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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1997


ISSUE:  Winter 1997

Much has been written about Niagara Falls in the 19th century, but most scholars have emphasized the role of the great cataract as a symbol of the sublimity of unconquered nature. William Irwin is the first historian to focus upon that period in which the Falls came to be both inspiration and tool for technological progress. Americans celebrated first the bridges across the river gorge near Niagara, and then hailed the power plants and factories which grew up nearby to utilize the staggering power-generating potential of Niagara. Irwin did his graduate work at the University of Virginia, but he was reared in Buffalo, New York, the nearest city to the Falls. To his impressive knowledge of cultural history, architecture, and landscape, he brings a local’s familiarity with Niagara’s lore and physical layout. Although many today may see the “New Niagara” of industry and electric power as exploitive, hypocritical, and ecologically unsound, Irwin conveys in this well-illustrated book an understanding of the well-meaning, if naive and even foolish, dreams of the promoters of the New Niagara.

The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War, by Edwin C. Fishel. Houghton Mifflin $35

Here is a unique history of the Civil War from an intelligence perspective. The author, for 30 years a career intelligence officer at the National Security Agency, has utilized previously misfiled records of the chief Union intelligence service, the bureau of military information, as well as the little used reports of Allen Pinkerton, the intelligence chief for General George B. McClellan, and the papers of General Joseph Hooker. Fishel analyzes each campaign as a military intelligence operation—how the intelligence was obtained, evaluation, interrogation and the effect on the outcome of the battle or campaign. As a result, this book should change the known history of Civil War campaigns. Fishel’s narrative covers the conflict from the First Battle of Bull Run through the battle of Gettysburg. An epilogue follows the war to the end. This book, the first to examine the effect that information about the enemy had on battles and campaigns, should delight Civil War buffs.

A Peculiar Humanism: The Judicial Advocacy of Slavery in the High Courts of the Old South, 1820—1850, by William E. Wiethoff. Georgia $37

How did antebellum Southern judges deal with the issue of slavery in their decisions? Wiethoff approaches this question through arhetorical prism, investigating the balance between oratory and narrative, self-interest and morality in the expression of judicial humanism. An interesting and useful study.

Ivy League Autumns: An Illustrated History of College Football’s Grand Old Rivalries, by Richard Goldstein. St. Martin’s $29.95

This pigskin hymn of praise marks the 40th birthday of the Ivy League—hailed by the author as the last bastion of true student athletes. It probably was found in many an alumni Christmas sock, and those who attended Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc. undoubtedly reveled in memories of Saturdays past. Yet even the most devoted of fans may have been troubled by an endless trail of one-sentence paragraphs and a tendency to “name drop,” that is, inject celebrities who had virtually nothing to do with the game. In addition, explanation of rule changes that created the sport (1890—1910) and the anti-football campaign of all those years would seem to be in order, as well as some analysis of what the Ivy League has accomplished if anything, since 1956.

Women According, to Men: The World of Tudor-Stuart Women, by Suzanne W. Hull. AltaMira $35 cloth, $16.95 paper

Yet another addition to the recent explosion of studies in women’s history, Hull’s work explores the historical experience of women in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, but with a twist. Admitting that most of our literary information for and about women of the period was penned by men, Hull investigates the ideology of gender through the works of male Renaissance authors, exploring both the expectations and the limitations placed on women by the male-dominated communities in which they lived. Analyzing texts upon such topics as family raising, health, cooking, and conception, Hull demonstrates the everyday reality of women’s lives during the age of Elizabeth and her Stuart successors.

Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck, 1800-1866, by Thomas Nipperdey, translated by Daniel Nolan. Princeton $69.95

To fathom the tragedy of German history one must understand the origins of Bismarck’s authoritative nation-state. Nipperdey boldly explores the road to Germany’s peculiar form of unity, as well as the paths not taken, and allowsus to understand. A pithy 700-page book on such an important subject is a rare find; this elegant translation of Nipperdey’s German tome (originally published in 1983) is one of them.

History of the Hour, by Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum. Chicago $29.95

Translated from German by Thomas Dunlap, this book is tour de force for anyone interested in the developments of mechanical time reckoning and the social contracts that get generated through the counting of hours. The book traces the evolution of time consciousness in Europe as chronological and temporal technology develops. The author’s account lingers longest in the Middle Ages when emerging concepts of temporality begin to be incorporated into daily life. The author uses a wide array of sources, from the first postal records, to merchants’ private letters, to church records, to the scribbled notes of inventors and scientists in order to show how even the smallest events of life come to be viewed in terms of the passage of time. This book is definitive in showing the clock’s pervasive influence over European society.

What a Woman Ought to Be and Do: Black Professional Women Workers during the Jim Crow Era, by Stephanie J. Shaw. Chicago $47.50 cloth, $16.95 paper

Shaw’s social history of black professional women workers during the Jim Crow era provides the first look at the families, communities, and institutions that created a group of determined working women reared on the ethic of socially responsible individualism. Her serious and thorough approach considers the social, economic, and political circumstances of the lives of several black professional working women. These women’s histories combine to form two distinct yet linked sections of Shaw’s investigation. The first section consists of three chapters that look at how black families, communities, and educational processes from 1880 to 1930 worked together in providing the mental strength and material preparation to meet theracism and sexism inherent in the post-Civil War, pre-Civil Rights movement working world. The second section of Shaw’s seminal work focuses on black women’s work in the private and public spheres between 1890 and 1950. Shaw draws on oral histories, biographies, and autobiographies, and a variety of historical documents to reconstruct the lives and educational experiences of not only specific black working women but to also reconstruct patterns of blackworking women’s experiences during the Jim Crow era.

Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, by Isabel V. Hull. Cornell $39.95

This well-researched book explores the reciprocal relations between state, civil society, and sexual behavior in Germany between the absolutist state and the beginning of the 19th century. The grand narrative of the study is the way sin which the absolutist state slowly abandoned its control over public life and the consequent birth of a German civil society. Hull brilliantly show show the history of sexuality contributes to our understanding of social and political development and, more generally, of the modern world. Extremely well-researched and well documented, the study will be essential not only to students of 18th-century Germany, but to all students of sexuality, civil society, the state, and the birth of the modern world.

The History of the Reign of King Henry, the Seventh, by Francis Bacon. Edited and introduced by Jerry Weinberger. Illinois $29.95

This history deals, with the legislation of Henry’s reign, which is exceedingly strange for a time when histories dealt with the personal and moral attributes of monarchs. It is also confusing and often contradictory in Bacon’s assessment of the long-term results of his reign. Bacon claims that both Henry’s flaws and strengths contributed to the republican sentiments of Bacon’s day. Weinberger carefully examines these dissonances in his interpretive essay by comparing this book to Bacon’s other works. He concludes that Bacon portrays Henry in such a confusing way in order to protect his republican message and himself from uncritical or hostile readers. This book is extremely dense scholarship which, though useful for the specialist, is unsuitable for those unfamiliar with the genre.

The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817—1862, by Carol Sheriff. Hill & Wang $35

Canal history has traditionally centered on the subject’s technological, economic, or transportation aspects, but this engaging popular history, approaches the Erie Canal as an entrance into the hearts and minds of antebellum upstate New Yorkers. Sheriff considers the Canal corridor as a microcosm in which to examine the relationship between the region’s major social and cultural changes from 1817 to 1862, including increased mobility, expansion of the market economy, and especially intensification of moral reform movements. By studying what white middle-class men and women wrote about the Canal’s impact on their own habits and values, Sheriff demonstrates how the first successful “artificial river” came to symbolize “progress.” Although sometimes superficial, her creative synthesis of recent works by social, cultural, and political historians of the Early American Republic would be an ideal undergraduate reading assignment.

Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974, by James T. Patterson. Oxford $35

This massive volume is a worthy addition to the Oxford History of the United States, a series which so far has included Robert Middlekauff’s Glorious Cause on the American Revolution, and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom on the Civil War era. Patterson’s detailed overview of postwar America is based, as the series demands, upon the best recent historical scholarship. It is perhaps unavoidable in a project of this scale that the author misses a few major books, and some readers may be bothered by Patterson’s tendency to take contemporary quotations from secondary works when the original sources are, in many cases, readily available. These are minor quibbles. There have been many recent surveys of the postwar era, but Patterson’s narrative may be the most thorough. He carefully weighs competing interpretations and and reaches conclusions which are balanced and judicious, but at the same time often refreshing and provocative, as in his criticism of Truman and his sympathetic, rather than condemnatory, treatment of suburbia and consumer culture. His title is his overall thesis, “Grandexpectations,” whether of material gain, personal fulfillment, or the triumph of social justice, were, Patterson argues, the chief motivations of Americans in the postwar years. Collapse of these expectations contributes to the cynicism and disillusionment of the 1990’s.

From Africa to America, by William D. Piersen. Twayne $26.95

William Piersen has written a synthesis of African-American history during the colonial period, tracing the significant impacts of African culture in America. His presentation is one of history through the eyes of Africans: how they lived, how they contributed to the American society which was just being developed, and how other parallel developments affected them. He seeks to make a contribution to an area of scholarship which has not been studied much, and broadens the focus of colonial history. He writes a colonial history which acknowledges the significance of Africans. Thus, this history is about “history from the bottom up.” It is not a political history, but a social and a cultural one. For the reader who is interested in learning about the lives of African-Americans in the colonial period and the early republic, he introduces many sources. He takes an interesting approach, by discussing the history of Africans in Africa prior to contact, and connecting that history to the story which was developing in the British, French, and Spanish colonies.

LITERARY STUDIESFictions of Loss in The Victorian Fin de Siecle, by Stephen Arata. Cambridge $49.95

This stunningly fresh book breathes new life into the scholarship on Victorian literature. Focusing in a series of core studies on R.L. Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling, Arata deftly analyzes the “degeneration” of literature and “decline” of imperialism. A subtle weave of history, criticism, and theory, this rich and highly suggestive book also offers a significant revision of our understanding of Modernism. An exceptionally important work in cultural studies, it is a model of compression and lucidity.

Beckett Writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph, by H. Porter Abbott. Cornell $32.50

In one of the most challenging books on Beckett to appear in recent years, Abbott develops a subtle argument about Beckett’s personal investment in and commitment to his literary art. While avoiding reductively autobiographical readings of Beckett’s works, Abbott still traces the presence of his genius in them— “something wild and originary, yet persistent: an exotic and willful singularity working somewhere on the other side of language.” What is perhaps most original and valuable about Abbott’s discussion is his attempt to place Beckett in a larger literary context, which leads him to bring up sources and analogues seldom encountered in Beckett criticism. Others have discussed the similarities between Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Waiting for Godot, but Abbott breaks new ground in relating Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Krapp’s Last Tape or Wells’s The Time Machine to Endgame. All in all, this book boldly stakes out an innovative position within Beckett scholarship and reminds us of the presence of artistic genius even in the preeminent case in modern literature in which authorial authority seems at its most absent.

