Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Winter 1980


ISSUE:  Winter 1980

Before being herded off to incineration, a Jewish couple managed to leave its ten-year-old son behind disguised as a Catholic youth in a seminary in France. This is that boy’s memoir. Friedländer is now an historian (author, most recently, of History and Psychoanalysis) and a resident of Israel. The memoir was written during, and in part about, an Israel of tense times (1977). There somehow the loss of particular hope opens on the power of life in itself. There the exilic have sought to overcome Israel, surrendering the mystery they seem to have accrued for centuries in Europe in the minds of others, becoming plain men (farmers, laborers, mechanics, and necessarily soldiers)— “partly,” as Saul Bellow says (To Jerusalem and Back)”in rejection of the character they had acquired in exile,” and partly to avoid emitting the spark to reignite whatever kind of insanity afflicted potential enemies then and today. Life in extremis goes on, and, as Friedländer accounts well, is never quite outside madness, as detached as we can try to be. Something in this is uncovered in the very act (and hence testimony) of memory. This book is drama. Survivorship is always the historian’s most precise tool and tale. Here there are no bones about it.

Cunninghame Graham: A Critical Biography, by Cedric Watts and Laurence Davies. Cambridge $27.50

I once saw Cunninghame Graham riding in Hyde Park. Eighty or more at the time, erect, angular, he did resemble Don Quixote, although his horse, as always, was far superior to Rosinante. This Scottish heir to a large but encumbered estate led a varied and exciting life: on the pampas of Uruguay and Argentina, in Spain and North Africa, as an insurgent M.P., the first Socialist in Parliament, and founder and president of the first Labour Party. Always a friend of the underdog, he was also a helpful friend to W.H. Hudson, Conrad, and Shaw, providing background for some books (Nostromo) and serving as a model for some characters (Saranoff in Arms and the Man). He also wrote voluminously. What there is to say about a man like this the authors of this book, who worked on it for a long time, have said at some length and at times, it must be admitted, rather tediously. This last is too bad, for whatever Cunninghame Graham may have been, he was not a bore.

Bertolt Brecht: Diaries 1920—1922, edited by Herta Ramthun. St. Martin’s $8.95

If you would understand the winter of Germany’s discontent, the Weimar period, you could do worse than to read Brecht. His works and in many ways his life embodied the culture of political despair. The world, especially the Germans’ world, had come loose from its moorings. It was to be expected that politics had taken leave of its senses, but the trouble was that society followed. And what was the artist to do? Where were the norms, or the material with which to create new ones? Brecht found them in a kind of Spenglerian cynicism and despair. He is not easy to read, and certainly he has little that is inspirational; but Brecht was a true son of the Great War and of Weimar, and his diaries have the steely ring of authenticity.

Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, edited and with an introduction by John Hall Wheelock; new introduction by Marcia Davenport. Scribner’s $12.50

The importance of this collection is so great that a reviewer is tempted not to call attention to the fact that it was first published in 1950, soon after the death of the great editor. What is new is the introduction by one of Perkins’ most successful authors, and what she says goes a long way toward explaining why it is vital to keep the Perkins letters before the public. She points out that Perkins was, in life, a laconic man. He said little. Nothing that would account for the trust, devotion, gratitude (and sometimes dependence, although Perkins always insisted his literary judgment must not be deferred to) his authors felt. Where Perkins’ advice—his wisdom— came out was in the letters he wrote—often very long, unparalleled as guides to what makes a work of literary art and how to make one. These letters should be kept in print, for they constitute the only actual record of what it was Perkins was trying to say about writing. The book is, thus, not about Maxwell Perkins; it is Maxwell Perkins.

Aline, by Carole Klein. Harper & Row $12.95

This tedious biography is more interesting for the question it raises than for its subject. Aline was Aline Bernstein, who is described on the cover as “Famed Stage Designer and Mistress of Thomas Wolfe.” From what should one derive one’s importance, one’s profession or one’s avocation? If avocation, then think of the billions of mistresses who have been slighted! In this specific case it doesn’t really matter, for one drops the book in exhaustion long before Aline even meets Tom.

Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur, by Ernest Samuels. Harvard $15

This account of how intellectual power made a virtual one-man revolution in scholarship is an exciting one, and the personal story that lies behind it is rich in human complication. Indeed, the biography goes beyond novelistic analogy in its account of private lives. Next to Berenson himself, the most interesting character in the book is Mary Costelloe, who became his collaborator and mistress and eventually his wife. Their marriage of minds is extraordinarily documented: in the first six months that he knew Mary, Berenson’s letters to her came to more than 100,000 words. Mary’s side of the relation is recorded almost as fully and with exceptional candor. The result is a unique account of the relation of a man and a woman, the more important because it is bound up with more than personal history. In short, The Making of a Connoisseur, is biography at its very best.

Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of fames Joyce by Europeans, edited by Willard Potts. Washington $12.95

These illuminating accounts of Joyce in Europe range from that of his early friend and colleague in Pola, Alessandro Francini Bruno, to two recollections of his last days and death by Paul Ruggiero and Paul Leon. Altogether, 14 people, some Joyce’s close friends, some mere acquaintances, show him as they saw him, in widely ranging moods and circumstances. Many conversations are recorded in extraordinarily great detail. Of particular interest are those in which Joyce is talking about his own work.

