18.95 paper

When we think of Venice, we envision the enchanted city built and decorated by Palladio and Titian, among others, forgetting that Venice was also a literary center, which produced such notable figures as the poet Veronica Franco. In this impressively researched, intelligent, and substantial book, we are introduced to the works of a Venetian courtesan-poet, whose writing is rescued from the traditional anecdotal lore surrounding Venetian courtesans. Especially notable is a close reading of the elegiac verse epistles in Franco’s Terze rime, which are effectively analyzed in relation to their Roman sources.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSIn My Place, by Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $19

“We were simply doing what we were born to do.” With this simple statement, MacNeil-Lehrer journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault recalls her role as the young student who integrated the all-white University of Georgia. She has set down her memories leading to that tumultuous time in her memoirs entitled In Our Place. As Hunter-Gault writes, it becomes apparent that she was indeed a model to bring the South into the 20th century. She was bright, beautiful, well off by the standards of many Southern blacks, and lived a relatively normal life. All that ended on Dec. 13, 1961 when Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes entered the University of Georgia. Hunter-Gault fills in the personal, compelling details of that time, such as how girls a flight above her in the dormitory took turns pounding the floor at night so she wouldn’t be able to sleep or her gradual disillusionment with being a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. Her life comes through as clear as her prose, with the same sense of purpose and persistence that got her through her travails at Georgia, and to her status as a national journalist. It is this work Hunter-Gault seems to want to be remembered and recognized—the rest was something she was born to do.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSMaynard Keynes: An Economist’s Biography, by Donald Moggridge. Routledge $35

This is an important biography of one of the most influential thinkers of our century. Mr. Moggridge brings to his task the knowledge and wisdom derived from his many years as editor of the Keynes papers. Readers should not take too seriously the book’s billing as an “economist’s biography.” Although its primary focus is on Keynes’ contributions to economic analysis and policy, this stands as a complete biography. And it is written with a grace and clarity of argument that will sustain a wide audience.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSStrom Thurmond & The Politics of Southern Change, by Nadine Cohodas. Simon & Schuster $27.50

Ms. Cohodas, a former writer for Congressional Quarterly, has written an absorbing and well-documented account of how South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond went from defending segregation and opposing the Voting Rights bill in the 1960’s to supporting the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991. Also detailed is Thurmond’s unconventional personal life (his reputation as a ladies’ man and his two marriages to considerably younger women). But what the book clearly shows is that after 1965, Thurmond saw that his electorate was both black and white, and that to stay in office, he must adjust to change. That he did—and with vigor.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSMy Father’s Son: Memories of War and Peace, by Farley Mowat. Houghton Mifflin $24.95

Mowat’s And No Birds Sang was a superb, bitter account of his experiences with the Canadian army in Italy during World War II. This book re-creates that period through the letters he exchanged with his father. It is more personal as a spontaneous commentary on the crises and people he encountered, but it is also a narrative of a family relationship that was both loving and difficult. Well worth reading in itself, it would be more appreciated if one read his earlier book first.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSII Duce’s Other Woman, by Philip V. Cannistraro and Brian R. Sullivan. Morrow $25

Margherita Sarfatti (1880—1961) was in fact one of many “other women” of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. But their relationship, begun when Mussolini was still a revolutionary Socialist, lasted longer, and had more significant aspects, than any of those we know of. This was due chiefly to the unusual social standing and intellectual stature of the woman in question, a capable and versatile journalist and writer, who single-mindedly pursued her ambitions in the context of the Fascist regime, until its racist laws (1938) caused her to leave Italy. Her complex story is carefully reconstructed and engagingly narrated by the authors in this serious contribution to contemporary Italian historiography.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThursday’s Child Has Far to Go: A Memoir of the Journeying Years, by Walter Laqueur. Scribners $30

The author, a prolific scholar and publicist, and a recognized specialist in the history of contemporary Germany, of fascism, and of the Communist international movement, lays bare the roots of those scholarly interests in his personal experience, and especially in his early years in Germany (1921—1938) and in the subsequent ones in Palestine/Israel. His account of that experience covers almost exclusively the public settings within which it was lived and is rather less revealing about its personal aspects.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSChaim Weizmann: The Making of a Statesman, by Jehuda Reinharz. Oxford $39.95

