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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1998

ISSUE:  Winter 1998

This wonderfully opinionated book defies conventional wisdom concerning the value of basic readers. Hattaway, author of numerous well-regarded volumes on this subject, both successfully narrates the course of the war and delves deeply into the developments that mark the Civil War as a seminal event in modern military history. Each page challenges readers to rethink long-held beliefs. Robert E. Lee showed flashes of brilliance but neither fully understood the war he fought nor overcame the provincial nature that led him to neglect vital Western campaigns. Northern and Southern leaders both made critical early decisions to create general staffs, but only the North followed through and treated the war as a unity. Hattaway also still defends his thesis from Why the South Lost the Civil War, that the South lost the war first at home, which milked Southern armies of the will to continue it on far-flung battlefields. This volume also weaves technological developments and contemporary scholarly opinion into the text, leaving the reader with the feeling that he has been exposed to a highly sophisticated analysis normally reserved for the citadels of learning. Nonetheless, Hattaway accomplishes this feat while remaining accessible to all.

Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800—1821, by Frank Lawrence Owsley, Jr. and Gene A. Smith. Alabama $29.95

This is excellent. The authors have produced an outstanding contribution to the understanding of the personalities and events behind the expansion of the United States into the South and Southwest during the first two decades of the 19th century. The machinations, maneuvers, and motivations of the major participants in this international struggle are examined in extensive detail. The object is to explain the contest for land and influence among the Federalists of the Northeast, the Republicans of the South and West, the Native Americans, the British, French, and the Spanish. The result is a fascinating and incredibly informative text which reads at times like an exciting novel, yet leaves no doubt that it is outstanding scholarship.

Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan, by J. Samuel Walker. North Carolina $34.95 cloth, $14.95 paper

This is an exceptional contribution to an area of study that has been too filled with personal agenda and bias for too long. The author clearly and concisely provides information crucial to forming or reinforcing a position and understanding on the subject. For the individual who believes that the use of atomic weapons was justified because it saved Allied, and possibly Japanese, lives (whether it was “only” thousands, or millions), this work will help prove it. For those who feel there were better options, or who only can focus on the suffering and sorrow the bombs caused the Japanese people, there is satisfaction to be found here, too. Walker chooses neither to justify nor condemn—he presents facts and forms his conclusions based on the evidence. There is no personal agenda here, only excellent scholarship.

His Majesty’s Rebels: Communities, Factions and Rural Revolt in the Black Forest, 1725—1745, by David Martin Luebke. Cornell $45

Luebke’s fascinating study of the “Salpeter Wars” (1725—1745) in the Habsburg domain of Hauenstein challenges a number of stereotypes about the political solidarity of peasant society in the face of attacks upon their “ancient” juridical and legislative rights by local seigneurs and by the state. Luebke discovered that far from presenting a unified front, the Hauenstein peasantry divided into two camps: the Müllerisch composed of reformers favoring litigation and non-violence; and the Salpeterisch, who advocated violence and a revolutionary overturning of the social status quo. The resulting civil war between these two competing factions led to a series of battles and lawsuits, three Austrian invasions, and, in time, to the destruction of the local autonomies that both sides had originally hoped to defend.

Reel Patriotism, by Leslie Midkiff DeBauche. Wisconsin $50 cloth, $15.95 paper

As much American history as film history, this work explores the relations between the film industry and the nation, especially the government, during World War I and its aftermath. It is a story of the film industry’s skillful complicity with the government during the crisis period of the 19 months of involvement with the war. By its support of the war effort through the production of short instructional films, public speaking events of movie stars, and many other ways, the industry invested an extensive fund of goodwill with the government and the people. This pragmatic patriotism paid its dividends in the buffer it created against national censorship when movie stars got embroiled in scandals, and when the companies started to trade their stock on Wall Street in the 1920’s.

Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe, by Bert S. Hall. Johns Hopkins $29.95

The Renaissance introduction of gunpowder, along with the compass and printing, is commonly held to have changed the face of the world. In this fascinating tour of European battlefields, powder plantations, and modern experiments with antique weapons, Hall shows that the role of firearms in the military revolution of the Renaissance was neither simple nor decisive. Gunners were generally used in much the same way as archers; siege cannon were little more effective than earlier siege engines. Changes, when they occurred, were related to social and political structures rather than to simple technological innovation. Hall has a gift for narration. The stories he tells make this an important book and a fascinating and accessible one as well.

Art and Commerce in the Dutch Golden Age, by Michael North. Yale $19.95

This brief, briskly paced monograph deals with the Dutch economy, Dutch society, the social status of the artist, patronage, the art market, and collecting. It is filled with fascinating “facts” (estimates or guesses really): every year 70,000 pictures were painted in the Netherlands; Jan Van Goyen painted 1,200 pictures during his lifetime; the highest price paid for a Rembrandt landscape was 166 guilders (in 1644) whereas Jan Porcellis received 450 guilders for the same kind of painting five years later. There is much to ponder in the author’s suggestive analysis of the commerce of art in relation to the Dutch economy.