The Medievalist Impulse in American Literature:Twain, Adams, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, by Kim Moreland. Virginia $42.50

Although announced as the first serious extended study on the subject, this book falls far short of being a satisfactory investigation of modern ideas of the Middle Ages. Restricted as it is to the work of these four authors, the discussion goes over a good deal of familiar ground with regard to the first pair of writers and is forced into some fancy figures to demonstrate the self-conscious medievalism of the last two. More descriptive than analytical, the body of the book is overburdened with plot summaries and cursory biographies. Since medievalism is a historical phenomenon, rather than a literary fantasy, its successful treatment requires a thorough understanding of both the medieval period and the modern. If an approach along these lines had been followed, the apparent confusion over what medieval society was like, what medievals thought their society was like, and what modern writers of fiction have taken medieval society to be like, which mars this presentation, could have been better sorted out for the reader’s benefit.

The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style, by Jerome McGann. Oxford $35

In this brief but powerful revisionist study, which presents fresh readings of Frances Greville, Ann Yearsley, and Mary Robinson, among others, McGann presents a general appreciation of the 18th century “poetry of sensibility.” Showing that modernism and romanticism rejected this tradition, he suggests that it nevertheless survived in such writers as Gertrude Stein. McGann’s book takes its place in a broad reevaluation of recent scholarship, which traces the currents of sensibility and aestheticism from the 18th century to modernism.

Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology, by James Phelan. Ohio State $35 cloth, $12.95 paper

A leading theorist of story-telling fictions, Phelan seeks to loosen up the classic paradigm according to which the author, through the text, extends a multidimensional (esthetic, emotive, ideational, political, ethical) invitation to the reader, who tries to do justice to the complexity of the invitation and then responds. Phelan’s model blurs the relationships between author, reader, and text so that rhetoric becomes a synergy between agency, phenomena, and engaged reaction. Lest this seem both confused and confusing, Phelan expounds and illustrates his theory with exceptional clarity, specificity, and rigor through a series of close readings of such works as The Waves, Vanity Fair, and A Farewell to Arms. He also provides a glossary of terms. Whatever reservations one may have about Phelan’s approach, it has the merit of intelligibility and precision, qualities rare in recent criticism.

Daughters of the Fifth Sun: A Collection of Latina Fiction and Poetry, edited by Bryce Mulligan, Mary Guerro Mulligan, and Angela deHoyos. Riverhead Books $13

Women writers of Hispanic origin or descent have been making a mark in the past two decades with the production of works which treat families, generations of women, sexuality, memory, violence, and revolution as the stuff of everyday life. This rich anthology collects samples of the writing of 32 latinas who place history and tradition along the emotional border between past and present, anglo and latino, young and old. There are 17 short stories and numerous poems by well-known (Rosario Ferre, Sandra Cismeros, Julia Alvarez, Ana Castillo) and lesser-known writers. If you do not know these women’s work, this is a good place to begin an acquaintance. With notes on contributors.

Arrested Voices: Resurrecting the Disappeared Writers of the Soviet Regime, by Vitaly Shentalinsky. Free Press $25

This is the most important book on Russia since Solzhenitsyn’s monumental Gulag Archipelago. Himself never arrested, never imprisoned or tortured by the KGB, Shentalinsky setout to rescue from oblivion the hundreds of major Russian writers who suffered all those torments. He had the cooperation of the KGB archivist, a man fired by the Yeltsin regime in 1995—four years after Yeltsin granted permission to open the terrible records. This is an almost unbearably painful story told with dignity and restraint. It is certain to become a classic.

Water Lilies: An Anthology of Spanish Women Writers From the Fifteenth Through the Nineteenth Century, edited by Amy Katz Kaminsky. Minnesota $21.95

This bilingual edition of works by Spanish women writers brings together 19 names and dozens of writings by women from a span of five centuries. Kaminsky presents a rich panoply of pieces from various genres, precedes each with a short biography of the writer, annotates the most important aspects of the works, and translates them (or chooses translations by others) with skill. The only weakness in the anthology is that the reader wants more. Kaminsky chooses well, but might have been more daring in her selections; that is, the expected names are here, but there are dozens of others (particularly from the 19th century) who might have been given a voice. This is carping, of course, since the book is nearly 500 pages long. Still, it is highly recommended to students of Hispanic studies, comparative literature, and women’s studies.

Revising Wilde: Society and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde, by Sos Eltis. Oxford $60

Focusing on Wilde’s radicalism—in particular his anarchist, feminist, and socialist sympathies, the author argues that Wilde’s plays were genuinely innovative, challenging rather than reproducing the conventions of the popular 19th-century dramas on which they were modelled, and that the radical Wilde who attacked Victorian society and outraged conventional, sexual, and social codes in A Picture of Dorian Gray was the same popular playwright, the reputedly careless craftsman, Eltis analyses Wilde’s method of composition and compares his plays with the French and English plays from which he borrowed. Eltis purposely avoids homosexuality and its influence on Wilde, attempting instead tore cover the serious philosopher and social critic whose touch was subtle and ambiguous enough that his radical message never took over a play.

