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444 LETTERS IN CANADA 1979 Duane J. MacMillan, editor. The Stoic Strain in American Literature: Essays in Honour of Marston LaFrance University of Toronto Press. xiii, 224. $17.50 A festschrift is almost necessarily like a smorgasbord prepared by various chefs. Despite its thematic title this collection of essays for the late Marston LaFrance proves no exception. The 'strain' of the title is in evidence not only as a thematic skein in a number of American writers or a tension within their work but as a stretching on the part of some contributors to keep in touch with the announced subject of the volume. Like any other philosophical position, stoicism is easily diluted, turning into a mere calcification of the upper lip or, in LaFrance's own term, a plain 'cussedness.' Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and others are often called into play in these essays, but they are just as frequently ignored. Individual papers are not necessarily the worse for this neglect. Perhaps the most impressive Single essay here is Roger B. Salomon's on William Carlos Williams, which makes no reference to the classic writers but in a complex and illuminating argument locates Williams's 'stoicism' in the interplay between the quixotic creation of the heroic-romantic and the mocking of it, the knowledge of its necessary failure in a modem context. (Salomon also incidentally extends Peter Buitenhuis's introductory overview by adding not only Williams but also Wallace Stevens to the more obvious twentieth-century novelists Buitenhuis names as evincing the stoical temper.) At the other end of the spectrum Gay Wilson Allen firmly establishes Walt Whitman's first-hand knowledge of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius as well as the contemporary popularized version found in Frances Wright. The paralleling of stoic and Whitmanic texts to show both the poet's debt and his independence is a piece of responsible scholarship, but seems more a footnote to Allen's other work on Whitman than a new departure. Most of the other essays fall well within this range, at least paying lip service to the volume's theme, sometimes exploiting it to advantage. Lewis A. Lawson, for instance, traces the effects of stoicism (typically mingled with Christian moralism) on Southern culture from colonial times into the twentieth century and examines the ramifications of this tradition as transmitted by William Alexander Percy in his nephew's The Moviegoer. Lawson's essay is modest in its claims and bears a heavy load of historical baggage for the literary return, but it perhaps provides the basis for a fuller examination of Walker Percy's work in a cultural context. On the other hand, Milton R. Stem's lengthy discussion of Melville's 'Bartleby' baSically finesses the matter of stoicism in its intelligent and often amusing review of the criticism of that tale. Stem's paper is a sometimes laboured but finally useful attempt to get beyond the frequently facile labelling that has been applied to the central lawyer- nUMANlTJJ:;~ 445 scrivener relationship of the story. Returning to the American writer most often called 'stoical,' Melvin Backman comes to Hemingway armed with biographical data and psychoanalytic theory, which he deploys with some success. Daniel Fuchs gracefully brings together Bellow and Dostoevsky in an essay that enlarges our understanding of Bellow's allegiances both to his predecessor and to other, more contemporary thinkers. Munro Beattie examines stoicism in James, and Richard Allan Davidson and Duane J. MacMillan contribute readings of Norris's The Pit and Faulkner's A Fable respectively. Appropriately, all of these academic offerings are bracketed by George johnston's poetic tribute to Marston LaFrance and Torn Middlebro's reminiscence and bibliography of the late scholar of Carleton University. The illustrations are by Patrick Hayman. A smorgasbord indeed, then, with even the common seasoning sprinkled in varying doses and sometimes from different containers. Some dishes are inevitably more appetizing than others, but then at such spreads one may pick and choose. (FREDERICK ASALS) Jacqueline Tavemier-Courbin. Ernest Hemittg1Oay: l'education europeenne de Nick Adams Etudes Anglaises 72. Paris: Didier 1978. 182 At a time when the biographical approach to literary studies, especially for Francophones, has become decidedly unfashionable, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin's book on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 444-445
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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