A collection of critical essays, some published for the first time, examine literary style ranging over five hundred years of English and American literature. By the author of The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age.
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Although (or perhaps because) by current standards this collection tends more toward lite crit than lit crit, readers will find in Auchincloss (Tales of Yesteryear, 1994, etc.) an elegant and erudite companion in reading the canon. All but one of these 18 essays (many reprints or revisions of previously issued pieces) look at writers and their works: Percy Lubbock and his friendship with Edith Wharton; Gore Vidal's American history novels; and, in a capsule account, the works of novelist William Gaddis. Even the sole exception, on the ``inner FDR,'' sees the president's identification with the US as a ``kind of artistic creation.'' An account of correspondence between the retired Eton housemaster George Lyttleton and the author and editor Rupert Hart-Davis reminds us how much has been lost with the demise of the epistolary form. A discussion of the three dramatic episodes cut by Pound from ``The Waste Land'' raises questions on how Eliot originally conceived of the poem. Well-chosen examples help make a case for just how little Henry James learned from his unfortunate efforts at writing plays. Consistently thoughtful without being ponderous, Auchincloss employs a dry sense of humor. For example, one piece that intertwines the literary virtues of Clarissa with the moral virtues of its title character, casually notes that another Richardson heroine, Pamela, ``managed to hold on to her virtue and sell out in a bull market.'' It is a thick-skinned reader who can emerge from this collection without some yearning to look up at least one of the works Auchincloss plumbs with such obvious pleasure. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
A prolific novelist and essayist, Auchincloss here offers his insights mostly on the literary scene, from Shakespeare, who "gave his audience pretty much what they wanted," to Gore Vidal. Auchincloss's own writing is a pleasure to read-straightforward, elegant, honest. After rereading all 20 of Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels, he confesses that he appreciates them, counter to current critical trends. Other reflections treat Gaddis, Yourcenar, Proust, Pater, Wharton, Congreve, Richardson-and FDR. Auchincloss even names what he considers the three most perfect novels: The Scarlet Letter, Wuthering Heights, and The Great Gatsby. This anthology of 18 short, recent essays will be of interest to the literate reader, but because they have been collected from publications such as the New York Times Book Review, libraries with access to the originals may decide against purchasing.
Nancy P. Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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