Diary of the American War, A Hessian Journal, by Captain John Ewald. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. Yale $27.50

A detailed account of Revolutionary War action by the Hessian Field-Jäger Corps as seen by a perceptive mercenary officer whose loyalty to his men shines through a dreary campaign at Charleston and a horrendous climax at Yorktown. Ewald’s attention to detail and sound judgment marked him for greater things, but in the American campaigns he was fighting with heart but not with soul. Grudgingly, he admitted the Americans were good soldiers, but like a good European he denigrated their idealism. Along with the military history there are many poignant commentaries on life in wartime Carolina and Virginia.

Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher, by Henry Regnery. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

When Mr. Regnery speaks of his early life and education, he is fascinating. When he writes of his publishing house and the many noble causes he and his writers have espoused, he produces, alas, a kind of expanded publisher’s catalogue. Political tussles of the immediate past are outshone in interest by those of the present or of the far past, a fact that is pointed up all too strongly by this book.

The Path through the Trees, by Christopher Milne. Button $10.95

Christopher Milne has written two books to free himself from the burden of being his father’s son and the model for Christopher Robin. The first, The Enchanted Places, told of his childhood, Winnie the Pooh, and all that. The Path through the Trees is a full but rather rambling account of his adult life. He says it is “about the non-Pooh part of my life. It is an escape from Christopher Robin.” Escape he did: first, in World War II, as an engineer who moved from Iraq to Africa to Italy; later, moving through various unsatisfactory jobs, marrying, running a bookstore in Dartmouth in Devon, moving from house to house, raising a spastic daughter, for love of whom he accepted the royalties from the Pooh books which came his way after his mother’s death. This is a very quiet book, but a very thoughtful and interesting one.

Voltaire, by Jean Orieux. Doubleday $15.95

Voltaire’s own style and temper made of him the ideal subject for shallow, clever biography. Jean Orieux is perhaps the best practitioner of that overworked genre, but even the brittle charm of his superficialities is compromised by an unwillingness to forego a single anecdote, however vapid. The result is not only prolix, but stultifying—the perfect target for a piquant and devasting epigram à la maniè re de Voltaire.

The Papers of John Adams, edited by Robert J. Taylor, et al Vols. 3 and 4. Harvard $55 for the set

It’s hard to improve on the editors’ own summary: “The picture of Adams that emerges in these two volumes is of a man punishing himself with committee work, yet somehow thriving on the demands made upon or readily assumed by him, despite his complaints of exhaustion and bad health and of the disgust he felt with some of his colleagues.” The busybody quality of Adams’ life is evident, along with his valetudinarianism and vanity. The editors claim to have cut back in these volumes by omitting 37 routine letters. They also say that “no member of Congress” had more to do with the ultimate decision to opt for independence. This may be true, although a fair case might be made for John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson— even Samuel Adams. Impressive for the quality of the production and the skills of the staff, but some further reductions might be in order.

Kandinsky in Munich: The Formative Jugendstil Years, by Peg Weiss. Princeton $30

The learned and talented curator of the Everson Museum (Syracuse, N.Y.) here interprets Kandinsky’s mature abstract style as the result of a fruitful interaction in Munich between the abstractionism of the Jugendstil and the contrary internality of symbolism. In the course of her study appear fresh examinations of Kandinsky’s ornamental work as well as his painting, and a great deal of new material on the artist in Munich before World War I. The book’s splendid illustrations, too, bring together a great deal of material unavailable elsewhere.

FICTIONTestimony and Demeanor, by John Casey. Knopf $8.95

This is a stunning collection of stories, enriched by the author’s Rabelaisian sense of fun, a keen, analytical mind, and a control of the English language that sometimes takes the reader’s breath away. There are four stories altogether: “A More Complete Cross-Section,” “Mandarins in a Farther Field,” and “Testimony and Demeanor,” which were originally published in The New Yorker, and a longer story, “Connaissance des Arts,” published here for the first time. The titles themselves suggest the rather self-conscious, and initially detached attitude of the various first-person narrators, Ivy League educated men trying to apply the catechism of behavior they learned in prep schools of the fifties to the social challenges of the sixties and seventies. To their credit, they seem to grow from insight to insight, as they peel back layers of complexity in the behavior of the people around them and finally, of course, themselves. Don’t just read this book. Buy it, and keep it to read again. Its riches are the kind that last.

The Four Hundred, by Stephen Sheppard. Summit Books $11.95

Reminiscent of The Great Train Robbery and based upon an historical event from the Caribbean a century ago, this swashbuckling novel relates the heist of $40,000,000 in staid Victorian days of yore from the Bank of England by four daring Americans who first have a dry run in South America. Errol Flynn would have loved it.

Prize Stories 1979: The O. Henry Awards, edited by William Abrahams. Doubleday $10

In annual collections such as this, one often senses a kind of unity in content when a sufficient number of stories embody identical or similar themes. Although in this volume no specific underlying theme prevails, the collection as a whole is clearly unified, not through thematic content but through the narrative method employed by most of the writers. At least ten of the 21 stories are told by a first-person narrator; and in nearly all the remaining stories, the authors make full use of their omniscience by entering into the consciousness of one or more of their characters. Thus, in their rejection of the objective and dramatic method of narration, the majority of authors have chosen “to tell” rather than “to show.” These stories not only reveal a quality of life and thought characteristic of the present era but also suggest that traditional morality and universal truths may still serve as guides for conduct. In his informative introduction, Mr. Abrahams explains why the survival of the short story may be dependent upon the survival of “little magazines.”

Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye. St. Martin’s $12.95

This is an earlier novel of India by the author of 1978’s surprise best seller, The Far Pavilions, and it should sell equally as well, if not better. Indeed, Mollie Kaye has produced an Indian Gone With the Wind, an epic every bit as exciting and memorable as Margaret Mitchell’s classic. For our Civil War, you have the Great (sepoy) Mutiny of 1857; in place of Scarlett and Rhett, you get Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall; every bit as ferocious as the Yankees are multitudes of Indians risen against their British rulers. Kaye knows her India as Mitchell knew her South, and she is superb in describing that subcontinent’s appalling heat and awful squalor, its mixture of beauty and brutality, misery and majesty. Great literature her novel perhaps is not. But it is undeniably a great read, one you’ll find hard to stop once you start.

In Between the Sheets, by Ian McEwan. Simon & Schuster $8.95

In McEwan’s best story, “Psychopolis,” a furniture salesman introduces the narrator to the local bartender as “a specialist in bizarre remarks.” Undoubtedly, we are meant to take this epithet as McEwan’s self-characterization, for these stories all derive their power and meaning from elements of the bizarre and the absurd. Like the best South American writers, McEwan does not encase his surreal fictions in so-called experimental narrative forms. As a matter of fact, these stories succeed because their subjects—alienated heroes who engage in perfunctory, dehumanized sexual relations—clash with McEwan’s compassionate, witty, and artful literary style. These violent and perverse stories are clearly not for everyone. But if one can overcome the initial repulsion of reading about the love affairs between a female novelist and an ape or a millionaire and a mannequin, then the reader can enter into these splendid yet squalid urban landscapes of what takes place in between the sheets.

I Know Your Heart, Marco Polo, by Henry Bromell. Knopf $7.95

Many family histories are written at great length and make a formidable volume. This book, on the contrary, tells a great deal about three generations of a family in fewer than 150 pages. In fact, readers who encountered the four sections separately in The New Yorker, where they first appeared, may not have realized that they make up an unusual family portrait, told in a vivid shorthand, with much to be read between the lines.

Music and Silence, by Anne Redmon. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $10

An ambitious, troubling novel set in London and dealing pointedly with so many grand themes that it comes across rather unfocused and shallow for all the attempt at depth. Still, Anne Redmon’s second book is a brave portrayal of two pathetic women and a religious fanatic who struggle to accomplish many things: to escape the clutches of their now-absent but ever-tyrannical mothers—all three neurotic in extreme and peculiar ways—to search for love; to confront hate; to come to terms with guilt and religion and the demands of art. The plotting is a pleasure to follow; and, if one can bear up under the self-searching, self-contradicting, self-flagellating monologues of the principal characters, Ms. Redmon’s language at times reaches such rhythmic, melodic beauty as to make one hear as music her words upon the page.

The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs, by E. V. Cunningham. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $6.95

A Nisei detective in his oriental inscrutability miraculously solves four related murders the day after they are committed in this dull novel, whose only redeeming social value is its brevity. No wonder that the author, who is an asserted distinguished writer, has used a pseudonym in penning this dreary mystery story which purports to have been written as a suspense thriller.

A Bend in the River, by V. S. Naipaul. Knopf $8.95

Naipaul’s seventh novel continues his dark chronicle of the aftermath of European colonialism, this time in an African “democracy” obviously patterned on Zaire, the former Belgian Congo. Salim, the narrator, is an Indian merchant who tries to remain an isolated observer, but he becomes embroiled in the casual corruption and recurring violence of an updated “heart of darkness.” Naipaul’s political vision and his feeling for ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations make him one of the most important novelists writing in English today.

Silence, by Shusaku Endo. Taplinger $9.95

This, the first of Endo’s works to be translated into English, is a powerful novel of the limits of faith under persecution. In the time of Hideyoshi’s terrible effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan, word reaches Portugal that a revered teacher, Father Ferreira, had apostatized under torture. Three of his former students, unable to believe this rumor, finally obtain permission to go to Nagasaki to try to determine the truth. After incredible hardships, only one of the three remains, and it is with his terrifying experiences after capture that this book is concerned. Partially based on fact, the novel moves in the direction of a horrifying generality which can be tested against happenings in our own 20th century.

The Passion Artist, by John Hawkes. Harper & Row $9.95

Women prey on Konrad Vost, a pathetic pharmacist, born to a murderess, married to an adulteress, and father to a child prostitute. Huge horses and horse-like women paw him into submission and freedom from repression. In this flat, droning tale, everything repels; nothing relieves. Hawkes eschews all richness and poetry to reproduce the listless voice of the dreamer, narrating a nightmare as cryptic as it is appalling. Perhaps what Roger Sale said about the Blood Oranges applies; it is the work of a “contemptible imagination.”