Politics and Form in Post modern Poetry:O’Hara, Bishop, Ashberry & Merrill, by Mutlu Konuk Biasing. Cambridge $54.95

The central point in Blasing’s study, as outlined in her introduction, is to debunk a certain form of convenient, flabby critical thinking and teaching, that poets who work in traditional forms can generally be classified as politically conservative, while poets who employ free or nontraditional forms can be categorized as political liberals. With all the fuzzy labels involved here, the target is rather an easy one, though worth knocking down. The bulk of the text is four chapters, one devoted to each poet. Here Biasing provides close readings of a few selected texts, interspersed with some biographical data. Each chapter could stand alone in, say, a survey of critical essays, though each supports her fundamental point that poetic meaning derives primarily from rhetorical concerns, apart from any easy assumptions one might make from decisions of form. Blasing’s prose style is terribly dense: she is a literary theorist writing to other theorists. Her observations are sound, and her overall thesis has value, but the way through the woods is rather a tough one.

Audience and Authority in the Modernist Theater of Federico Garcia Lorca, by C. Christopher Soufas. Alabama $42.95

There exists no critical consensus about Lorca’s theater except that it is powerful, enigmatic, innovative, and important. Many approaches have been used to attempt to illuminate its complexities. Soufas looks at the evolution of Lorca’s theater in chronological order—the early theater, the farces, the experimental dramas, Blood Wedding, Yerma, Dona Rosita, The House of Bernarda Alba, and Play Without a Title—from the perspective of Modernism. He sees Lorca as a “full participant in [this] multifaceted international movement” and reads the plays from within the Modernist tradition, which had its richest period in Europe in the 1920’s and1930’s. The study is well-documented, provocative, and a welcome addition to Lorca studies.

Whose India? The Independence Struggle in British and Indian Fiction and History, by Teresa Hubel. Duke $46.95 cloth, $16.95 paper

By drawing on standard histories and well known and largely forgotten fiction of the pre-independence period, postmodern literary criticism is used to deconstruct conventional understandings of this period in India. Attention is drawn to outright imperialists, untouchables, and women as voices that have been largely ignored in the conventional nationalist understanding of the period. A useful and needed effort, but one that despite the expressed concern with pluralism, multivocalism, and the presumption of those who have attempted to speak for the disadvantaged, comes perilously close tore placing one kind of self righteousness with another.

Walter Benjamin: Theoretical Questions, edited by David S. Ferris. Stanford $14.95

This collection of nine essays on Walter Benjamin’s contributions to the theory of literature,language, and to the problem of representation, brings together some of the clearest and most provocative responses yet to the challenges this writer posed to the practice of literary production and consumption. To the editor we owe gratitude for reframing some of the issues—such as communication, mass media, modernity, and aesthetics—which are the central concerns of a wide range of scholars, students, and artists.

LIVES & LETTERSQuantrill’s War: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill, by Duane Schultz. St. Martin’s $24.95

Rarely does a book feature such a thoroughly rotten central character. Drifter, ex-school-teacher, a man utterly devoid of morals, “Bill” Quantrill used the turmoil of the Civil War—and especially that found on the Kansas-Missouri border—to plunder, steal, and kill. Ostensibly pro-South, his true goal seems to have been to raise hell and win some sort of personal glory. The author’s well-researched portrait of the slaughter of 185 men and boys in Lawrence, Kansas, in August 1863 is thoroughly chilling, as is his description of the raid on a Union wagon train that, a month later, left another 85 dead. Yet, as the toll mounted, Quantrill’s fellow bush-wackers began to question both his motives and his leadership. Created by war, he fell victim to it, dying an ignominous death in Kentucky three months after Appomattox.

From Hitler’s Doorstep: The Wartime Intelligence Reports of Allen Dulles 1942—5, edited by Neal H. Petersen. Penn State $85

Allen Dulles, head of the CIA under Eisenhower, served as mission chief of the OSS in Bern between November 1942 and May 1945. Using intelligence sources within Nazi Germany as well as outside, the Bern office provided crucial information to OSS headquarters in Washington. Petersen has carefully and caringly edited the radiotelephone and telegraph messages to present a detailed picture of American intelligence gathering and reportage in its early-days. Petersen also provides a most helpful introduction.

The Hands Feel It, by Edith Turner. Northern Illinois $38 cloth, $20 paper

Anthropologist Edith Turner recounts the year she spent among the Northern Alaskan Inupiat, also known as Eskimos. The book is set up like a journal, with particular months and days recorded. A fascinating account of life among original inhabitants of Alaska, yet always profoundly personal. This effect is due to Turner’s human sensitivity for these people, and also their growing sensitivity toward her. The reader feels intimately the experiences that the author recounts as they are used to describe the spirit world of her hosts. It is a world that comes alive in our heads as the book explains Inupiat ideas of spirit manifestation and also looks inside of the spirit healing practices of Claire with whom Turner apprenticed. Even Inupiat whale hunts become revealed as spirit guided events. A book well worth reading.