This is the second volume in a multivolume study of Chaim Weizmann in the context of Zionism and world politics. Covering the crucial period 1914—1922 that included the Balfour Declaration and its incorporation into the British mandate for Palestine, Reinharz offers a detailed study of intra-Zionist politics and rivalries as well as Weizmann’s relations with the British and with Arab leaders at the end of World War I. Written in a clear, unemotional tone and based on extensive use of original and published sources, this series promises to be the definitive biography of Weizmann for the forseeable future as well as a major contribution to the extensive literature on Zionism and its evolution.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSFICTIONRefinements of Love, by Sarah Booth Conroy. Pantheon $22

For her first novel, Washington Post columnist Conroy has chosen the marriage of Clover and Henry Adams as the subject of a fascinating revision of history. Written in the form of Clover’s diary, she records the final two months before Clover’s suicide in early December 1885, after 13 years of marriage, Why did Henry insist on being alone the night of her death? Why did he destroy her personal papers and photographs? Why did he never speak of her again nor refer to her in his autobiography? And what about Mrs. Cameron, whom he pursued for the rest of his life? Adams, descendant of two presidents, was a writer, scholar, and historian, who, with his bright, witty wife, was at the center of Washington society. Lacing her narrative with expertly researched period detail on the social, cultural, and political scene, Conroy reveals a Version of the private life of the Adamses that is reminiscent of Gaslight. She writes with intelligence and grace, and only occasionally her historical digressions seem strained; conversations often leave the reader wondering who is speaking. But her depiction of Henry Adams as a cad, though overdrawn, is an accurate portrayal of a man who, while appearing to be a devoted husband, dominates and diminishes his wife by silently ignoring her with an air of calm disdain, with subtle social humiliations and skilled put-downs. Admirers of Adams will not be pleased by this portrait of him. Those who regard Adams as a self-satisfied, arrogant bigot will applaud Mrs. Conroy’s imagination and courage, and eagerly await her next book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThis Day and Age, by Mike Nicol. Knopf $22

This allegorical novel transports readers to an unspecified time in the history of an unnamed country that represents South Africa. Like his contemporaries J. M. Coetzee and Salmon Rushdie, Nicol adopts the style of the parable and the folk tale both to address current political realities and to interrogate the nature of narrative. While many such “postmodern” nonsequential, fragmented fictions engage the readers’ attention and communicate clearly complex and subtle meanings, Nicol’s narrative of the events surrounding the conflict between a charismatic village prophet and a powerful state president tends to confuse and to frustrate the reader. But the bewildering story includes some moving moments and represents especially well the ways in which this disenfranchised South African village society attempts to disempower its own women.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSPrimal Fear, by William Diehl. Villard $20

There are scores of authors attempting to duplicate the smashing success of the psychological thriller Silence of the Lambs, and scores of others are trying their best to create a courtroom drama like Presumed Innocent. Diehl has written a page-turner that is a psychothriller in a courtroom, and though it doesn’t match up to the afore-mentioned best sellers, it measures fairly far up the blockbuster scale. Martin Vail is the defense lawyer who never loses a case and loves to rub the establishment’s face in it. Here he is forced to take on what looks like an open and shut case, to defend a young man accused of murdering a Chicago archbishop. All the circumstantial evidence points to the man’s guilt, but Vail and his team go to work to prove his innocence. In the process, they discover the defendent’s multiple personality disorder and possibly a way to save him from execution. The long stretches of exposition on the psychological aspects of the case may be overdone, but all in all this is an interesting, and chilling, tale.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Quondam Wives, by Mairi MacInnes. Louisiana $19.95

The Lear fable has seized the imaginations of writers and readers from Shakespeare’s time to our own; and the tale, wildly improbably though it is in many respects, continues to radiate all its power and fascination: think of Leo Tolstoy at one end of our century and Patrick White at the other. Mairi Maclnnes has given us a subtle new version of it, asking and answering the question of what parts that Lear’s wives might have played in his life and kingdom— hence her title. Anthony Quondam and his wives (Alice his first, and Esme, his second) are the principal characters around and through which the action unfolds. Their three daughters—Gwen, Reggie, and Delia—exhibit many of Lear’s daughters’ vices and virtues; and Peter Wilson, the Gloucester figure, has two sons whose roles are significant. Quondam Hall commands an ancient estate and village in Yorkshire that have weathered many crises; at the end we are left to wonder whether the surviving members of the family can endure the inexorable changes set in train by Anthony when he tries to divide the estate among his daughters— and initiated by Gwen and Reggie when they greedily and aggressively take possession. The point of view moves from one character to another, and in this subtle exactness of technique and in many other ways Miss Maclnnes reminds one of Henry James. It was James who struck a phrase— geometry of relations—that reveals the secret of all good novels of manners, including this splendid foray into the English country scene since World War II.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Man Who Was Late, by Louis Begley. Knopf $21

