The horrific violence suffered by blacks throughout the first centuries of American history has become a commonplace, even a stereotype. The lash on the slave’s back, the lynching, the brutal sheriff—all have become staples in the public imagination about the South. Yet this violence has meanings, implications for the nation’s history, that historians are only beginning to plumb. Wright offers a clear-eyed and balanced portrayal of Kentucky’s version of this violence. It is a full accounting, fuller than we have for any other state. Despite Wright’s modulated tone, even a jaded reader will be shocked by the scope and sadism of the violence endured by blacks in what was supposedly one of the more moderate Southern states. There is no one argument here, but a sober and sobering parade of atrocities. It is a brave book.
Make no mistake about it, this is one of the most important books yet written on the labor movement in St. Petersburg in the dozen years before the collapse of tsarism. What happened in the old capital city was for many reasons crucial to labor and revolutionary politics throughout the country, and on the basis of archival materials and a stupendous variety of secondary sources Professor McKean of Scotland’s University of Stirling has created a masterpiece,
Although nine of the ten essays collected in this volume appeared earlier in scholarly journals, their republication for a general audience is welcome. Six essays present vivid portraits of Revolutionary-era personalities—from Paine and Jefferson to more obscure characters like Harbottle Dorr, a Boston shopkeeper and chronicler. The remaining essays provide suggestive interpretations of an entire historical era. Bailyn writes elegantly and incisively, and his ability to connect 18th-century political ideas to the experiences of individuals and to historic events makes these essays both instructive and eminently readable.
Lucrecia was a near-contemporary of St. Theresa of Avila but with a very different fate. Her dreams, ostensibly of a religious nature, were transcribed by her patron, Alonso de Mendoza, and used for political purposes in the Madrid of Philip II. The king was not amused; Lucretia was denounced to the Inquisition, tried as a traitor, and tortured. The transcripts reveal a fascinating network of political allegiances, machinations, and petty vengeances exacted against this bright young woman whose sole error seemed to be her gullibility and indiscretion. Was she a fraud? An innocent? A victim of manipulation by Mendoza? A subversive? Kagan’s recounting of the tale is lucid, interesting, and troubling for what it tells us of late 16th-century Spain and the political and religious pressures weighing upon the government of Philip II.
Americans, plagued by urban crisis, might learn with surprise that in Paris the well-to-do retained their residences in the central city and pushed the poor into the suburbs. After the First World War, Paris developed a ring of working-class towns in which Communist politics dominated. This was the “red belt.” Stovall focuses on the town of Bobigny to delineate the history of the red belt during the interwar years. His case study makes important points about how communism and class consciousness operated. Above all, Stovall demonstrates that Communists won public support through their stands on consumer and housing issues. The Communist working class of suburban Paris was formed, it would seem, at home and not at the workplace. This book offers many worthy insights into laborers’ lives in the early 20th century.
A very successful exercise in haute divulgation, this book, less than 400 pages in length, surveys the main cultural and institutional developments of Western civilization between the 5th and the 15th centuries. The first part lays the chronological groundwork, and the second examines in some detail both the achievements of high culture and the related but distinguishable developments in the material framework and the mental underpinnings of everyday existence. The book was first published in France in 1964, and this competent version of the latest French edition, complete with many illustrations and an excellent set of maps, is much to be welcomed.
This book ambitiously contrasts the laws of slavery derived, through metropolitan agency, from Roman precedents in Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French American colonies with the settler-devised law in the colonies of England. Governments, he shows, borrow old codes regardless of the novel social circumstances to which they may apply. For legal historians, Watson’s primary audience, he advocates a broad, historical, and comparative approach that leads, ironically, to a leaden conservatism in relation to changing historical contexts. For historians of slavery, Watson rephrases Tannenbaum’s classic distinction between racist English law and less racist law in Latin America as a contrast between public and private. The book thus looks back two decades to a time before economic and sociological factors replaced racism as imputed cases of differences in slavery in the Americas, though Watson would regard the point as irrelevant, since he is methodically and methodologically separating law from society. What is more interesting to historians is his reading of the laws in their legal historical contexts. He does not discuss the apparent inconsistency in using racism but excluding all other societal factors to explain changes in the law.
Public health tends to be a matter of private wealth: if you can pay for it you can get it. This was not a high priority matter for the Russian revolutionaries, but they did note the existence of yet another monumental injustice, and they promised to do something about it. Old Russia was periodically ravaged by epidemics, the level of health care was abysmal even for the privileged, and physicians staggered under the burdens of popular ignorance and superstition. Professor Hutchinson has performed a most valuable service in bringing this story to light.
