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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1998

ISSUE:  Summer 1998

This deeply revisionary study of urbanism, art, and power in early modern Florence is without question one of the most important works of architectural history to appear in many decades. It compels us to rethink our understanding of urban planning in Florence during the 14th century, in the age of Dante, Giotto, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, in relation to all of the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, literature), and to consider the shaping of urban space as a manifestation of power in conjunction with optics, geometry, commercial mathematics, surveying, and the invention of perspective. Trachtenberg’s exciting, highly suggestive synthesis forces us to see in new ways the profound transformation of one of the great cities in modern Europe—to see with fresh eyes one of the great moments in all of European history.

Epidemics and History: Disease, Power and Imperialism, by Sheldon Watts. Yale $35

This book studies the great epidemics that have scourged the globe over the course of the last six centuries. The plague, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, cholera, and yellow fever (a.k.a. malaria) all find their place here. Watts views the movement of epidemics as a manifestation of imperial power. It was the rulers of infected lands who determined the official response to invading diseases and the rulers who would protect privileged groups more than other groups. This exhaustive history begs comparison to the influential work Plagues and Peoples of William McNeill. Particularly interesting is Watts’s account of popular interpretation of epidemics as divine revenge on sinners.

Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline and Resistance in Languedoc, by James B. Given. Cornell $39.95

In this well-written and fascinating analysis of the power structure (and the meaning of power) of the ecclesiastical inquisition in southern France, Given brings out the importance of several elements which made the tribunal an effective coercive and destructive instrument. Basic to its purpose were the written records of inquiry, interrogation, and disposition, and the procedural manuals, which now comprise the chief documentary sources for research. Carefully organized and critical in cases brought to trial, the archive was also used to extend religious authority over many years, even to the point of exhuming the dead in order to punish them. Equally important, and discussed at length, was the punitive function of the prison, as a weapon of intimidation, and a place to isolate the heretic from society. We can also see, in a number of cases, how inquisitorial power invited misuse of its authority, and provoked sporadic and sometimes violent resistance, but how in the end the structure survived to become a model for later governments intent on drastic political control.

French Peasant Fascism: Henry Dorgères’s Greenshirts and the Crises of French Agriculture, 1929—1939, by Robert O. Paxton. Oxford $19,95

Fascism is one of those phenomena that are hard to define, but we know fascists when we see, or smell, them. In the Great Depression, French farmers found themselves squeezed between feckless governments and foreign imports, and it did not take many seasons of selling below the cost of production to turn them to various rightwing movements, including the quasifascism of Henry Dorgeres. The story of the Greenshirts is an obscure one but well worth pondering, and Paxton tells it with his usual graceful style and expertise.

Toward the Inquisition: Essays on Jewish Converso History in Late Medieval Spain, by B. Netanyahu. Cornell $32.50

Following on his impressive The Origins of the Inquisition (1995), Netanyahu now brings together seven previously-published essays which address Jewish and Marrano history from the mid-14th century to the end of the 15th. Always provocative and frequently controversial, these studies raise serious questions of race, the sincerity of some conversions, how Jewish history is interpreted by modern critics, and the behavior of some Jews in the years preceding the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain.

The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History. by Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley. Liturgical Press $79.95

This monumental work brings into one volume a much needed summary of key people, movements, and events in American Catholic history. The American Catholic Church is the richest and largest Christian denomination in the United States. The editors bring that diversity to this encyclopedia with timely coverage of many issues still of relevance today. The one area not adequately covered or indexed is that of religious toleration of church and state. The area is covered in articles about time periods and individuals, but without prior knowledge of the topic, a reader would be unlikely to find any information. This one Haw does not compromise the usefulness of this wonderful work. Highly recommended for libraries and individuals with an interest in the topic.

The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia, by Elizabeth A. Wood. Indiana $.35

With this book, Professor Wood of M. I. T. vaults into the front rank of the young (under 40) generation of historians of Russia. She notes at the outset that she will “examine issues of gender sameness and difference exemplified in the discursive and political practices of the first decade of Soviet power.” Gender “theory” having gone about as far as it can in stating the obvious, she goes beyond it in this richly documented, well argued account of Soviet attempts to come to grips with a melancholy tradition.

In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time, by flans Ulrich Gumbrecht. Harvard $22.95

The novel is dead, some people say the same of God, and a few years ago some Washington bureaucrat pronounced history itself dead. In the sense that the grand narrative does not fit our century, the latter comment is true, but history itself is very much alive, as this provocative, challenging, witty book by Professor Gumbrecht, who teaches at Stanford, so clearly reveals. He takes a year more or less at random, and he tells us what made it tick. It is great fun, history of a new type. As good a book as one will find this year.

Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modem History by Bruce Cumings. Norton $17.95

Just where does Korea stand? It is not China and most certainly not Japan, but what do we know of the country other than the war of 1950—1953, some automobiles, kimchi, and recent headlines about a financial collapse? In the best one-volume history vet written in English, Cumings opens our eyes to the modern history of this mysterious land in northeast Asia, and in so doing he reveals a rich and diversified culture that has given much to the world. Highly recommended.

Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, by Melinda Chatcauvert. Illinois $17.95

Most literate Americans are familiar with the name of A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and for decades a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Few people, however, could name a single one of his female counterparts or assistants. In this splendidly researched, movingly told story. Professor Chateauvert, who teaches at the University of Maryland, helps rescue some dynamic, vibrant women from obscurity.

A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, by Robert Service. Harvard $29.95

Russia is no longer a fashionable specialty for historians, but it continues to receive considerable attention from established scholars. Service, one of Lenin’s more notable biographers, here provides a lengthy, flowing account that has many fine points and quite a few errors, beginning with a misidentification of the religious sect known as khylsty (flagellants). It is a useful account for the discriminating student and has a good chronology.

King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen: Victorian Britain through African Eyes, by Neil Parsons. Chicago $50 cloth, $18.95 paper

In 1895, three African chiefs traveled to England to ask for protection from Cecil Rhodes’s will to annex their lands. At the beginning of their visit, the chiefs hired news-clipping services to record their journey. A century later, Parsons uses these by-now archival sources to write a history of this visit. And it is a fascinating history—one that manages to capture the dynamics of the various encounters which the chiefs navigated. The news-clippings have provided Parsons with the wide range of voices in England speaking about the chiefs’ visit: missionaries, politicians, civic councils, churchgoers, for example. Sometimes the voices of the chiefs themselves break through. However, for the most part, the chiefs spoke through the discourses of those who were entertaining them. Thus it is interesting to consider the ways that the chiefs appropriated celebrations of the London Missionary Society’s centenary to articulate their experience of being colonized. Parsons also allows the reader to appreciate the extent to which English popular culture organized itself around the visit of the chiefs and began to reveal in very material ways British ambivalence towards the holding of colonies.

The Power of Femininity in the New South: Women’s Organizations and Politics in North Carolina, 1880—1930, by Anastatia Sims. South Carolina $29.95

Anastatia Sims highlights white women’s struggle for social reform against the backdrop of black women’s struggle for justice. This approach shows how women’s organizations operated within the bounds of the Southern caste system without challenging its assumptions. Her stated objective is to show how white women elites in North Carolina utilized their perceived feminine moral authority to work for “public housekeeping,” without leaving proper social conventions. Sims wonderfully shows that while claiming to remain above politics their efforts forced them into political roles, like public health. This subtle shift away from Victorian notions of “private sphere” allowed these women to accept the suffrage movement.

C. Vann Woodward: A Southern Historian and His Critics, edited by John Robert Roper. Georgia $50 cloth, $25 paper

John Roper has assembled an impressive group of scholars to evaluate and pay homage to one of the most influential historians in the United States in the last generation, C. Vann Woodward. This is an excellent book and a fine tribute to a historian whose work should be read not only by historians of the South or of America. The book will be exciting to everyone who is interested in the relations between history and historians.

From Calabar to Carter’s Grove: The History of a Virginia Slave Community, by Lorena S. Walsh. Virginia $34.95

Walsh has completed a remarkable piece of scholarship. Piecing together the fragmentary bits of information about slaves appearing in the plantation and court records, she has written a rich and detailed history of a slave community living on the plantations comprising the Carter’s Grove estate. Walsh shows us that though a plantation’s records of its slave populations may seem scant, with careful, painstaking research, one can paint a detailed picture of their lives, one brush stroke at a time. The book is densely packed with details both of the Burvvell family, and life on an early plantation. Most remarkable is Walsh’s ability to trace the Burwell family slaves to their African origins, and document aspects of African culture retained by slaves into the 19th century. Though the sources remain silent on the individual life experiences of slaves, From Calabar to Carter’s Crove is an unprecedented examination of slave life in the colonial period.

Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400—1400, by Marcia L. Colish. Yale $40

This elegant window to the medieval world, first in a Yale University Press series in Western intellectual history, argues that the foundations of the Western intellectual traditions were laid in the Middle Ages and not in the classical or Judeo-Christian periods as commonly supposed. The author contends that a unique set of tolerances, tastes, concerns, and sensibilities were produced in the Middle Ages, which shaped the pattern and growth of the Western intellectual experience. Among important areas explored are the nature and transmission of medieval vernacular and oral culture in European countries; the influence of Arab and Jewish writing upon scholasticism and the restoration of Greek studies; heresy from Manichaeism to Huss and Wycliff; and the work of seminal thinkers like Augustine, Anslem, Gregory the Great, Aquinas, and Ockham.

LITERARY STUDIES Byron’s Don Juan and the Don Juan Legend, by Moyra Haslett. Oxford $78

It is commonplace in the scholarly and critical literature on Byron’s Don Juan that the modern poet’s version of the Don Juan myth departs significantly from the received myth. The burden of this book is to show, however, that Byron’s poem is not so much a departure from tradition as an unfolding of this tradition. Building on the theory of myth found in Lévi-Strauss, the author persuasively argues that a myth does not belong to a single moment in history but, as a phenomenon of the imagination, is ever evolving. Haslett’s study is enriched by thorough chapters on the Don Juan myth before Byron, on the political implications of Don Juan, and on Don Juan and the female reader. A thoughtful and provocative book.