On the Road to the Wolfs Lair: German Resistance to Hitler, by Theodore S. Hamerow. Harvard $29.95

Theodore Hamerow’s study of the German resistance to Hitler focuses on the “ideas, ideals, motives, and aims” of the few prominent German clergy, civil servants, and members of the military who opposed Hitler. The book stands out in the enormous and growing body of literature on the German resistance for its accessibility to a wide audience. The work’s greatest asset though is Hamerow’s sensitivity and balance in judging the motivations of the German resisters about whom he writes. Hamerow steers a middle path between writers who would celebrate the resisters as the “true spiritual founders” of the postwar Federal Republic and those who would condemn them as reactionary militarists scarcely better than Hitler. One may debate Hamerow’s willingness to credit the reliability of the records of the Gestapo’s interrogations of the resisters as they waited for their execution or wish for greater attention to prior work by other historians on the subject, but the book’s strengths overcome those objections.

A Cautious Patriotism: The American Churches and the Second World War, by Gerald L. Sittser. North Carolina $39.95

Sittser writes, “The Christian faith did not undermine loyalty to the nation, but it did transcend it. The churches thus lived in the tension of a cautious patriotism.” This monograph fills a large hole in the historiography of World War II and 20th-century American religious history. Sittser notes that memory of the uncritical patriotism championed by churches during the First World War made Christian leaders cautious about their convictions when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Although most churches supported the war after Pearl Harbor, cautiousness prevailed. Sittser provides fascinating chapters on how churches understood their faiths to be the foundation of democracy and social well-being. He also discusses how such understanding created urges for ecumenism while highlighting preexisting divisions. Other chapters cover civil rights, military chaplaincy, and postwar issues like the Holocaust and the atom bomb. It is a well-written and researched intellectual history and well worth the read.

The Ladies of Zamora, by Peter Linehan. Penn State $35

In this reexamination of the archival documents dealing with the sexual irregularities and alleged fiscal mismanagement in the convent at Zamora in the 13th century, Linehan provides an extended critical commentary on the deeply embedded tensions in medieval clerical life. With the Dominican order as the point of focus, we are able to make clearer sense of the competing forces and changing fortunes of the friars, the episcopate, the regular clergy, and an embattled papacy in Castille and in the Latin West.

Diversity and Accommodation: Essays on the Cultural Composition of the Virginia Frontier, edited by Michael J. Puglisi. Tennessee $45

The 12 essays collected in Diversity and Accommodation originated from a conference on the Virginia backcountry held in Emory, Virginia, in October 1992. Like the conference itself, the interdisciplinary scholarship in this collection concerns cultural pluralism. “There certainly was not just one frontier experience,” notes Michael J. Puglisi in his introduction; “different ethnic and cultural groups brought their own outlooks to America. Natural and human environments shaped experiences in counties and communities along the way. Dynamics of persistence, accommodation, and acculturation proved as variable as the places in which they occurred and the people who created them.” Thus these collected essays examine the presence and interaction of Europeans, Native Americans, and African Americans on the Virginia frontier, the complex social and political dynamics in colonial Southwest Virginia, and the effect of cultural backgrounds on back country architecture. Puglisi’s introduction provides a brief, historical overview of back country scholarship, and an opening essay by Robert D. Mitchell calls for a new empiricism in back country studies, a direction in which these essays already point.

Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, by Christine Leigh Heyrman. Knopf $27.50

This entertaining and well-written book chronicles early Methodism and to a lesser degree, Baptists. The time frame runs from the American Revolution to just after the turn of 19th century. The development of Southern culture in its evangelical Methodist form is extensively treated while other prominent groups like Presbyterians are ignored by the author. In fact, this glaring unfamiliarity with Presbyterians undermines her study of Baptists who were highly influenced by both Presbyterians and Methodists. These problems do not undermine the value of the book as an introduction to early Southern Methodism.

The Confederate War, by Gary W. Gallagher. Harvard $24.95

Gallagher’s work, a perceptive, well-written, and strongly argued series of essays concerning Confederate morale, nationalism, and military strategy, raises serious questions about the prevalent interpretation of why the South lost the Civil War. The author posits that Confederate morale, both within the military and on the home front, remained remarkably high throughout the war, especially considering the losses in men and material sustained by the South between 1861 and 1865; that the Confederacy fashioned and maintained a strong sense of Southern nationhood during the war; and that the South’s aggressive military strategy was both popular at home and brought the Confederacy to the brink of independence on several occasions. Gallagher concludes, therefore, that the Confederate States of America collapsed in 1865 because of a series of shattering military defeats at the hands of the Northern armies, not because of a lack of will or national identity on the part of the Southern populace.

Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History, by Roger M. Smith. Yale $35

In every way an ambitious study—ranging over 2500 federal statutes and judgements and some 650 pages—Civic Ideals documents the dark side of American political history, the efficacy and persistent appeal of nativist, racist, and sexist sensibilities in the crafting of an American national identity. Smith offers an invaluable historical counterpart to central debates over American exceptionalism, the possibility of revitalizing the American Left and retrieving a genuinely radical-democratic civic identity, and the appeal and perils of “universalizing” conceptions of civic identity given stubborn prejudice, fear, and the intimate connection between nativism and nationalism. Thus an appreciation for the hard politics of citizenship paves the way to defensible civic ideals which can engage our intuitions and sustain, while extending, our loyalties.

Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890—1922, by Brian Lloyd. Johns Hopkins $45

Left Out offers a fresh intervention into debates over American exceptionalism. More importantly, it challenges a nascent consensus over revitalizing the American Left by contesting the degree to which pragmatism still implicitly figures as the philosophy of choice. Lloyd demonstrates that the major part of Marx’s analytical apparatus was abandoned by Debs-era theorists; in thus applying Marxism, however, they blunted its critical edge. For Lloyd contends that Marxism’s vocabulary and rigorously realist method are precisely what constitute it “a specific variety of anticapitalism” and, even more boldly, that a staunchly realist apprehension of the past is crucial to theory’s visionary properties and its radical potential with respect to the future.

Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880—1940, by Ian Robert Dowbiggin. Cornell $37.50

The psychiatric profession’s ambivalent, and troubling, embrace of eugenics is the subject of this fascinating and gripping book. Dowbiggin’s historical inquiry uncovers the deep linkage between therapy and the eugenic doctrine at a time when U.S. bureaucratic policy shaped medical practice to a far greater degree than practitioner autonomy and ideology. Embedded in this historical narrative is a cautionary tale that we ignore at our own peril.

LITERARY STUDIES A Feeling for Books: The Book of the Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire, by Janice A. Radway. North Carolina $29.95

An erudite yet bold and powerfully immediate report on the BOMC’s origin and development over six decades, A Feeling for Books is also an intimate document, poignantly tracing the author’s relationship to the Club from her adolescence to her maturity. Because Radway is a fine researcher, a skillful reader, and a seasoned introspective, each aspect of her project succeeds on its own terms. But juxtaposed or, more problematically, superimposed, the yields of her various ends, ideas, and methods are neither commensurable nor mutually supportive. Recurrent “lumping” and intermittent incoherencies threaten to defeat Radway’s purposes, inviting at least partial skepticism about her hard-won evidence and beautifully teased-out arguments. The reader and the author would have been better served by a division of this work into two books, one a disciplined cultural inquiry into the essence of persistent, unresolved conflicts in the publishing industry, the other a memoir devoted to the discovery and synthesis of the author’s own values in a world of flux.

Ruin and Restitution: Reinterpreting Romanticism in Spain, by Philip W. Silver. Vanderbilt $29.95

Silver’s purpose in this study is to document Romanticism’s somewhat attenuated legacy in Spain and at the same time demonstrate how a later Romanticism informs much of modern Spanish poetry (particularly that of Luis Cernuda)—that is, to “alter perceptions of the relation between Romanticism and modern poetry.” For Silver, Spanish Romanticism is exclusively a conservative affair given that Spain missed the “high Romanticism” that characterizes much of the writing of European authors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Not everyone will agree, but at least this book promises to be widely read and commented upon, and to open up an exciting polemic on the nature of Spanish Romanticism. It is detailed, intelligent, provocative, and original.

The Politically Correct Guide to the Bible, by Edward P. Moser. Crown $12

Sheer incoherence is the trouble with most specimens of this genre—and now that dozens of such books have appeared, it is not pretentious or even inaccurate to use this lit crit term. In a frenzy to get off side-splitting one-liners, the authors slip from one perspective—or notion of what is really real, or method, or principle—to another, gratuitously. Nothing adds up. This is a far cry from well-turned satire which is exploratory, provocative, and open-ended, whose playfulness and display are means to the end of eliciting thought. Moser’s book and its ilk are pure play and display. The package is empty, hence eminently disposable.

Francophone Literatures: An Introductory Survey, by Belinda Jack. Oxford $18.95

This book offers the first comprehensive study in English of Francophone literature—that is, literatures in French from the diverse French-speaking areas around the world outside of France. Divided into four parts covering Europe and North America; the Creole Islands; North Africa and the Near East; and Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, Jack provides a general introduction to the literatures of each area. Each section of the book includes a history of the area’s cultural and literary development, brief biographies of its major writers, an introduction to their works, and a guide to further reading on the subject. Emphasizing the inherently multicultural and multilingual aspect of Francophone literatures, she proposes her study as a corrective to scholarship that once approached Francophone texts as mere extensions of the national French literature. Rather, she argues, Francophone literatures challenge the French literary tradition, producing subversive rewritings of its most celebrated texts. A useful resource for beginning students and scholars in the field, her study concludes with a bibliography on the theory of Francophone literature and an extensive index.

Dante, edited by Amilcave A. Iannucci. Toronto $55

In the introduction, the editor of this collection of essays on Dante makes note of the unrealized Fascist project to erect in Rome a kind of temple or museum, il Danteum, dedicated to the poet. This reference brings to mind the rich history of Dante in the Western imagination in literature, art, and music that remains to be written. In the meanwhile, we have here a series of specialized scholarly readings of Dante touching on poetics, metaphors, narrative, and the traditions of publication and commentary, all by leading figures in Dante studies, which should be of great interest to fellow Dantisti.

Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities, by John M. Ellis. Yale $25

Of all the reactionary works on the so-called “politicization” of the humanities, Literature Lost seems at least to have its heart in the right place. John M. Ellis wants to rescue the humanities, and primarily departments of English, from the terrible trap into which he believes they have fallen: privileging “power” over the many other human motivations worthy of our attention, such as love, loyalty, fulfillment, ambition, achievement, friendship, and curiosity, to name but a few. Moreover, Ellis believes humanities scholars today are fundamentally Utopian, eager to fault “society” for problems that in fact reside in human nature itself. Sadly, Ellis seems not to recognize that the diversity he finds in literature and life also exists in criticism. He derisively labels all his intellectual opponents “race-gender-class critics” and runs them through his anti-politicizing gauntlet, a systematic debunking that mistakes an admission of bias in scholarship for the open advocacy of political causes in the classroom. This is unfortunate, because his focus on the most extreme examples of fashionable scholarship may blind readers to the strengths of Literature Lost, such as what Ellis terms “PC logic,” a form of argument that forces us to choose between two extremes, excluding the middle ground between them. If only Ellis himself could have seen the middle ground that exists between his own viewpoint and that of his “political” enemies.