The French named it after the Italians, who returned the favor by calling the disease morbus gallicus. Eventually all Europe settled on “the pox” as shorthand for what the author hails as “queen of the venereal diseases” whose reign of terror lasted almost 500 years until it was finally “dethroned” by the modem coup of AIDS. Quetel traces the career of syphilis, surveying changes in medical knowledge and treatment, as well as social attitudes toward the affliction from its earliest documented appearance in 1494 to the current age. Extensive reference is made to poems, plays, and other literary sources that allude to the sexual plague, with particular attention to French documents. The study ends with musings on parallels between syphilis and AIDS, its 20th-century counterpart.
The past 30 years have brought a wholesome change in military history, broadening its scope to include social and economic topics and knocking old conceptions on their heads. Wood’s book is military history in the old sense—campaign history—but it’s good popular history that reflects much of the exciting research of the recent past. Clear and engagingly written, it covers selected battles that typify certain aspects of the revolutionary conflict—Bunker Hill for the militia, Trenton for the professional army, and so on. This is a fine short introduction to the military conflict of the American Revolution.
The heart of these two volumes is some 230 documents relating to Spanish Missouri between 1785 and 1804. Drawn from a wide range of archival sources and carefully translated and annotated, these papers illuminate two decades of Spanish exploration up the Missouri River in response to the encroachments of Americans, Britons, and Russians on the fringes of the Spanish empire. These activities were terminated by the Louisiana Purchase, but the voyage of Lewis and Clark was the logical culmination of the efforts of their Spanish predecessors. Of equal interest to the documents is the editor’s introductory essay discussing the history of the Missouri region in the years after the pioneering voyage of Marquette in 1673.
The Habsburg monarchy kept its empire afloat, in part, through an ingenious revenue raising scheme—the sale of licenses to towns. Towns could move from “belonging to” the church, a noble lord, or a nearby city council to becoming an autonomous state. Towns, happy to gain more freedom, were fiercely loyal to the monarchy in return. Nader’s rich, thoroughly-documented book studies the success and failure of royal policy by investigating the “connection between the royal court and the monarchy’s smallest units.” With appendices, glossary of Castilian terms, bibliography, and index.
Radical Republicans prided themselves on their attempts to create a politics of morality; Howard shows that one source of this politics of righteousness was Northern churches who, viewing the Civil War as a Christian crusade, pushed for abolition and equal rights. This study highlights the Radicals’ dilemma in choosing between principle and political expediency but overlooks the fact that the constitutional revolution of the postwar era was due more to Southern recalcitrance and presidential obstruction than to moral inspiration. Although Howard makes clear the support of the evangelical and reform churches for Radical Reconstruction and its proponents, it remains unclear exactly how this support shaped the course and outcome of the debate over Southern policy. As such it is more of an illustration than an analysis of the role of religious organizations during the political crisis of the 1860’s.
If we could put the desperately ill Russia of today on the psychiatrist’s couch, we would inevitably have to spend a great many sessions on its earliest childhood. This is what Lars T. Lih has done in this remarkably insightful study of the great 65-year crisis that has brought the country to ruin. For all to eat, some of them must produce, and in civilized societies there is an agreement on exchange. The accord broke down in the first years of Bolshevik rule and was never really revived; now Russia pays the bill in full. A fine work.
In the title piece of this fine collection of literary essays, Sullivan praises not hunting but the literature of hunting, because of its inevitable engagement with ultimate realities of life and death; he contrasts this literature with much postmodern writing, so often a self-referential “literature about itself.” The preference expressed here— which is ultimately moral, not merely aesthetic—pretty well sums up the theme which unifies Sullivan’s essays, though they range widely and cover such disparate figures as Peter Taylor, William Golding, and Evelyn Waugh. Here as in his previous work, Sullivan manages to be both censorious and likable, communicating his disapproval of the modern world with considerable grace and self-deprecating wit. His readers have waited several years for another collection of his essays, and they won’t be disappointed in this one.
Kernan takes deconstructionism, the Lady Chatterly trial, the Mapplethorpe affair, the change in the Stanford core curriculum, and a lot of other trends and events to show that “literature” is no longer the name of a viable social institution. His argument is not very persuasive. It is hard to see that people will stop writing novels, poems, and plays which readers will make central to their moral imagination merely because some philosophers have come up with new theories of meaning, or because some professors would like to radicalize their students, or because the media occasionally hype a literary or artistic scandal.