Confounding Images: Photography and Portraiture in Antebellum American Fiction, by Susan S. Williams. Pennsylvania $38.95

Confounding Images explores the relationship between the literary and the visual arts in tiny-ears just prior to the Civil War. The advent of photography, and the daguerreotype in particular, made possible the production of portraits to a wider range of people. This “invention” meant that verbal descriptions could be replaced by pictorial descriptions. Through an examination of several pieces of early American fiction. Williams show how pre-Civil War writers responded to this visual threat by creating a new form of representation, the fictional portrait. She argues, however, that this emphasis on the visual narrative, or “portrait,” in literature, in turn had its effects on photographic and pictorial representations. Within this confounding of the boundaries between the visual and the verbal, Williams contends, notions of representation and authorship got challenged and reworked. Her book offers an interesting analysis, which crosscuts disciplines, of problems of representation.

The Cruelty of Depression: On Melancholy, by Jacques Hassoun. Addison-Wesley $22

“In the age of the postmodern,” Naomi Schor has remarked, “those who wish to bring back affects such as depression are not viewed as very good company.” And at a time when anti-depressants such as Prozac are dispensed as readily as Rolaids, it seems impossible to deny that the scourge of modern melancholy is at once underappreciated and omnipresent. But, despite Schor’s claim, Hassoun’s short reflection on the origins of depression makes for surprisingly good company, mixing as it does captivating case studies with literary examples and helpful doses of Lacanian theory. Although Hassoun offers a somewhat new angle from which to consider depression—arguing that it is linked not only to the inability to mourn a loss but also to feelings of passion—this book will be enjoyed more by readers of thoughtful novels and mystical poetry than by die-hard sociologists.

Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in Renaissance English Poetry, by James Biester. Cornell $39.95

Biester carefully traces the evolution and eventual extinction of metaphysical poetry. Of great value here are the depth and insight of his close readings of Renaissance poetry. The “wonder” to which Biester refers in the title has to do with a sense of the marvelous. Biester reveals clearly the conscious ways in which poets produced this wonder in their works through the use of various techniques—roughness, brevity, wittiness, brevity. Further he shows how the intended end of this rhetorical strategy was in most cases social advancement. A must for genre theorists.

Anarchy and Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism, by David Weir. Massachusetts $60 cloth, $17.95 paper

Weir’s study explores the relationship between anarchism as a political movement and anarchism as an aesthetic. Weir offers a creative analysis of “anarchy,” “culture” and “modemism,” claiming that the triumph of modernism must be understood in relation to anarchist politics. Weir asserts that while anarchism failed as a political ideology it enjoyed widespread success in the realms of art and culture.

Understanding Camilo Jose Cela, by Lucile C. Charlebois. South Carolina $29.95

Cela, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989, is one of Spain’s most creative and forceful novelists. From the powerful and shocking The Family of Pascual Duarte (1942) through the complex dissection of post-Civil War Spain in The Hive (1951) and the collage novel on the war itself, San Camilo 36 (1969), to novels from the 1980’s and 1990’s, he has consistently gained both popular and critical acclaim. Charlebois studies ten of the most important narratives.

Existentialists and Mystics, by Iris Murdoch. Allen Lane $37.95

Iris Murdoch needs no introduction, for she is the author of countless widely read novels. The public is less familiar with her philosophical writings, gathered here in this splendid anthology, which are sure to draw new readers and surprise fans of her fiction. As George Steiner reminds us in his fine introduction, philosophy and fiction are closely related, as they are in Murdoch’s philosophical essays in which George Eliot and Dostocvsky are exemplary figures. In recent years academic philosophers have turned more and more to the philosophical truths of literature. They follow Iris Murdoch’s lead.

Sound States Innotative Poetics and Acooustical Technologies, edited by Adalaide Morris. North Carolina $55 cloth, $24.95 paper

Listen up: this impressive collection of essays explores the specifically aural nature of modem and contemporary poetic works and practices. In her introduction, Morris reminds us just how unusual this approach is. The essays that follow go a long way toward mapping out the new territory, offering unexpected “soundings” of diverse literary and cultural productions by such creative noisemakers as James Joyce, H.D., John Cage, and Cecil Taylor, among others The contributions are always intriguing—though occasionally coy—and benefit immensely from an accompanying compact disc. Emphasis upon the word as a written, visual phenomenon has until recently all but dominated literary- scholarship. Promising and delivering a fascinating, unusual earful, this book does its part to redress that imbalance.

Rising Star. Dandyism. Gender. and Perfor-mance in the Fin de Siècle, by Rhonda K. Carelick. Princeton $32.50

This is a scholarly monograph, which surveys the idea of the dandy in modern literature in a fairly conventional way, from Balzac and Barbey through Baudelaire, Loie Fuller and Oscar Wilde. The real twist in this book occurs at the very end when the author pursues the subject even further into recent popular culture. Prince on the cover of Esquire, Derrida as the darling of academics, and Madonna are analyzed in terms of an enduring category. The dandy, Garelick’s book clearly shows, is alive and well, glittering on the pages of our glossy magazines, flickering on our movie and T.V. screens as a sort of electronic flaneur.

Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French, edited by Dominique D. Fisher and Lawrence R. Schehr. Stanford $55 cloth, $19.95 paper

The gender-studies pot-luck, where 10 or 20 scholars get together, pick a theme, and talk shop, is not an uncommon event these days. Particularly when the subject of discussion is homosexuality in literature, these publications tend to attract all kinds of academic invités, some interesting, some not. Unfortunately, most recent volumes have generally seemed as warmed over and bland as the typical undergraduate pizza. Yet, much to their credit, Fisher and Schehr have managed to collect a surprisingly savory group of essays which actually contribute to our understanding of the varied homosexual representations in French literature and scientific writing of the 19th and 20th centuries. Remarkably thorough, satisfyingly diverse (and yet wholly readable), these articles are without exception polished, engaging, and fresh. Some of the more noteworthy items include David Bell on Stendhal, John Barberet on Baudelaire and Vernon Rosario on Zola. If you miss this party, you will surely be disappointed.

The Picasso Papers, by Rosalind E. Krauss. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25

The author, well known in academic circles as a critic of the 20th century, has written a learned and sophisticated, if highly contentious, polemic on Picasso’s collages and related works. Analyzing Picasso in relation to the writings of Simmel, Adorno, Freud, Bakhtin, Saussure, and Derrida, she interweaves deconstruction and semiology, new historicism and psychoanalysis in a complexly wrought investigation of the artist’s life and work. Although she often refers to Picasso’s “play” and to the “game” of his art, there is little sense of Picasso’s wit and nimbleness in the endgame of her joyless prose, which, deflated by such terms as “signifier” and “commodity,” carries the reader far afield from the beauty of Picasso’s poetry and its inspiration in Mallarmé.

Shakespeare’s Monarchies, by Constance Jordan. Cornell $35

This work sees Shakespeare’s kingly dramas as politically inflected texts that confirm his involvement in the public discourse of the period. The plays reflect an atmosphere of consciousness and debate in which notions of absolutism and constitutionalism were clearly distinguished. Relying on the authority of conscience, subaltern characters—wives, daughters, and servants— resist the tyranny of their husbands, fathers, and masters. These are nevertheless loyal subjects and the message to Shakespeare’s diverse audiences was that the vitality of the king and polity depended on a nuanced cooperative union between ruler and subject. This message is made more explicit in the depictions of how abusive rulers suffer as much as the subjects on whom they impose such abuses.

Decadence and Catholicism, by Ellis Hanson. Harvard $45 cloth. $19.95 paper

Many within the contemporary lesbian and gay rights movement view the Roman Catholic-Church as an enemy. Even before the emergence of this movement, the Catholic Church already boasted an arsenal of doctrines with which to combat sexual outlaws of any type. Why is it, then, that so many gay men have been attracted to an institution that shuns them? This question underlies Ellis Hanson’s interesting literary study of decadent writing at the end of the last century. Through examinations of Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, and J.-K. Huysmans, Hanson argues that Catholicism was as homoerotic as it was homophobic. Further, decadent writers harbored as many misgivings about men in bed together as the Church did. Perhaps the most engaging aspect of this fascinating project is Hanson’s attempt to show that what decadent writers saw in Catholicism, particularly with regard to sexuality, amounted to a genuinely religious symbolism.

Declining the Stereotype: Ethnicity and Representation in French Cultures, by Mireille Rosello. New England $50

In this work, Rosello examines the way stereotypes are played out, manipulated, and deconstructed in novels, film, and the popular press in France. This is a complete, if sotnewhat repetitive, account of both the modern and historical status of identities such as “The Arab” or “The African” in French and Francophone texts The introductory chapters bounce “the stereotype” as an object of study off of theoreticians such as Barthes and Bhabha. From the point of view of literary criticism, Rosello analyses stereotypes not as negative opinions of a certain minority group held by the majority, but as a literary for textual in the post-modem sense of the term technique for evoking or reappropriating a common representation of identity

The Door in the Sky: Coomaraswamy on Myth and Meaning, essays by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Princcton $15.95

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy is best known as a pioneer of Indian art history. This collection of essays, dealing primarily with mythology, demonstrates a broader project: to discover a universal tradition in past world cultures from Greece to India and China. Coomaraswarny is frankly at odds with critics who would accuse him of reading into myth and art purely subjective meaning. He insists that myths are not distorted records of historical events, but rather that events are “the demonstrations of myths.” Vet he is not of the school of Campbell or Jung; his approach is more metaphysical than psychological. These essays give a glimpse into Coomaraswamy’s particular genius. A number are difficult and technical, all are challenging and powerful.

Out of the Woods: The Origins of the Literary Fairy Tale in Italy and France, edited by Nancy L. Canepa. Wayne State $39.95

This thought-provoking book explores the history of fairy tales in Italy and France in the 17th and 18th centuries. It successfully places the fairy tale genre in the context of a complex social, cultural, and literary history. Comprised of an introduction and 11 essays, the collection offers an interesting analysis of the initial origination and later modification of the fairy tale. After reading this book, no one will read a fairy tale with the same innocence as before; and this is perhaps the measure of success for this book.

