One of the most fruitful ways of joining literary, social, and philosophical history to emerge in recent years is the writing of histories of the theory and practice of selfhood (one thinks first here of Alasdair MacIntyre’s important and influential After Virtue). Both Mather and Franklin, argues Mitchell Breitwieser in this marvelously learned, suggestive, and well-written book, consciously designed their lives— their selves—according to certain (surprisingly analogous) concepts of what it is to be a model of appropriate selfhood. Like MacIntyre, Breitwieser is at his best in extracting philosophic presuppositions from public actions, and thus in showing how the American “Enlightenment” grew from the Puritan tradition. His book is useful equally to historians, literary scholars, and students of American philosophy.
The British always seem to do things in a way that seems odd to us, and their Marxism is no exception. Kaye analyzes the work of Maurice Dobb, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, and Eric Hobsbawm, an eccentric assortment if ever one was, and shows how these historians have applied Marxism in their professional work. Although they have inspired individual loyalties, the British Marxist historians have not succeeded in creating a school and in that may lie the key to their success.
The South’s history during the four decades after 1865 is currently an historical battleground, and three armies of historians are contesting the terrain. One army follows the flag of classical economics, another army defends a form of Marxian analysis that portrays the New South as a peculiarly repressive and stagnant society. The present book represents the most advanced thinking of the third army: its four authors—Thavolia Glymph, Harold D. Woodman, Barbara Jeanne Fields, and Armstead L. Robinson—also use parts of the Marxian canon but not to argue for a monolithic model. Rather they stress the multiplicity and evolutionary character of the Southern economy. The essays, universally sophisticated and well written, place adherents of their position in a newly commanding position in the field.
This stimulating work explores how and why disbelief in God became a viable intellectual and cultural option between 1865 and 1890. Previously, unbelief had been unthinkable. The standard historical argument is that modern science and socioeconomic change were the major forces rendering atheism and agnosticism reasonable alternatives to theism during this period. Yet in a provocative and carefully reasoned analysis, Turner provides a novel and compelling thesis. Simply stated, he shows how “religion caused unbelief. In trying to adapt their religious beliefs to socioeconomic change, to new moral challenges, to novel problems of knowledge, to the tightening standards of science, the defenders of God slowly strangled Him.” In other words, the valiant efforts of churchmen and theologians alike to adapt theism to the modern world ironically paved the way for increasing acceptance of unbelief. This well-written and persuasive book will undoubtedly greatly influence how future scholars view not only the history of disbelief (in America and Western culture generally) but also its relationship to cultural as well as religious and intellectual history.
This delightful history of the move of middle- and lower-class entertainments from the countryside to the new industrial cities is both a survey of the last 30 or so years of work on the topic by many scholars and a major polemic in itself, arguing that the urban lower orders were not alienated or exploited by others arranging their leisure for them but rather were in large part the designers of their own leisure activities and popular culture. Golby and Purdue have done a service not only to historians but also to those whose arguments so much depend on historical premises; in particular, no student of 19th-century English literature should miss this book.
The Cambridge History of Science Series has always just missed being what it is trying to be: a chronological series of short studies of the major eras in science, usable either as textbooks or as introductory monographs. Like its companion volumes, Hankins’ misses (just) because of its only halfhearted attempt to connect scientific developments with issues outside their narrow technical fields. Necessarily focusing on developments in France, Hankins skillfully traces Enlightenment chemistry and physics; his chapters on “The Character of the Enlightenment” and “The Moral Sciences,” though, should have been either improved or omitted.
The choices were pretty clear in Spain in the 1930’s: the fascists offered war, racial hatred, and bigotry, while the Republican-Communist-Socialist alliance preached peace, harmony among peoples and nations, and tolerance. Britain and the United States feared a new Bolshevik revolution, however, and in both countries there was a great deal of sympathy for the various fascist “experiments” in Europe and South America. Professor Little of Clark University traces these attitudes and provides new insights into the origins of the war.
The first censor must have been the first bureaucrat who read a book, or at least held it in his hands, or maybe heard of it. Books and censors developed at an uneven pace in 18th-century Russia, where state control was omnipotent. Gradually the rulers allowed a little more freedom, and by the turn of the 19th century a vigorous intellectual life had helped transform old Muscovy. Professor Marker has written what may well be the definitive history of this process.
Professor Spencer’s book is primarily a biographical survey, from Jefferson’s appointment of the eccentric but talented Irishman John Patten Emmet to the death of Francis P. Dunnington in 1944. The careers of both are reviewed in unexpected detail along with those who held the chemical chair in the years between. These include such luminaries as John W. Mallet and William Barton Rogers, a Jefferson disciple who remained at Virginia for 18 years before departing to Massachusetts to open the doors of M.I.T. on the day the Charlestonians fired on Fort Sumpter. Documentation intrudes somewhat upon the narrative but is so thorough and reliable that this compilation will be useful to future students of institutional history.