Arthur Kirsch’s collection of several recent essays, along with two framing chapters defending his critical stance, offers a valuable counterbalance to some of the more radical New Historicist criticism. The author poses this collection in large part as an argument for Shakespeare’s universality, citing Aristotle, Montaigne, Philip Sidney, and Freud, among others, in support of this view. Although such a claim does not seem entirely incontrovertible, even after these arguments, Kirsch’s readings display unmistakable love and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work. The essays about individual plays offer strong support for Kirsch’s assertion that the emotions of the title characters in the four major tragedies are “dramatized not only in what [they say]. . .but in what happens to and in others.” This book is intended, and can profitably be taken, not as a totally new way of looking at Shakespeare, but as a return to a dynamic of aesthetic pleasure that has been neglected in many recent works of Renaissance criticism.
An experiment in programmed career-counseling, this handbook of short essays, practical exercises, and preference tests is designed to help students decide if Eng. Lit, and Lit. Crit, are just their dish of tea. Whether or not it actually attains its goal, this INTERFACE volume can help demystify theoretical frameworks that inform and animate the undergraduate teaching of foreign as well as English literature. It may even help the perplexed student to decide which if any of today’s competing dogmatisms really promote, rather than disrupt, intelligent analysis and dialogue about texts and contexts.
Roberts’s study is typical of recent (meta)criticism, whose framework and method are more interesting than their subject or conclusions. Focusing on bookscapes (high literary, best-selling, junk) and types of reader (serious, plain, “paperback”), he discusses a panoply of paradigmatic works, favored forms, representative writers and their rewards, reader motivations and expectations, and preferred ways of sharing literary experience. If Roberts’ textual analyses are predictably thin and fragmentary, his treatment of reading as an experience—both individual and general—is among the best we have.
In this brave and admirable study of modernism, Eysteinsson does a fine job of reviewing and analyzing the critical literature that has sought to define the concept. Eysteinsson’s exploration of modernism considers the reverberations and relations of modernism to other paradigms such as realism, literary history, postmodernism, and the avant-garde. The work, which also reveals a strong awareness of how modernism was and is understood outside the Anglo-American realm, is indispensable not only to modernist but also to those interested in the ways modernism relates to other critical models.
Goytisolo, one of Spam’s leading contemporary novelists, has waged a long campaign against modern myths and traditional order. His “vindication of chaos” is analyzed by Lee Six from the perspective of theme, metaphor, and style in the major novels (predominantly the Mendiola trilogy, Makbara and Juan sin tierra). Goytisolo identifies with social outcasts and forcefully rejects (through corrosive parody) the “order” imposed on the individual by Western society, Eastern communism, Spanish Catholicism, and the like. The discussion centers upon his rejection of the order = good/chaos = evil dichotomy and his successful attempts to “set the (Spanish) language in motion.” Lee Six’s interpretation is fresh, stimulating, and persuasive.
Moore tries to unravel enough of the reception history of Paradise Lost to reconstruct a genealogy of sublimity. The book offers insights on the theme but lacks the necessary breadth or power to justify its scope. Any one of the chapters offers enough questions for a separate volume, and the effect is less of a study than of cogitations.
It took some time for criticism to locate Wallace Stevens—to place him in the company of English Romantic poets, Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Such was the burden of major critics like Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler. Indeed, after Bloom’s classic study, there seemed little left to say about the central poet of our climate. But Fisher’s excellent book proves otherwise. Here Wallace Stevens is made to hold hands with speculative mystics, medieval love poets, and Sigmund Freud. Fisher does not so much disagree with older Stevens’ critics as add a new dimension to their readings. Angus Fletcher provides an interesting foreword, and his eclecticism has clearly influenced the author.
Improbable as it must seem, this book lives up to its promise: it provides a genuinely fresh and insightful analysis of the most explicated modern poem. Drawing in a concerted way on the resources of criticism old and new—especially biography, history of ideas, and reader-response theory—Brooker and Bentley show how this (and any other) text is in significant measure the creation of informed, imaginative, problem-solving audiences—which, despite differences of orientation, remain committed to common standards of validity.
Based on the determinacy of the sign and the stability of verbal constructs, the study of literary forms, as the postmodernists keep telling us, has no future. It does have a past, however, fuller knowledge of which may lay the groundwork for a post-Derridean revival. The aspect of that past that fascinates Dolezel is the unnoticed yet vital continuity of theorizing between Aristotle and structuralism. Focusing on the ideas and methods contributed by Leibnitz, von Humboldt, Goethe, and Coleridge, Dolezel brilliantly reframes the Greek and French achievements, then opens perspectives on possibilities that can be profitably explored when the world catches up, yet again, with thinking on the left bank of the Seine.
A fine collection. It introduces some of the most sophisticated literary approaches to the great Victorian obsession—death— and the great Victorian ineffable—sex. Using deconstructive, psychoanalytic, feminist, and historicist models, the authors significantly advance our understanding of the interrelations between these themes in poems and novels, both major and minor. Most of the contributors argue their cases and lay out their readings with vigor and intelligence.