The Artist in the Modern World, by Oskar Batschmann. Yale $40

This learned but often monotonous and sprawling book broadly surveys the history of the idea of the artist and of his social and political context—from the late 18th century through the present. There is much fascinating material here, but it is poorly shaped. The subtitle of the book is “A Conflict Between Market and Self-Expression,” a theme only vaguely articulated. Nevertheless, there are particular aspects of the author’s story that repay the reader’s close attention—for example, his discussion of the “cult of the artist,” notably of Benjamin West, Antonio Canova, and Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Jankyn’s Book of Wikked Wyves, edited by Ralph Hannah and Traugott Lawler. Georgia $85

“He had a book, he kept it on his shelf, / And night and day he read it to himself/ And laughed aloud, although it was quite serious./ He called it Theophrastus and Valerius.” Thus Chaucer’s Wife of Bath describes her fifth husband and his preferred reading matter. This interesting volume reprints (in Latin and English) the materials which were bound up together in Jankyn’s “book of wicked wives”: Theophrastus on the perils of marriage, Walter Map’s letter to Valerius advising him not to marry, and St. Jerome’s brief for virginity, Against jovinian. Carefully edited, with a scholarly introduction and copious textual notes, this book makes fascinating background reading.

LIVES & LETTERS The Correspondence of William James, Volume 6 1885—1889, edited by Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley, with the assistance of Wilma Bradbeer. Virginia $60

The sixth volume in a series of a projected 12 deepens our acquaintance with James begun by the previous installments. The formula for this series works well: edit with the greatest of care the letters of a first-rate thinker, and produce a work that delights scholars and casual readers alike. It was during the years of this sixth volume that James completed his classic The Principles of Psychology. Even more so than the letters James sent to and received from other intellectuals, the letters to his wife increase our admiration for a thinker whose human qualities matched his mental acuity. In these letters we witness again the extent of James’s devotion to his wife and children; indeed, it seems only his wife can comprehend his grief over the loss of their youngest son Herman during this period. This volume, like the five that preceded it, gives its editors good reason to take pride in a job remarkably well done.

Correspondence: Models of Letter-Writing from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, by Roger Chartier, Alain Boureau & Cécile Dauphin. Princeton $35

This volume comprises four brief essays, translated into English, on various aspects of the historical development of letter-forms from the medieval ars dictaminis to the secrétaires and the popular manuals of the modern period. Read together, they provide a selective interpretation of certain stages in the long and continuous tradition of the model letter, both public and private, which first took shape in the 12th century. There are perceptive comments on the spread of literacy and standardized grammar and spelling, on the emergence of the notary and the jurist in a genre once dominated by the rhetorician, and on the importance of epistolary rules which were not only a reflection of social hierarchy and a means of political control, but a silent invitation to assert one’s individuality by ignoring them.

Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone, by Edwin S, Grosvenor and Morgan Wesson. Abrams $45

Alexander Graham Bell lived a very lively life. On its simplest level, this biography testifies to Bell’s incredibly varied curriculum vitae. Beyond the focus on the individual, it is interesting to note the extent to which technology mediated the relations that Bell formed with other people: from the hobbies and “tinkering about” with family members and friends to the professional endeavors with business associates. The authors effectively move between the inventor and his products and their historical context. As a cultural history of industry, therefore, the biography also describes the social life of “things” such as telephones and their relations with other facets of communication technology. Thus, in places such as the exhibit hall, the lecture theater, the court room, and the patent office, people mediated the relations between the objects of industry and technology at the end of the 19th century. Finally, then, the authors give us a biography of the life of the invention itself and the range of social institutions which allowed its emergence.

Malaga Burning: An American Woman’s Eyewitness Account of the Spanish Civil War, by Gamel Woolsey. Pythia Press $22

The British expatriate in Spain Gerald Brenan wrote a study of Spanish history and national character (The Spanish Labyrinth) which has become a well-known classic in the field. What is less well known is that his wife, the American poet Gamel Woolsey, also wrote penetrating prose about their adopted country. Caught in the southern coastal town of Malaga at the beginning of the civil war in 1936, Woolsey began to write about the difficulties of daily life during the conflict, what she labeled the “pornography of violence.” Originally published in 1939, this is an insightful and moving book.

Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory 1787—1900, edited by Philip S. Foner and Robert James Branham. Alabama $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper

Based on Foner’s 1972 classic Voice of Black America, Foner and Branham have provided scholars with a striking new compendium of black oratory. Adding more than 60 additional speeches to those originally included in volume one of Voice of Black America, Lift Every Voice introduces readers to the heretofore forgotten or overlooked words of early African-American orators, especially women. This volume vividly reaffirms the telling power of the spoken word within African-American history, renewing one’s respect for these early advocates of black human rights. Given the insightful introduction and prefaces to each speech—brief essays that present important biographical and contextual information—Foner and Branham’s volume exists as an important source book for scholars, teachers, and students of the African-American experience. One hopes that Branham will continue the effort and update volume two of Voice of Black America.

M. F. K. Fisher: A Life in Letters, Correspondence 1929—1991, selected and compiled by Norah K. Barr, Marsha Moran, and Patrick Moran. Counterpoint $35

Here is a robust sampling of letters from one of the most engaging American writers of this century, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. Fisher became famous as a food writer who understood the French well. Her reputation eventually blossomed as the public came to decide that she knew human nature quite well. A prolific writer, Fisher left many fans, some of whom will complain that Fisher’s younger sister Norah Barr, Fisher’s longtime secretary Marsha Moran, and Fisher’s close friend Patrick Moran did not include enough letters in this considerably hefty volume. This is the only foreseeable complaint. Although there are some letters to famous people in here, most of the letters are addressed to persons of no fame whatsoever. Through these letters we can gain a sense of the fullness life holds for those who reflect.