Elizabeth, by Sarah Bradford. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $30

Viscountess Bradford has used the Royal Archives, the correspondence of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, and interviews with numerous present and former members of the inner court circle to create a detailed study of Elizabeth II as a working mother and chief executive whose efforts to keep the family business going in an era in which the “product” is less salable than it has been in past ages are undermined by the antics of everyone around her. Elizabeth, always “honest and honourable,” has devoted the last 43 years to upholding the British monarchy. Having come privately to terms with the philandering of her own husband, she has scant patience with the public antics of herself-pitying eldest son and her daughters-in-law, one, a compulsive liar and manipulator, and the other, a stingy vulgarian. Dealing openly, if gently, with the scandals during Elizabeth’s reign, Bradford presents a thorough study of the British royals for those who have not yet had enough of the subject.

Citizen Perot: His Life and Times, by Gerald Posner. Random House $25

Perot is the very embodiment of the paranoid style in American politics. Posner does his best to be neutral about the man, without succumbing to blandness. Much is revealed about the quirkiness of Perot’s ideas, his disdain for political convention, his mercurial (and obstinate) personality. If I have one quibble with the book, it is that the subtitle is too neutral; I suggest as an alternative, “the mountebank from Texarkana.”

Women and Religion in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, edited by Daniel Bornstein and Roberto Rusconi. Chicago $50 cloth, $16.95 paper

Who were Vanna of Orvieto, Margaret of Cittàdi Castello, and Maria of Venice? The saints whose piety is the deeply absorbing subject of this collection of scholarly papers. The lives and devotion of these and many other women are an important part of Italian social history, and their visionary experiences shed much light on the character of Italian art, which comes alive to us as we reflect on the relations of such images to mystical experience.

Encounters with Kierkegaard, edited by Bruce H. Kirmmse. Princeton $35

This book makes a substantial contribution to Kierkegaard studies by gathering together in one place all of the extant contemporary accounts and posthumous recollections of Kierkegaard by those who knew him. The words of relatives, acquaintances, schoolmates, friends, and enemies combine here to paint a fascinating picture of one the modern world’s most distinctive and most poorly understood authors. The common notion that Kierkegaard was a lonely recluse is completely exploded by these pages which reveal the extent to which his life was lived within a complicated nexus of relationships with his extended family, his fiance, literary intellectuals, walking companions, church leaders, journalists, strangers in the street, and so forth. Kirmmse’s editorial labors show his masterful knowledge of Kierkegaard and his age, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for producing this important volume.

Lady Gregory’s Diaries, 1892—1902, edited by James Pethica. Oxford $65

In order for her only son to “have good houses open to him” in London, Augusta Gregory (1852—1932) cultivated an active social life, and her diary is a dizzying catalog of the lords, ladies, and MPs of her day. But Lady Gregory was more interested in “ideas” and in Ireland than in the British upper class, and her relationships with the Yeats family, Douglas Hyde, AE, and other intellectuals behind the Irish literary movement supplanted the London teas. While often sketchy, the diary entries reveal a witty, hardworking, and perceptive woman, one who could note the irony of a British major’s meticulous ways with a “little napkin over his knees” while decorating his walls with “pictures of vultures and men hanged.” Lady Gregory was always humane, wanting to “look after the people” on her Coole estate and in the Irish work houses. Between society and charity, she gathered Irish folklore, learned Irish, translated Irish tales and myths, and wrote plays, many in collaboration with Yeats, for whom she served “as an anvil, to beat out my ideas on.” Yet as her diaries show, Lady Gregory was never as passive or merely ancillary as this remark suggests.

Love Across the Color Line: The Letters of Alice Hanley to Channing Lewis, edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz and Kathy Peiss. Massachusetts $35 cloth, $12.95 paper.

In 1992, a piece of history fell from a hole in the ceiling of a Massachusetts home undergoing remodeling. Inside a black lace stocking, letters from a working-class Irish girl named Alice Hanley written to her lover, an African-American cook named Channing Lewis, had been hidden in the house since shortly after they were written in 1907 and 1908. In Love Across the Color Line, two historians employ Hanley’sletters (also printed in the book) in order to try to reconstruct the life of Hanley herself as well as to gain further understanding of what it meant to be working-class, white, a woman, young, unmarried, and in love with a black man in turn-of-the-century New England. Of interest not only to the historian and the social scientist, but also to the lay reader, the letters and the essays that explore them bring to life the common and uncommon experiences of ordinary people who without such evidence of their thoughts and concerns would have been forever lost to the past.

Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad, by Randolph Paul Runyon. Kentucky $29.95

When schoolmistress Delia Webster and Methodist minister Calvin Fairbank started out from Lexington, Kentucky, one fall day in 1844 to deliver Lewis Hayden, his wife, and their child to members of the underground railroad in Ohio, they little realized where their journey would lead. Webster, the first woman imprisoned for aiding runaway slaves, passed several months in a jail where she began a close and puzzling long-term relationship with her jailer. Fairbank spent several years at hard labor for assisting Hayden and other slaves to escape to Canada, and Hayden became an influential member of the abolition movement in New England. Runyon’s work is less about the underground railroad than it is about the lives of these three quirky individuals. He and his collaborator, William Albert Davis, have gathered a mass of material demonstrating that even rebels with a cause can be difficult to live with. A better organization of factual matter and less superfluous speculation would have helped a narrative that is often confusing to follow in its course from the escape in 1844 to Webster’s death 60 years later.

