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132 Shorter Book Reviews too sketchy, but his sound scholarship leads clearly to the realization that "Whitman fills more of a middle ground than the extreme images he crafted of himself suggest" (149). Douglas Babington Department of English Queen's University Timothy Dow Adams. Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. xi + 205 pp. Adams's study is grounded in his firm belief in the metaphorical as well as personal or psychological truth behind literary autobiographers' frequent and usually intentional disregard for veracity. To document the seemingly paradoxical transformation of "deliberate lying" (ix) into veiled truth becomes Adams's central purpose in investigating the notoriously oblique personal narratives of Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Richard Wright, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, with a separate, well-researched chapter for each writer. Adams succeeds admirably because of his lucid, jargon-free and pragmatic deliberations on an amorphous genre which has triggered some of the most deconstructive maneuvers in literary criticism over the past thirty years. The introductory chapter should be of particular interest to the reader-critic of autobiography in general. Here, as in his individual case studies, Adams translates his thorough knowledge of the history and, above all, theory of autobiography into convincing conclusions about the puzzling connections among design, truth and lies. His initial emphasis on lies rather than truth gives Adams the necessary lever with which to coordinate a variety of interpretive concerns, such as literary fraud, irony, authorial strategies and reader expectations. For Adams, as for most readers today, the value of autobiography ultimately rests in "its revelations--to the writer as much as to the reader--of self" (170). The implicit understanding of autobiography as creative therapy indicates the book's likely appeal to readers interested in both the humanities and the health sciences. The concept of self, however, despite its relatively well-defined meanings in philosophy and psychology, can become an all-purpose device to transmute all lies into personal truths. This suggests a certain softness in Adams's comprehensive approach: how to Shorter Book Reviews 133 evaluate those inner visions which can be custom-made all too easily? Moreover, self-invention, self-deception and self-analysis, though not strictly interchangeable, are too closely connected in literary autobiography not to generate uncomfortable degrees of relativity and ambiguity. Yet, being a circumspect investigator of the paradoxes of autobiography, Adams is himself fully aware of such reservations about his playing with writers who prefer not to tell the truth without significant lies. Unlike a Thoreau, who extravagantly hoed, weeded and simplified his life in the woods in order to ascertain its grand transcendental design, the twentieth-century autobiographers examined here seem to cultivate the weeds of personal deceit as if to protect themselves from the demands of both idealism and literalism. Adams approaches his selected writers with a sure eye for the forms and effects of their varying defensive strategies of lyingand with astute asides on their place in American literary tradition. In this regard, Adams' book itself complements Thomas Cooley's Educated Lives: The Rise of Modem Autobiography in America (Columbus, 1976),particularly so concerning the theory and the self-portraits of Stein and Anderson. All in all, reading Adams on lies should help one discern the truth-value of literary quests for self, both on their own and as part of an ongoing regeneration of the truthful fiction of America. Klaus P. Stich Department of English University of Ottawa George Catkin. William James: Public Philosopher. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. xii + 218pp. The life and work of William James, like those of many philosophers, have too often been wrenched from their historical context. George Cotlcinseeks to rectify this tendency in a study that "examine[s] the cultural, social, and political realities that surrounded James" (4). Such an approach need not be narrow or antiquarian, since James can still speak to our own age when understood within his particular milieu. Catkin characterizes his approach here as 11 avowedly contextualist," with nods to other practitioners such as Quentin Skinner and John Dunn (2-3). While admitting the limits of this method, Cotkin challenges his readers to apply one of James's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 132-133
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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