The most important feminist interpretation of the role of the feminine in Freud’s writings since Sarah Kofman’s The Enigma of Woman. The book’s major argument is against the Oedipal theory of castration-anxiety and for the notion that it is the mother who occasions the development of the child’s ego. The readings are precise, clear, and strong, as is the prose. Sprengnether manages both to subvert Freud’s own interpretation of his insights and to extend his insights toward a more radical theory of child development. A valuable essay.
Finally, the much-needed volume on the interrelations between modernist poetry and modernist art in the United States! Altieri offers subtle readings of canonical American poems, interpreting them in the light of contemporary experiments in painting. The book suffers from having contagiously acquired abstractness from its object of study, but it makes useful distinctions among the various appropriations by modern poets of the painterly avant-garde, revealing this line of influence to be central in the history of poetic modernism. A major contribution to the study of the sister arts.
One does not generally think of the 18th century as an age of passion—this more a result of the cliché of “the age of reason” (with all its antipassionate implications) than from any nuanced understanding of the period. But McKenzie argues, convincingly, that passion was a polyvalent and constitutive part of the discourses he discusses, including the Spectator, and works by Fielding, Hume, and Gibbon. His prose style is somewhat old-fashioned, even Victorian (many “we turn now to . . .” locutions), but this should not detract from the broadening effect of this work on a period whose study has for too long been hobbled by reductive generalizations.
Geehr’s biographical work treats Lueger’s rise to power, his long reign as mayor of Vienna (1897—1910), and his legacy in politics and historical writing. This charismatic and ambitious man would not, asserts Geehr, allow morality to outweigh his political success. Lueger’s admirers praise him as a model of public probity, a successful proponent of municipal socialism, and an inspiring leader of Christian socialism. His detractors condemn him for giving legitimacy and prestige to anti-Semitism and for failing to improve the lot of Vienna’s working people. Geehr would provide a balanced judgment of Lueger’s role, but he concludes with a negative verdict, siding with the detractors largely because this “first important charismatic personality in twentieth-century politics” prepared the way for Hitler by easing “the transition to modern political irrationalism through his sensitivity to and identification with the inner and unspoken drives of his constituents. . . .” Historiographic chapters on Lueger’s anti-Semitism and legacy are quite good, but much of the work— chapters and even individual paragraphs— lack focus. At worst, let this be the penultimate Lueger biography.
Gilman is best known as the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, a horrifying, fictional account of S. Weir Mitchell’s enforced infantilization of “hysterical” patients. The burden of this biography is that her nonfiction writings put her in the company of people like Marx, Freud, and Weber. It is not convincing. Gilman herself admitted her inability to understand theoreticians like Marx (“the German-Jewish Marx,” as she called him). Much of her social theory is based on the idea that acquired traits are genetically transmissible, and as years wore on her racist and anti-Semitic views became increasingly robust. What is remarkable, and what Ann Lane’s treatment most makes us wonder, is how Gilman managed to write at all. Born to a pair of selfish, unfeeling parents and into a society that offered her little chance for formal education, Gilman rose to prominence as a popularizer of radical ideas. She paid a high price, inflicting great pain on a daughter she gave up. Although Lane’s rather inexpressive prose sometimes obscures the sharp edges, the story of Gilman’s lacerated and lacerating will to survive is still a moving indictment of oppression.
Franklin D. Roosevelt remains the most fascinating American president of the 20th century. Frank Freidel has credentials the equal of any American historian for examining the broad sweep of FDR’s life and works. Now Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard, he is the author of an earlier four-volume biography of the young Franklin Roosevelt. Building on the biography and substantial body of unpublished material coupled with new material on FDR’s wartime leadership, Freidel provides a much needed one volume study of the Roosevelt era. He places Roosevelt in the mainstream of American politics rather than picturing him as a radical reformer. He offers details on the U.S. entry into World War II and the Teheran and Yalta conferences that add to our understanding. Freidel’s major contribution is in portraying the complexity of FDR’s inner life and the sources of his power as a political leader.
Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Queen Mary, managed to keep his head and uphold the authority of Rome at the same time. Redworth’s reexamination of “Wily Winchester’s” career shows how circumspect he had to be when all about him was in ecclesiastical turmoil. Protestant caricatures have made him appear less of a statesman and more a conniver than in fact he was. Redworth redresses the balance, though without much reducing the murkiness of the age.
It is hard to go overboard for a heroine in a pince-nez, though it is also hard to believe that horn rims would have improved the picture. The connection between Sayers’ everyday life (work, marriage, child, etc.) and her novels is tenuous, to say the least, and even if proved would not add to the stature and interest of the novels. They have a life of their own, as their creator would probably declare—and this life is infinitely more interesting than hers.
