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BOOK REVIEWS awareness of historical injustice collides with esthetic sensibility. She is affronted by the tackiness of marching bands and the sellers of holy trinkets and by the gaudiness of Our Lady, "painted in the ferociously sweet colours used for lollies." Then she adds: "To sneer at people with bad taste when they offer what they think beautiful to their gods is worse taste, but anyway we can take it that Mexican civilisation is not in danger of perishing through its refinement...." Here, acerbic observation and empathy are perfectly balanced, and West's style becomes the embodiment of her literary principle and her life: contradictory tendencies can be held in unstable equilibrium. Bernard Schweizer has pulled off an excellent editorial feat in knitting a coherent whole from West's fragments, "a multitude of documents including one substantial fair copy, many corrected typescripts, assorted carbon copies, and several handwritten notebooks." Not the least of his achievement is his tabulation of the overlaps in the various manuscripts and his interesting discussion, in the introduction, of his editorial method based on the French "critique génétique." Schweizer is wellplaced to track West's thematic concerns. In his monograph Rebecca West: Heroism, Rebellion, and the Female Epic (Greenwood Press, 2002), he argues that her travel writing recasts epic heroism in feminist terms. He sees the spiritual and philosophical underpinning of her writing as the "metaphysical rebellion" of Camus, "a spiritual insurrection against the perceived tyranny of God." Survivors in Mexico bears out his thesis and throws retrospective illumination on the incongruities of West's oeuvre and life. One is grateful to Schweizer for the labor that has made available her unfinished and previously unpublished final work. JANETTE TURNER HOSPITAL __________________ University of South Carolina Vernon Lee's Reputation Christa Zorn. Vernon Lee: Aesthetics, History, and the Victorian Female Intellectual. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003. xxxi + 231 pp. $49.95 CHRISTA ZORN'S STUDY seeks to rehabilitate the reputation of Vernon Lee (Violet Paget), a critic, novelist, journalist, and public intellectual who is, she argues, "one of the most underread and underrated critics from the period between 1880 and 1920." Zorn works to demonstrate Lee's importance not only to fin-de-siècle aestheticism but also to twentieth-century feminist historiography. Lee's significance, according 75 ELT 48 : 1 2005 to Zorn, has been overlooked partly because of modernism's effort to distance itself from Victorian verbosity and moralizing (Lee was arguably guilty of both), but such early twentieth-century judgments have been reproduced by those contemporary feminist critics who have found Lee's ambivalence about New Womanhood frustrating. In response to Lee's longstanding neglect by literary historians, Zorn foregrounds Lee's engagement with "questions of genre and gender, textuality and sexuality," arguing that this prolific, multi-disciplinary writer importantly achieved a "new way of reading the past," one that recognized women's contributions to history and the value of a woman-centered historiography . Zorn's book reminds us once again that modernism did not arise, fully formed, at the head of the twentieth century but rather evolved out of a thick conglomeration of Victorian literary, cultural, and social movements —for example Decadence, Aestheticism, and New Womanhood. Modernist writers tended to represent their endeavour as a profound break from the silly, old-womanish ways of the nineteenth century; Virginia Woolf refers in passing to "Vernon Lee's books on aesthetics" in A Room of One's Own, to be sure, but even her effort to rediscover women's literary heritage assumes that little of real importance occurred after George Eliot. Moreover, these attitudes survived late into the twentieth century; as Talia Schaffer and Kathy Alexis Psomiades have pointed out, Elaine Showalter's now-famous conceptions of the "feminine" and the "feminist" movements in nineteenth-century women's literature constitute essentially the same idea, positing the century's end as an era of passionate political engagement but not much else. Zorn's book follows in the footsteps of those critics—notably, indeed, Schaffer and Psomiades—who have challenged such readings, working to configure new standards forjudging the rich stratum of women writers who contributed to the full range of disciplines at the turn...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 75-79
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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