THE POLISHED SURFACE by Louis Kronenberger


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There is always the danger in writing ""essays in the literature of worldliness"" that one will cut a somewhat less than dashing figure when set beside one's glittering subject. Take Louis Kronenberger. When he says that ""all too often La Rochefoucauld's red-heeled slipper or Chesterfield's dancing pump fits us quite as snugly as any twentieth-century shoe,"" he obviously wishes the reader to admire his epigrammatic prowess rather than the banal comment about the modernity of La Rochefoucauld and Chesterfield which occasioned it. No doubt, as one of Lord Chesterfield's brighter maxims puts it, ""manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world,"" and, to be sure, Louis Kronenberger's manners are as civilized and unfailingly glossy as the best of literary courtiers. Unfortunately, he has about his person a touch of that scalawag servant of Captain Absolute in The Rivals: he who ""wears his master's wit, as he does his lace, at second hand."" The masters here are an impressive lot: Saint-Simon, Congreve, Sheridan, Voltaire, Byron, Pushkin, Thackeray, Stendhal, Austen, James, Wharton. Kronenberger is particularly rich when discussing the letters of Horace Walpole and Henry Adams; perhaps the epistolary form suits his leisurely and decorous talents, or perhaps these sections are interesting simply because in them he quotes a great deal. One hesitates to ascribe to this volume any pressing theme, though a muted glow and tinkle everywhere abound.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1969
Publisher: Knopf