A very thorough example of the contemporary fashion in biography, this book sticks to documentary evidence in order to discredit exaggerated stories about the poet. The portrait is drawn with great sympathy and respect, and the analysis of Moore’s work is useful, though not definitive. The annotation is inadequate, however, if the work is intended to be taken seriously. The style is also a serious problem as it is too often dry and choppy, its paragraphs dull lists of events. On the whole, a volume students will want to consult, but not the elegant, fully realized rendering Moore deserves.
How does one write about the politics of an apolitical individual? It is essential, of course, to define politics itself to suit the author, and this is what Mr. Fleishman has done. Boris Pasternak had no feeling whatsoever for the political scene and to try to read something that is not there into his journey through an intensely political era is to distort the meaning of the poet’s life. This account, from a very learned but embarrassingly wrongheaded man, adds nothing to our knowledge and much to our confusion.
As Watt concludes his prologue, “This is the memoir of one American’s second chance at Hitler.” Personal memoirs may be categorized as reflective or active, or in between, and this one is wholly on the active side. After participating in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the International Brigade, Watt joined the American Army Air Corps as assistant flight engineer on a B-17. On a bombing run in 1943 his ship was hit, and the crew had to bail out. The narrative then takes us with him as he successfully parachutes into Belgium, is taken over by the Belgian Resistance, forwarded from north to south across France and Spain, and thence to Gibraltar from whence he was repatriated. Forty-one years later with his wife he revisits the scenes and people of this adventure, full of gratitude for the care and help he had received.
Can one write a successful biography of the poet who chronicled his own life so brilliantly in the sequence of poems called The Dream Songs? Mariani’s biography has all the facts and arranges them adroitly. The voice is clean and sincere. But the biography itself is a slow-moving rendition in black and white of the poet’s own more elliptical and flaring version.
One can make a very good case for allowing businessmen and engineers to run governments. Lacking sentimentality, they are driven by clearly defined goals, and they have the expertise to achieve them. Had the old Russian regime allowed engineers like Aleksandr Fedin, a leader of the Southern Coal and Steel Producers organization, to organize and develop the country’s industry on a national basis, heaven only knows what disasters could have been avoided. This is a wonderful little book, beautifully translated and edited.
The inclusion of documents from only five weeks of Wilson’s life is justified by the complex domestic and international problems he faced after his return from Paris in the summer of 1919. His main task, securing Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles, was severely compromised when he suffered a small stroke on July 19. The appended essay containing Dr. Bert E. Park’s analysis of Wilson’s dramatic physical and mental deterioration shows that by modern medical criteria Wilson was disabled even before his major strokes of late September and October.
William Faulkner, the man and the writer, still captures the imagination of the American public. Writing about both the mind and the body of the South, Faulkner himself has caused those who read him to ask the how and why of the author. Brodsky, a long time scholar and collector of Faulkner’s papers, has attempted admirably to give the reader a look into what motivated and encompassed the great writer and his insight into human nature. Using several mediums including letters and interviews, Brodsky has tried to include a wide array of archival material with too little time spent on the dominant themes. Brodsky gives us those everyday insights into Faulkner’s life and personality that were personal yet profoundly important on how Faulkner the writer approached his work and his subjects. For Faulkner admirers this will be a great treat and an unusual approach to literary biography.
This collection of 13 papers by American and Italian scholars was presented at a symposium in New York City in April 1988. The results are uneven. Leon Edel’s paper on Henry’s Italian journeys doesn’t tell anything new; Daniel Mark Fogel has some interesting comments on Henry’s “American girls” in Rome; Gerald E. Myers discusses the influence in Italy of William’s pragmatism, and Lyall H. Powers examines Henry and the literature of Italy. Nine papers were on Henry, two on William, one on the James family, and there is one on Alice by Maria Antonietta Saracino. In it she states that from the day of their father’s death Alice James “could no longer walk,” an inexplicable statement. Although diagnosed as an hysteric and neurasthenic, Alice managed a household after her father’s death in 1882, first with Henry, then on her own in 1883—1884 before sailing to England. This publication and the symposium were joint ventures of New York University and the Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana in Rome. The book is an appropriate but over-priced keepsake.
In decades to come this remarkable volume may well qualify as one of the most beautiful and important publications of the 20th century. It was born of a unique partnership of a renowned international photographer and the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Laureate of 1989. One provided a superb introduction and 186 glorious illustrations in Technicolor and the other a fascinating accompanying explanatory text, the message of which is that inner peace is an indispensable prerequisite of world peace. The reader is left with a deep love for and better understanding of the religion and culture of those sweet and hardy people who live in harmony on the roof of the world.