The Factory of Facts, by Luc Sante. Pantheon $24

“The past is a quiet place,” the author writes, “where change occurs in increments of glacial slowness.” In this quasi-memoir, more a detective investigation, the author ponders his childhood in Belgium, trying slowly and methodically to put the pieces together. In this thoughtful, lyrical, but also troubling meditation on his origins, the author conceives of the past as a poem, as at best an hypothesis. Forever ironic, Sante conveys his sense of being an alien, which he urges, we all share.

Correggio, by David Ekserdjian. Yale $65

Still overshadowed by Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Titian, Correggio is one of the great painters of the Italian Renaissance. This lavishly illustrated book is a feast for the eyes, as it is filled with reproductions of the painter’s religious pictures, mythologies, and drawings. The text, though written in the dry-as-dust manner of scholarly art historical writing and critically void of spirit, is nevertheless loaded with precise information, much of it previously little known.

The Quest for Graham Greene, by W. J. West. St. Martin’s $24.95

The title of the book is a clue to the approach of this biography, for it echoes A.J.A.’s The Quest for Corvo. In other words, as the author writes, his “quest for Graham Greene often resembled one of his own favorite detective stories, as I came upon tantalizing clues that he had himself planted.” In this respect, the book resembles other such biographical works, both fiction and non-fiction: Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Ian Hamilton’s In Search of J. D. Salinger. All readers become sleuths as they join the author in his fascinating pursuit, based on a body of information and clues, which are sure to enthrall Greene’s numerous admirers.

Notes from Hampstead, by Elias Canetti. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23

The author of the classic Auto-du-Fé (1936) kept a notebook of which this volume is a record, dating from 1954 to 1971. Not only will Canetti’s close readers be enthralled by the aphoristic writings on a wide range of subject; there is something here for everyone. Sometimes the observations are as enigmatic as they are enticing: “The deceitful quality of noise.” At times they are rich in commonsense: “You should heed your contemporaries as well. You can’t get nourishment from roots alone.” This is a work that inspires contemplation.

On a Voiceless Shore: Byron in Greece, by Stephen Minta. Henry Holt $25

“If I am a poet,” Byron wrote, “the air of Greece has made me one.” The air of Greece also killed him. Byron contracted his final, fatal fever on a rainy evening stroll in the empty little town of Mesolongi, a town which today lives on tourist revenues generated from his memory. That would have amused Byron, who did not venerate the past: “a classical column was a place to carve his initials.” Minta’s book is lucid and entertaining but a strange juxtaposition of poetry and prose, impressionistic travelogue and the cold hard facts of biography. As in Byron’s unconventional sexuality (handled here with tactful candor) there are diverse, sometimes conflicting impulses at work. The book aims more at a popular than a scholarly audience, and it is recommended as a hard-eyed look at this literary hero, as well as a cautionary tale for those seeking the glories of Greece amidst the contemporary reality of beer-can litter.

Benjamin Disraeli Letters, Volume VI, 1852-1856, edited by M.G. Wiebe, Mary S. Miller, and Ann P. Robson. Toronto $125

This superbly edited, meticulously annotated, and carefully indexed volume contains 951 letters, 784 of them previously unpublished, penned by the noted British novelist and statesman, Benjamin Disraeli. They provide an intimate portrait of Disraeli’s personal and professional life during a period of great financial difficulty and political frustration. Between 1852 and 1856, Disraeli served in his first cabinet post, opposed the conduct of the Crimean War, and laid the groundwork for both his political rivalry with William Gladstone and his friendship with Queen Victoria. Even more importantly, Disraeli’s unique personality—a mixture of sarcasm, intelligence, inquisitiveness, and ambition—shines through nearly every letter. As it is for this, as much as for the novels he wrote or the policies he pursued while in office, that he is best remembered, it is only fitting that his private correspondence should be edited in so scholarly a fashion.

Johannes Brahms, by Jan Swafford. Knopf $35

“The minor chords that drive the symphony to its end reeled to their final E minor shout, and the Viennese leaped to their feet.” It is with such drama worthy of E.T.A. Hoffmann that the author of this monumental biography writes about one of the great titans of 19th-century music. Despite the author’s passionate dedication to Brahms’s genius, it is his purpose to take his subject “off the pedestal and put him back in the world of the living, with his feet on the ground.” As in any successful biography, this work effectively places Brahms’s accomplishment in its proper context, richly suggesting the links between the work and the man.

In the Realms of Gold: Pioneering in African History, by Roland Oliver. Wisconsin $59.95 cloth, $24.95 paper

Oliver provides an intellectual autobiography that is at the same time a historiographic account of the last 50 years of studies of the African past. After a short account of Oliver’s childhood and education, the book devotes itself to describing the events, institutions, and persons involved in the academic legitimization of Africa as having a history worthy of study. Readers follow Oliver from his first lectureship in “the tribal history of East Africa” in 1948, through the founding of Africanist journals, the publication of by-now canonical texts, the international conferences, and his work in American Universities. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Oliver’s account is the description of his fieldwork in Africa in the 1950’s and the development of methodologies appropriate for the rigorous study of African history. Oliver is very good at giving us details. However, there is little self-consciousness in his writing. It is left up to the reader to begin to analyze some of the intellectual and political tensions that were no doubt involved as Westerners began to undergo the experience of decolonization.

Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess, by Hannah Arendt. Johns Hopkins $29.95

Arendt’s portrait of an 18th-century German-Jewish noblewoman is a classic text in Jewish studies and should become one of those new history crossover works that sells big in soft cover and wins an Oscar for best foreign film. Its appeal is the layering of autobiography and political philosophy. Varnhagen is Arendt and vice versa, and as the two writers speak to each other, the voices of writer and translator blend with Bergmanesque potential. Liliane Weissberg’s introduction presents a masterful introduction to the paired genres of autobiography and political philosophy.

Ama Adhe: The Voice that Remembers, the Heroic Story of a Woman’s Flight To Free Tibet, by Adhe Tapontsang. Wisdom $19.95

Ama Adhe is the biography of a Tibetan woman who, after 27 years of imprisonment in Chinese labor camps, is finally free to tell the world about her physical and mental resistance to Chinese torture and humiliation. Adhe Tapontsang’s captivating story is a testimony to the powers of the human will. Despite repeated beatings and assaults, she neither turned in other Tibetans who have shared her views and participation in clandestine reprisal against the People’s Liberation Army, nor did she relinquish her faith in the Dalai Lama. Adhe’s story is a disturbing account of the annihilation of Tibet’s culture, religion, and landscape since the Chinese invasion during the 1950’s, as well as a report of how the world turned its back on Tibet. While only a biography, this provoking book urges readers worldwide finally to react in order to restitute freedom and human rights to Tibetans in Tibet and in exile.

To “Joy My Freedom”: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War, by Tera W. Hunter. Harvard $29.95

To “Joy My Freedom” looks at the struggles of black working class women in the United States from the end of slavery until the Great Migration during World War I. Hunter argues that African-American women’s attempts to overcome the hardships of servitude and poverty in post-bellum Georgia were often countered by more rigid forms of repression by public authorities. Nevertheless, African-American women found other ways of combatting oppression through their ties to the community and their involvement in neighborhood organizations. Hunter argues that the role of women in the formation and maintenance of African-American communities during this time as crucial to both those who remained in the South and those who eventually migrated North. Through a wide variety of documentary sources focusing on the lives of black working class women, Hunter opens up a view of the South that rarely gets captured.

FICTION Jacob’s Ladder, by Donald McCaig. Norton $25.95

In a prepublication blurb about this novel, Publisher’s Weekly observed: “Imagine a collaboration between Shelby Foote and Margaret Mitchell and you get some idea of . . .this fine literary novel.” PW was not exaggerating in the slightest. Jacob’s Ladder is, in the judgment of this reviewer, the finest novel about the Civil War ever written. It is exactly what its subtitle says it is “a story of Virginia during the war.” It begins at the time of John Brown’s raid and it goes to Appomattox, and it leaves very little out about that bloody, brutal conflict. Its characters are as diverse as they are all too human. Jacob’s Ladder is a better novel than Cold Mountain. It makes Gone With the Wind look like the soap opera it really is in the last analysis. And compared to it, Mary Johnston’s The Long Roll and Cease Firing seem as much out of date as silent movies. McCaig has produced a masterpiece which deserves a wide readership.

Visitors, by Anita Brookner. Random House $23

Indisputably one of the finest and most prolific English novelists of our generation, Anita Brookner is a connoisseur and shrewd analyst of loneliness. In this her 17th novel, the author continues to penetrate the pathos of old age. In the twilight of life, Dorothea May spends “solemn hours, hours of infinite recall of the mind on automatic pilot, throwing up fragments of conversations decades old, or memories of a school-friend not seen for even longer” until she is confronted by the carefree young Steven Best, who puts her life in a new perspective. Although the compass of Ms. Brookner’s novels is inevitably small, the prose always delights in its music and nuance. Admirers of her work will once again turn to her craft with pleasure.

Cromartie V: The God Shiva Acting Through the Government of India, by Rumer Godden. Morrow $22

Be patient with this little book. Once we have left the chambers of London’s Inns of Court, and arrived on India’s warm and colorful Coromandel Coast, Rumer Godden—who has written so well for so long of the land where she spent memorable years of childhood—is in home territory, and her tale of love and intrigue begins to dance like the god Shiva, whose priceless statue has been unearthed at a construction site, only to disappear—and reappear in the elegant and shady world of Western art dealers. Rumer Godden unravels the mystery with her usual humor and delicacy.

Cloud Chamber, by Michael Dorris. Scribner $12

Michael Dorris’ final book epitomizes the elegant shifts in narrative voice for which he has become known. Cloud Chamber traces the lives of five generations of an American family descended from a headstrong Irish matriarch through Rayona, the heroine from Dorris’ earlier novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. While much historical and social context is left to the imagination of the reader, the concerns of each generation have a familiar resonance. The continuity in personalities and themes across the generations is striking, but Dorris seems to have sacrificed a sufficiently complete depiction of any one character (and his or her stories) for the breadth of genealogical continuity. Dorris’ writing exquisitely expresses the depth of emotion felt by his characters.

