Close readers of Shakespeare will respect Scarry’s arduous homework but likely won’t be convinced by her conclusions.

Who was the “young man” William Shakespeare addressed in his sonnets?

That’s the never-ending mystery wide-ranging literary scholar Scarry (Aesthetics and General Theory of Value/Harvard Univ.; Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, 2014, etc.) sets out to resolve in her latest book. The list of contenders is already long, but Scarry comes up with a new one: Shakespeare’s contemporary Henry Constable. The author theorizes that the sonnets are, actually, only part of a conversation between the poets, who left cryptic mash notes to each other in their work. Her proof mostly amounts to highly imaginative, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, code-breaking—such as her discovery that lines of the sonnets have the letters of Constable’s name scattered within them (not sequentially, mind you, just there). Also, a nickname for Henry is Hal, and the sonnets use words like “shall” and “halt”—and sometimes “will” is close by. Also, there’s that last name, and Shakespeare often uses “constancy” or “constant.” Constable’s own poems likewise seem to Scarry to both directly answer his genius friend and leave behind similar anagrams. Beyond the textual argument, there’s the historical possibility that their paths crossed as Elizabethan England was undergoing endless religious conflict; maybe Shakespeare even provided cover to the Catholic Constable, who returned the favor by nursing his beloved through his final illness. As a novel, like Anthony Burgess’ Nothing Like the Sun, or a movie, like Shakespeare in Love, the story has possibilities; as speculative literary detective work, it feels forced. Almost from the beginning, Scarry seems less like the redoubtable polymath of legend—whose past subjects have ranged from torture to critical care to plane crashes—and more like a mad scholar whose delusional literary criticism takes on a life of its own.

Close readers of Shakespeare will respect Scarry’s arduous homework but likely won’t be convinced by her conclusions.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-27993-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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