We still await a comprehensive replacement for Neale’s adulatory account of the first Elizabethan regime, but this book of specialized essays is a useful interim report. The tone is often bracingly ironic, but the sum is no mere reinterpretation of good queen as bad queen. The main novelty is in fact that we hear little about Elizabeth herself, in favor of less personalized scrutiny of institutions: the management of the court, the functioning of parliament, the progress (and failures) of ecclesiastical reform. This is more phlegmatic history than Neale wrote and more savvy about its details.
This urbane, highly sophisticated, and well-informed series of essays which appeared originally in Spanish and Latin American newspapers in 1980, gives a global overview of the world today. It deals with the United States, Europe, Russia, Iran, China, India, and Latin America, analyzing contemporary political problems and strife in an historical context. Although he finds the Soviet “totalitarian empire” repugnant, Paz still retains, unlike others who have moved politically away from the Left, a deep sense of social justice. His analysis of American “imperial democracy” is also searching and well worth pondering.
Of Southern cities that have desegregated over the past 30 years, Tuskegee, Alabama has been something of an anomoly. The community is predominantly black, and due to the presence of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and a large VA hospital, it has had an unusually large middle-class black population. For these reasons, Tuskegee was often on the cutting edge of the civil rights struggle. In this unique 20th-century community study, Professor Norrell examines the Tuskegee experience. The author relies heavily— perhaps too much so—on interviews he has conducted with many of the principals; at times he accepts their statements at face value, when more critical scrutiny is in order. Yet this flaw is minor in light of the book’s insights. Especially interesting are chapters detailing a rift in black leadership during the 60’s and 70’s over the speed with which integration was proceeding, with older, middle-class gradualists eventually losing out to younger radicals. Norrell also recognizes that black political ascendancy has not been realized without a healthy share of blunders and corruption.
The attack on what Stephen F. Cohen has called the “totalitarianism school” of Sovietologists continues. Getty gives us a fresh look at the Stalin terror and finds that Stalin himself, although certainly captain of the ship, was perhaps not so directly involved as we have always thought. Getty argues a case for the purges as a reaction to the bureaucratization of Russia; previous Western writers have insisted that the new bureaucrats destroyed the old revolutionaries in the terror. This is a stimulating, provocative book from a major voice of the new Sovietology.
Trevor-Roper recently acquired a kind of fame he could do without when he certified the bogus Hitler “diaries,” but nothing can diminish his standing as one of the world’s leading historians of early modern Europe. The University of Chicago Press deserves congratulations for assembling these pieces on Sir Thomas More, the Emperor Maximilian I, the Paraclesian Movement, the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, and a previously unpublished study of “Robert Burton and The Anatomy of Melancholy.” There are eight other works in this exquisite collection.
Jean Friedman has joined the effort to move us beyond the stereotypes of Southern belles and mammies that have dominated popular perception of Southern women for so long. She tries to account for the delayed emergence of a self-conscious women’s movement in the region by explaining what Southern women had rather than what they lacked. They lived in webs of religion and kin that provided their sense of identification and worth; they thought of themselves less as an oppressed group than as individual members of small, localized networks. This perception survived the Civil War, and it was not until what Friedman calls “modernization” altered the South late in the 19th century that women organized. This is certainly true, but the subject seldom comes alive in this book. We do read revealing quotes from diaries and letters; but Friedman makes surprisingly little effort to chart what the networks of church and family looked like, and her references to dramatic change near the turn of the century are made with no supporting evidence. But at least new questions have been framed and Southern women now possess another facet of their past.
This “memoir-history of a literary period” is a curious, often invigorating mixture of historical intelligence and personal quirkiness. Munson knew a different decade from the one which has passed into legend—there is relatively little attention to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Pound, Millay, and company in this narrative—so that he has a breadth and sense of complexity that many commentators on the period lack. He offers finely pointed, revisionist portraits of such luminaries of the time as Waldo Frank, Hart Crane, Alfred Kreymborg, Alfred Steiglitz, and A.R. Orage, and he takes full advantage of his opportunity to renew some old quarrels—in particular a bitter one with Malcolm Cowley and Matthew Josephson. There are also valuable chapters on contemporaneous magazines and publishing houses. To all of this Munson adds the record of his own adventures and enthusiasms, which, unfortunately, become increasingly fuzzy and quaint as he becomes more and more intimately involved with the mystical systems of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. But such eccentricities, too, were part of the free, high spirits of the “renascent” young of 60 years ago, and they add, ultimately, to the richness and power of this truly revealing book.
