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BOOK REVIEWS The essays, arranged chronologically, begin with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian attitudes 999/1000 AD, move into the 1890s and then the 1990s, and end with interdisciplinary approaches in the 1990s/2000. An appropriate introduction justifies "the Old and the New in a widening gyre of the new millennium—frequently hovering between apocalyptic gloom and Utopian leanings." Among the best essays are "Salome and the fin du globe: Oscar Wilde's Decadent Tragedy" and "Feminist Aesthetics at the Threshold of the New Millennium." AU the essays, if not consistently provocative, are basically informative and lucidly written. Regrettably, the volume has neither a selected bibliography nor an index . G. A. Cevasco ______________ St. John's University Aristocracy of Fiction Len Piatt. Aristocracies of Fiction: The Idea of Aristocracy in LateNineteenth -Century and Early-Twentieth Century Literary Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. xix + 161 pp. $61.00 DO A HEAD COUNT, and you'll find more aristocrats in lateVictorian and early-modernist fiction than you might have supposed. They are certainly numerous enough to warrant more sustained attention than they have so far received from literary scholars. In this brief book, Len Piatt offers a largely thematic study of aristocratic figures in British fiction in a period stretching roughly from 1880 to 1930. Asking "what is signified by the idea of aristocracy in literature" during this time, Piatt finds that it "somehow provided a central point around which literary cultures rallied." Broadly stated, his central claim is that the "traditional nobility" disappeared from the social landscape at precisely this moment in history, allowing it to reappear in fiction as the "vanishing orientation point" around which writers constructed their visions of a modernity "in terminal decline." Because there were no, or few, actual aristocrats around, they came to stand for other things that no longer seemed to be around: in Piatt's words, "order, tradition, authority, and beauty." It is a broad thesis, capacious enough to accommodate discussions of a range of literary works that in other contexts might seem dauntingly disparate. Summary chapters are devoted to popular fiction writers, "Edwardian realists/Early Modernists," and "avant-garde" modernists, while separate chapters give more extended attention to Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf as potential "limit cases" to the overall argument. 87 ELT 46 : 1 2003 Platt is alive to the vast differences—in intended audience, in generic protocols, in literary quality—that separate, say, Stanley Weyman from Henry James, or Baroness Orczy from Virginia Woolf, but he also wants to insist on important continuities that stretch across these divides. In the case of popular fiction, that means adopting more nuanced views of works such as Weyman's Chippinge or Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernell, seeing them not simply as escapist fantasies of aristocratic glamour— silver fork novels for the modern age—but as implicit critiques of the banality and standardization of bourgeois society. In the case of "high" art writers such as James and Woolf, it means being more attuned to the note of lamentation for old ways that often reverberate within even their most uncompromisingly modernist works. Committed to demonstrating that "aristocracy functioned as a common currency of virtually all literary constituencies at this time," Piatt has a tendency to lump things together, even when separating them out would be the more useful approach. This is most apparent in the chapter on "Edwardian realists/Early Modernists," which struggles to make James, Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster speak the same language of muted alarm over the condition of modernity . Piatt contends that the seemingly sharp political and aesthetic differences among these writers "is circumscribed to some degree by a wider cultural and historical imagination that operated at more fundamental levels and could be understood in terms of common historiographical positions." Maybe, though one still wants somehow to acknowledge that Tono-Bungay and The Spoils ofPoynton do different things, even with respect to questions of "aristocracy," and that those differences matter. Even within individual oeuvres there are developments to be accounted for as well as similarities to be noted. The James of The Portrait of a Lady (here discussed under the heading of Edwardian fiction...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 87-89
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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