The Virgin in the Garden, by A. S. Byatt. Knopf $11.95

Since The Virgin in the Garden is a layered novel, there are, of course, two virgins in the garden. The first is Elizabeth I about whom a pageant is being prepared on the occasion of the coronation of her successor Elizabeth II. The second virgin is the determined young actress who plays the young Elizabeth in the pageant. Needless to say, she is no virgin by the end of the book. Symbol, mysticism, and humor are strongly interwoven in this hierarchical tale, so that the moments of reality, all rather too graphic, are almost too startling. Nevertheless, it is an absorbing and individual book.

Hammerstrike, by Walter Winward. Simon & Schuster $10.95

Like so many of the genre, this is a good novel up to the point at which you have to take it seriously. After all, the basic premise— an escape of Nazi POW’s from a camp in England—is a good one, and it does not defy reason at all. But the crucial point comes when the rescue team despatched from Germany has to get inside the camp. Get inside it does, but not by any means we can call even remotely believable, and it is all downhill from there, right to the Götterdämmerung ending.

The Green Ripper, by John D. MacDonald. Lippincott $9.95

A sense of moral urgency colors The Green Ripper, MacDonald’s hasty addition to the Travis McGee legacy. The macho McGee and the intellectual Meyer, MacDonald’s alter egos, suffer from the paranoid delusion that an international, leftist, terrorist cult threatens the stability of our great republic. As if. this weren’t bad enough, Meyer/MacDonald, the economist, outlines a reactionary portrait of economic despair that even the swarthy, apolitical heroism of McGee/MacDonald cannot abate. This bleak departure from the proven MacDonald formula will disappoint his loyal readers who ignored the political implications of the 17 earlier McGee books. We must now confront the long dormant, silly social vision of John D. MacDonald.

The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $8.95

In the Ghost Writer, which originally appeared in two issues of The New Yorker, Roth atones for his comic genius, for his sin of exploiting the lower-class Jews of Newark. Readers of Portnoy’s Complaint retell tales of fantasy and masturbation at the expense of Roth’s moral end, advocating respect for the historically conscious Jews of the Israeli kibbutzim. The moral in The Ghost Writer is not appended but integrated into this tale of literary apprenticeship. E.I. Lonoff, Nathan Zuckerman’s (Roth’s) literary mentor (more Singer than Malamud) shoulders the glories and burdens of an ancient race and never sinks into easy comedies of manners. He is all that Roth aspires to be. In this, his best book, Roth ghost writes a finely crafted novella for the fictive Lonoff.

The Solstice Cipher, by Bruce Hatton Boyer. Lippincott $8.95

An American spy who parachutes into France on D-Day fails to make contact with Field Marshal Rommel in order to negotiate a peace between the Allies and the Germans at the expense of Russia. The author of this first novel should resume one of his former trades of linguist, advertising writer, actor, playwright, wine expert, college professor, or stage director.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSJourneys Through the South, by Fred Powledge. Vanguard $10

A native of North Carolina, Fred Powledge writes with a lively, engaging style. His basic allegiance to the South often sets it sharply in relief against a narrow concept of the North as capitalism, depersonalization, and abuse of natural resources. His dislike of suburbia and bureaucracy is evident in his repeated chagrin at the encroachment on the South of fast-food franchises, interstates, and shopping malls. He sees the salient features of Southerners as their deep attachment to place, greater respect for individuality, and more pride taken in their work. Powledge concludes that Southerners have, in the past decade, lost their terrible preoccupation with race, and yet have not become absorbed into the American mainstream—a fate seemingly equated, in this book, with hopeless mediocrity.

The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $12.95

This episodic chronicle of the U. S. space program probes the politics, personalities, and Zeitgeist of the early space age. Wolfe uses the history of the “single combat warrior” to show how the astronauts became our David to the Russian Goliath. There is a wealth of often comic material on aviation; and, as the book whimpers to a close after a hellacious bang of a start, one wishes for fewer details on the astronauts’ personal lives and more explanation of the media’s role in so single-mindedly creating these instant heroes. The “single combat” thesis is titillating but, alas, never gets the expansion it deserves—such as comparison with other overnight heroes like Lindbergh. Still, this is riveting and delightful reading.

Congress and the Bureaucracy, by R. Douglas Arnold. Yale $17.50

Congress and the Bureaucracy is a rather broad title for a study of how members of the House of Representatives sometimes influence decisions in selected federal agencies regarding the geographic distribution of program expenditures. Congressmen like to see the federal government spend money in their districts; bureaucrats like to have their budget requests approved; not surprisingly, a certain amount of mutual backscratching results. Arnold gives this phenomenon a thorough quantitative analysis that is well documented, carefully argued, and sensitive to the complexities of legislative and administrative behavior. If the book may be criticized for proving the obvious, it can, at least, be praised for doing so with a sound methodology, a clearly written text, and a competent awareness of the political and theoretical implications of the research results.

The China Difference: A Portrait of Life Today Inside the Country of One Billion, edited by Ross Terrill. Harper & Row $12.95

The too-cute title (suggested maybe by J.K. Galbraith?) should not deter readers, for this is one of the most useful volumes yet on China. Sixteen specialists, several of whom know how to write, look at daily life, culture, politics, and the survival of ancient Chinese values in the post-Mao state. The close look at China that these scholars were able to take was due, of course, to President Nixon’s initiative in the early 1970’s, the fruits of which we are now beginning to reap in ever-increasing quantities. Highly recommended.