Dismissed in recent years as second-rate compared to other Romantic figures, Coleridge’s reputation has languished; however, this well-written and engrossing biography should go quite a way toward reestablishing him as one of the major figures of English literature. Holmes’ exhaustive research sheds new light on Coleridge’s relationship with Wordsworth and his intellectual development. Readers will eagerly watch for the next volume.
Widely reviewed and well-received (Gore Vidal calls it “easily one of the best historical novels written in the last twenty years”), poet and novelist Jay Parini’s story is concerned with the 82nd, last year (1910) in the life of the great Leo Tolstoy and, in the words of the publisher, “dances bewitchingly between fact and fiction.” Parini has based his account mainly on the actual diaries, memoirs, letters, and published writings of the principals. Using the familiar modern device of multiple narration, Parini lets six characters tell the story from as many different angles: Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya Andreyevna; Bulgakov, his secretary; Dr. Dushan Makovitsky; Vladimir Chertkov, disciple and would-be publisher; Sasha, Tolstoy’s daughter; and Tolstoy himself. Beginning at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s country estate south of Moscow, and following Tolstoy on his final flight which ended with the old man’s collapse in the house of the stationmaster of the town of Astapovo, the story is of the battle for the soul, wealth, and future of the master. Parini builds to a brilliant ending, concluding with an excerpt from Tolstoy’s own The Death of Ivan Ilych and, finally, with “Elegy,” a poem by Parini. The overall method, not unlike a superior collage, overcomes the possible objection to making fiction out of the well-documented lives of “real” people. Parini reinforces his method with a fidelity to fact: “A novel is a voyage by sea, a setting out into strange waters,” Parini writes in an “Afterword,” “but I have sailed as close as I could to the shoreline of literal events that made up the last year of Tolstoy’s life.”
Princeton snobberies and other traditions can be rather fascinating in their pettiness and essential unimportance, and when presented cleverly and often gleefully, as Mr. Wolff is more than capable of doing, can be quite entertaining; but 370 pages of them are just too many. The well-drawn characters seem able to break free of their obsession with their alma mater into pathways that might be more significant and rewarding for the reader but never do. As though the author himself realized he had gone on too long along this single track, he throws us a concluding “tragedy” that is not truly tragic because it is difficult to believe and because it does not proceed from any organic cause. Still, apart from its length, which some readers probably won’t mind at all, this is a skillful, very readable, novel of manners—which may be an endangered species in socially shifting America. Perhaps we should be grateful for Mr. Wolff’s smooth contribution to this shrinking genre.
As the editors quote in the introduction, “He flung himself on his horse and rode madly off in all directions,” so goes this collection. Most do display some recognizable Western motif, cowboys, harsh weather, gunslingers of one type or another, but they are not narrowly regional. There are a couple stories that seem to have been picked for balance rather than quality. These are anemic, recognizable as greenhorns amongst the like of Ron Hansen’s “Wickedness,” Jim Harrison’s “How It Happened to Me,” or John Bennion’s “Dust.” But it’s a good collection, worth reading from cover to cover, especially if one wants to familiarize oneself with a region where, as Ron Hansen reports, the blizzard of 1888 dropped the temperature 44 degrees in 12 hours, “The difference between having toes and not. . .between ordinary concerns and one overriding idea.”
Why is it the Brits write such great spy thrillers? They so clearly outclass Americans like Tom Clancy with his gung-ho, can-do, celebratory cartoon characters. Just look what Forbes does with that tired, old cliché—the Fourth Man theme. The idea that the Soviets have a supermole in the highest reaches of the British government would seem to have been played out long ago. Yet in Forbes’ hands it seems fresh and believable, most probably because it is grounded, as all good stories are, in human nature. In this, the sequel to The Endless Game, Forbes plays infinite variations on the theme of betrayal—husband and wife, man and woman, man and his friends, man and his country. The tone is ironic and cynical, the human relationships as dense and tortuous as real life. Forbes is a master craftsman, and the book is designed and executed to provide all the tension, surprises, and action any reader could wish.
This novel is based on the life of a very real person: Egon Schiele, an Austrian Expressionist painter, who was born in 1890 and died in 1918, at the end of World War I, not of wounds received in combat but of influenza. Schiele’s enormous ego is fully displayed. As in all novels written about real people, the author here has let her imagination roam wide and wild into Schiele’s life, his work, his family, the artists and the women around him. The pyrotechnics of Scott’s work fully exploit and probably do full justice to the artist and the man, Egon Schiele.
