Henry James set “Washington Square” in mid-19th-century New York City, when the growing population of Manhattan was pushing northward and filling theHenry James set “Washington Square” in mid-19th-century New York City, when the growing population of Manhattan was pushing northward and filling the slender island. At the book's heart is the relationship of a widower, Dr. Austin Sloper, and his daughter Catherine. The novel is beautifully written, keenly observed, and likely to provoke feelings of melancholy.
Dr. Sloper is accomplished, a good doctor, “not uncomfortably theoretic.” He loved his wife, who is described as “a very charming girl … who in addition to her charms, had brought him a solid dowry. [She] was amiable, graceful, accomplished, elegant …” But Dr. Sloper’s respect for women seems to have ended with his wife’s passing; as the book progresses, there is a growing taint of misogyny in him. Nowhere is this more evident than in his disappointment in his daughter, whom he feels is neither as clever or as beautiful as his wife was. His displeasure in Catherine only become more evident to her as he fails to give direct voice to his feelings.
For Catherine, “her deepest desire was to please him, and her conception of happiness was to know that she had succeeded in pleasing him. She had never succeeded beyond a certain point.” And her loyalty to her father faces a great test when she attracts the attentions of Morris Townsend, a suitor of uncertain character whom her father finds unacceptable. Ending this relationship becomes her father’s white whale—an objective that he pursues with strange intensity.
The beauty of the book is in James’s portrait of Catherine’s inner life. Ultimately, she decides to defy her own father’s wishes for the sake of her own attempts at happiness. She feels something resembling liberation when she's able to admit that her father does not like her:
"He is not very fond of me!” … “He can’t help it; we can’t govern our affections. Do I govern mine? mightn’t he say that to me? It’s because he is so fond of my mother, whom we lost so long ago. She was beautiful, and very, very brilliant; he is always thinking of her. I am not at all like her; Aunt Penniman has told me that. Of course it isn’t my fault; but neither is it his fault.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Sloper’s conception of Morris Townsend’s character was not entirely misguided—and Catherine’s willingness to make herself vulnerable to him is met with heartbreak. Catherine does her best to salvage what choices remain to her at a time when women’s roles were tightly circumscribed. I felt hollowed out after reading this but admired the depth and nuance with which James drew Catherine's character....more
"Writers must therefore constantly ask: What am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don't know. Then they must look at what they have written and"Writers must therefore constantly ask: What am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don't know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: Have I said it? It is clear to someone encountering the subject for the first time? If it's not, some fuzz has worked its way into the machinery. The clear writer is someone clearheaded enough to see this stuff for what it is: fuzz." (p. 9)
This is a delightful children's book, gracefully written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and imaginatively illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. In clear, iThis is a delightful children's book, gracefully written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and imaginatively illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. In clear, inclusive language, Martin traces the life of Mr. Allen. Raised by parents who were involved in sharecropping, he fought most of his early life to escape farming. He pursued a career in professional basketball but found a passion later in life for agriculture. He bought the last remaining land zoned for agricultural use in the city of Milwaukee, and he started an urban farm and community food center there that brings fresh, nutritious vegetables and fish to inner-city neighborhoods that lack healthy options.
Martin and Larkin's book makes Mr. Allen's story accessible for a young audience. Both the author and the illustrator capture the spirit of inclusiveness that is the hallmark of Mr. Allen's work: black, white, Asian, young and old, are all shown working together, led by Mr. Allen's vision of a better food system. The book ends with a call for action among its young readers, along with a beautiful illustration by Mr. Larkin of a New York of the future, with gardens and trees on every rooftop. Ms. Martin writes: "Will Allen can see what others can't see. When he sees kids, he sees farmers. Will you be on Will Allen's crew? Will you grow vegetables for your family, your neighbors, on your porch, or roof, or yard? How big will your table be?" The generous spirit behind this book will inspire many young people to embrace Mr. Allen's vision.
This was a remarkable and harrowing portrait of the Jim Crow South, of the brave work of Thurgood Marshall, and of the dark heart of a Florida sheriffThis was a remarkable and harrowing portrait of the Jim Crow South, of the brave work of Thurgood Marshall, and of the dark heart of a Florida sheriff. It deserved the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction that it won.
