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BOOK REVIEWS What Isabel ultimately rejects is a world of excess and violence, a world of "deadly lethargy and stagnation," a world of selfish reality and impotent idealism. Though A Girl Among the Anarchists clearly is adolescent escapist fiction in plot, and sometimes naive and idealistic in its political themes, it seems a precursor to Virginia Woolf s Three Guineas. The Rossettis have created a fictional narrative to explore a young woman's political appraisal of the world of men, and to posit the importance of woman's independence on both personal and cultural change. Even if the Rossettis ' novel and Isabel's narrative in particular ends with the rather bleak appraisal of the political world and the masculine gender, Isabel does not return to the security of Fitzroy Square, but goes "forth into the London street a sadder if a wiser woman." This novel is worth a read, for the pleasures of escapist fiction, for its thoughtful though youthful appraisals of politics, for its possible— perhaps potential—feminist awakenings. Deborah Martinson Occidental College Auden's Poetry Anthony Hecht. The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. xi + 484 pp. $35.00 SO THERE STOOD ANTHONY HECHT and this reviewer with a big new book on the poetry of W. H. Auden looming behind them. And Anthony Hecht said that he had been reading Auden's poetry for over fifty years and had decided, now that he was almost seventy, to write a book about it. Hecht is a poet himself and known to the reviewer as the author of The Dover Bitch." Hecht has chosen those poems that he especially liked or that he thought required explanation. As it turns out, there are a lot of these and the book is a big one. He has deliberately avoided developing a thesis in discussing these poems because he has read too many critical works that distort their primary material by imposing on it a thesis to which everything must conform. Things are bad all over the academic world, and so to be true to his subject, he has not forced the poems to lie on the Procrustean bed of a rigidly applied thesis. What he has done instead is to discuss selected poems in chronological order and to divide the book by chapters dedicated to published collections of Auden's poetry: Collected Shorter Poems, 1927-1957; On This Island; Another Time; Letter to Lord Byron; 231 ELT 37:2 1994 New Year Letter, For the Time Being; Nones; and The Shield of Achilles. As he interprets the poems he occasionally relates them to each other and comments on Auden's development as a poet, but for the most part his focus is on the individual poem. Because of this approach, the book lends itself better to use as a reference work for those who seek explications of certain poems than it does to providing a comprehensive and systematic view of Auden's work taken as a whole. The book is different, then, from the conventional critical work in that it doesn't pound a thesis, indeed, flouts convention by purposely avoiding one. Only at the end of the book, in the last chapter, does the author suggest some common themes and characteristics of the poems. One such characteristic is Auden's experimentation with language, his use of words in new and different ways. For Auden poetry was a linguistic game whose goal was to exalt the art of language. Related to this is Auden's belief that poetry, as well as all art, is essentially frivolous, tipping the Horatian maxim in favor of pleasure over instruction. Auden found support for this idea in Kierkegaard's ranking of aesthetics, ethics, and religion. A third common element in the poetry is Auden's adulation of heroes, who are of different types. Some are solitary explorers, some psychic healers, some political revolutionaries. Among them are Freud, Lenin, T. E. and D. H. Lawrence, and Blake. Some are heroes of medieval romance and Wagnerian opera, such as Siegfried. And later in his life, Auden's heroes became Christian saints. More important than these three are two themes discussed...


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pp. 231-234
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