Publishers have had a hard time feeding the public’s voracious appetite for mystery fiction. Despite a relentless search for cordon bleu writing, they have had to make do with a thin gruel of unsavory titles, among which is Kelly’s fourth novel. Liz Connors is a Boston-area free-lance crime writer whose boyfriend Jack, Cambridge’s fair-haired boy-policeman, is framed for a rape and a murder. Liz enlists the aid of two reporters and a couple of Jack’s colleagues to solve the “mystery.” The story is moderately interesting, but the pace is somewhat akin to watching dough rise. The dialogue pretends to wit but can’t rise above the level of patter. And the narrative, instead of bustling with action, is cluttered with extraneous detail. This kind of fast-food writing will give you mental dyspepsia. I can’t believe I read the whole thing.
This novel runs along on a dual time level. It is set in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816, and the present day in London. The earlier setting involves the Shelleys and Bryon and his physician Polidori, and deals with night and storm over Lake Geneva and the inception of Frankenstein. The London scenes also involve Polidori, as well as a young woman named Ann who turns out lurid romance novels for a Captain Walton. The different times play back and forth higgledy-piggledy and can cause confusion for the reader as well as for the characters. Carrére does not hesitate to treat his real characters in the same way he does his made-up people and to send them all whirling around in a wild, weird, Gothic dance.
Edna O’Brien’s skill in depicting human pain—particularly pain from disappointed love—asserts itself in this collection of 12 stories set chiefly in England and Ireland. Women love men under duress: a mother loves a married son, a sister incestuously loves a brother, a woman loves a married man, a daughter loves an aged father, a young widow loves a new suitor amid village gossip. O’Brien delineates her characters’ suffering with a frankness and sensitivity that make the reader wince. Beautiful strong prose.
This book could be subtitled “Requiem for the Bronx.” Alcibiades Locante is an assistant District Attorney in the Bronx and the novel is a smattering of stories from his career. Altman puts very little energy into his organizing conceit—all his characters are one-dimensional white hats or black hats. No matter—the stories are fascinating, revolting, shocking, and hilarious by turns. The subtext is depressingly familiar: it’s a savage world, and there is no justice, just the fragile barrier of the law. Yet if there is little art in the telling, there is plenty of life—and death—in the story.
Dan Roman is a private eye hired to track down Loretta Arganian, the daughter of a Texas heiress. The girl disappeared 12 years ago, but Roman is nothing if not tenacious. And along a trail that takes him through the seamiest sides of Los Angeles, East Tennessee, Las Vegas, and San Antonio, he bird-dogs his way to the end. Readers will need the same tenacity to finish this story. For while the material is there for a compelling mystery, Mathis is content to go through the motions, tossing a prurient bone here and there to the readers. (Loretta’s sexual experiences have been, shall we say, catholic in their range.) This tale is like a particularly tawdry striptease: artless, unflattering, and a bit dull.
It’s all there, the bizarre names, songs and stories told in the familiar jerky-jerky manner. For those afficianados of Gravity’s Rainbow, the long wait has been worthwhile. But the same apocalyptic, paranoid style that fit the nearly incomprehensible events of World War II and the dawn of the atomic age seems slightly out of sync in this tale of the Nixon-Reagan years. Not that the America of the New Left, acid-tinged and hyperbolic as it was, deserves a quieter chronicler. But though Pynchon fans will be delighted by the book, others may be disquieted or even put off entirely by its overheated plot and prose. And that would be too bad.
Michael Frayn, perhaps best known for his plays Noises Off and Benefactors, has turned his hand back to the novel after a lapse of 16 years and produced a novel with a difference. A professor of literature at an English university sends a series of letters to a friend in Australia, detailing his relationship with a prominent female novelist; a relationship that changes from academic to physical as the professor breaks an ancient taboo “against intercourse with a writer on your own reading list.” As problems arise the letters track events, changing from hilarious soliloquies to the delirious babbling of a disappointed academic. Michael Frayn slyly pokes fun at writers and academics alike, and evidentally enjoys himself in the process. He certainly has “the trick of it” that his protagonist lacks when it comes to writing.
Charlie Bradshaw, hero of this sixth of Dobyn’s Saratoga mysteries, is an amiable bumbler whose sympathies often lie with the outlaw. In this episode, Charlie is befuddled by poets and poetry. Set on the detection trail by the murder of an old friend, he quickly stumbles over a poetic clue that holds the answer to one puzzle. Meanwhile his mother’s hotel is plagued by a jewel thief who scatters doggerel in the path of his escape. And, to cap Charlie’s frustrations, he is hired to pose as a poet at the Phoenix Colony, an artists’ retreat, to investigate a series of attacks on a noted poetry critic. Charlie emerges triumphant, of course, solving each mystery handily, and giving a well-received reading of his poetry to boot. The situations are amusing, the pace is lively, and the characters are amusing. So, what’s not to like?