Bad Chemistry, by Gary Krist. Random House $24

In this compelling first novel, short story writer Krist switches genres to mystery but continues his trenchant exploration of suburban life. Kate Baker, a former Chicago cop from a working-class family of cops, is enthralled with her liberal entrepreneur husband Joel and her new life in a wealthy D.C. suburb. And then Joel disappears. Next, a chemist for Joel is found murdered, the police making him a prime suspect. Clues pop up that Joel may have been involved in drug dealing or importing illegal plants or creating designer drugs. Kate’s search for her husband encompasses the unravelling of Joel’s past, their marriage, and the meaning and boundaries of what two people can share.

Killing Time, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Scribner $20

This is the sixth mystery featuring Inspector Bill Slider of Shepard’s Bush, London and in this installment, Slider attempts to solve the murder of a gay nightclub dancer while balancing more private concerns about his partner, his ex-wife, and his current girlfriend. It’s all a bit much, really, but then Slider is very much a man of the ‘90’s, warm heart and all that, and he juggles it all rather successfully. The story moves along, the dialogue is peppered with the appropriate cop talk and street slang, and it’s all quite entertaining.

Into the Twilight, Endlessly Grousing, by Patrick F. McManus. Simon & Schuster $20

This is the tenth collection of short tales by McManus, a columnist for Outdoor Life. The stories are very short and, with few exceptions, very tunny, the perfect length for reading out loud. They are full of the adventures of Retch Sweeney, ignoramus, and Rancid Crabtree, the mountain man, and two young boys as they explore the ins and outs of their hometown, Blight, Idaho. McManus’s wry observations, wordplay, and understatement make this an entertaining collection.

The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories, by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott. Chicago $17.95

These stories are rich, dark, caustic, and wildly entertaining. Only one small story to a page, each has the feeling of an over-heard anecdote, or a fable, or an interesting item found buried in a newspaper. Some read like trial reports, others like personal memories. The short-fiction satire format works smartly with Bernhard’s wellknown handling of our modern world’s themes of corruption, and absurdity, where the characters; innocents, or misanthropes succumb to murder, madness, suicide, or unexplained disappearance.

A Lover’s Almanac, by Maureen Howard. Viking $24.95

An intimate but wide-reaching book of days, Maureen Howard’s novel begins with the new millennium, after lovers Artie Freeman and Louise Moffett have broken up at a New Year’s Eve bash. Taking as its touchstone William James’s observation that “[t]he world is full of partial stories that run parallel to one another,” the novel not only follows the computer geek Artie and the artist Louise as they come to terms with their families, their vocations, and each other, but it pulls in the stories of characters whose lives intersect with Artie’s and Louise’s, including a teen-aged runaway, a retired Wall Street businessman who immerses himself in history, and a computer tycoon obsessed with predicting the weather. The novel explores cultural as well as personal histories, weaving in quotations from William James, Melville, and Woolf as well as fascinating essays into astrology, government, science, and art. The style dazzles with its wit and reach, as Howard writes of “strutting in stiletto” and “cookie-cutter hearts, tokens hard as tortoiseshell.” Although the lovers’ story—and its spinoffs—woo the reader, the pleasure is less in reading for the plot than in following the magical movements of Howard’s mind as it dances, for instance, from genetics to consumerism to Wall Street.

Starting Out in the Evening, by Brian Morton. Crown $25

In a rare combination of tenderness and exploration of ideas, Morton intertwines the lives of an aging novelist and an exuberant young graduate student setting out to write her thesis on his work. When they meet, Heather has to overcome her disbelief that this rigid overweight man could have authored the passionate novels that inspired her in her youth. Meanwhile, Schiller moves from dismissing her interest in him to dreaming that her thesis could rescue him from obscurity. What follows is a quasi-romantic friendship and intellectual engagement that investigates the production and meaning of both art and personal connection.

The Smithsonian Institution, by Gore Vidal. Random House $23

In this historical fantasy—where Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory meets The Washington Post—Vidal writes a love letter to the nation’s capital as satirical science fiction. The “divine Gore” is unsurpassed as critic and wit. “Genius,” he writes here, “is no excuse for deliberately shirking the necessary quotidian tasks of our God-given mediocrity.” Such heaven-sent mediocrity is found here in a work that, for all its cleverness and historical acumen, falls short as imaginative literature. Once again we are reminded that Vidal’s genius as a man of letters resides not in his novels, but elsewhere—in his role as pundit and critic.

Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks. HarperCollins $27.50

Banks’ story of abolitionist John Brown is at once a meditation on race, a domestic drama, and a major novel with powerful resonances on the dangerous fanaticisms of our time. Prompted by an historian’s request, Brown’s reclusive son Owen relives and reimagines his nomadic family life and his father’s evolution from idealist to violent radical. The intensity of Brown’s passion and prophecy scar many, motivate others, and illustrates how righteousness can turn into terrorism and martyrdom. Beautifully written, it is a moving, wise, and timely work.

Goodnight, Nebraska, by Tom McNeal. Random House $23

In this tough-minded but soft-hearted first novel, Randall Hunsacker escapes an increasingly dysfunctional family and troubled past by accepting his high school football coach’s offer to leave California and resettle in a tiny Nebraska town, playing for the high school team there. Upon arriving, Randall becomes a quiet and mysterious outsider who manages to marry the town’s beauty. But the couple do not have an easy time of it, and in telling their story McNeal tells the story of a town and its inhabitants, illuminating the warts and the small pleasures.


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