King's book tells the story of four young African-American men who are implicated in a manufactured crime—an alleged rape of a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1949. The fate of the four young men, known as "the Groveland boys," falls between the self-regarding local sheriff, Willie McCall, who wants them dead, and the pioneering civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, along with his team at the NAACP's legal defense fund.
The story also casts light on a peculiar pathology that W.J. Cash once described in The Mind of the South, when he wrote that "the actual danger of the Southern white woman's being violated by the Negro has always been comparatively small… much less, for instance, than the chance that she would be struck by lightning," but that it was "the most natural thing in the world for the South to see it as very great, to believe in it, fully and in all honesty, as a menace requiring the most desperate measures if it was to be held off." The reason, Cash expects, had nothing to do with sex but rather the fear of blacks elevating their social station, and that they may "one day advance the whole way and lay claim to complete equality; including, specifically the ever crucial right of marriage."
I left the book with a deep appreciation for Mr. Marshall, who argued this case—and other cases like it before white juries in the South—while under constant threat of his life. Marshall's closing statement on appeal before a jury of twelve white men is filled with decency, poise, and intelligence. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marshall always grounded his arguments in the U.S. constitution, and he committed his life to dismantling segregation and ensuring fairness to all citizens under the law. "There is very little truth to the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality," Marshall told a White House conference on civil rights in 1966. "Laws not only provide concrete benefits, they can even change the hearts of men—some men, anyhow—for good or evil."
The haunting aspect of Gilbert King's book is the vivid portrait of Sheriff McCall, who starts out as a sympathetic figure as he wards off a lynch mob—but whose subsequent treatment of the defendants, who are falsely accused, descends into unspeakable darkness. The preservation of his own good image appears to become more important to McCall than the survival of men who are falsely accused. The reader cannot help but feel as the book progresses that the "Devil in the Grove" is McCall himself.
Gilbert King's book is meticulously researched. It benefitted from resources not available to authors who have written this story before: notably, the FBI's case file, which included many details that never appeared in the trial, as well as the papers of the NAACP's legal defense fund, which revealed the strategy of Marshall and his team. I hope "Devil in the Grove" will continue to be widely read for years to come....more
This was an enlightening, well-researched, and gracefully written book.
It debunked several myths that I held about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I haThis was an enlightening, well-researched, and gracefully written book.
It debunked several myths that I held about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I had thought that Edward Everett's two-hour speech on the day of Gettysburg cemetery dedication was a long-winded failure—a stark contrast to the brevity and eloquence of Lincoln's speech. Wills is careful to give Everett his due. He explains how Everett's speech was clearly intended as the primary speech of the day, and how Everett was working in a classical tradition. Wills includes Everett's entire speech in an appendix, and it's wonderfully done: it paints a portrait of the causes of the war, Gettysburg's place in it, and even highlights the role of women in the war, who "in the hospitals and the tents... have rendered services which millions could not buy."
Wills shows that what Lincoln did with his dedicatory remarks that day, though, was to create "a political prose for America, to rank with the vernacular excellence of Twain." He broke away from the classicism of Everett and created something new, an "idealizing art" that suppressed particulars. The "Civil War is, to most Americans, what Lincoln wanted it to mean," Wills writes. "Words had to complete the work of guns." Lincoln elevated Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" from simply a single proposition to make it "our supreme commitment."
Wills also does a terrific job of tracing Lincoln's influences in the speech—all the way from Thucydides to a contemporary anti-nationalist named Theodore Parker. He reveals Lincoln to be a great student of grammar, and how his precision with words came gradually in his career. "Lincoln, like most writers of great prose, began by writing bad poetry," Wills writes.
For a short book, the scope of "Lincoln at Gettysburg" is wide; I felt at times it could be better organized, but I wouldn't know how to do better. Besides its value as history, the book is also a good resource for anybody who tries to write clearly. Wills quotes one expert in rhetoric who influenced Lincoln: "The first rule which I shall give for promoting the strength of a sentence is to prune it of all redundant words.... Embarrassed, obscure and feeble sentences are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure and feeble thought."