The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline, by Flora Fraser. Knopf $35

Though professionals may sneer at this recent example of “popular history,” there is no question that its subject is apposite and appealing. Observers of the scandalous lives of the current royal family would do well to study the lives of King George IV and Queen Caroline in order to keep recent events in perspective before passing judgment on individuals rather than institutions. Flora Fraser’s book in this respect may be useful. Though embodying all the flaws of popular biography (as those who have read books by her mother Antonia can attest), Flora Fraser’s style is reasonably intelligent and insightful. Read in conjunction with Carolly Erickson’s Our Tempestuous Day, it might even prove enlightening.

Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke, by Ralph Freedman Farrar, Straus it Giroux $35

A good biography should tell all the details of an artist’s life and relate the artist’s work to this history. If we like a particular artist, we may know some of his or her life details and can tie significant oeuvres to significant personal and historical epochs on our own. But it sure is nice when someone else does all the messy research, all that nitty-gritty prying into letters, memorabilia, and other resources. We can lack back and decide to be better detectives later on some other project. Freedman’s book is tedious but fortunately readable, and snippets of Rilke’s work are tastefully woven into the story. Of course the individual is the best critic, but there seems to be nothing too cocksure or overly “expert” or “pretentious” in Mr. Freedman’s reading. There are facts, some suppositions, and maybe even a few revelations. Good notes, extensive index. Call this biography definitive perhaps; it’s certainly thick.

Tokens of Affection: The Letters of a Planter’s Daughter in the Old South, edited by Carol Bleser. Georgia $45

Bleser has given us the complete letters of Maria Bryan, written between 1824 and her death in 1844. These letters provide a lens on the life of a daughter of a middling plantation owner before the issue of slavery divided the nation. Bleser argues, in her preface, that these letters, by giving us Bryan’s views on a host of topics including marriage, childbirth, slavery, religion, books, and many others, as well as the litany of her daily activities, show us that most plantation daughters were neither pampered nor idle.

FICTIONThe Selected Stories of Richard Bausch, by Richard Bausch. Random House $14.50

These stories are both subtle and on over drive, a bizarre combination of tasteful style and lurid subject that pushes you forward like a Quentin Tarrentino movie. Somehow, with his Hemingway-like prose and dialogue, Bausch plunges you into a post-modern world where people tell stories to themselves to try to stay alive, and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. I can see why Modern Library chose these stories for one of their first contemporary releases, because many have classic themes, such as fear of death and the quest for identity. Bausch’s characters, in incisive dialogue, try to deal with that fear, and the problem of the self, as for example an unfaithful man who faces his wife who has found him out and tries to “remember the kind of thing one would have done before everything changed.” Like that phrase, these stories are simple yet eerie, very readable, yet as disturbing as the most avant-garde fiction has ever tried to be.

Tularosa, by Michael McGarrity. Norton $25

A new mystery writer, McGarrity delivers a wonderful, exciting first book. His characters are different and interesting, his story a bit unusual but believable with a mix of the old West with corruption in Mexico and even a sparks-flying romance. The main character, Kevin Kerney, is an endearing personality, and hopefully McGarrity will deliver more books with as much satisfaction.

The Gospel of Corax, by Paul Park. Soho $25

Corax is a runaway Roman slave who makes his way to Caesarea, desperately trying to reach the Ganges River and the home he has never seen. Taught by his father to be a healer, he practices in the marketplace, where his skillsat tract the attention of a band of political rebels, criminals, and outcasts, including an Essene, Jeshua of Nazareth. Circumstances force Jeshua to join Corax and they head east—encountering a number of horrific adventures on their passage. The story is a curious, but successful, mix of the visceral and the spiritual, recounting as it does the hypothetical influence of Buddhism on Jesus—and thus on Christianity. It is an imaginative and wonderfully evocative piece of historical fiction.

The World at Night, by Alan Furst. Random House $23

Set primarily in occupied Paris, Furst’s new novel tracks the life of Jean Casson, a film producer who shares the deep ambivalence of the French to either Resistance or collaboration with the Nazis, not to mention romantic commitment. The genre in which Furst writes is necessarily oxymoronic, caught between character, setting, and plot. When Casson finds himself entangled in espionage, as well as a rekindled love for an actress, his dilemma is engagingly rendered. The novel reads like a film treatment in places, and the author provides some rather obvious historical signposts, but on the whole he evokes the city and era in an easy and luminous style. Furst knows his WWII tradecraft, but he needlessly complicates the plot, as if complexity equals authenticity. An intriguing turn, in which Casson’s life mirrors the film he is making, is not fully developed, and the ending makes you wonder if the author understands the implications of all he has so skillfully set in motion. Had Furst refused to be hobbled by the genre, or Hollywood, The World at Night might have added up to far more than the enjoyable read it undoubtedly is.

Common Clay, by Brian W. Aldiss. St. Martin’s $24.95

Aldiss is back with a collection of stories which will puzzle, delight, and engage the reader. Common Clay, as usual, demonstrates Aldiss’own wide-ranging interests, and as such, it may be more than a little off-putting to the average reader. This book is a collection of stories put together in such a way as to put one in mind of the Times’s famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, crossword puzzles. This collection, like the puzzles, demands knowledge of classic mythology, Shakespearean plays and. their academic critics, Buddhism, and Frenchart, just to name a few. Above all, this book is aparadox: both quintessentially British and a citizen of the world. The humanity cannot be missed.