A Time to Heal, by Gerald R. Ford. Harper & Row $12.95

James Bryce, in The American Commonwealth, observed that it seems to be the fate of America that great men seldom find their way into the White House. Mediocrity may well be the essence of American politics. But, then, what must we think of Gerald Ford, our first unelected chief executive? To suggest greatness would probably be too strong; but as this autobiography reveals, if greatness is rare, goodness is not.

With the aid of a “ghost writer,” Ford has written an autobiography that we should have expected. Before the presidency was dropped on him, his life was not exactly exciting; and the tenor of his pre-presidential days is preserved here in all its drabness. Although not terribly spirited, this volume is still enjoyable reading for those who are interested in the presidency as well as for those interested simply in Jerry’s courtship of Betty.

The Office of Management and Budget and the Presidency, 1921—1979, by Larry Berman. Princeton $15

As the only agency in the executive branch of the federal government whose sole institutional loyalty is to the president, the Office of Management and Budget is perhaps the one staff agency which has the ability to provide the professionally objective, nonpartisan administrative and management support to the Office of the President. This excellent historical analysis by Larry Berman traces the descent of this agency from a once impartial, highly respected institution to a politicized instrument of presidential policies. Professor Berman demonstrates that the failure of OMB lies not so much within the institution itself, but with the misuse of the agency by recent presidents for purposes for which it was not intended. OMB’s future role will not be determined by any change in administrative machinery but by the quality of leadership given to it by a president who recognizes and respects its true purpose.

Neither Athens nor Sparta?: The American Service Academies in Transition, by John P. Lovell. Indiana $17.50

Primarily a painstakingly documented history of the decisions governing the internal policies and atmosphere at the service academies, this book focuses upon the background of the people who have made the policies in the period since World War II. Much of the material was acquired through personal interviews; therefore, this book is a very useful resource for readers interested in the people who made major decisions about the service academies. The “case histories,” presented in Part II, however, are not case histories in the sense used in schools of law, business, or public administration, since they do not focus upon a particular decision or chain of events and do not deal with well-defined questions or principles. They are, rather, simply histories, and the analysis which follows is really a collection of ideas and concepts that the reader might wish to apply to the facts already presented. The result is that Parts I and II seem to be almost a separate book from the last two parts. Both halves are worth getting but for different reasons.

Labyrinths of Power: Political Recruitment in Twentieth Century Mexico, by Peter H. Smith. Princeton $25 cloth, $9.75 paper

This very thorough study is well worth buying if one is interested in either Mexico or elite studies. The author modestly states that he intends to concentrate exclusively upon the description of the characteristics of Mexican leaders and the patterns within which they obtain power. His book, however, carries implications for the study of public administration, decision-making, political systems, political behavior, and regime transformation. Furthermore, the data and analysis lend themselves to a variety of interests and approaches within political science. The reader with more general interests, although he may find the style occasionally dry, will discover a book important in understanding a country which is exerting an increasingly important cultural and economic influence upon the United States.

Munich: The Price of Peace, by Telford Taylor. Doubleday $17.50

World War II for many policy-makers and historians began with Munich, the fateful conference of 1938, when the West capitulated to Hitler. The two leading actors of that tragic conference were the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain’s name has become synonymous with appeasement, and present-day leaders shrink from repeating the fateful course that the Birmingham businessman with the umbrella is believed to have followed. At the time, the Munich agreement was generally applauded except in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and the four negotiators— Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, and Mussolini—returned to heroes’ welcomes in their respective capitals. The main thesis of Munich: The Price of Peace by Telford Taylor is that Chamberlain was no blunderer but a moral realist; that nothing of importance was decided at Munich; that the decisive choices about Czechoslovakia were made earlier at Berchtesgaden and later at Berlin; and that the conference itself was merely “a prologue to tragedy.” Taylor’s thesis is that Chamberlain fervently believed that peace could be purchased but not at any price and that the bargain he struck failed because of the foreign and military policies of the principals, not the actions, at Munich.

LITERARY STUDIESDos Passos: Artist as American, by Linda W. Wagner. Texas $14.95

It is unlikely that any more extensive analysis, discussion, and evaluation of John Dos Passos’s work will appear between the covers of a medium-sized book than this current review and appraisal by a professor of English and American literature. Dos Passos was a prolific writer, and Professor Wagner has a great deal to say not only about his novels but also about his less well-known poetry, plays, and essays. In her discussion of his themes, she stresses the important influence of particular facts and events on his work, such as his early interest in Walt Whitman, whose poetry and vision he greatly admired, and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, which he so bitterly denounced. What is lacking in Wagner’s conscientious, intelligent, and interesting study is some brief account of Dos Passos’ background.

