Now I am going to look at the highlights of the Winter 2015 issue of The Hudson Review, my favorite literary journal.
For a long time, The Hudson Review had nothing online, and then a few things, and now quite a bit. But not everything, so I can only insist that poet David Slavitt’s peculiar idea to write fake choruses to lost Sophocles plays, based only on the titles of the plays, is promising; or that classics professor Bruce Heiden’s translation of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Chats” is perfect. I can give a hint of the latter, I guess:
Their haunches emanate unnatural fires;
And golden speckles, fine as desert sand,
Constellate the marble of their eyes.
And I bought the Slavitt book, so more of that later. The poetry in this magazine is usually strong.
Even with more articles given away online, I never see anyone promote it. The piece that should be circulating widely is Bruce Bawer’s review of the Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle novels, the best thing I have read on them. Bawer has the advantage that he has 1) read all six books, 2) read them in Norwegian, and 3) read them in Norway. The latter point especially:
Sometimes it can seem as if every second or third novel you pick up in an Oslo bookstore is about a man (a literary type, naturally) in late middle age who’s lived alone in some remote place since his divorce and who, one day in dark midwinter, is given a grim diagnosis by his doctor, after which he goes home to reflect on his life – his failed marriage, disappointing career, estranged children – and to contemplate stoically his impending death. (588)
While jolly Knausgaard is seen by Norwegian readers to offer “a naïve, credulous, American-style enthusiasm about life.” How can an American reader know that Knausgaard was writing a complex parody? By the way, anyone who has commented on the oddity of the English translation – Bawer says you are right: “innumerable errors that are minor but whose cumulative effect is distracting” (594).
I have not read Knausgaard, so I only care because the review is so good. Of more direct interest was a long piece on “Mind and Mindlessness in Jane Austen” by Wellesley English professor Timothy Peltason, a careful ethical argument that pushes well past Austen’s romantic plots towards the inner lives of her characters, including those with no inner lives, or “inner lives that are astonishingly unvaried and unimaginative, so much so that the narrator pauses frequently to wonder, and obliges us to wonder with her, what it can possibly be like to inhabit such a consciousness, or such a lack of consciousness” (611). Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park or the awful Elliots from Persuasion are examples. “[T]he comic horrors of inward vacancy,” Peltason calls the theme.
The larger point is to contrast the mindless characters with the mindful, the heroines and their successful suitors. The marriage plot is not just about the search for love, but the search for morally intelligent life in the universe. Austen fans should seek out the magazine for this one.
Alexandra Mullen’s review of the latest Library of America collection of Louisa May Alcott novels is also excellent, and luckily it is online. If Work or Rose in Bloom are not first-rate works of art, they are still of high interest, moralistic, improving fiction with artistic ambition and real humor.
One of her sons makes the argument [for Horatio Alger novels!] from verisimilitude: “A bootblack mustn’t use good grammar, and a newsboy must swear a little, or he wouldn’t be natural.” His mother replies: “But my sons are neither bootblacks nor newsboys, and I object to heating them use such words as ‘screamer,’ ‘bully,’ and ‘buster.’” Genteel fictions meet with her disapproval when both the virtue and rewards lack verisimilitude – when boys run away to sea and behave so nobly that Admiral Farragut invites them to dinner. What’s needed, it seems, is the right verisimilitude… (680)
And even I agree with the aunt on that. Mullen’s and Peltason’s essays are model for something I never do but maybe should, working through the ethical argument in good fiction with clarity and force.
For The Hudson Review, routine stuff.