The Man Who Was Late tells the intriguing story of Ben, a successful international lawyer who grew up in Central Europe during World War II and who reinvented himself during his years at Harvard. When Ben commits suicide after completing an intricate business deal, his best friend Jack, the executor of Ben’s will and the story’s narrator, struggles to make sense of Ben’s life by examining Ben’s notes, his letters, and the recollections of their past conversations. Prominent in each of these is Ben’s active sexual history, which includes an affair with Jack’s cousin, Veronique. It is after Ben’s affair with Veronique fails that Ben ends his life. Encountering each episode of Ben’s life, readers must address themselves to life’s ultimate questions: What is its meaning? How is one to live? Is happiness possible? Can one live without love? Because it manages to combine the pleasures of a well-told story with the seriousness of philosophic inquiry, The Man Who Was Late is both an intellectual and emotional success.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Blue Deep, by Layne Heath. Af arrow $20

Having served two tours of combat duty as a chopper pilot in Vietnam, the author brings an air of authenticity to his story. Set in Hanoi in 1954, the novel revolves around the American “volunteers” who are sent to train French pilots with secret orders to investigate and report to Washington on the black market in military weaponry. If Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had known of the fanatical nationalism of the Northern Vietnamese, they never would have committed U. S. troops to the losing cause of assisting Saigon.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSRuler of the Sky, by Pamela Sargent. Crown $25

This blockbuster of a book is the fascinating tale, based upon historical figures, of the life and time of Genghis, mightiest of all the Khans, who conquered the Asian world from Peking to Persia. We are introduced to the barbaric splendor of the Mongol hordes as well as the opulence and sophistication of the Chinese Court. Read it for pure enjoyment before it is corrupted either by the tube or by Hollywood.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Life and Times of Captain N., by Douglas Glover. Knopf$20

Captain Hendrik Nellis is a Mohawk Valley Tory soldier in the American Revolution. His son Oscar is a patriot who writes letters to George Washington full of revolutionary zeal. Mary Hunsacker is a German immigrant girl who is kidnapped and adopted by the Iroquois warriors who massacred her family. From these three view-points, Glover captures the horror of frontier war and the gritty, nasty reality of colonial life. The language is dreamlike and lyrical, by turns brutal, sensual, sickening, and funny. Glover shows the permeability of culture, as Indians and whites clash, Tories and Whigs battle for control of the endless forest, and little distinguishes one from the other. In this version of the Revolution there is precious little of politics, just the anxiety of survival and the enigmatic, brooding forest that looms over the tiny actions of men. This is a beautifully written and unforgettable novel.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSRameau’s Niece, by Cathleen Schine. Ticknor & Fields $19.95

A skillfully and humorously written academic novel, narrating a longish episode in the life of a successful American specialist in 18th-century French literary and intellectual history, whose relationship to her husband is nearly derailed by her encounter with a strange manuscript by an unidentified author from “her” period, entitled Rameau’s Niece. The protagonist’s confrontation with this text, and her dealings with a number of interestingly drawn male and female characters in a variety of contexts, are vividly described.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Consequences of Desire, by Dennis Hathaway. Georgia $19.95

This award-winning collection of short stories makes you want to stay far away from California. An unappealing set of California drifters and dreamers, Hathaway’s characters suffer from a combination of ennui and undefined longing. Nearly all of the stories have selfish, obtuse male protagonists, and a number of them represent women as nothing more than objects of male desire. Hathaway is less concerned with the consequences of desire than with expressions of desire that have no discernible effects. Although this theme quickly becomes tedious, many readers would probably enjoy reading a single Hathaway story. His prose style is engaging, and many of his characters are well drawn. But one can enjoy only so many tales about the emptiness of life in urban California.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSEinsteins’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman. Pantheon $17