On Not Being Good Enough; Writings of a Working Critic, by Roger Sale. Oxford $12.95

There are few “working critics” in America today; that is, few critics who regularly review serious fiction and poetry. Most of these critics, Sale included, aspire to the position of man-of-letters left vacant by the death of Edmund Wilson. Not one of them, especially Sale, has achieved that distinction. This latest attempt at Wilsonian prose, Sale’s collected book reviews, misses the mark. The essays, unlike the best of Wilson, never transcend the genre for which they were originally written. Sale fails to demonstrate, in lieu of a theoretical approach, a true, identifiable, critical voice. Instead, he drones; he brags of reading more current, undiscovered fiction than anyone he has ever met, yet he gives little indication of this feat in the texture of his essays. Few “working critics” would dare collect such hastily conceived, occasional pieces. Surely, Sale’s reviews are not “good enough” for a life between hard covers.

Chaucer and Ovid, by John M. Fyler Yale $14.50

Mr. Fyler does less to illuminate or revivify the tired old cliché that Chaucer is England’s Ovid than one would have thought possible. Unconcerned about the problematics of influence, of the ways in which one poet may be said to “use” another’s poetry, he fails to address the significant difficulties inherent in his chosen subject. He does not appear to have considered that medieval readers read a different Ovid from the one a modern critical tradition has taught us to read. That medievalized Ovid is not known to Mr. Fyler, and he wastes no time on such matters. The book would more appropriately have been titled A Miscellany of Comment on the Chaucerian Narrator, but ultimately little is said under that title that has not been said in more learned and subtle essays by other critics.

Milton Studies XII, edited by James D. Simmonds. Pittsburgh $14.95

The tenth anniversary volume of this annual publication is neatly divided: there are four essays on Paradise Lost, three on Paradise Regained, three on Samson Agonistes, and two of a more general nature— one on Milton’s use of kairos (probably best translated as “decisive moment”) and one giving some new facts on his career as secretary for foreign languages under Cromwell. For ten years the criticism published here has been outstanding in quality, variety, and originality; for these years Miltonists have been in debt to its editors and contributors; a high standard has been set in those years for what one hopes will be the many years to follow.

Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre, by Sharon Cameron. Johns Hopkins $15

An exceptionally insightful and rigorous study of Emily Dickinson’s poetics and thematics, this volume mistakenly reaches for a degree of generality far beyond its otherwise impressive grasp. To argue that what is true of Dickinson is true of the lyric genre is to commit the fallacy of composition, when the supposed point in common is the desire “to stop time dead.” Ignored are countless lyrics with clear, distinct sequential order, determined either by convention, by causality, or by the canons of logic. Ignored, too, are the plays of Beckett, the novels of Robbe-Grillet, and the essays of Montaigne, which also attain the quality by which Sharon Cameron distinguishes and isolates the lyric. Nevertheless, as an account of Dickinson’s art and thought and as a model for the analysis of “time-stopping” literature of whatever genre, this is an indispensable book.

Post-Augustan Satire: Charles Churchill and Satirical Poetry, 1750—1800, by Thomas Lockwood. Washington $17.50

The first critical book on Churchill (and the first study of the poet of any sort in some years) traces the fate of “satire” in the late 18th century, its relation to prevailing standards of the truly “poetic,” and the satirist’s corresponding shift in his sense of audience. On all these topics, Lockwood says much that is new, treating subjects not seriously examined since the 1920’s. What the reader might most expect in this fine book, however, is absent: careful readings of Churchill’s difficult, digressive, disconnected verse. Lockwood is an excellent historian of general tendencies, inattentive to particulars.

Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays, by Isaiah Berlin. Viking $12.95

This, the second in a four-volume series of Berlin’s essays, presents its author’s views on the general question of the nature and scope of philosophy, political philosophy (in the excellent essays, “Does Political Philosophy Still Exist?”), and “scientific history.” The ground covered is familiar, but Berlin’s persuasive moral fervor makes it new; as a moral stylist, Berlin ranks in our time perhaps with Brand Blanshard and, in his breadth, excels him.

Alexander Pope: The Poet in the Poems, by Dustin H. Griffin. Princeton $17.50

A very thin critical study, with some excellent discussions of Pope’s character portraits (Sporus, Atticus), but which adds nothing to our knowledge of the book’s stated topic, Pope’s biographical self-revelation in the works.

The Boswellian Hero, by William C. Dowling. Georgia $15

This somewhat confused work is an attempt to see whether Boswell’s personal writings, and especially the Life of Johnson, can be interpreted “as literature” rather than as factual or referential discourse. The distinction, of course, is factitious, and the attempt as a result misguided; Dowling would have written a better book had he written in innocence of critical theory.

Windows on the World, by C. Hugh Holman. Tennessee $13.50

“Every novel is a window on the world, but the location, size, and even purpose of those windows differ immensely.” In this series of eleven perceptive essays, C. Hugh Holman concentrates most of his attention on “windows that look out on a social world.” The longest of the essays is on J.P. Marquand as a novelist of manners, who is given greater stature than many would be inclined to allow him. “Detached Laughter in the South” and “The Bildungsroman, American Style” are perhaps the most interesting, but in all there are witty and sometimes wayward comments on a variety of authors.

De Miseria Condicionis Humane, by Lotario dei Segni (Pope Innocent III), edited by Robert E. Lewis. Georgia $25

The new Chaucer Library gets off to a splended start with Lewis’ edition of one of the Latin works that Chaucer translated into Middle English. That translation has not survived, and the direct references to the De Miseria in his poetry are relatively slight, but the work remains one of the important books of the Middle Ages. Professor Lewis offers not a critical edition but a text as close to that used by Chaucer as his formidable scholarship can make it. The text, translation, and apparatus present a model of the most sophisticated and meticulous scholarship.

Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Robert Bain, Joseph M. Flora, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Louisiana $30 cloth, $7.95 paper

The dedication of this book to Lewis Leary is written in the form of a biographical entry. All told, this volume contains sketches of 379 Southern authors composed by 172 scholars. The editors recognize that there may be some differences of opinion about the inclusions and exclusions. There is a wide range of time and talent. Alphabetically, the authors range from James Agee (1909—1955) to John Joachim Zubly (1724—1781), and in quality from J. Gordon Coogler (whom I am glad to see included, because I always thought him a spoof) to Faulkner, Warren, and Glasgow. But do not count on reading the entry for Glasgow: in some copies at least pages 165 to 197 are missing. Apart from that, this is a useful compendium.

An Approach to Congreve, by Aubrey L. Williams. Yale $17.50

Some intellectual exertion and strong-arm hermeneutics are required to make Congreve the playwright of the Christian life. Williams’ usual will to theological systematization makes The Mourning Bride’s (conventional) reliance on providence the key to Congreve’s work; those who appreciate his multifarious discovery of inexplicit meanings in his study of Pope’s Dunciad will find yet more ingenuity here.

The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre, by Maureen Quilligan. Cornell $15

Professor Quilligan has a number of stimulating new insights into the nature of allegory both medieval and modern. Much of her discussion focuses on The Faerie Queen and Piers Plowman, but she does not neglect Hawthorne and Melville, while Nabokov and Pynchon receive two particularly astute readings. Along with valuable literary criticism, this book gives us an idea of a whole new revival of the theory of allegory at Yale under Paul de Man’s tutelage.

Heidegger and Sartre, by Joseph P. Fell. Columbia $25

Fell accepts the herculean task of locating the whence and whither of phenomenological ontology. His book opens with an overview of the inheritance of Heidegger and Sartre before they seek to rescue Being from the decadence of the Western metaphysical tradition. With great perspicuity, the thought of these two authors is developed as they confront the challenge of Husserl’s idealism and its response to the problems posed by the history of ontology. The questions which guide Fell’s work, and which are the passion of phenomenological inquiry, may be stated thus: how can one uncover a non-dualistic ontology which avoids recourse to metaphysics and reveals the unity of thought and Being?

As Her Whimsey Took Her: Critical Essays on the Work of Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by Margaret P. Hannay. Kent State $15

Dorothy L. Sayers was a prolific writer in a variety of forms. Inevitably, some efforts were more successful than others and are better able to bear critical scrutiny. In this collection of essays, those on her detective fiction and the translations are of greatest interest: the former for the novelty of seeing the Lord Peter Wimsey stories dissected by academic hands, the latter because her translations of medieval French poetry and Dante were her finest scholarly achievement. An annotated bibliography of Sayers’ letters and manuscripts in public collections in the United States concludes this volume.

Keats, Skepticism, and the Religion of Beauty, by Ronald A. Sharp. Georgia $14

For too long, a small group of critics have maintained that Keats’ genius reveals itself only in his later poetry. In fact, as Sharp carefully demonstrates, Keats balanced notions of skepticism and secular belief early in his poetic career. Sharp convincingly argues that Keats developed an aesthetic of beauty comprehending the good and bad, i.e., the truth, of human nature. Thus we need no longer dwell critically on the supposedly enigmatic last lines of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” but can consider them in light of Keats’ earlier, sophisticated attempts to express the same ideas.

HISTORYBlood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War, by Ronald Fraser. Pantheon $15.95

To gain a new perspective on the much-studied Spanish Civil War, Mr. Fraser interviewed more than 300 Spaniards who lived through that agonizing conflict: Communists, anarchists, priests, peasants, schoolteachers, rich and poor, Franco loyalists, and those who thought—and think—that Franco was the Anti-Christ. What all had in common was survival, and Mr. Fraser permits them to tell their story with no holds barred. Oral history is a new form, and it has many shortcomings; but it is novel, and it has never been done before for this conflict. The result is an excellent, moving story.

From Humanism to Science, 1480—1700, by Robert Mandrou. Humanities $22

What the world now does not need is another leftist, University-of-Paris-style history of the classical mind and its origins. In his generalizations, Mandrou provides little more than this; his specific discussions, however, particularly of educational reformism and theological connections with science, betray that there is more to the story.

Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy, by Lauro Martines. Knopf $15.95

This is an interpretive history of the Italian city-states from roughly 1000 to 1550 and varies in tone between a textbook and a collection of essays. Martines’ central theme, which unites such diverse chapters as “Economic Trends and Attitudes” and “The Princely Courts,” is that the city-states laid the groundwork for their wealth and prestige by 1300 and after that used the resulting “power” to finance the “imagination” of the Italian Renaissance. Martines’ wide learning is apparent, and he touches upon a host of fascinating aspects of Renaissance life, such as the role of court dwarfs.

The Fifties, by Peter Lewis. Lippincott $10.95

You have to like a book that has both an exceedingly rare photograph of Elvis Presley and the perceptive observation that the Cold War was “fundamentally one of history’s wars of religion.” A much-maligned decade that has recently begun to look pretty good, as we sit in gasoline lines, receives a sympathetic review from Mr. Lewis, a British journalist. Jolly good fun.