Antebellum Virginia was always different from her Southern neighbors: its economy was more complex and fragile, its past harder to live up to. Wedged between North and South, white Virginians necessarily viewed slavery with greater ambivalence than did other slaveholders. Henry A. Wise embodied the state’s claims to honor and hand-wringing uncertainty. As governor in the late 1850’s, Wise presided over John Brown’s execution—even though, Craig Simpson argues, the Virginian deeply respected and found himself drawn to the revolutionary’s own ambivalence. This biography is deeply researched and sensitively written; through it we gain real insight into the complicated soul of one of Virginia’s most influential leaders from the 1830’s to the 1870’s. Along the way we also glimpse the complicated soul of white Virginia itself.
Frederic William Maitland arguably is the most significant figure in English legal historiography. His insights into medieval law, many drawn from source materials that he himself compiled, have weathered nearly a century of critical scrutiny. G.R. Elton, a premier historian in his own right, has analyzed Maitland’s career in this short work. This is not a comprehensive biography, and Elton does not purport it to be. Rather it is a critique of a number of Maitland’s theses, which, more often than not, reads like a eulogy. What is perplexing about the book is that Elton has centered on Maitland’s conclusions relating to the Tudor period—perplexing because Maitland never claimed any special expertise in this area. The solution to this puzzle, of course, is that the era of the Henrys, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth is the bailiwick of Elton, and the author has used his knowledge to illustrate that Maitland had good “instincts” even when evaluating less familiar topics. Maitland was a meticulous, yet prolific, historian, the like of whom appears only rarely.
Did a member of Lincoln’s cabinet plan his murder? Was there a second assassin on the grassy knoll in Dallas? And who is really buried in John Dillinger’s grave? Americans have long been obsessed with examining events surrounding the deaths of popular figures, with conjecture often centering on conspiratorial plots. This book purports to tell the story behind the story of the disappearance of pioneer aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan during the trans-Pacific leg of their round-the-world flight in 1937. Did the pair ditch their plane and die at sea, or were they captured and executed by paranoid Japanese military authorities who believed them to be spies? Authors Loomis and Ethell subscribe to the latter theory, but their conclusions are based on hearsay and are largely speculative. One suspects that “the final story” will not be the last word on this mystery.
If Francis of Assisi were alive today, no doubt the media would brand him a fanatic, a cultist, a person from whom you would want to protect your children. Actually, many Italians of the 13th century had the same reaction, and Francis surely was not without his excesses. Yet he overcame the madman’s image with a timely message of humility in an aged marked by pomposity, of poverty in a society bloated by wealth, and of love and kindness in the midst of indifference. Julien Green’s Francis of Assisi is the embodiment of rebellion against a generation’s drift toward an egocentric Zeitgeist. The author is not so concerned about the historical Francis (although there is plenty of history here), as with the spiritual symbol who, were he now among us, would be impelled to repeat his centuries-old lessons to a new audience suffering from a familiar, self-centered malaise.
Perhaps the best study of the most important Afro-American thinker of the 19th century, this new book offers scores of insights into the connections between Douglass’s life and his views on a broad range of issues—all the more remarkable because the book is organized thematically, not chronologically. The work has flaws, however, including Martin’s penchants for dense and clunky sentences and for overusing such inappropriate terms as “bourgeois” and “peasant.” He is on occasion both repetitive and self-contradictory, and sometimes implies, without giving sufficient reasons, that Douglass should have had some sort of modern revolutionary consciousness. Martin devotes too little attention to Douglass’s image among the white public, especially in the 1850’s, when he was one of the few black abolitionists to be treated as a legitimate national political figure by mainstream newspapers. Bad timing apparently kept Martin from using such relevant recent works as R.J.M. Blackett’s Building an Antislavery Wall and Elisabeth Griffith’s biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Despite these problems, this is a comprehensive, provocative, and significant critical study,
This kiss-and-tell romp, written by a “friend, confidante and administrative assistant” of Joan Kennedy, should sell well to voyeurs, such as readers of the National Enquirer and People magazine or watchers of “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” Its only redeeming feature is to serve as a warning to every future employer to include a contractual provision that should a prospective employee ever be tempted to publish a titillating exposé, the royalties earned therefrom would all revert to a named charity. This would thankfully save millions of trees whose pulp would otherwise have been sacrificed to publish similar such unadulterated trash in the future.
