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108 Western American Literature the important members of her family are dead does she resign herself to staying in Iowa, now (1870) a relatively civilized place. The author’s use of actual people and incidents in her novel only illustrates the truism that fact is not only stranger than fiction but often quite unsuitable as the substance of fiction. Castle’s prototype may have been unable to read or write, but such an astonishing omission in the heroine’s upbringing strains the reader’s credulity in the novel. Likewise, Jonathan’s infallible practical wisdom, however it may square with the facts, seems unconvincing in the book. This failure to create believable characters weakens a novel not without its merits. As a factual account of pioneering it is superior to such predeces­ sors as the works of Bess Streeter Aldrich and Rose Wilder Lane, and it avoids the sentimentality that marks those novels. In such surface matters as the speech, dress, manners, amusements, and values of pioneer people, the book gives an impression of studied accuracy. But these evidences of careful research and imaginative recreation of the past do not compensate for inadequate characterization. By the fictional standards of forty or fifty years ago, Crinoline to Calico would rank as a successful, if not outstanding, novel of farm life. By today’s more rigorous standards it can satisfy only rather unsophisticated tastes. Readers whose willing suspension of disbelief allows them to overlook its implausibilities will enjoy the book. Its technical finish makes it readable, and its authentic depiction of certain aspects of pioneering may bring that era to life for some who are indifferent to straight history. But as fiction it qualifies only as competently done light reading. ROY W. MEYER, Mankato State University A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction. By H. Daniel Peck. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. 213 pages, $12.50.) H. Daniel Peck believes that because critics have been unable to explain the compelling effect of Cooper’s novels on many readers, they have gener­ ally resigned themselves to emphasizing the writer’s historical over his literary significance. In A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction, Peck attempts to “address the artist” and locate that mysterious source of power. Peck is guided in part by myth criticism and non-literary psychological studies as he develops new readings of Cooper, but his primary tool is a method derived from the literary theories of Gaston Bachelard which he uses to detail “the poetics of space” in the writer’s works. Peck argues that Cooper’s “talents and intentions were descriptive and pictorial,” and that the novelist was most successful when the pictorial Reviews 109 aspects of his art dominated his vision. Consequently Peck seeks out and analyzes the “preferred images” of Cooper’s fiction; he identifies those images which recur throughout the works and which give unity and meaning to the writer’s world. Peck has discovered a tendency in Cooper “to gravi­ tate imaginatively toward a valued center-point bounded by a series of concentric circles.” Whether a lake surrounded by mountains and forest or a clearing encircled by woods, this inside-outside figure dominates the fiction as action moves back and forth between the two parts or revolves around the taking or holding of the “treasured center.” According to Peck the basic issue of all Cooper’s novels is possession; the pastoral moment referred to in his title occurs when “the eye takes possession of its rightful holdings.” Peck also argues that Cooper’s treatment of nature was more “synecdochical than symbolic.” The relation between image and meaning tends more toward equivalence than correspondence. Instead of standing for meta­ physical truth lying behind the physical world, Cooper’s natural scenery condenses or epitomizes the immediately recognizable beauties or values of that world. Cooper’s response to nature was, according to Peck, essentially uncomplicated and childlike. That in part accounts for his effect upon readers. Bachelard states that great writers “transmit their reveries to us, confirm us in our reveries and thus permit us to live in our reimagined past.” Cooper’s best work does that — and more. According...


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pp. 108-109
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