American Emperors

This is the fifth novel in Gore Vidal’s chronicle of American history. So far it runs from Burr (1973) to Lincoln (1984) and 1876 (1976), then on to Washington, D.C. (1967) and the onset of World War II. Empire covers the turn of the century, from 1898 with William McKinley’s …

Green Giant

William Pritchard’s “literary life” of Robert Frost is a persuasive antidote to Lawrance Thompson’s official biography, which reached its demolishing conclusion in 1976 with its third and final volume. Its portrait of the poet inspired one reviewer to conclude that he was “a monster”; another that he was “a mean-spirited …

Intruders

This is the third novel by Robert Stone—A Hall of Mirrors was a Houghton Mifflin Fellowship Book in 1967, Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award in 1975—and it is even more’ relentlessly violent and cataclysmic than either. Here, as in the earlier works, the characters who find themselves joined …

Classics and Commercials

In 1895, about a month after the humiliating jeers and boos that greeted his play Guy Domville, Henry James made an entry in his notebooks that epitomizes the plight of most of the American novelists discussed in Henry Nash Smith’s new book. “The idea of a poor man, the artist, …

Women at Home

Robert Frost is often at his best as a poet when “home” is at its worst, and it could not be much worse than in most of his poems about women in the country. In a peculiar way, his treatment of women recalls a nineteenth-century novelistic convention in which the …

The Great Tradition

“I am damned critical—for it’s the only thing to be, and all else is damned humbug.” —Henry James I was at Downing College, Cambridge—Leavis’s college—when he announced the end of Scrutiny in 1953. Published for twenty-one years (uninterrupted even by the War), Scrutiny had earned more respect and more …

Cook’s Tour

Nothing more intricately conceived than Thomas Pynchon’s first novel has appeared in American fiction since the work in the thirties by Faulkner, Nathanael West and Djuna Barnes, the last two being among the writers who have given him the courage of his artifices and of the assumptions that go with …

à la Mode

Frank Kermode is generally regarded as the best practicing critic in England today, free of the polemical or theoretical limitations that have been ascribed to Leavis or Richards and credited with the power, which Arnold required of good criticism, “to ascertain the master-spirit in the literature of an epoch.” In …