In late November 1941, Jim Vaughan, a young engineer from Mississippi, went to Manila on business. He never came back to his home in Bacalod. His wife, Elizabeth, who came from Georgia, and their two small children spent the next four years, first in a mountain hideaway, then in two internment camps, the last in Manila, not far from the prison camp where her husband had died in 1942, although she did not learn of that for quite some time and then through underground sources. A trained sociologist and a woman with a wonderful eye for detail, Elizabeth Vaughan kept her diary first to be shared with her husband later and then as a record for her children. After the war she returned home, went back to the University of North Carolina, and after receiving her Ph. D. taught in North and South Carolina until her death in 1957. Twenty years later her sister transcribed the diary from the original bits and pieces which had been kept intact for all those years. This is a remarkable and moving account of an experience truly called an ordeal, from which its author emerged not unscathed but not broken, as a woman less intelligent and determined might have been.
As teacher, civil rights advocate, and socialist, W.E.B. DuBois was an activist in the true sense. Considering the degree of his commitment to these causes, it is a wonder that he found time in his days to devote to writing. Yet he has left a legacy of books, articles, and correspondence that could fill many volumes. This latest collection, consisting chiefly of speeches and unpublished essays, certainly does not include his most important works. But these selections do encompass his entire, long career, and are enlightening on DuBois’s views on subjects ranging from Southern racism to black economic self-determination. Especially prescient were his comments on colonialism and the plight of the Third World. Readers wanting a sampler of the thought of W.E.B. DuBois will want to consult this volume.
An unquenchable ego informed Anaïs Nin’s every thought and mood. This part of her voluminous diaries runs from her 24th to her 28th year. In it she chronicles her Spanish dancing, several love affairs which only intensify her feelings for her husband, Hugh Guiler, the decorating of herself and of several homes, including one at Louveciennes, to which they retreated after the financial setbacks of the Depression, and, throughout, her writing of journals, stories, a book on D.H. Lawrence. She constantly analyzes herself and others; she transcribes in unbelievable detail any number of conversations with friends, relatives, and lovers. “I have studied in myself, ” she writes, “the continuity of the artistic perception carried into life. And it is that I wish to explain to others.” And so this peacock of a woman does: explain herself over and over again, ad infinitum if not ad nauseam.
Michael Grant has accepted the challenge of single-handedly introducing a new generation of general readers to the wondrous complexities of ancient history. In previous books he has told the histories of the Jews, Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans. The current volume embellishes on his History of Rome by presenting biographical sketches of the 92 men who served as Roman emperors. Relying on the works of classical period historians, Professor Grant has uncovered enough information to provide at least a thumbnail portrait of each man. The book is not without its shortcomings, however. The biographies are written in a singsong style, invariably mentioning each emperor’s genealogy, how he ascended the throne, an assessment of his abilities, his personal appearance, and his demise. And readers not well versed in classical history will have to look elsewhere to discover the broader historical context of each man’s reign. Still, these profiles are informative and will be appreciated especially by those who believe that “great men” shape the course of history.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke visited Russia in 1899 and again the following year, soaking up impressions and memories that burned his soul. He came to know the Russian poets Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetayeva through Boris’s father, who was incidentally the illustrator for one of Leo Tolstoy’s books. In the summer of 1926, the last of Rilke’s life, the three poets exchanged many letters, some of which are presented here for the first time. This is an immensely moving correspondence that constitutes a literary masterpiece.
In his influential book on The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt (following Marx) claimed that religion had little to do with the emergence of that new genre in 18th-century England. Leo Damrosch shows more clearly than any previous critic just how wrong Watt was. We’ve long known that early novelists were influenced by traditions of Puritan writing, especially spiritual autobiography and providential history, but no one to date has worked out the history of the novel as a development in Puritan religious sensibility as well as Damrosch. He traces this cast of mind from the 17th-century autobiographers and Milton through Bunyan, Defoe, and (in the best chapter in the book) Richardson’s Clarissa. A final chapter on Fielding is titled—paradoxically—”Tom Jones and the Farewell to Providential Fiction,” but Damrosch has little sympathy for a writer such as Fielding; he is at his best with those with whom he appears to have a deeper spiritual kinship.
In her introduction, Phyllis Rose provides a lucid description and analysis of “canon formation,” the process by which certain authors become known as good writers while others grow in obscurity. Especially curious about this process is that significantly more men than women seem to survive it. Rose attempts to correct this imbalance by offering this collection of her essays and reviews “as little cannonballs in an assault on an older way of seeing literary history.” Lively and informative, these essays draw attention to some otherwise obscure women, including among others Frida Kahlo, Djuna Barnes, Christina Rossetti, Jean Rhys, Diane Arbus, and Emily Eden. Once enough of these highly intelligent cannonballs are hurled, then literary history should indeed take on a different appearance, with men and women sharing more equally in their hold on Parnassus.