Stein, Bishop, and Rich: Lyrics of Love, War, and Place, by Margaret Dickie. North Carolina $45 cloth, $16.95 paper

This book is a solid and sensible contribution to the literary criticism available on three of the most significant poets of the century. Dickie shows the poetry of Stein, Bishop, and Rich to express and occlude lesbianism through sharply distinct poetic means. She surveys their poetry for its erotic candor and obliquity, at the same time refusing to limit these poets to their sexuality. She also reads them in light of their common preoccupation with the themes of place—of nations, of bodies, of language—and war—a more obviously public issue that is often overlooked in women’s poetry. This book will serve teachers and students as an eminently useful and unpretentious overview of the work of three major American poets.

The Disheveled Dictionary, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Houghton Mifflin $15

The author of The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Ravenous Muse has produced another of her word orgies, a very nearly lubricious lexicon or, as she calls it, “a curious caper” through our sumptuous language. The reader becomes a voyeur, watching the author fondle and caress words sybaritically, as if they were incarnate, as if (dare we say it?) she were lusting after language before our very eyes. By turns arch, witty, silly, coy, and voluptuous, this dictionary will titillate all lovers of words.

The Prefaces of Henry James, by John H. Pearson. Pennsylvania State $28.50

For the New York edition of his works, Henry James wrote 18 prefaces which set the seal on his fictional oeuvre. As John Pearson’s intelligent study shows, the prefaces in effect created a modern readership by educating them in James’s own aesthetic. Traditionally a preparatory or initiatory frame, the preface form is here modified to introduce the author both as authoritative originator and ideal reader. To Pearson, the prefaces’ Derridean “supplementarity” indicates deficiencies—they add subtraction to the fiction. But surely their new perspectives rather reveal it. Discussion of changes to New York hardly detracts from “Jolly Corner,” a parallel treatment of them. With a subject so rich, Pearson can hardly fail; but his incompatible jargon comes close.

The Long Fifteenth Century, edited by Helen Cooper and Sally Mapstone. Clarendon $85

This Festschrift honoring Douglas Gray forms a magnificent companion to his influential Oxford anthology of Late Medieval Verse and Prose. Fifteen essays, some by leading scholars, treat the period from Chaucer’s death to the Reformation as interesting in itself instead of transitional. John Burrow’s outstanding “Hoccleve and the Middle French Poets” adds to his already extensive work on that congenial poet. Mapstone’s study of the Kingis Quair as advice to princes is persuasively learned. And Helen Phillips’s essay on frames and narrators, based on a wealth of instances, is perhaps the most interesting critically. Felicity Riddy is less convincing as she psychoanalyses Henryson’s “misogyny” from between the couches of Freud and Kristeva. Mapstone excepted, treatment of Humanism in Scottish authors (called “Chaucerian”, not “Renaissance”) disappoints. How far Scottish literature dominated the period is never asked; and Scottish scholarship—even John Macqueen’s—is ignored.

The Long Schoolroom: Lessons in the Bitter Logic of the Poetic Principle, by Allen Grossman. Michigan $13.95

Once a reviewer characterized the Yeatsian poet-scholar Allen Grossman as “tipsy with possibility.” He is not so here. He has looked into the origins of poetic practice and found only violence. Further, though he assures us that poetry can regulate this initial violence by turning it into representation, it is clear that for Grossman the violence of history continues on within poetry in only a slightly different form. “Poetic culture and the culture of war are one culture” he writes. He may be right; however, the doggedness with which he follows this formula undercuts the power and real importance of his more subtler claims. He can entertain only one real model for history and one valid style for poetic form. He ends this collection of essays as he began it: his final words to us are “Nothing new.”

The Language of the Heart, 1600—1750, by Robert A. Erickson. Pennsylvania $36.95

Erickson centers his considerable powers of sensitive discernment on that most tender of organs, the heart, as it is imagined in early modern English culture. He traces through religious, literary and physiological texts a systole and diastole of the heart: as gendered and ungendered; as associated with language and thought or sex and passion; as constructed over time and as unalterably given as part of human nature. The writings of William Harvey, John Milton, Aphra Behn, and Samuel Richardson figure most vividly in this fine exploration of the organ of hard work and mysteries.

Stylistics, by Richard Bradford. Routledge $10.95

A title in the “New Critical Idiom” series, Stylistics conjures up nostalgia for the Old. In the past, readers could count on the kind of high popularization that is second nature to the French; the new policy, however, seems to mandate something richer than an encyclopedia article, but far less helpful and—above all—less stimulating than a vade mecum for beginners. The text is clear, of course, but the coverage is in general so rapid and shallow, that the reader gains very little sense of the ends, the ideas, and, above all, the methods of the critics treated. The omission of Leo Spitzer’s approach is incomprehensible given its originality and continuing international influence. To charge $49.95 for the hardcover edition of this 4 7/8″ × 71/2″ 214 page product is pure cheek.

Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in Renaissance Tragedy, by Michael Neill. Oxford $85

The author sets out the extent to which a “natural” occurrence such as death is in fact the product of human imagination. Neill argues persuasively that Renaissance tragic drama centrally involves the discovery of death and the mapping of its meanings. Particularly interesting is Neill’s exploration of the psychological and affective consequences of tragedy’s fiercely end-driven narrative. According to Neill, the imposition of an end is often figured as an act of authorial violence, committed by the writer of the tragedy. Neill pays extensive attention to Hamlet as an extreme example of such anxiety. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the book consists in Neill’s fascinating account of the function of revenge tragedy as a response to the radical displacement of the dead by the Protestant abolition of purgatory. A highly engaging study.

Dreaming of Hitler, by Daphne Merkel. Crown $25

“Political correctness,” the author writes “is a form of specious one-upmanship, an unholy stew composed of some stale left-overs from the egalitarian sixties mixed together with an expedient yuppie-style approach to age-old questions of probity.” This is the author at her most vivid in her lively collection of essays, “passions and provocations,” as she calls them—often highly personal essays that range over a wide variety of subjects including sexuality, films, and popular culture. These essays, which previously appeared in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals, are as much a self-portrait as a portrait of our present age.

Language as Object: Emily Dickinson and Contemporary Art, edited by Susan Danly. Massachusetts $19,95

Published in conjunction with the recent exhibition of the same name at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, this book is quite a revelation, and an extremely important touchstone for anyone interested in how Dickinson has influenced contemporary arts. What makes this book so exciting to read is its hybrid nature; it includes three thoughtful essays on Dickinson, a portfolio of 20th-century American poems by Hart Crane, Adrienne Rich, and others that tackles the ellipses of Dickinson, and then the art itself, which is beautifully reproduced here. The Dickinson poem or letter fragment that inspired the artwork is side by side with the piece of art itself, and the expressive range of the artists is impressive. All in all, this book is the perfect companion to Dickinson’s work, a contemporary guide that (as the book itself says) “collaborates” with Dickinson instead of merely explaining her away.

The Bible and The Ancient Near East, by Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg. Norton $32.50

Many people take the narratives found in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) as having actually happened. If it could be shown, though, that these same narratives circulated in other cultures before the relevant passages in the Hebrew Bible had been recorded, the significance, if not the veracity, of these narratives would come into question. Recent archeological discoveries animate this thorough revision of Cyrus Gordon’s classic text The Ancient Near East. The authors set out in a remarkably accessible way the culture of the ancient Near East before and during the writing of much of the Hebrew Bible and sketch out the relevance of the historical setting to the text so many religious believers revere. Gordon and Rendsburg draw on the most recent linguistic and archeological research to demonstrate that Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Hebrew civilizations share common legends and characters. The implications of these findings for contemporary discussions of multiculturalism are nothing short of fascinating.

Barthes and Utopia: Space, Travel, Writing, by Diana Knight. Oxford $78

In Barthes and Utopia, Diana Knight explores the role of utopia in the work of Roland Barthes. Tracing the changes in Barthes’ writing, Knight argues that the role of Utopia was central to the merging of Barthes as metalinguistic theorist and critic concerned with political and ethical issues with Barthes as creative writer. Knight draws from a number of controversial texts that help illuminate the unity in these two dimensions of Barthes’ writing and his intellectual career. Knight argues further that Barthes’ relationship to the issues of Orientalism and homosexuality were intimately tied to his concern with the politics of Utopia and the invention of social values. Barthes and Utopia includes chapters on structuralism, on Orientalism and colonialism, on sexuality and homosexuality, and on Barthes’ childhood.

Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush, by Mary Ann O’Farrell. Duke $49.95 cloth, $16.95 paper

In Telling Complexions, Mary Ann O’Farrell takes a Foucauldian and Barthesian look at the blush in the 19th-century English novel. According to O’Farrell, the blush is at once an act of self-expression and of somatic confession; its use in the English novel serves to institutionalize the blush as a form of bodily discipline and of erotic art. O’Farrell first considers the blush in the works of Jane Austen, and then turns to other somatic signs such as the swoon, the scar, and the blunder, which authors like Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens employed as substitutes for the blush in some cases, and as complements to it in other cases. O’Farrell surveys the works of several others, including Henry James, George Eliot, and Salman Rushdie. O’Farrell concludes that the dual nature of the blush, in its ability to reveal truth about character and in its expression of manners through regulation of the body, heightens the expressive fantasy of the English novel and reveals the complex network of social relations constructed within. O’Farrell’s compelling arguments about the construction of somatic and social ideals through the use of the blush in literature makes Telling Complexions a work of interest to a wide range of disciplines.

LIVES & LETTERS The Letters of Matthew Arnold, Volume 2, edited by Cecil Y. Lang. Virginia $60

Cecil Lang is the dean, the pontifex maximus, of modern editors of Victorian literature, “the hero,” as he has been called, “of Swinburne’s Letters and of Tennyson’s.” This second volume in the projected six-volume publication of Arnold’s letters, which covers the years 1860—65, is up to the editor’s impeccably high standards of scholarly exactitude, wit, and erudition. The notes, fastidious but spare, are always illuminating—witness the gloss to the letter of March, 11, 1861, in which Arnold makes note of Tolstoi’s interest in “The English mode of teaching Natural Science” or the commentary to Arnold’s letter of two days later, in which we are offered a vivid view of Victorian life through an account of the Turkish Baths at Brighton. Executed with exquisite grace and immeasurable acumen, Lang’s monument of scholarship is a work for the ages!

Philip of Spain, by Henry Kamen. Yale $35

Philip the Fanatic, Philip the Obsessed Catholic, Philip the Intolerant, Philip of the Spanish Inquisition, Philip of the Black Legend, Philip of the Spanish Armada. . . . This is the way history has chosen to remember King Philip II of Spain (1527—1598), but Kamen’s excellent biography will go a long way toward changing all of that. While Kamen does not excuse some of Philip’s most outrageous behavior, he does contextualize it in order to present a king much less perverse than the character portrayed in literature (Schiller and Verdi, for example). The historian looks afresh—and with more objectivity than past historians—at documents, letters, manuscripts, and contemporary materials, and he paints a very different picture of Philip, who now stands out as an art lover with highly sophisticated tastes, a patron of architecture, a committed Catholic still able to live peacefully with Jews and Protestants, a good listener, a charming and affectionate father, a well-traveled monarch, and a man who struggled mightily to resolve the enormous problems which came with being the most powerful man in the world at the time. This is an important and timely work to remember the 300th anniversary of his death.

Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood, by Eileen Whitfield. Kentucky $25

Mary Pickford was the first great Hollywood icon. If the assertion that she “made” Hollywood is debatable, there is no questioning the fact that she was a pioneering and often brilliant actress. Her life is fascinating for its own sake, as she was a complex woman who lived a rags-to-riches life; but even more interesting in many respects is the role she played in the growth of Hollywood in the era of silent films. Eileen Whitfield does a fine job of explaining the qualities and defects of Pickford’s character and abilities. Her biography of the actress is neither worshipful hagiography nor slash-and-burn celebrity exposé, but is a sober, intelligent, and highly readable book. Whitfield’s care in describing the context of Pickford’s life in American culture and the growth of the film industry is particularly admirable.

Boyhood: Scenes from a Provincial Life, by J. M. Coetzee. Viking $22.95

“He does not know where to direct his eyes, what to do with his hands, how to hold his body, what expression to wear on his face.” Thus the author writing of his childhood in the third person describes the awkwardness and sense of discomfort of his early years. In a prose that is as precise as it is spare, Coetzee recreates the pain, the anguish, the hatred, the resentment he felt as a child. What has been said of his The Master of Petersburg is true of the author’s memoirs: “There’s absolutely nothing comfortable or comforting” about this work. Fascinating as it is, this book is unbearable in its recreation of anguish. A tour de force, but not one to relish.

The Correspondence of William James, edited by Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley. Virginia $60

In this, the fifth volume of a projected 12, we accompany William James into professional and personal maturity. At the outset of the period covered here, 1878—1884, James took as his wife Alice Howe Gibbens James. He would on occasion address her as “dearest bride-guide, heart of my heart & ownest own, mother of my Harry and Willyam, regluatrix of my life, & goal of my desire, object of my worship, and savior of my soul!” It is hardly surprising, given the evident robustness of his love for his wife, that the bulk of the letters in this volume consists of missives to her. The expert editing of the volume enhances its intrinsic merit. The biographical register and textual apparatus both evince a good deal of careful work. The useful calendar organizes James’s correspondence year by year: used in tandem with the clearly laid out table of contents, it becomes quite easy to track the development of James’s epistolary life.

The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, edited by Lorna J. Clark. Georgia $85

Sarah Harriet Burney (1772—1844), British novelist and woman of letters, belonged to a talented family, noted for their achievements in the fields of music, painting, and literature. At her death she left behind vivid accounts of a long and varied life, which soon established her reputation as one of England’s great diarists. The editor of this volume believes that the literary achievements of the novelist Burney have been unjustly overlooked. The letters of Burney are useful in depicting her relations with her publisher and her attitudes toward her fiction, her audience, and herself as a writer. Ninety percent of Burney’s letters are published in this attractive volume for the first time.

The Secret Life of John C. Van Dyke: Selected Letters, edited by David W. Teague and Peter Wild. Nevada $35

John C. Van Dyke is best known to readers of Western American literature as the author of The Desert (1901), a book that helped change the way Americans viewed the southwestern deserts, from wilderness wastelands to landscapes of profound natural beauty. Yet the desert was not the place Van Dyke made it out to be in The Desert, nor was he the man he claimed to be. The Secret Life of John C. Van Dyke furthers the process—already begun by both editors—of revealing the ways in which the environmental history of the 20th-century desert and the personal history of Van Dyke both differed from their popular, romantic conceptions. Just as the desert was a richly complex ecosystem and not a fantasy world of color and distance, so too was Van Dyke a wealthy, Eastern art historian and not a rugged frontiersman who had a way with words. Teague and Wild present these facts in an informative 25-page introduction, which they supplement with a helpful bibliography of works related to Van Dyke and his correspondence. Rather than following a strict chronological arrangement for the letters themselves, the editors have chosen to arrange them chronologically within each collection from which they were taken, thus preserving the narratives played out in each correspondence.

Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, by James Kirby Martin. NYU $34.95

Martin, a noted military historian of the American Revolution, maintains that previous biographies of Arnold have all been colored by the defining moment of his life—his treasonous attempt to turn over West Point to the British in 1780. Martin has written a careful, well-researched, and sympathetic biography of Arnold that seeks to redress the balance, carefully examining his pre-treason life and depicting Arnold as the intrepid and charismatic battle commander that he really was. In doing so, Martin persuasively discounts many of the most damaging stories about Arnold which grew up around the man after 1780 and provides a needed corrective to portraits of him as selfish, corrupt, and acquisitive.

Picasso: The Early Years, 1892—1906, edited by Marilyn McCully. Yale $60

By the time he was 16 years old, Picasso had mastered the realistic techniques of painting (see “First Communion,” 1896, and “Science and Charity,” 1897), and was demanding more, both of himself and of the art world. So the experiments began: imitations of Toulouse-Lautrec, pre-Cubist landscapes, Impressionistic still lifes, portraits of blue despair, harlequins and nudes, and the astonishing discovery of Iberian sculpture which would eventually be revealed in the revolutionary “Portrait of Gertrude Stein” (1906). These “early years” set the tone for Picasso’s astonishing breadth as an artistic force, as an artist of unparalleled power in this century. This book is the catalogue of the comprehensive exhibition of his formative years mounted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (it will also be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, September 1997-January 1998), More than 175 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures are reproduced in full color, plus dozens of black and white illustrations (details of paintings, photos of the artist and his milieu). In addition, the catalogue contains excellent essays on various aspects of the “early years,” a checklist, bibliography, chronology and index of illustrated works by Picasso.

The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, Volume 9, edited by Dennis M. Conrad et al. North Carolina $85

Overshadowed by the Yorktown victory, Greene’s campaign in the lower South between 11 July and 2 December 1781, the period covered by the 820 documents in this superbly edited volume, was vitally important because it insured that the new American nation would not be shorted of South Carolina and Georgia at the peace table. Scuttling back and forth like a crab, Greene skillfully employed his meager forces to reduce the British military presence in both states to small coastal enclaves. He then used his prestige to reestablish strong state governments and to begin healing the social wounds caused by the internecine fighting in the South. This volume greatly broadens our understanding of both Greene and the American Revolution.

Richard II, by Nigel Saul. Yale $35

This monumental book is part of the Yale English Monarchs series, a landmark series in historical biography. Saul’s Richard II is the first full-length biography on the monarch to appear in more than 50 years, and it offers a profound reinterpretation of the king. Saul argues that Richard was neither the cruel despot nor the lunatic autocrat as other authors, literary and historical, have pictured him. Instead, Richard was a judicious and devoted king whose principals were founded upon uplifting the dignity and increasing the role of the crown. Balanced, lively, and meticulously documented, this biography will change conceptions of both Richard II and medieval kingship.

Seven Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh, by Peter Trachtenberg. Crown $23

In this superb memoir, Trachtenberg recounts a journey of self-discovery, the map to which is inscribed on his body in the form of seven elaborate tattoos. The tattoos serve to mark instances of rebellion, against the falseness of society or the overwhelming demands of love and family. Ultimately, these tattoos come to symbolize a relationship with a deity whom he considers tyrannical, capricious, and possibly deranged. This often moving, self-aware, at times very wry narrative manages to address universal problems without reducing them to platitudes.

Mark Twain’s Letters: Volume 5, 1872—1873, edited by Lin Salamo and Harriet Elinor-Smith. California $60

Where Clemens’s professional life flowered during this period, his personal life remained for the most part tranquil but fulfilling. His letters capture with his inimitable verbal flair and incisive humor the magnificent success of his first trip to England (where he was hailed as a literary giant) and the pain of the death of his 19-month-old son Langdon. This volume is the fifth in the only complete edition of Mark Twain’s letters ever attempted. The editors have thoroughly annotated and indexed the letters. They have also included genealogical charts of the Clemens and Langdon families, a transcription of the journals Clemens kept during his 1872 visit to England, book contracts, his preface to the English edition of The Gilded Age, contemporary photographs of family and friends, and a gathering of all newly discovered letters written between 1865 and 1871. A job very well done.

Siegfried Sassoon: Scorched Glory, by Paul Moeyes. St. Martin’s $35

After playing the protagonist in so much historical fiction, namely Pat Barker’s trilogy, Sassoon’s “real” life comes as something of a relief. A poet and homosexual, Sassoon found his topic in his love for his troops during the Great War. Moeyes makes quick work of his solopsistic juvenalia and his other efforts after the war that revealed him as anti-modern and Georgian, without a moral vision for his time. Nevertheless, Moeyes affirms what we know of Sassoon, that “if the war made the writer, it also well-nigh destroyed the man.” Moeyes story ends with Sassoon’s biography of the poet George Meredith. Thus, with this last tribute combined with his earlier sense of male comraderie, we are doubly driven to speculate on why Sassoon rejected the work of the male poets who were recreating the art as a form of criticism against the modern world Sassoon himself lambasts in his war verses. Why, in other words, did Sassoon fail to suggest some creative form of male fellowship as a way out of the Wasteland of his age? Then again, the Wasteland of Eliot’s Catholicism was not that of Sassoon’s Great War, a Wasteland of more than moral decay.

Few Returned: Twenty-eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter 1942—1943, by Eugenio Corti. Missouri $19.95

Few writers have been able to properly evoke the nightmarish conditions of fighting in Russia during the Second World War. Eugenio Corti’s memoirs of his experiences as an Italian soldier during the Stalingrad campaign of 1942—43 are therefore particularly valuable. Corti’s style is modest but effective, and the strength of his narrative is all the greater because of its realism. The book, drawn from the author’s diaries and originally published in Italian, must certainly stand as one of the most moving memoirs of the Second World War.

