An eminent scholar's exploration of a crucial theme in Western literature and culture: forbidden knowledge. Shattuck (Literature/Boston Univ.) has published many books, including a well-known study of modernism (The Banquet Years, 1968) and a biography (Marcel Proust, 1982) that earned its author the National Book Award. His new book embodies his vision of what literary criticism ought to be (as opposed to current academic trends in literary studies). First, its theme is one of importance to people other than professional literary critics. Second, its language is urbane and engaging. Third, Shattuck writes with originality and imagination yet remains loyal to scholarly standards of evidence and argument. The book traces the problem of forbidden knowledge from its origins in myth and folklore (Prometheus, Pandora, Eve, and Faustus) up through the more modern attempt to deal with its meaning for our moral well-being. He has especially strong chapters on Milton's Paradise Lost, which he sees as a turning point in our understanding of the theme, and Melville's Billy Budd, which he praises by damning comparison with Camus's The Stranger. He also writes about Frankenstein, Emily Dickinson, Mme. de Lafayette. The latter two share the theme of renunciation, the obverse side of the forbidden knowledge topos. The second half of Shattuck's book attempts to negotiate the treacherous pass from literature to real life: Forbidden knowledge as literary theme is supposed to shed light on the moral dilemmas of scientists who worked on the atomic bomb and those who remain at work on the Human Genome Project. Here he is less persuasive. But as a consolation prize we get a wonderfully impassioned chapter against the Marquis de Sade who, according to Shattuck, does not deserve the serious attention that scholars have showered on him. A fine, challenging, and timely work of scholarship and criticism. (First serial to the New York Times Book Review; Book- of-the-Month/History Book Club alternate selections)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14602-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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