Brendan Prairie, by Dan O’Brien. Scribner’s $22

The American West in the second half of the century is becoming as vital a source of literary creativity in both poetry and fiction as the South was in the first half. O’Brien uses but rises far above the suspense genre while preserving its fun, and composes a novel of serious theme and a multiplicity of well-drawn characters. O’Brien is a naturalist and environmentalist who makes Nature another character in the book and tries to show how we as a people and a race have failed to connect with it. His hero is also a failure in many ways, of the kind familiar in Westerns—a broken down loner of an anti-hero trying to make his peace with a hard world. This world is not the Wild West, but a land of commercial developers and government-sanctioned exploitation through corrupt subsidies, where American greed is the real outlaw. This is an exciting book by a justly praised and skilled writer.

The Frog, by John Hawkes. Viking $21.95

John Hawkes’ latest novella will delight his old fans and new readers. Once again, he is at his best with his erotic comedy, exquisite observation expressed from an inquisitive, sly perspective. A boy swallows a frog, “a miraculous extension of pride and power,” and so is isolated from but involved in a vulnerable world.”Affliction in general and women in general obsess me.” A mischievous fable, something of a dirty shaggy dog story, The Frog is yet another enchanting tale by the finest stylist writing today.

Best of the South, selected and edited by Shannon Ravenel and Anne Tyler. Algonquin $15.95

An accomplished editor read 10,000 short stories in order to publish 163 in a decade of annual volumes entitled New Stories From the South. One of America’s leading current literary stars then read each of the 163 and explains in an introduction to this superb volume why she selected 20 for publication as the cream of the crop. The result of this successful collaboration may well become the best beguiling bargain of contemporary literature in 1997. A reader may enjoy three weeks of complete pleasure at a cost of only one dollar per day per story.

Suspects, by Thomas Berger. Morrow $23

This latest novel by the much-feted writer Thomas Berger can be read as a conventional mystery, but genre fans will dislike its cold and unemotional language. On its face, the novel is about the brutal killing of a woman and child in a quiet suburb of Anytown, U.S.A., and the investigation that follows. At heart, one suspects that the writer was aiming for parody and just missed the mark.

Tales of the South, by William Gilmore Simms, edited and introduced by Mary Ann Wimsatt. South Carolina $49.95 cloth, $17.95 paper

This magisterial edition of 14 representative short stories seeks to restore Simms to his rightful standing as one of the finest Southern fiction writers in American history. It is a valuable supplement to the recent publication of some of Simms’ novels and poetry and the first-rate scholarly work on Simms that has appeared in the last decade. Simms combined realism with fantasy and romanticism (from a perspective best described as classical, one might add) to explore his favorite themes of superstition, folk legends, Native American culture, and the American Revolutionary War. This edition will surely serve to increase Simms’ statue as one of the greatest literary figures of 19th-century America.

The Anniversary, by Rachel Canon. Random House $22

A competent and charismatic female American president is assassinated. Her successor in the Oval Office appoints Nora, her best friend, to investigate the homicide. In this author’s very readable and successful first novel, we are treated to a terrific tale of passion and politics, sex and suspense, mystery and murder, all of which takes place in the Big Apple.

The Hollow-Eyed Angel, by Janwillem van deWetering. Soho $22

This Dutch-born, Maine-based mystery writer has added another novel to an already distinguished and unique series, featuring Amsterdam detectives Grijpstra, de Gier, and their boss, the commissaris. When a Dutch native is murdered in Central Park, the New York authorities close it as an accidental death and the commissaris is reluctantly induced to pursue an unofficial investigation that eventually leads to the killer. This wry and amusing novel has a satisfying plot, but its real treasure lies in the human quirks and philosophical explorations of its characters. Vande Wetering is an acquired, and life-long, taste.

The Satyricon, by Petronius, translated by P.G. Walsh. Oxford $55

Petronius’s superb collection of tales (Satyrica, or recitations of lascivious happenings) is here rendered into modern English and accompanied by introductory material. As translations go, this one is readable and generally lively enough, and for the scholar, the explanatory notes seem sufficient. There have been, as Walsh notes, in the years 1945—82, no fewer than 55 partial or entire translations of this work in 18 different languages, and more are in the works. There is perhaps a Satyricon for everyone, and this version should fill the needs of those who are more than casual, but less than scholarly, readers.

Heat Wave, by Penelope Lively. HarperCollins $22

Pauline, a freelance editor, spends her days at World’s End, the cottage that has been modernized but still retains a deceptively rustic and innocent look. Her daughter Teresa, son-in-law Maurice, and grandson live in an adjoining cottage. All goes well until Pauline notices Maurice behaving differently. His behavior, unfortunately, is all too easily explained. Pauline is forced into flashbacks of her own failed marriage, and must stand aside helplessly while she watches her daughter suffer as she herself has suffered. In this most recent of her novels, Lively shows a deft hand for psychological observation. Her style is as spare as ever, while conveying a wealth of detail. The story she tells is moving, suspenseful, and highly entertaining.

The Piano Man’s Daughter, by Timothy Findley. Crown $26

I think this is a perfect novel. The story is enthralling, the characters are both real and larger than life, the socio-historical background of an earlier age is called into being with deftness, precision, and an eerie sense of immediacy. The subject is the family and whether to create one when one faces the possibility of having a deficient child. The title character is epileptic and a pyromaniac; she inherits music from her father and the boundless desire symbolized by fire from her mother’s family. In the novel’s exquisite imagery, fire and music intertwine to symbolize the voraciousness of desire in the heart of every person, especially those frustrated from living a “normal” life. The narrator, the title character’s son, pieces together the story of his forebears in order to try to make some sense of his feeling of being excluded from the life other stake on so seemingly easily. Although he begins by refusing to procreate, the logic of his tale and the force of generation itself seem to bear down on him and force him to confront the risks of love. The novel is a poetic testament and at the same time a gripping page-turner. I have not encountered a better novel in this decade.

Murder at the National Gallery, by Margaret Truman. Random House $24

This is the 13th in the Capital Crimes series of mystery novels written by the daughter of former President Harry Truman. A stolen painting by Caravaggio is the engine that drives this mystery, providing the author an opportunity to explore the Washington arts scene and the international market in stolen art. The plot is properly complicated, the pace leisurely, there is a hint of romance, and the violence happens off screen.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONALAFFAIRSAge of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, by David Satter. Knopf $30

The brilliance of this book lies in its eccentricity, and in the author’s profound knowledge of and sympathy for the sufferings of the Russian people under communism. Satter takes the point of view of the forgotten people, the ones the system just chewed up and spat out like so much roughage. He went everywhere, interviewed inout-of-the-way places, found stories that only the artist knows are there, the stories that lie beneath the rough exterior. This is the finest, or one of the finest, psychological portraits of Russia in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The Battle of the Books in American Higher Education: The Great Canon Controversy, by William Casement. Transaction $29.95

After reviewing the history of teaching Great Books, Casement sums up the advantages generally ascribed to the practice (cultural literacy; insight into human nature; and development of critical thinking skills). He then sets out and powerfully critiques the deconstructive and leftist attack on the Western canon. Supposedly tainted by exclusivity and conservatism—read: sexism, racism, classism—it is simultaneously charged with indeterminacy of meaning and values. Casement demonstrates the incoherence and inaccuracy of that proposition, but acknowledges that purists have indefensibly closed the canon to qualified works by members of marginalized groups and to non-Western masterpieces. The solution, he argues, is reform: judicious enrichment of the “List” with appropriate titles from the off-beat traditions that anti-canonist shave favored (without regard, of course, for the political agenda of their sponsorship). The idea is not new, of course, but it is sensibly argued and could thus convince a few well-disposed readers. The professional iconoclasts are probably beyond hope, however, and the canon wars will continue unabated.

The Politics of Meaning, by Michael Lerner. Addison-Wesley $24

Lerner proposes no less than a Blakean social and political transformation that begins with the cultivation of the individual soul. But unlike Blake, whose politics were millenarian, Lerner’s politics are practical and connected to the sufferings and yearnings of other people. He embraces the hunger for meaning, faith, and identity that has sent so many Americans to the cultural right, but he takes a humane, progressive, tolerant, and non-judgmental tack that is utterly foreign to the Buchanans and the Limbaughs. Like the right, Lerner believes that there is a spiritual crisis, but he calls on Democrats to take the family-values, pro-life cards away from the right and to take seriously their own commitment to reforming capitalist society. Ultimately Lerner is trying to cure the alienation that our economic system inflicts on us, and to defeat the selfishness, cynicism, narrow individualism, and refusal to love and commit that makes so many people feel that our society is deteriorating into a collection of atomized selves that can only relate through violence or exploitation.

Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture, edited by Richard Aquila. Illinois $29.95

In ten chapters, as many scholars take on the task of explaining how the West has influence dour fiction, live entertainment, films, music, and popular-commercial art. The project is well conceived, well documented, and supplemented by suggested readings. Yet several essays get so bogged down in names and titles that the reader wearies of it all. Those dealing with movies and art come off best, thanks to a dash of insightful analysis. Nevertheless, even if the game of cowboys and Indians is reduced to a pat formula and one seems to meet Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wister, and Frederick Jackson Turner at every turn, the research is solid, and Wanted Dead or Alive should find a secure niche on hundreds of reference shelves.

Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in WorldWar II, by Yuki Tanaka. Westview $28

The litany of horrors chronicled herein enrages and dismays the reader. The brutality of Japanese troops became the stuff of myth among American troops fighting them. Tanaka does not in any way sugar-coat Japanese war crimes. Hedoes, however, provoke profound introspection. What role does the brutalization of men by their leaders play in the perpetration of war crimes? What will their dehumanization do to dehumanize their opponents? What would we do if enveloped in a time and a system defying the norms of human behavior? Tanaka takes on these questions in a forthright manner and provides disturbing answers. His comparative approach to the issue of war crimes makes it impossible to read this volume and go away with any feeling of moral superiority. American troops occupying Japan engaged in mass rape while Allied courts tried Japanese soldiers for the same offense. American governments hid evidence of Japanese biological warfare experiments, pardoning criminals as heinous as Men-gele, to gain access to the secrets they knew.

A New Time for Mexico, by Carlos Fuentes. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $22

Fuentes has struggled to understand his native land all his life—its history, literature, people, and meaning. The rich complexity of Mexico makes this a daunting, if not impossi

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