German Rearmament and the West, 1932—1933, by Edward W. Bennett. Princeton $35

It is, of course, a truism that Hitler did not succeed; rather, the Western democracies failed. The whole Versailles “system” was rooted in an untenable thesis, namely, that a great nation could be made to disarm unilaterally and stay that way. Germany began to rebuild her forces as early as 1920, and with the rapprochement with Bolshevik Russia in 1922 that process accelerated. Thus in the last pre-Hitler period Germany had already reached a strength undreamed of by the victorious Entente in 1919. The Nazis had only to develop what the West had given them. This book tells that dismal story well.

Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age, by George B. Forgie. Norton $14.95

This prize-winning study of American culture in the 1850’s lends an impressive new, psychological dimension to the historiography of the Civil War era. Concentrating on the North and especially on Lincoln, Forgie suggests that ambitious men born in the early Republic were obsessed with the idea of both preserving the Founding Fathers’ handiwork and imitating their example in statecraft. But there was no glory in the mere act of preservation. Frustrated by their own lack of opportunity to achieve immortal fame, Forgie argues, Lincoln and others resolved the psychological tension by inventing and then destroying a danger (the Kansas-Nebraska Act) to “the fathers’ house.” The argument, however implausible it may appear, is brilliantly executed. Forgie’s exegesis of speeches and other political commentary is just superb. And in developing the larger, cultural background of political dialogue, he discusses antebellum literary themes in a manner reminiscent of William R. Taylor’s Cavalier and Yankee. It is a most thoughtful and thought-provoking book, one which scholars in both history and American literature will not want to miss.

The Elusive Quest, by M. P. Leffler. North Carolina $22

Recent studies have focused on the interlocking financial and political problems of the U.S. and Europe in the 1920’s. Subtitled America’s Pursuit of European Stability and French Security 1919—1933, Leffler’s account presents the attempt at European reorganization from the standpoint of American foreign policy. He highlights Republican attempts, through “economic diplomacy” to aid Europe without sacrificing domestic priorities. The Elusive Quest is well researched, carefully argued, and soberly written. One is struck even more, therefore, by the shortsighted selfishness of U.S. policy. By insisting on wardebts payments, by refusing to see their relation to reparations and protective tariffs, and by refusing any strategic commitments, America made it impossible for Britain and France to develop coherent German policies, either generous or severe. At the same time, American policy hamstrung collective security guarantees. Munich is a household word in American foreign policy debates, but the lessons of the 1920’s are at least as important.

The Origins of the Second Republic in Spain, by S. Ben-Ami. Oxford $23.50

This detailed, judicious, and thoroughly documented study traces Spanish politics in the late 1920’s and the emergence of the Second Spanish Republic. Through this evolution, Ben-Ami highlights the growing discredit of monarchism and the rise of mass politics. The discussion of the alliance between Primo de Rivera and the Socialist party and the benefits, both social and organizational, won by the leftist party is particularly interesting, as are the author’s asides on the appearance of “civil-war” mentalities on the part of some of the competitors for power.

Giving Up the Gun, by Noel Perrin. Godine $8.95

Afghanistan once had a railroad, then thought better of it and tore up the tracks. Japan once had more and better firearms than then existed in all of Europe and then largely abandoned the manufacture and use of such weapons in favor of the sword. This delightful book of scarcely 100 pages covers the years from 1543 to 1879, and flies in the face of Lord Dunsany’s dictum, quoted in the text: “For we can no more go back from poison [gas] to the gun than we can go back from the gun to the sword.” This is the work of a competent scholar with a sense of humor.

The Eagle Squadrons: Yanks in the RAF 1940—1942, by Vern Haugland. Ziff-Davis (distributed by McGraw-Hill) $12.95

Teach man to fly, and he heads for the stars every chance he gets. In the early days of the Second World War, the best game in the skies was in England, and it was to England that more than 200 young American pilots went, in 1940, to fight not for King and Country but for the love of danger. This book, by the well-known aviation writer and military correspondent Vern Haugland, tells the story of the Yanks in the RAF with sympathy.

The Black Angels: A History of the Waffen-SS, by Rupert Butler. St. Martin’s $10.95

The “Thousand-Year Reich” had its own Praetorian Guard, the Schutzstaffel (SS), and Heinrich Himmler secured Hitler’s permission to form a paramilitary division from this guard on the eve of the war. Until now, the apologists for the German Army have tried to conceal the close ties between Himmler’s Waffen-SS and the regular SS. The army, it was argued, could never have committed the atrocities the world knows so well. But a new book by Christian Streit (No Comrades) has exploded this myth in Germany, and Mr. Butler’s book, while less scholarly, will probably help to do it in the West.

Poverty and Prostitution: A Study of Victorian Prostitutes in York, by Frances Finnegan. Cambridge $22.50

This historical work, covering 1837—1887, could also be called The Other Side of My Secret Life. A meticulously researched and intelligent book, it contradicts the long-held view that prostitutes of the time were healthy, accomplished young females, that prostitution was a temporary diversion before respect

0 Comments

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading