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Notes on Current Books, Winter 2002


ISSUE:  Winter 2002

This collection of never-before-published documents from the former Soviet Union reveals the startling fact that—contrary to long-standing belief—the Soviet Union did not support the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (1936—1939) to the degree previously thought. In fact, many of these documents show that Stalin undermined Spanish Republican goals for his own purposes. In Homage to Catalonia Orwell had already laid out the basis of the suspicion that the Soviets were both disorganized and subversive in their conduct during and after the war, but these papers from the Russian State Military Archives in Moscow, discovered in 1990, lay out how the Soviet Union sought to manipulate and dominate events in Spain from the beginning (for example, they “eliminated” Republican soldiers and politicians who opposed them, and encouraged the famous street fight in Barcelona that Orwell, and later Ken Loach in his film Land and Freedom, portrayed). These 81 documents are likely to provoke even more controversy among Russian scholars and students of the Spanish Civil War.

A Prussian Observes the American Civil War: The Military Studies of Justus Scheibert, translated and edited by Frederic Trautmann. Missouri $34.95

In 1863, Justus Scheibert, an officer in the Royal Prussian Engineers, was sent to the United States to observe the Civil War. Although his official responsibility was limited to observing the effects of artillery on fortifications, Scheibert provided the Prussian General Staff with extensive observations and analyses of all aspects of the Civil War, ranging from strategy and tactics to medical services and naval capabilities. This volume combines two of Scheibert’s works published in 1874 and ca.1887. Scheibert’s works offer fascinating insight into both the conduct of the Civil War and the lessons that the Prussian military had available to it at the time. As a result of his unusually close contact with Southern commanders (including Lee, Stuart, and Jackson), Scheibert was able to draw compelling conclusions about the role generalship played in Southern war fighting and the ability for the Confederacy to achieve relatively high levels of combat effectiveness. Although his contacts with Northern commanders were nowhere near as extensive, Scheibert took huge strides to conduct analytically unbiased measures of strategic and tactical effectiveness. Frederic Trautmann’s translation of Scheibert’s work is rigorous and well documented. This volume should have wide appeal among military historians, international relations scholars, and Civil War enthusiasts.

Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence, by Peter Burke. Cornell $35

Any timid historian reading this book would run in terror from even thinking about using images as evidence. Burke details the pitfalls as he surveys types of images historians might use, including photos, paintings, films, sculptures, etc. He tracks through iconography, narrative, and stereotyping, mostly relying on famous art historians. And he ends with four principles: 1. images must be seen as contemporary interpretations, not reality; 2. all images must be placed in contexts (plural); 3. series of images are more reliable than single instances; and 4. interpreters must read between the lines. In other words, the historian should treat images with the same caution as texts. One complaint: about half of his illustrations are printed too small to reveal the detail necessary for reading between the lines. But overall, an encouraging short introduction to a tricky subject.

The Peculiar Democracy: Southern Democrats in Peace and Civil War, by Wallace Hettle. Georgia $50

Wallace Hettle’s central question in The Peculiar Democracy is “how democratic was the Democratic Party?” Southern Democrats declared themselves the champion of the white yeoman, not simply of the slaveholding planter. Hettle contradicts the view among many historians that the antebellum Southern political system was responsive to voters. Instead, he argues that Democratic theory and practice thwarted egalitarianism among white men. The bulk of Hettle’s book consists of detailed analyses of individual Democratic leaders: Jeremiah Clemens of Alabama, John C. Rutherford of Virginia, Francis Pickens of South Carolina, Joseph Brown of Georgia, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. In The Peculiar Democracy, Wallace Hettle offers an elegant study of Southern Democrats that spans both the antebellum and wartime periods.

Mao’s China and the Cold War, by Chen Jian. North Carolina $49.95

This is an outstanding study of the history of the People’s Republic of China during the Cold War period of 1945 through 1972. Chen Jian examines the complex relationship between China, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The book looks at a number of factors that affected China’s domestic and foreign actions during the Cold War, focusing on major events of the period. The author makes a convincing argument that ideology played a far greater role as an agent in determining the orientation of China’s policies, including in building and breaking the Sino-Soviet alliance, than has previously been acknowledged by most scholars in the field. The author makes extensive use of a number of sources, particularly material recently released from Chinese archives. The source material utilized includes archival sources, documentary collections, and personal interviews obtained through extensive travel to China. Through these sources, Chen Jian is able to provide new insight into Chinese perceptions and actions during the Cold War. The history is a skillful work that is sure to provide a standard reference for future research.

A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, by Hugh Goddard. New Amsterdam Books $76.95

This lively and welcome analysis brings together the seemingly divided worlds of Christianity and Islam. Goddard’s detailed historical account carries us from Muhammad’s childhood, through the medieval period and the Crusades, to the present. Contrary to modern portrayals, the relationship between the two religious traditions has not always been conflictual or coercive. Rather, Goddard reveals that both traditions have been shaped by and in response to a long series of initiatives made by the other.

The First World War, Volume 1: To Arms, by Hew Strachan. Oxford $39.95

The first volume of Hew Strachan’s highly-anticipated history of the First World War does not disappoint. Focusing just on the first year of the war (1914), Strachan presents a highly-readable account of the origins, responses to, and initial fighting of the Great War. Despite its length (nearly 1150 pages of text), Strachan’s study rewards the reader on virtually every page. Unlike previous histories of the war, Strachan argues that the First World War was global from the outset, and his chapters on the Eastern Front, the naval war, war in the Pacific, the war in Africa (where the first and last shots of the war were fired), and the global financing of the war bolster his argument and produce numerous fresh insights. Fusing diplomatic, military, political, social, and cultural events with considerable skill, Strachan’s account of 1914 and its ideas represents the best study of this crucial year and the conflict it produced now available.

Atlas of African-American History, by James Ciment. Checkmark Books $24,95

Ciment’s Atlas should be welcomed by any who are interested either in African-American or the broader field of American studies. It is primarily aimed at the general reader but those with a serious interest in the subject will also find this a useful source of information. The author is squarely in the tradition of the Civil Right’s Movement. The book will not, therefore, please everyone; but this is no fault in the eyes of this reviewer. The style is straightforward and more than adequate to its task. It is indeed a reference work, and judged by those standards, it could be a valuable addition to the shelves of any public library. An additional strong point of the book is that it pays attention also to the African experience elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. It is nowhere near enough but Ciment at least tries to widen the angle of vision of those who would like to study the African-American diaspora in its entirety. Teachers, too, would find it helpful.

Gettysburg: The First Day, by Harry W. Pfanz. North Carolina $34.95

With this, his third volume on the most celebrated, studied, discussed, and documented battle ever fought in North America, Pfanz has proven three things. First, with determination one can continue to enrich the myriad of old details with new bits. Second, that although close attention points up many remaining gaps in our knowledge, intimate acquaintance with men and terrain permits a devoted scholar to offer reliable surmises for such gaps. Third, that despite the necessary concentration on tactical detail, a scholar with an appreciation for the human element can render such an account riveting. Although just a single day and its pertinent preliminaries and consequences are considered, there is careful selection in what is so well written about here. This is a classic work marred very slightly by a few too many repetitions of artillerist jargon and of the descriptor “rebel” for the Confederate soldier. Quotations from men who fought and died at Gettysburg, carefully selected from the huge supply of such things concerning this particular battle, poignantly remind us that every corner of such hallowed fields deserve our continued respect and protection.

Gettysburg: Day Three, by Jeffry D. Wert. Simon & Schuster $27.50

This critical, highly familiar day would seem to hold no discoverable secrets. This fresh and quite well-written account at least proves that the familiar can be rendered vivid and engaging. Part of the secret is a touch, not unlike that of Stephen Ambrose, for the human element of combat. Another is the judicious manner in which attention is devoted to all portions of the field, not merely the “vortex of death” before Cemetery Ridge. The Shaara-Wert opinion of Longstreet is now familiar to millions of viewers of the recent movie Gettysburg. The portrayal of him as a modern soldier fully aware of the futility of Napoleonic frontal assault is not so strident here as in Wert’s biography of Longstreet. But careful students of the war will continue to find the acceptance of Longstreet’s own high opinion of himself as a military genius difficult to accept. Despite this quibble, this is a fine and gripping narrative that gets many other things quite right.

Bodies Politic: Disease, Death, and Doctors in Britain, 1650—1900, by Roy Porter. Cornell $35

In late-20th-century democratic societies, the body has emerged the object of study. It has attracted the attention, good will, and ire of medical clinicians, legal theorists, politicians, media directors, sports agents, religious zealots, literary theorists, and cultural gadflies. It is a site saturated by such contested ideas as sovereignty, identity, authority. Roy Porter’s latest foray into the field attempts to narrativize the history of visual and verbal representation of the body—particularly through its “pathological” manifestations—and those who purportedly care for it. The book is full of interesting illustrations, and Porter reads these records not as objective fact but rather as cultural markers, indications of certain human attitudes towards the flesh and its healers. Most importantly he asks: “[H]ow did the body and healing practices in turn supply metaphorical commentary upon the wider world of politics and the body politic?” His style at once grand and accessible, his knowledge expansive, his insights—while certainly contestable— provocative, Porter makes you think. Few have been as prolific or far-reaching in their work, and fewer still have been able to return to their subjects time and again with such grace and skill.

Gettysburg to Vicksburg: The Five Original Civil War Battlefield Parks, photographs by A.J. Meek and text by Herman Hattaway. Missouri $29.95

This volume includes photographs of Gettysburg, Chickamauga-Chattanooga-Missionary Ridge, Shiloh, Antietam, and Vicksburg. Four of the Civil War sites were chosen for their military importance. Chickamauga-Chattanooga was added to round out the first five battle parks incorporated into the National Military Park system. The beautiful photographs by A.J. Meek capture views of the various battlefields and images of the numerous monuments to soldiers and regiments. These scenes, represented in black and white, encapsulate the somber mood of the book. The text by Herman Hattaway places the battles in context and provides a chronology of events and details of key military figures. Hattaway also comments upon the memorialization efforts and the work of preservation at each site. Meek and Hattaway present the story of both the wartime and postwar South. Their book negotiates several layers in time, from the war-torn years of the 1860’s to the monument raisings of the 1880’s to the present day. The sepia-toned photographs give the impression of age, transporting the viewer to the years of 1861 to 1865. At the same time, the subject matter—the stone statues and paved roads—as well as the accompanying text remind readers of the passage of time.

Purchasing Identity in the Atlantic World: Massachusetts Merchants, 1670—1780, by Phyllis Whitman Hunter. Cornell $42.50

Phyllis Hunter examines the merchant class of colonial Boston and Salem in order to document the cultural transformation from Puritan moral economy to Georgian consumerism. Rightfully recognizing that the tension between Puritan social ideals and an increasingly expansive commitment to capitalism begins with the early Puritans themselves, Hunter then shows the influence of American sea trade on the development of a robust appreciation for accumulation and outward presentation. Afterward Hunter traces a second cultural shift in the meaning of possessions, from English materialism to a revolution-inspired and distinctively American return to homespun. The strength of Hunter’s analysis lies in her emphasis on patterns of consumption, rather than production, as well as in her dependence on detailed case studies to illustrate each shift in this budding American consumerism. Hunter fails to fully capture the ambiguous role Puritanism’s religious ethos played in the economic evolution she charts. Nonetheless, her analysis makes a significant contribution to the study of early American economic culture.

LITERARY STUDIES Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of Culture, by Philip Connell. Oxford $60

In this fascinating and far-reaching study of Romantic thought, Philip Connell opens up a long-essentialized concept, “Political Economy,” simultaneously complicating and clarifying, just as others have revealed the nuances of a “Romantic Ideology.” Connell analyzes an abundance of material, both literary and other, to uncover the dynamic, complex, and often contradictory relationship of Romantic poets to the political and economic thought of their day. He writes clearly, cutting through the complicated historical weave that has led to the confusion and misrepresentation of prior criticism, providing in the end a much-needed reevaluation of a misunderstood yet important historical concept.

The Heart of What Matters: The Role for Literature in Moral Philosophy, by Anthony Cunningham. California $24.95

While not especially original in focus or scope, this book may well interest readers who consider literature an appropriate arena in which to discuss morality. Until the 1980’s, most moral philosophers relied on dry examples to make their points. With increasing plausibility, writers such as Iris Murdoch, Alexander Nehamas, Richard Rorty, and Martha Nussbaum argued that literature offered a veritable treasure trove of situations and puzzles to analyze. Literature, the thinking went, would evoke a deeper response in readers than previous jumping-off points and would set out moral problems in incomparably richer detail. In this volume, a young philosopher analyzes the shortcomings of traditional, that is to say Kantian, moral philosophy. He then probes novels by Ishiguro, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison to offer up moral conclusions.

Bodily and Narrative Forms: The Influence of Medicine on American Literature, 1845—1915, by Cynthia J. Davis. Stanford $49.50

Examining how medicine and literature overlapped and how their influence functioned during the time of professional medicine’s ascendancy in the United States, Davis argues that American authors were attempting—through both narrative content and, more importantly, through narrative form—to confront new concepts of the body emerging from the world of medicine. The subject matter raises a host of provocative questions about bodies, power, gender, and race; in addition, the organizing principles of Davis’ chapters often eonfront complex issues such as the embodiment and professionalization of the gaze, competing and gendered notions of “human nature,” and the connection of aesthetics to racial uplift around the turn of the century. However, Davis’ study sometimes struggles to convince readers of the present import of the questions she asks: the why feels underinvestigated at times. In part, this situation results from Davis’ interest in literary form, a subject which, although of recently-renewed critical interest, constantly needs to overcome the accusations that it remains either apolitical or actively reactionary, accusations that Davis’ work attempts to topple. Her formalist readings sometimes lack the punch one might hope for, and in places, such as in her reading of Frances Harper’s Lola Leroy, her conclusions seem to require a much more extended and detailed engagement with the text than the structure of her book allows. Davis’ connection of the medical and the literary is exciting, and her knowledge of the texts she investigates and the history of American medicine is impressive, but Bodily and Narrative Forma never quite gels: its structuring argument remains elusive, its individual readings call for more.

Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture, by Juliet John. Oxford $68

John’s study of the types of villainy in Dickens’s major novels takes as its starting point Dickens’ love of and appreciation for the Victorian theatre. Without over-simplifying the ways in which Dickens’ artistry revises convention, this book argues convincingly that Dickens appropriates qualities of stock characters from melodrama, a theatrical format that “publicizes the private, privileges spontaneous emotions, and marginalizes the mind.” Villains in this genre subvert melodramatic values by cleverly practicing deceit or by playing roles in order to achieve hidden (and often anti-social) individual agendas. Dickens, as a largely populist author, finds this style of manipulation as disturbing as its overly private ends which are, by definition, destructive of healthy and honest community. John’s assessment of Dickens’ use of melodrama’s Gothic and “dandy” villains is thought-provoking and lucidly blends cultural studies with skillful close-reading. Her analysis of other “villainous” types grows muddier in later chapters, however, as she extends her scope to such Dickens characters as Sidney Carton, Eugene Wrayburn, and Edith Dombey, each of whom is, in some degree, heroic. While this book often represents cultural studies at its most effective, a limitation is in its attempt to restrict itself to villainy alone. Dickens’s Villains whets the appetite for a wider consideration of melodrama’s varied manifestations in Dickens’ canon.

Mosaic Modernism, by David Kadlec. Johns Hopkins $42.50

In line with much recent writing on modernism, especially in art history, the author insists on the political origins of modernism, which is especially rooted in anarchist thought. The main subjects of his study are James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Zora Neale Hurston. In other words, this is a comparative study of American and British modernism, about which the author has many interesting things to say, particularly concerning the differences between these two literary traditions. This investigation is written in the technical language, indeed jargon, of the “specialist,” and is therefore not for the “common reader.”

Useful Knowledge: The Victorians, Morality, and the March of Intellect, by Alan Rauch. Duke $19.95

A bit of undistinguished academic grunt-work with little to recommend it to those outside its area of specialty, Purporting to be a study of how an earlier age understood the relations between knowledge and lived life in the period 1819—1860, the book ultimately resolves itself into a series of uninteresting surveys of already over-read novels (except for Loudon’s The Mummy!, upon which the recent movie of that title is not based). Typically for the genre of literary studies today, large-scale social claims are made on the basis of thin readings of works of fiction. This is what one might call bourgeois scholarship, representing the “normal science” of literary studies today, content to work within the parameters of a field rather than strain against its inevitably restrictive (for a living mind, anyway) boundaries. There is little imagination and less intellectual courage displayed here— disappointing in a book dedicated to the Victorians’ “disciplining” of knowledge. Disappointing but not surprising: the truth is that we live in an intellectual world far stricter, with much less room for manuever, than the writers Rauch reads ever did—as this book inadvertently demonstrates.

A History of American Literary Journalism: The Emergence of a Modern Narrative Form, by John C. Hartsock. Massachusetts $17.95

Hartsock gives a careful look at the “New Journalism” of the 1960’s and 70’s, and discovers a case of “everything old is new again.” Hartsock traces the history of creative non-fiction reportage from the 19th century into the present. Hartsock looks at the various forms that literary journalism has taken in the past two centuries, including offshoots like “sensationalism” and “muckraking.” The book also looks at how the academy has marginalized the work of modern literary journalists. For anyone who has worked in journalism, or who enjoys literary journalism, this will make an interesting read. In addition, those who wonder about the concept of objectivity in the news will find this book gives food for thought about the unacknowledged biases in a journalism industry that marginalizes openly subjective work.

The Other Hogarth: Aesthetics of Difference, edited by Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal. Princeton $59.50 cloth, $24.95 paper

This book offers new perspectives on William Hogarth’s celebrated satirical images of British family and urban life. The editors ask us to consider Hogarth’s moralizing images as studies in the contradictions of selfhood in 18th-century England. At issue most particularly is Hogarth’s handling of the human form as a type of sign and his use of that sign to represent his society’s complicated constructions of class, gender, and race. The 15 essays that follow take up this question of corporeal signification from different points of view, even as they share the methodological premises of cultural studies. The essays are diverse and lively. They examine Hogarth’s treatment of erotic desire, his representation of sexual difference and sexual identity, his understanding of matrimonial institutions and of womens’ work, and his attitudes toward slavery. Hogarth emerges, in the end, as a creation of his times and as a lens through which to explore the intellectual interests and investments of the present day.

American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation, by Caleb Crain. Yale $35

With wit and a pleasing style that can be rare these days in literary criticism, Caleb Crain examines the deep, affectionate male friendships at the center of both the lives and the works of American authors Charles Brockden Brown, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Herman Melville. Crain argues that such male friendships were vital to the self-understanding of the developing nation during its first three quarters of a century. This fraternity between men was understood to be separate from the state and the market, and therefore natural, free, and of the most powerful sort. Brown, Emerson, and Melville sought to represent these fraternal bonds in their work and to replicate them in their lives. By closely examining not only the essays and novels of these authors but also their private correspondences and journals, Crain has written a unique study that is part biography, part literary criticism. Some readers will criticize the avoidance of difficult questions concerning the ideological work of this ideal of friendship—the part it played in the construction of race, gender, and sexuality during the 19th century—but Crain’s close readings of both canonical novels and frequently ignored private writings are a substantial contribution to this area of scholarship.

Adam’s Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature, by Denis Donoghue. Notre Dame $24.95

These inaugural Erasmus Lectures, given at Notre Dame, announce “the conditions that make any achievement difficult,” be it a poem, a life, or a culture. With a contemporary Catholic sensibility, Prof. Donoghue reflects on writers who confront religion and who to different degrees resist their secular Zeitgeist. A few on his list are Yeats, Larken, Milosz, Heaney, and T.S. Eliot. Some informing thinkers are Alasdair MacIntyre, William Lynch, H.U. von Balthasar, Paul Ricoeur, and John Milbank. The best essay is on the “ethical turn” in literary criticism. Donoghue’s exposition of Emanuel Levinas is elegant, and his criticisms (by way of novelist J.M. Coetzee) are important and fair. Less so is a chapter where Wallace Stevens and sociologist Robert Bellah are made to reflect badly on each other. The most provocative piece is on poets (e.g., Stevens and Baudelaire) who, despite their secularity, resist the modern disappearance of Satan. One virtue here is evident in most of his readings: a capacity for surprise.

The Princeton Anthology of Writing: Favorite Pieces by the Ferris/McGraw Writers at Princeton University, edited by John McPhee and Carol Rigolot. Princeton $39.50 cloth, $17.95 paper

Lacking a school or department of journalism, Princeton has long entertained prominent journalists under two visiting appointments—the Ferris Professorship in Journalism (1963-) and the McGraw Seminars (1984-). This lively and diverse anthology brings together 73 self-selected pieces by some 58 of these professor/ journalists, including the distinguished co-editor, Princeton’s own John McPhee. Arranged in sequence by the editors, the book presents outstanding examples of what McPhee calls “factual writing” on a wide variety of subjects. All the writers are award winners—a dozen Pulitzer prizewinners are included. The range of style and tone is also wide, though you will look in vain for any examples of “gonzo journalism” or “the new journalism.” You will also discover the geographical diversity to be somewhat limited—13 of these writers are associated with The New York Times, nine are from The New; Yorker. Only a very few, like The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s celebrated Irving Dillard, are from the provinces of the American intellectual empire, and there are only a dozen women writers on board. Nevertheless this is a significant collection of first-rate factual writing, and a valuable contribution to the literary scene.

A Company of Readers: Uncollected Writings of W.H. Auden, Jaques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling from the Readers’ Subscription and Mid-Century Book Clubs, edited by Arthur Krystal. The Free Press $26

In 1951 the Readers’ Subscription Book Club was founded based on the idea that there was room for a book club with a more literary bent than the more popularly oriented book clubs of the day. That the Readers’ Subscription, with the same mission, is still going today is testimony to the soundness of the idea. The first editorial board of the club were the imposing triumvirate of W.H. Auden, Jaques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling. They took turns writing introductions to the given “book of the month” in the club’s sales publications. A Company of Readers collects these essays together, and they are a treasure. The tone of the essays are what struck me as most remarkable: learned, crisp, accessible, these are essays about favorite books by brilliant, widely read authors, never bland and never strident. Auden on Eliot, Barzun on Moliere, Trilling on Bellow, Auden on Faulkner, Auden on Tolkien: these are just a sample of the delicious essays in the book. Indeed, for me a trove of uncollected Auden would be worth several times the cost of the book: fans of Trilling and Barzun will likely feel the same way.

Wordsworth in His Major Lyrics: The Art and Psychology of Self-Representation, by Leon Waldoff. Missouri $29.95

This book is not what it seems: a simple return to biographical criticism. It is, rather, a sophisticated and theoretically informed study of the act of self-representation in Wordsworth’s major lyrics. Waldoff acknowledges and thoughtfully synthesizes insights from recent feminist, dialogic, and new historicist analyses of Wordsworth. But whereas many of these post-structuralist readings invoke the material author, Waldoff chooses instead to focus on the lyrical “I” in the act of self-representation, not as a version of the poet—though he acknowledges the similarities—but rather in the way that the lyrical subject dramatizes a self-transformative experience. Waldoff distinguishes the poetic subject’s self-dramatization from Wordsworth’s own comments “in his notes, prefaces and essays about the way language and representation bear on issues of self-representation.” We look back here, in many ways, to Langbaum’s The Poetry of Experience, and the sense of a Browning-like performance saturates Waldoffs readings. Still his insights are thought provoking throughout this excellent book.

LIVES AND LETTERS Bronzino: Renaissance Painter as Poet, by Deborah Parker. Cambridge $55

The Renaissance painter Agnolo Bronzino, known to many from Henry James’ description of one of the artist’s portraits in The Wings of the Dove, was, like Michelangelo, also a poet. But unlike Michelangelo’s literary creations, Bronzino’s poetry has received very little attention. Deborah Parker’s informative and clearly written book is therefore to be all the more welcomed not only by students of Italian literature but also by art historians and others who are interested in the complex relations between poetry and painting. With reliable and sometimes elegant prose translations of Bronzino’s poems, the author leads us through a reading of his rime in burla and canzoniere in relation to the works of Petrarch and to those of such 16th century authors as Benedetto Varchi and Laura Battiferri, among others. Especially rewarding are the last two chapters in which the author discusses Bronzino’s poems about art and certain parallels between his verse and his paintings. This is a strong and readable book because Parker accepts her subject on his own terms, allowing him to speak through her.

The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso, by Sherry Velasco. Texas $17.95

Catalina de Erauso (1592—1650) was a Basque noblewoman who, before taking final vows as a nun, escaped from the convent and spent most of the rest of her life disguised as a man. She lived for many years as a soldier and adventurer in Peru and Chile where, by her own account, she enjoyed some success as a seducer of women. When she returned to Europe, she not only won a soldier’s pension but also—having proved that her virginity remained intact—papal permission to continue to dress as a man. Erauso subsequently became the 17th-century version of a media celebrity: her exploits were chronicled in her autobiography, news pamphlets, print images, and a play. According to Velasco, for 17th-century audiences the Lieutenant Nun’s sexual proclivities were titillating but non-threatening. Nineteenth-century adaptations reveal a significant change. In this period, Erauso is either demonized or re-imagined as a hetero-sexual or asexual figure. Some 20th-century representations (including comics) manifest a gradual “re-lesbianization” of the protagonist, whereas others continue to correct or erase the spectacle of lesbian desire. Velasco’s book provides a fascinating account of the evolution of a cultural icon as well as the history of popular attitudes toward lesbianism.

Derek Walcott: A Caribbean, by Bruce King. Oxford $39.95

This superb new book offers an engrossing and richly detailed portrait of perhaps the leading literary figure to emerge from the English-speaking Caribbean. Other critics have offered brief accounts of parts of Walcott’s life, but this is the first full-length biography of the Nobel-prize winner. Making intelligent use of unpublished diaries, letters, plays, and other materials, King helps us to understand the cross cultural tensions at the heart of the career of this great West Indian writer: a Protestant who grows up on the predominantly Catholic island of St. Lucia; an Afro-Caribbean whose primary literary debts are to the former European colonizers. King’s chapters on Walcott’s early life and background are especially revealing and rewarding. Readable, vivid, judicious, this book will appeal to all who have found themselves lost in the dazzling multicultural work of this prodigiously gifted poet.

Louis: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, by Philip Callow. Ivan R. Dee $17.50

This brief but elegantly written biography is an appreciation of the famous Scotish writer that captures the tormented spirit of his contradictory life. By exploring Stevenson’s sickly childhood and the resulting gypsy-like travels from Edinburgh to New York, to the Pacific Coast, and then to the South Seas in search of a cure for the disease that ultimately took his life at a young age, Callow (the author of 15 novels himself) attempts to reveal Stevenson’s yearnings to “be set free, wanting to roam, to fly, away from that Presbyterian upbringing, out of the dreary, smug commercialism and blight of his century altogether.” He succeeds admirably, and the book is recommended to anyone looking for an interesting introduction to one of the most gifted British writers of the 19th century.

Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice, by Henry Kamen. Yale $29.95

Kamen, an historian who has written important studies of the Spanish 17th century (a biography of Philip II and a history of the Spanish Inquisition, among other books), turns his attention to the 18th century in this biography of Philip V. No relation to the previous Philip (of the Habsburgs), Philip V was dispatched to Spain by his grandfather, Louis XIV, in order to secure the Spanish territories for the Bourbon dynasty. Reluctant at first to assume such responsibilities, Philip grew into the challenge and became, contrary to how he is popularly regarded, a knowledgeable, hardworking, and successful ruler. He did indeed reign twice, as the title of this book states, first from 1700 until his abdication in 1724 in favor of his son Louis I, and then immediately again from 1724—following Louis’ unexpected death— until 1746. Kamen provides much military history (the War of the Spanish Succession) before burrowing into Philip’s achievements, which laid the basis for the modern Spanish state. As a Bourbon king, he was interested in culture and the arts, and promoted radical changes in the structures of the country which supported important advances in those areas. Kamen gives much credit, wisely, to Philip’s two wives, Marie Louise of Savoy and Isabel Farnese, whose French and Italian (respectively) influences on the king were profound. In economic matters, as well, Philip was to oversee stability and progress. Kamen’s superb research and adherence to documentary sources, once again provides us with a solid and fascinating biography of an oft-forgotten ruler.

The Civil War Diary of a Common Soldier: William Wiley of the 77th Illinois Infantry, edited by Terrence J. Winschel. Louisiana $29.95

William Wiley enlisted in the Union army in the summer of 1862. A 24-year-old farmer, he soon found himself in Company F of the 77th Illinois Infantry regiment, a unit in which he campaigned through the remainder of the war. As Terrence J. Winschel notes in his introduction, Wiley’s account is really a postwar memoir that drew heavily on entries in his wartime diary as well as on a regimental history of the 77th published in 1883. It accords considerable attention to Union operations against Vicksburg in 1862—63, to Nathaniel P. Banks’ 1864 Red River campaign, and to the 77th’s activities at Mobile Bay and elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico during the last year of the war. Wiley also provides a number of insights into the lives and cares of common soldiers, generally avoiding the overblown prose typical of many postwar reminiscences in favor of an understated style well suited to telling the story of a soldier in the ranks. Although this account will offer few surprises to veteran students of the Civil War, it is well worth the attention of readers seeking testimony about common soldiers, the war along the Mississippi River, or campaigning along the Gulf Coast.

The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, by Henry Bibb. Series editor, William L. Andrews, with a new introduction by Charles Heglar. Wisconsin $40 cloth, $16.95 paper

First published in 1849, this work is now available after having been out of print for about ten years. Born into slavery in Kentucky in 1815, Bibb describes in this autobiography his life as a slave, his many attempts at escape and his life in Canada and elsewhere as a successful anti-slavery writer and lecturer. What differentiates this work from other works in this genre, and particularly from the best-known examples of Frederick Douglass and to some extent, Harriet Jacobs, is his emphasis on his family: Bibb cannot rest even when he has safely escaped North, because he thinks constantly about the wife and child he has left behind. In fact, he returns to Kentucky numerous times to try to rescue his family from slavery, which several times results in his re-capture. His narrative is often suspenseful and affecting, and is a wonderful addition to any syllabus. This edition includes a helpful interpretive introduction by Charles Heglar, selected letters, essays from the Canadian journal Voice of the Fugitive (founded and edited by Bibb) and a comprehensive chronology of the Bibb’s life.

Becoming Victoria, by Lynne Vallone. Yale $26.95

Before there was Queen Victoria, there was Princess Victoria and before there was Princess Victoria, there was “Drina,” daughter of the Duke of Kent and the former Princess of Leiningen. Victoria was the only child of her father, who died before she was a year old, but by her mother’s first marriage she had a half-brother and a half-sister Feodora with whom Victoria lived until Feodora’s marriage. As for uncles, aunts, and cousins, she “had them by the dozens”; her mother was one of nine children and her uncle, King William, had 12 illegitimate offspring. Through a close examination of the young princess’s journals, fictional writings, drawings, family letters, and reading material, Vallone explores how “Drina” was trained by her mother to be a model princess, a “pattern child” for her peers, an ideal middle-class mother, and, after it became evident that she would be queen, a dutiful ruler. The Duchess of Kent artfully exposed her daughter and England to each other through a series of “royal progresses” during which they toured factories and villages and visited orphanages and schools. Victoria’s girlish innocence was carefully shielded from the malign influence of her rakish uncles and from intimacy with her Fitzwilliam cousins. Her maternal uncle, Leopold of Belgium, served as surrogate father, sending letters full of advice on proper royal behavior. In this first full-length study of Victoria’s girlhood Vallone clearly demonstrates that although the Victorian age may have borne her name, Victoria bore the ineradicable stamp of her era.

Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer, by James McDermott. Yale $35

Martin Frobisher was not a nice man. Confronted with writing a biography of a man who could plausibly be seen as a ruthless, ambitious, deeply flawed man living in turbulent, violent times, James McDermott puts aside (for the most part) contemporary qualms, and enters into the spirit of the age and character he writes about. The result is an intriguing and enjoyable book, rather like a mixture between an excellent and informative PBS documentary and an episode of Black Adder. Frobisher, married, an explorer per force, a privateer and pirate by nature, receives a letter from his destitute wife, which he ignores: “the cost of keeping a retinue had proved too expensive to allow less urgent calls upon his purse.” His attention at the moment is more earnestly upon the success of the work of one Schutz, who has been vainly attempting to extract gold from ore that Frobisher has brought back from one of his voyages. His backers insist that Frobisher supervise Schutz directly: “less in recognition of any intrinsic suitability for the task than for the purgative effect of introducing a large, well-armed and angry man into the assaying process.” Schutz, we are told, extracts some gold this time. While being an engaging read, in a cynical sort of way, McDermott’s book also provides a fascinating study of the birth of the English shipping and exploration industry, in all its intrigue, complexity, and uncertainty. The book itself is hefty and handsome, with some very nice color plates.

Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, by Emmaneul Le Roy Ladurie. Chicago $35.50

Translated by Arthur Goldhammer, this rewarding study exposes the Sun King’s court as a carnival of bureaucracy, personal eccentricity, power plays, and neuroses worthy of a typical American junior high school. Using the Duke of Saint-Simon’s memoirs as the jumping-off point for his lucid and original scholarship, Le Roy Ladurie focuses on the circumscribed behavior of individual members of the Court in order to understand the convoluted, almost soap-operatic workings of the overall royal household. The reader is treated to an intriguing, behind-the-scenes account of an irrational and extraordinary protocol, which often determined who could marry whom, who had to forsake an armchair for a stool, and who was permitted within earshot of the king. This is a highly enjoyable book with a new vision of the world of Louis XIV.

Peter Taylor: A Writer’s Life, by Hubert H. McAlexander. Louisiana State $34.95

Peter Taylor born in 1917, became one of the 20th century’s most original and influential American writers, especially in the art of the short story. He published his first book, A Long Fourth and Other Stories, in 1948 and left behind a legacy of 14 praiseworthy books when he died in 1994. McAlexander’s biography gives a detailed account of the facts of Taylor’s life and a sense of his artistic accomplishment, and, best of all, the story of his family background. Those early pages dealing with the Taylor family are a significant contribution. McAlexander documents Taylor’s friendships with Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, Eudora Welty, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford and many others, including some of Taylor’s students, providing some rare snapshots of these people, although somewhat faded and indistinct. A dust-jacket blurb claims that McAlexander’s book “is as elegant, restrained, and nuanced as the writing of Taylor himself.” Nuance works great in a story by Peter Taylor, where most everything happens below the surface. But nuance doesn’t serve a biography so well. Are there other weaknesses? A smattering of minor factual errors, e.g., a reference to Nancy Hale as an English-woman. Otherwise, McAlexander’s effort is solid and commendable; at present it’s the only Taylor biography to have been published.

FICTION The Shape of Things To Come, by Maude Casey. Morrow $24

Maude Casey’s first novel is a startling debut. Her fresh voice emerges like a song that’s bound to be a hit. Isabelle, the main character, opens the book by displaying her nude torso on a huge copying machine to make a replica of herself. Herein lies the central irony of the book, the clue to readers that they will enter a literary novel and a novel of ideas: Isabelle is a complete original. She really is a bell—she rings true. After her attempt at duplication, she’s fired from her job and moves to her mother’s in Standardsville, where everything seems standard, yet nothing is. Working as a temp, Isabelle reinvents herself and her world several times the same way that, as a pre-adolescent, she donned disguises to attend church services after sleepovers. Casey’s humor is as original as her character, her language as fresh as the air in Standardsville is dull. Her observation that “you really can go home again” gives readers hope that we will be able to return to this promising author for more.

Too Close To Call, by Michael Kelsay. Mississippi $25

The black humor of this first novel is both eerie and down to earth. Set in Eastern Kentucky, this novel both exalts the landscape and makes humorous and human the people who inhabit it. Toomey Spooner, a 39-year-old adolescent, tries to find himself by running for mayor of Oceana, KY, (his slogan “Vote the Goat”). The Goat, overcoming great odds, gets the marijuana vote, a group of black farmers, and everyone lives happily ever after—maybe. In this case, with these characters, the only sure thing is humor and chaos.

Diary of an Adulterous Woman, by Curt Leviant. Syracuse $29.95

Curt Leviant’s latest novel begins as a playfully erotic romp through the wordplay and pillow talk of three characters and the secrets that they keep from one another. Guido is an Italian Jewish photographer and serial seducer. His childhood friend Charlie is a psychologist and a romantic who has never married and harbors long-standing resentment toward his old friend’s romantic conquests. Aviva is a cellist who is married to a conniving, hypocritical Moroccan and conducting an affair with Guido. When Charlie, unbeknownst to Guido, contrives to meet Aviva and induce her to enter into therapy with him, the stage is set for a calamitous end. This novel of secrets keeps its own secrets, in the form of a supplementary, and sometimes opaque, “ABC Directory.” The author recommends that the reader first read the novel without referring to the directory, and only then go back through with the benefit of it. This is good advice. Leviant is a clever and compelling story-teller, and his story benefits from being read as a whole, its mysteries intact.

Maggody and the Moonbeams, by Joan Hess. Simon & Schuster $23

There are plenty of Joan Hess fans in this world. She’s written 24 mysteries, 14 of them set in Maggody, Arkansas. So, if you are one of those fans, the lack of subtlety in her humor may not annoy you and a plot wormy with holes may not disturb you. Hess paints her characters with broad strokes. Billy Dick, Mrs. Jim Bob, and Ruby Bee, are caricatures, not well developed characters. Of course, caricature is a tool used by many humorists. But in this case, understatement would have provided relief from the interminable rib-poking humor. At the opening of the story, Sheriff Arly Hanks is roped into chaperoning 10 teenagers who are supposed to help fix up Camp Pearly Gates, a retreat for gravely ill children. One is hard pressed to see the humor in naming the camp “Pearly Gates.” In any case, shortly after their arrival, a camper finds a dead body on the grounds—a white-robed woman with a shaven head. Arly winds up leading an investigation into the murder. By the end of the novel, the mystery is solved, yet the reader is left to puzzle over some glaring non sequiturs in the plot.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories, edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. Kentucky $38

With each successive selection in this anthology spanning half a century and inclusive of 40 authors both well and lesser known, the reader will come to better understand and appreciate a state long recognized for the excellence of its storytelling tradition. Central throughout is the theme of love (sometimes love-hate) for the land, compounded by the pain of leaving—and sometimes of returning as well. Individually and in total these brief masterworks command respect and invite reflection, while offering a rich diversity of authentic voices, engaging characters, and insights both regional and universal. As represented in this fine collection, Kentucky short fiction stands in the shade of none.

The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall. Houghton Mifflin $22

Alice Randall’s “Unauthorized Parody” of Gone with the Wind is nothing a parody should be. It is unimaginative, trite, filled with literary cliches, and narrated in a style entirely unsuited to the material. While there are some passages with vivid descriptions and truly lyrical prose, they are, sadly, few and far between. The book’s stated purpose is to “explode the mythology perpetrated by a Southern classic,” but this is not accomplished. The fact that Cynara, the heroine of the book, is the illegitimate daughter of Scarlett’s (in this book, “Other’s”) father by Mammy raises some interesting questions about racial identity, but these questions are not explored to the extent that would make them provocative. The vast majority of plot lines and characters are lifted directly from Gone with the Wind, with only the names changed. Scarlet O’Hara becomes “Other,” Rhett Butler is called either “R” or “Debt.” and Tara is “Tata.” But even with the lively characters of Margaret Mitchell’s novel at her disposal, Alice Randall is unable to produce a gripping narrative. The characters are almost entirely unsympathetic, the narrative style is flat, and the vibrancy of Gone with the Wind is absent. Whatever the faults of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, at least it was interesting, and had characters bursting with vitality, which is more than an be said for Alice Randall’s novel. After reading The Wind Done Gone, one is left with the lingering thought that perhaps the court battle the Margaret Mitchell estate brought against the parody’s publication is more intriguing than the work itself.

The Student Body: Short Stories About College Students and Professors, edited by John McNally. Wisconsin $16.95

Having acknowledged in his brief introduction the reservations—even prejudices—traditionally accorded the academy as a setting for literary fiction, editor McNally proceeds to deliver an anthology of 17 uniformly excellent and sometimes stunning stories that completely demolishes any such pejorative preconceptions. Eight focus on a student as the central character; the remainder, a member of the faculty. At the extremes there is fun aplenty, and a full measure of heartache; in between, a rich delineation of the challenges of life, academic and otherwise. Both the modern masters and lesser knowns enrolled here earn high marks for craft, creativity, and insight. Solid A’s all around—without grade inflation—for the authors and editor.

Steppin’ On A Rainbow, by Kinky Friedman. Simon & Schuster $23

Rainbow is title number 14 for the ever flamboyant Friedman, one-time country music star (of New York’s Lone Star Cafe) turned mystery writer, with himself as the audacious amateur sleuth. This time he is off (eventually) to Hawaii, to attempt to locate a missing friend, accompanied by his coterie of trash talking, wisecracking pals. Here muddled matters oscillate between contemporary local low-life and ancient island inspired phantasmagoria, with Kinky keeping to a fine line to keep the crude punning and irreverent asides just short of collapsing his troubled tale beneath its own weight. A loyal readership is obviously onto something here—something that is truly unavailable elsewhere. Thanks to Kinky, justice, if not exactly impeccable taste, prevails again.

Money, Money, Money, by Ed McBain. Simon & Schuster $25

McBain returns to the 87th precinct, where his cops have famously battled robbers, rapists, and clutches of other criminals, for the 51st time. This story begins with a peaceable second-story man who breaks into an apartment looking to make a few bucks only to discover a cache of real money, important money. The money proves key to a series of seemingly unrelated crimes that are doggedly investigated from different angles by detectives Steve Carella and Fat Ollie Weeks. Written with the flair and ease of an old pro, a McBain police procedural is one of the best entertainments money can buy.

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. Knopf $25.95

Empire Falls is an old industrial town in central Maine fallen on hard times—its economy eviscerated, its environment degraded, and its people disheartened. Miles Roby sits at the center of the book and the town as proprietor of the Empire Grill, an even-tempered, kind man pulled in a hundred directions by an impending divorce and the demands of his rogue father, a wayward brother, and his precious teenage daughter. To what might, in another’s hand, be merely grim and dispiriting, Russo brings a sweetness (not saccharine) and understanding, leavened with gentle humor. Here are all the satisfactions of an old-fashioned novel—a recognizable world of fully drawn characters, coming to grips with all of life’s complexities.

Pay Days, by Bill James. Norton $24

This is the 17th in a series of mysteries featuring chief superintendent Colin Harpur and his boss, assistant chief constable Desmond Iles, of a fictional English city. In this story the police chief is determined to bring down two local drug kingpins, which will disturb lies’ carefully maintained policy of peaceful coexistence with the drug trade. Harpur inhabits the middle ground between the two, and must deal with the consequences of the struggle. James has a talent for storytelling and for creating a host of different voices. His characters are complicated human beings all, both sinning and sinned against.

The Music of the Spheres, by Elizabeth Redfern. Putnam $24.95

Not a too-fascinating book, but not a terrible one, either, this novel recounts a spy scandal (fictionalized, one imagines) in the London of 1795, terrified by the chaos of the French revolution happening just over the English Channel. Redfe

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