There are three contexts in which Hume’s political writings have been studied: in relation to contemporary politics; to political theory; and to his own philosophical system. Each chooses different texts on which to focus: the first on Hume’s History (and to some extent his letters); the second his essays; and the third his Treatise and Enquiries. Whelan’s study is largely of the third kind, a study of Hume’s ideas on the nature of political reasoning and of the roots of conventions of behavior from which emerges a Tory conservative not unlike Burke. For all its excessive length and dry presentation, this is an important book which revises our understanding of Hume; it would have been even better if Whelan had attempted (as no one yet has) to join his insights with the other, equally important approaches to Hume’s politics.
The subject of this book is far more down to earth and useful than what its philosophical title suggests. It is about writing, and deals with eight outstanding figures— I.A. Richards and Kenneth Burke among them—who were interested in good writing and in instilling that noble skill in the young, especially college students. The importance of the common message of these essays cannot be exaggerated—that one must express clearly what one has to say, a message of particular relevance to an age in which obfuscation is confused with profundity.
Kermode’s lively and wise Wellek Library Lectures pursue the topic that has long obsessed him: the literary canon. Two case studies—the first on how Botticelli was rediscovered in the 19th century, the second on how one can say new things about an old and much-discussed work (Hamlet)—prepare for a final theoretical chapter explaining the meaning and function of a literary canon in an age which no longer believes in permanent literary meanings or values. Kermode’s case studies are brilliant; his larger argument will convince few not already converted.
Carroll has hit upon an excellent subject here: the theme of metamorphosis runs throughout Shakespeare’s plays and provides a particularly illuminating way of tying together the comedies. Carroll makes good use of the work of earlier critics, especially Northrop Frye’s A Natural Perspective, which remains the best introduction to Shakespeare’s comedies and which supplied Carroll with the central insight for his study. In detailed analyses of most of the comedies, Carroll shows how basic the notion of metamorphosis is in Shakespeare’s comic world. The idea is particularly applicable to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to the late romances. Carroll writes intelligently and gracefully and supports his arguments with impressive scholarship. The result is one of the best comprehensive treatments of Shakespearean comedy to appear in recent years.
“Ideas” are the most important part of this study, the most philosophically sophisticated tracing of the genesis of modernism to date. Every reader will dispute some points of emphasis; despite a long (excellent) chapter on the early Eliot, for instance, F.H. Bradley is nowhere so much as mentioned. And Robinson did not perhaps have to be quite so aridly metaphysical. But Symbol to Vortex breaks new ground in so many areas that cavil is beside the point. True to the St. Martin’s imprint, he is at his best in educing the political meaning of aesthetic positions, and Robinson’s breadth of reading makes his rather depressing tale both persuasive and exciting.
It is difficult now to remember a time when one had to use euphemisms for euphemisms when trying to convey something to the reader about human sexuality. Most of us grew up thinking that this lunacy dated from Victorian times, but as the authors in this witty compendium point out, saying one thing and meaning quite another goes back at least to the Bible. Modern America can at last talk about death and cancer without resorting to prettified language. If we can keep that the way it is, and maybe go back to the euphemisms for sex—some of them anyway—maybe we can say we have grown up.
Joel Gold’s edition of Dr. Johnson’s translation of Father Lobo’s account of the Jesuit Mission in early 17th-century Abyssinia has been ready for many years, publication having been delayed by the Yale Johnson’s perennial lack of funds. Gold has labored long and fruitfully over Johnson’s first published book, carefully annotating divergences from his French original and drawing connections to Johnson’s later, more famous works. Lobo’s story is itself fascinating, the tale of Europe’s rediscovery of a 1500-year old independent Christian tradition which (apart from the legends of Prester John) it had all but forgotten. This is the first edition of Johnson’s Lobo since the 18th century, and a hopeful sign that the Yale Edition of Johnson is in business again,
Professor Fallon’s book is not a literary source study but rather an exercise in what he calls “experiential criticism.” Considering the interconnection between the life and art of Milton, he examines Milton’s experiences with military men and events: he suggests that Milton’s Europe in the tumultuous 17th century was as an important a source of inspiration for the epic poet as his numerous literary models. Fallon compensates for the somewhat limited nature of his topic by considering the importance of military imagery in all of Milton’s works—the prose and poetry. Readers of Paradise Lost will recall Milton’s dense use of military imagery in the scenes in Hell and the war in Heaven. As Fallon usefully argues, Milton employs such imagery, not so much to disparage the soldier or even war, as to define the nature of evil and characterize its complexity.
The avalanche of theory moves down upon us at such a rate that already, as the title of this book indicates, we have reached post-deconstructive post structuralism. Though enamored and accepting of the new theory, or at least in part, the author is also critical of it and its limitations. With affectionate parody, he turns the skepticism of recent theory against itself. In a series of brief essays on the reaction to the new criticism, Marxism, structuralism, and deconstruction—which are valuable as a sketch of the recent history of theory—he sharply defines the limits of current interpretive methods. For all the recent effort to dismantle literature, he predicts that in the future “the great classic texts” will again be the center of critical interest.
This provocative book is an excellent example of the kind of literary history that is possible under the aegis of recent theories of the sign when linked with the social analyses of thinkers such as Foucault, Gramsci, and Bourdieu. Terdiman presents a lucid summary of semiotic theory since Saussure and then sets out to historicize those premises using the concepts of Bakhtin, Derrida, and Jameson. The result is a coherent theory of texts and social contexts which diminishes the role of neither and an impressive application that demonstrates a complex interanimation between the discourses of the 19th-century French mass media—such as newspapers, cartoons, and the like—and those set out to “counter” the ideology of those pieces, the more “literary” works of Balzac, Flaubert, Daumier, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Marx.
Ever since Ezra Pound’s imagist masterpiece, “In a Station of the Métro,” haiku has been a minor but persistent form of the shorter Anglo-American lyric. It has enjoyed a similar standing in other western traditions as well, while losing none of its hold on poets and readers in Japan. This volume, by a well-known author and editor of haiku collaborating with a veteran of the Poets-in-the-Schools Program, introduces and illustrates the conventions not only of individual haiku but of sequences and related genres, renga, haibun, and senryu, as they have evolved through the centuries. The purpose is to teach the reader to appreciate and to write haiku. Whether it will succeed in the latter is impossible to tell, but—given its verve, erudition, and catholic selection of examples—it can hardly fail of the former.
This collection of essays addresses the current state of literary criticism in the United States. The contributors worry over the increasing segregation of criticism, its self-willed isolation from the literate public and even from undergraduate students of literature (post-structuralist theory may stoke debate between professors, but it is peculiarly hard to import into undergraduate classrooms). In their various ways, the contributors call for a revival of a more public kind of criticism—politically alert, morally engaged, accessible in style. Several hope (perhaps quixotically) for the return of the old-style man of letters—a type apparently extinct since Edmund Wilson died. The contributors include Morris Dickstein (with a fascinating capsule history of literary journalism), Gerald Graff (with an important, bracing essay on the application of theory to teaching), Frank Lentricchia, E.D. Hirsch, Sandra Gilbert, and Donald Davie.
Powys has yet to achieve a reputation as a major writer in the United States, but he is taken seriously by critics in England, such as G. Wilson Knight. This volume might serve as a good way to introduce American readers to Powys’ work. It contains three stories, “Topsy-Turvy,” “Abertackle, ” and “Cataclysm,” all written when Powys was in his late eighties and here published for the first time. The stories have a fantastic and surrealistic character, which suggests a writer at the end of a long career, learning to play with fictional conventions he built up for himself over the years. As a result, these stories have been referred to as the “juvenilia” of Powys’ old age. They are less substantial fictional achievements than Powys’ earlier work, such as Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance, but they still reveal his talents as a storyteller.
Distinguished by Gallant’s expert use of detail and her dry humor and unremitting irony, these 16 stories compose a provocative and rewarding collection by one of the finest short story writers currently publishing. They appear in three sections: “At Home,” in which Gallant writes empathetically and unsentimentally of traumatic childhoods; “Canadians Abroad,” where the principal characters, expatriates pursuing independence, end up trapped; “Linnet Muir,” whose strong and determined heroine begins to come to terms with her sense of exile.
R. V. Cassill apparently is a frustrated Scripture writer, since he has undertaken to embellish on the Biblical account of the life of King David. But, alas, Cassill’s work was not divinely inspired. Indeed this feeble attempt at humor shows little evidence of inspiration, unless insanity can be said to signify genius. The novel’s characters— David, Bathsheba, Solomon, and Joab—are listless, and the author concentrates chiefly on their sexual propensities. This novel has potential—perhaps as a “Saturday Night Live” comedy sketch—but as it stands, viewers of a televised version would probably change the station.
The hit soap opera is called Passionate Intensity; the star’s agent can’t believe it when told where the title comes from: “Jack Dormett titled the show! . . . What was the name of that poet again? . . . All that money, and he plagiarizes.” Beattie’s funniest novel is about yuppies mingling inconclusively in Vermont as a crazed breath from Hollywood blows about them. The result is almost satire (“what better place to be deflowered than in a shrine to yourself?”), but unexpected voices and very real distress keep slicing through the picture, and the central event of a disconnected summer turns out to be death.
This is the second mystery by Sarah Caudwell (a pseudonym, as we are here informed). The first was a brilliant and versatile volume entitled Thus Was Adonis Murdered. The same characters appear here: the scintillating and insouciant group of five young English barristers and their Oxford friend and mentor, and the scene again shifts from London to more exotic parts of the world, in this book to Greece. Much of the action is carried out through very, very long and detailed letters, here from Selena to Julia, as in the earlier volume similar long, long letters flew from Julia to Selena. The style is the same in both. The rest of the story is told in both instances by the Oxford professor, who also penetrates the mystery. This is an engaging and entertaining book, quite out of the run of ordinary murder fiction.
It is difficult to conceive of a time when the Russian revolutions of 1917 will not inspire novelists. In Alan Fisher’s entry, the passionate and beautiful—what else?— Countess Natalya Meretskova seems to be a metaphor for Russia itself, and her three suitors represent the conflicting forces that ravaged the country from 1917 to 1920. Fisher is no Boris Pasternak, but he has a fine ear for dialogue and can tell a story well.
A thoroughly entertaining tale, The Mycroft Memoranda answers a question long puzzling to fans of Sherlock Holmes: what if the master sleuth had been called upon to hunt down and apprehend Jack the Ripper? Author Ray Walsh must be a distant relative of A. Conan Doyle, judging from his impeccable imitation of Doyle’s style and his attention to details of late 19th-century London. Holmes, his rarely-seen brother Mycroft, and the faithful Doctor Watson solve one of history’s most gruesome series of murders. Complete with dazzling twists of Holmesian logic, this novel is sure to delight mystery lovers.
This is the first novel by Primo Levi, the author of several Holocaust memoirs of major importance. If Not Now, When? is a magnificient tribute to the Jewish resistance fighters who survived in the chaos of Eastern Europe during World War II. Their purpose was to harass the Nazis who were, as Levi says here, losing the war to Russia but winning the war against the Jews. The statement is typical of Levi’s style: understated, matter of fact, but true to the terrible. He harrows the reader not with graphic descriptions of atrocities but with the precise representation of what it was like to live in a world of atrocities. Levi at one point interrupts his narrative, as German soldiers line up the survivors of a partisan camp, to say that it is not the purpose of his story to chronicle massacres. We get to run with those who escaped, forced to remember the victims as people we must now go on without. This novel recovers an important part of Jewish history and of the history of the Second World War. Everyone who reads this story of men and women alive in terrible times will be impressed and moved.
In this first novel, self-proclaimed as a “madcap thriller” as well as “a unique thriller,” which takes place in World War II Berlin, the author proves conclusively without fear of contradiction that he should immediately take up some more successful line of work.
Humberto Costantini, until recently an Argentine political exile, has written a novel set in 1977, amid the horrors perpetrated by his country’s murderous military junta. The story searches the mind and character of Francisco Sanctis, a middle-aged husband and father, whose mundane existence as a bookkeeper in Buenos Aires is threatened when the fate of two hunted dissidents falls into his hands. In the short hours he has to consider a course of action, Sanctis is torn by the ages-old choice of getting involved or walking away from a crisis. As Costantini tracks Sanctis’s mental turmoil to the story’s climax, the reader becomes impatient with the character’s waffling—that is, until one suddenly recognizes how difficult it really is to make hard choices. Bad times, it seems, inspire good literature, and Costantini’s effort is further evidence of this truism.
Of the 13 stories that make up this collection, no two sound quite alike. The author has yet to develop a distinctive voice, but the absence of same-sounding narrative is not a fatal vice. Her characters provide the anchor to which these parables are fastened. There is Alice of the title story, who finally leaves her husband, the predictable Otto, to frolic with Mr. Toot of the flea market. And then Dolbin Cee, whose marriage falters in the face of his compulsion to secure a Sunday New York Times in the wasteland of rural Pennsylvania. Octogenarian Libby Quigg rounds out the cast as the single survivor of the Johnstown flood, 1889 edition. The characters make these tales worth reading, and though the volume is hardly the “historic event” trumpeted on the dustcover, Ms. Stark’s writing may yet command our attention.
Called the “foremost writer of fiction in English” by John Updike, compared to Gogol by Anthony West and to Evelyn Waugh by Graham Greene, the prolific Indian novelist has gathered here more than two dozen stories set in the fictional South Indian city, Malgudi. Elegantly written, often wry, but always deeply sympathetic, they chart the fortunes, measure the aspirations, and describe the failures of a wide variety of characters, from merchants and archaeologists to shepherds and servants and, even in one case, to a dog named Dodu. The author throws light on strange twists of fate, making his highly memorable characters, even the most exotic ones, immediate.
In this fine novella, Martin—recently divorced from Alex—visits his former sister-in-law Dominica, who owns a Fort Myers, Florida motel. It is here that Martin plans to spend the weekend and soothe his troubled spirits. Martin, however, soon becomes involved with Dominica; and Alex, after getting wind of the situation, hurries down to break things up. Thus Martin, with a little more than he bargained for, briefly possesses both these sexy but vulnerable sisters. Though many passages are only sketchily etched, Tracer is a wonderful achievement in a somewhat difficult genre. Barthelme is the author of two critically acclaimed works: Moon Deluxe, a collection of short stories, and Second Marriage, a recently published novel.
Set in and around New York City, these stories capture the sounds and colors of their locale. A hot jockey, gamblers at Atlantic City, a black boy who dreams of a world beyond his own, and a man who returns to the Bronx of his childhood are just a few of the characters who appear here. At times very funny and at moments painfully sad, these stories are written in a highly stylized idiom; the characters in them verge on caricature. Although the quality of the volume is uneven, there are some fine moments.
Inga Dean presents a compelling portrait of Tia Valenkova, the novel’s protagonist, by using a fragmented narrative to convey her personality. Haunted by memories of the past and what might have been, Tia sleepwalks through life trying to connect the past to the present. Orphaned at seven, tyrannized by her grandmother, and exploited by men, Tia discovers a pattern of experience in her memories of the past; and despite its painful associations, she derives meaning from her self-exploration. Memories, in fact, counterbalance her superficial life as wife, mother, and food critic for a third-rate Washington, D.C. newspaper. But it’s Dean’s deft ability as a narrator that sets her apart from other novelists exploring the randomness of contemporary life. Dean presents her novel achronologically, moving forward and backward in time, in order to show the growth of Tia’s personality. Memory and Desire is an excellent first novel and marks the emergence of a superb storyteller.
Written in the winter of 1939—40 and set aside for the duration of World War II, Crampton Hodnet was—or so concluded its author—dated and unpublishable. Pym could not have been more mistaken. From the characters which include the finely-drawn companion spinsters and young curate to the setting—Oxford during the 1930’s—the novel is vintage work. With her famous wry humor, properly gentle in tone, Pym tells a hilarious story. We owe thanks to Hazel Holt, who prepared the text for publication and presented us with this delightful bonus.
If Aldous Huxley were alive and young and writing today, he might have written a novel like A Parish of Rich Women. This book holds the corruption, decadence, and violence that appear in Point Counterpoint and Eyeless in Gaza, but is not as erudite and well organized—or as long—as the earlier books. Since this is James Buchan’s first novel, he has plenty of time to remedy all that.
You could call Robey’s book a demographic State of the Union Address, as he has taken Census Bureau statistics and, wonder of wonders, transformed them into a lucid, revealing narrative about American population trends. Some of his findings are not earth-shattering. If you live in California, Texas, or Florida, it should not come as a shock that Hispanics comprise our largest foreign-born ethnic group. Other conclusions, such as that single women heading households are more prone to be in poverty, are not so obvious. An interesting feature is an appendix that lists the nation’s 100 largest cities and ranks them numerically according to various categories. For instance, Madison, Wisconsin tops the United States in percentage of college graduates in the population with more than 26 percent. Who’s last, you ask? If you’re from Newark, New Jersey, you probably don’t want to know.
This is a sort of Blue Highways through Central America, taking the reader to places and people even beyond where the roadways end. The major difference is that the author, a travel-seasoned Englishman, has found little that would tempt one to follow in his footsteps. Most of Central America is an armed camp, where it is impossible to tell the good guys from the bad, if indeed there are any good guys left at all. Occasionally Marnham’s faux pas, like carrying revolutionary literature through Salvadoran security checkpoints, made the journey even more hairy than necessary. Thanks to the military juntas, Cuban-backed rebels, right-wing death squads, and CIA operatives, a drive down the Pan-American Highway is not what it used to be, to say nothing of life for the poor souls who populate the region.
Relying on recently declassified documents and interviews with many of the principals, both American and Vietnamese, the author has produced a telling account of the Kennedy Administration’s involvement in Southeast Asia. The reader comes away from this book mystified at the arbitrariness of our government’s positions, since many were based on incomplete or grossly erroneous information. Most disturbing is the conclusive evidence that the administration actively promoted the coup that toppled President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge in particular was accountable for advocating Diem’s removal. It is obvious that American wishes, as expressed through grants of military and economic aid, played a key role in determining who would hold power in Saigon. The facts, objectively presented here, underscore Kennedy’s ineptness as a foreign policy stratagist. One only questions Rust’s speculative conclusion that Kennedy, had he lived, would not have fallen into LBJ’s quagmire of American involvement in an Asian ground war.
The greatest mistake the West makes about Russia is to believe what the Communist rulers of that country say about themselves. While it is true that