This is a timely and thought-provking book, a meditation on what is happening to the world as the longstanding barriers— and distinctions—between the Western and Eastern blocs break down. Paradoxically, Codrescu fears that these developments will not lead to greater human freedom, but rather to a new kind of worldwide, benign tyranny of media and image-makers. As a Romanian émigré to the United States, he views the possibility of exile as the key to all genuinely critical thinking. His move to America allowed him to see more clearly what was wrong with his native land, but he also remained enough of a European to see through much of the mirage-like quality of the American dream. But now, as the Berlin Wall and the Berlin Mall blend into each other, Codrescu worries that any point from which to criticize contemporary politics and culture is on the verge of disappearing. “In the global village no one leaves home because home is everywhere.” There is much that is frustrating in this book: Codrescu is given to wild generalizations, and his style is too journalistic. One wishes that he had developed his ideas more systematically. But, at its best, this book is brilliant, and Codrescu’s alarm about the growing homogenization of the world invites comparison with the fears expressed at the end of Francis Fukuyama’s by-now famous essay “The End of History?”
Eisenhower and Landrum is an important addition to the growing literature on the Eisenhower presidency. It adds to the revisionist view of Eisenhower as an unusually astute politician. However R. Alton Lee, an historian at the University of South Dakota, pictures Ike as a more active political figure mobilizing popular support against labor abuses and using his administrative aides successfully to his ends. The book is also a solid case study of executive-legislative relations and in particular the drama involving presidential aspirants including Kennedy, Johnson, and Goldwater. Professor Lee, who did a previous study of the Taft-Hartley Act, has traced the problems of racketeering and corruption in the union movement and demonstrated the legislative history of Landrum-Griffin. What he fails to do is to examine what went before and came after the public’s drive to reform the movement. A full history would require an evaluation of management’s abuses, which in the broad sweep of history are part of the story.
Robert L. Holmes takes up the cause of pacifism in an elegant and strongly-worded attack on political realism. The book of the University of Rochester philosopher suffers from contradictions and confusions as in attributing to realism beliefs that war is inevitable or that morality has no organic relationship with politics and foreign policy. Holmes shops around in the writings of a handful of political realists to support his preconceptions about American foreign policy, which he mistakenly asserts has been dominated by realist policymakers in conflicts such as Vietnam. It becomes evident that he is far more at home in philosphy than in the literature of foreign policy. He misunderstands concepts such as the national interest, the balance of power, deterrence, and postwar theory. Nonetheless, the treatise is a powerful attack not only on nuclear but also on conventional war. It offers summary statements of non-violent alternatives to war. It reviews and brings up to date all the classic arguments for pacifism and most of the criticisms which can be made of the present international system. Students of war and peace will be obliged to take into account On War and Morality in the future.
Some of the best and the brightest young members of the American middle class go into criminal law—some as public defenders and poverty lawyers, some as assistant district attorneys making the decisions about what cases to drop and which plea bargains to accept. Heilbroner’s admirably-written book gives a very clear picture of what these people do before they eventually burn out. The burn-out rate is very high, for they all work under insanely high pressure, with minimal resources. Heilbroner shows people trying to do their honest best in impossible circumstances—circumstances created by the unwillingness of the rest of the middle class to pay more taxes.
Intellectuals do not march in the streets. They write letters to the editor. While the latter form of protest is certainly less sensational, who knows the extent to which governmental policy and private views have been changed in response to the public exposure of their inconsistencies and absurdities. Greene was a prolific practitioner of this art form, and this collection of excerpts from 1947 to 1989 reveals his penchant for the acid comment, the ironic comparison, and the biting rejoinder, sometimes wicked, often amusing, but always in earnest, with which he touched the nerve in many of the controversial issues of the day. His targets include the Catholic church on abortions, U.S. blunders in Haiti and Vietnam, H.M. Government’s folly in regard to the civil war in Cuba and literary censorship, and the illogical behavior of well-known individuals. The tone is generally indignant, the mood impatient, the wit keen-edged, and the syntax a treat in itself. Occasionally, Greene shows himself to have been misled, or his salvos to have been misdirected, as in his staunch belief that the young Castro was not a Communist. But if lapses they be, they only add interest and color to what is altogether a very personal collection of private thoughts made public.
Who can explain the events of the past five years in the USSR? Not the 18 contributors to this volume, half Westerners and half Soviets. With the exception of Archie Brown on politics and David Holloway on foreign and defense policy, the Western researchers rehash tired old conventions. On the Soviet side, only the economists Latsis and Popov have anything out of the usual run of lamentations and accusations to contribute. Nevertheless, one has to begin somewhere, and this volume is as good a place as any to start.