In another of his able (if not overly inspired) surveys, Bradbury (The Modern American Novel, 1983, etc.) traces the...


DANGEROUS PILGRIMAGES: TransAtlantic Mythologies and the Novel

In another of his able (if not overly inspired) surveys, Bradbury (The Modern American Novel, 1983, etc.) traces the ""flourishing traffic in fancy, fiction, dream, and myth"" between the old world and the new. Ranging from Washington Irving and Charles Dickens to Evelyn Waugh and Martin Amis, Bradbury attempts to reveal, as reflected in European (primarily British) and American fiction, ""the barter of myths and illusions,"" the ways in which writers on opposite sides of the Atlantic have imagined (and influenced) each other's societies. He points out that the fantasies that each have nursed of the other have often had a profound impact and have sometimes led to disillusion. The protagonist of Herman Melville's novel Redburn goes to England and discovers that the idyllic travel guides he's read have little to do with reality. Such works, Melville writes, ""are the least reliable books in all literature; and nearly all literature, in one sense, is made up of guide-books."" Bradbury considers Chateaubriand's Indian romance Atala, Washington Irving's History of New York and Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, and the works of Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain, among others, as he plots the ways in which ideas of American ""innocence"" and European ""civilization"" have clashed, flourished, and intermingled. Toward the end he flags a bit, giving perfunctory summaries of the Lost Generation and Modernism, but the narrative revives in his discussion of the the perennially new America imagined by the French critics Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard. Bradbury suspects that, despite the emergence of a new ""Euro-identity,"" and despite America's growing interest in the Pacific Rim, the great fictions that Europe and America share, and which are ""part of our essential record of human understanding,"" will retain their power. Bradbury necessarily skimps here and there, but he digests, summarizes, and critiques enough to make this into a readable, useful, original guide.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996


Page Count: 528

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996