THAT RED WHEELBARROW: Selected Literary Essays by Robert Coles

THAT RED WHEELBARROW: Selected Literary Essays

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In these essays collected mostly from The New Republic, The New Yorker, and other magazines, Pulitzer Prize-winner Coles (Children of Crisis) turns his attention to the works of such figures as Dickens, Hardy, and George Eliot, George Orwell, James Agee, and Flannery O'Connor. The result is a collection of more than 40 well-written pieces to which the author brings not only an impressive literary sensibility but also original psychological insights that expand appreciation of even the most well-known writers. One of the most interesting and--in light of his position as professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard--possibly unexpected aspects of Coles' essays is his frequent downplaying of psychological and psychiatric verities: "". . .these days psychiatrists have much too much to say in far too many matters."" When Coles does offer scientific interpretations, however, they are invariably thought-provoking and free of jargon. A particularly stimulating essay is the one from 1973 dealing with the position of J.D. Salinger in American letters. Here, Coles defines in writing of great evocativeness the impact of the reclusive author's Holden Caulfield on the civil-rights activists of the 1960's, from the initial disillusionment of older members of the movement with Caulfield's smart-aleck rejection of ""phonies"" through their subsequent return to an appreciation of Salinger's ""message."" Coles is equally effective in his more recent (1983) ""How Sane Was Pound?"" Discussing the controversial poet and promoter, the author detects a ""conspiracy"" of the psychiatrists assigned to Pound's case when he was arraigned on treason charges in 1945, and of certain members of the literary establishment. This is the position taken by Humphrey Carpenter in his recent Pound biography (p. 1441); Coles encapsulated the material half a decade before. Readers will find much to delight and provoke them in this collection, further evidence of Coles' perceptive, peripatetic intellect.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press