Alan Lightman uses varying concepts of time as a thread to hold together a set of short sketches which are meant to be fictional dreams Einstein has while he is working on his theory of relativity. He dreams worlds in which time runs backwards, or is circular, or is different for each person. Time is a malleable substance in Mr. Lightman’s hands which he molds into many tiny statuettes for our study and delight. A beautifully written and thoughtprovoking book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Cheshire Moon, by Robert Ferrigno. Morrow $20

Quinn is a thirty-something Pulitzer prize-winning reporter whose previous walks on the wild side have left him a trifle gun-shy. That makes it all the more inexplicable when he returns to Los Angeles from a self-imposed exile to write about the bizarre and tres chic elements of what passes for L. A. kultur for SLAP magazine. When one of his friends is murdered, Quinn feels obligated to track the killer, especially when the man threatens his daughter. Ferrigno fills the novel with the kind of quirky and ominous characters our newspapers tell us we have aplenty. As a result, anxiety and a kind of hyperawareness of the weird define the tone of the story. This is crime fiction with an edge, for those who like their writing with style.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSWinter Rules, by Barry Cork. Scribner’s $20

Angus Straun, the Scottish-born London police inspector who is the hero of this mystery series, is addicted to golf and expensive sports cars. Thus it is no surprise that both loom large in this light and frothy tale. Straun is assigned to protect Augustus Aligar, a golfing fanatic and the new head of state of Chakra in Africa. On one of the links, someone takes a potshot at Aligar and steals his car. This is but a prelude to a great deal of car theft, which the reader learns, is one way that African elites can acquire expensive automobiles. It turns out that Chakra has a flourishing black market in luxury cars, which Straun stumbles on during a visit to the country. Straun escapes more skullduggery in Chakra, foils a coup mounted by some nefarious expatriates, and shuts down the illegal traffic in autos in time for a leisurely 18 holes with President Aligar. Despite a few gratuitous swipes at Africans, Straun’s first-person narrative is lively and sly and a good example of the British mystery.


Ten years into the history of the mysterious pathology of AIDS, no country in the world can claim to have stopped its spread. As the epidemic matures, new places and new populations are struck in turn, and the prognosis is clear that no human community will escape the impact of the disease. What we first saw as a problem of the North American gay subculture has turned into a global epidemic, out of control. Harvard epidemiologist Jonathan Mann has assembled the most ambitious and most thorough analysis to date to describe the contours of AIDS infection worldwide. Throughout the one thousand plus pages of AIDS in the World, every issue critical to controlling the disease is confronted: how to care for patients and prevent HIV spread; how to fund a global AIDS strategy; the threats to human rights that characterize many countries’ strategies for stopping AIDS. Mann and his dozens of collaborators paint a terrifying picture of a world devastated in the wake of this most recent plague. Their conclusion that the international response to AIDS is being outpaced by the accelerated spread of the disease is the grimmest news of all.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSEpiscopal Women, edited by Catherine M. Prelinger. Oxford $24.95

This work is not the strictly historical study which some might expect from the “Religion in America” series. Its multiple and all female authors address various aspects of the role of women in the Episcopal Church since World War II. The historical chapters are well researched and have a strong orientation to the social and institutional history genres. The studies are by no means definitive but are meant to enlighten and give food for thought. They do this very well in the two-thirds of the volume devoted to the contemporary perspective of women in the church. The work challenges men, but more particularly women, to come to terms with the place of women in this important American denomination. The certain conclusion of this book is that the process of change which has taken place in the last generation is only beginning.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSEnd of Empire: The Demise of the Soviet Union, by G. R. Urban. American University $21.95

The summing-up continues as all manner of expert opinion is brought to bear on the historic collapse of the USSR, but to date none of it has been very convincing. In this book, Urban gives us the benefit of his conversations with such people as Sidney Hook, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Karl Popper, and others, and a dubious benefit it is. Not one of these people has anything new to impart, and while some phrase their comments elegantly, none, in the final analysis, has anything of significance to offer.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSReligion in Public Life, edited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok and David McLellan. St. Martin’s $59.95

A slim, wildly overpriced volume assembling the texts often lectures given by as many British academics and notables in the Library of Canterbury Cathedral in 1990-91 at the initiative of the University of Kent and other bodies, The lectures are remarkable chiefly for the range of opinions they represent in dealing with such topics as: Should


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