A Fatal Passion: The Story of the Uncrowned Last Empress of Russia, by Michael John Sullivan. Random House $30

The story of Grand Duchess Victoria Melita, or Ducky as she was nicknamed, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander—and thus the daughter of two empires—is a story of rival royal families blindly vying for power and prestige even as they were about to lose nearly all of their great wealth and privilege in the First World War. It is thoroughly researched and documented, very well written, and is a fine contribution to the history of the ill-fated Russian royal family.

Big Girl in the Middle, by Gabrielle Reece and Karen Karbo. Crown $24

In the late 20th century the imagists have won and are now writing textbooks. Big Girl in the Middle pretends to be a biography of professional volleyball player/model/media creature Gabrielle Reece, but rather it is a primer on how to achieve fame through the commodification of self. Alternating between writing from Reece and Karbo, a sports journalist, Big Girl illustrates a world where athletics, fashion aesthetic, and corporate sponsorship intersect. Can the experiences of a 25-year-old woman merit introspection in instant replay? In the age of multimedia, does that question really matter?

FICTION The Madhouse Nudes, by Robert Schultz. Simon & Schuster $22

In Robert Schultz’s novel, the painter John Ordway is obsessed with painting female nudes. Or is he obsessed more with women? The crux of the story lies in the artist’s sensibility over questions of desire and women’s bodies. The protagonist’s conflicts mount once he moves from New York City to Delphi, Iowa, where he becomes entrapped by small-town scrutiny and his own frailties. The painter loses his psychological balance as he loses his longtime girlfriend and becomes more deeply entangled with his models. Schultz tells this at-times gripping and though-provoking tale as a series of letters that span a one-year-period.

Shadow Woman, by Thomas Perry. Random House $22

In two previous novels, Perry has created a lively, interesting, mysterious character by the name of Jane Whitefield, a “guide” by profession who leads desperate people away from danger into safe places and gives them new identities. This third novel is the most riveting one and Perry’s most creative. The insightfulness of the characters, the twists of the underground lives they lead, the details that come up in their situations are extremely creative and fun, even if unbelievable. Hard to put down, the plot is complicated from the beginning and gets more so all the way through, with a tense ending that will keep you reading late into the night (or this is a true beach book). Hope there are more Jane Whitefield tales in our future!

A Patrimony of Fishes, by Doug Lawson. Red Hen $10.95

A brilliant first collection of short stories by Charlottesville author Doug Lawson, A Patrimony of Fishes fuses Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor and the X-Files into a spicy soup of intelligent American writing. Lawson’s prose is both sparkling and patient, pausing to unfold the intricacies of his characters before exploding into a car chase. His themes are basic and mature: hope, lost youth, betrayal. Yet, they bubble up through characters whose obsessions and passions fill the landscape. Throughout, Lawson reveals a gift for steady narration and dry humor. Readers will savor every page, and hope that A Patrimony of Fishes is just the first fresh catch of many to come from this fine writer.

Killer Instinct, by Martina Navratilova and Liz Nickles. Villard $24

This is the third in a series of mysteries featuring ex-tennis star Jordan Myles, and one suspects that without Ms. Navratilova’s name on the cover, this novel would have found neither publisher nor audience. The characters are unlikeable, the dialogue unbelievable, the central romance unspeakable, and the story—well, let’s just say that calling it a mystery is far too generous. Nor are there any inside scoops on the world of professional tennis in the book, unless one considers the frequent lectures on diet that are sprinkled throughout the narrative as more than a general comment on the authors’ absolute fixation on food.

The Embroidered Shoes, by Can Xue. Henry Holt $20

The stories in this collection are upsetting. The author, Can Xue, pulls the rug out and leaves er readers scrambling for balance. Forget about plot, time, character, and get ready to see how to write well. “Anonymities” begins, “She never arrived when he expected. To put it another way, she always appeared in his apartment just at the moment he thought she would.” Can Xue, a pen name meaning dirty snow, lives in the People’s Republic of China. She is an honorary member of the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. Of the eleven stories, the shorter ones work best.

O Sacred Head, by Nicholas Kilmer. Henry Holt $23

This is the third mystery in a series featuring Boston art maven Fred Taylor and his curious mix of art history and mayhem. In this novel Fred is called in by Boston police to identify a painting at a gruesome murder scene. The painting soon turns up on a list of Old Masters that Fred’s employer wants to purchase. More murders follow, as does library time, and a bit of breaking and entering, until the true nature of the sale collection and the murderer come to light. Fans of art mysteries will find the book entertaining; others will probably want to give it a miss.

Freedom to Kill, by Paul Lindsay. Villard $23

This novel introduces a new hero to the crime scene, this time, an FBI agent, Mike Devlin, who is a bit of a free spirit often risking his own life to get the job done as he sees fit. He is working with a handicapped computer whiz, the two together quite a contrast. The plot, involving a clever crazy man who wants to scare the whole world and practically succeeds, has quite a few twists, surprises, and creative characters to keep the reader very interested throughout, with touches of humor from the controversial hero. This book was more fun than the latest John Grisham novel; it would be a blockbuster movie, and we can only hope that Lindsay has more creative jobs in mind for the maverick agent, Devlin.


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