A nimbly written, satisfyingly detailed survey, suggesting new directions in considering the Victorian era.




A lively examination of the influence of foreign intellectuals in Victorian England—seen here as both more cosmopolitan and less strait-laced than our popular conceptions generally allow.

Christiansen (Paris Babylon, 1995) notes 19th-century English society was receptive to a very wide variety of cultural influences, whose impact he examines in six long essays. In one, he depicts the painter Théodore Géricault as a fragile youth tormented by dreams of artistic fame and driven to find an audience in London—which, to a large degree, he did (his famous Raft of the “Medusa” caused a sensation when it was exhibited in Piccadilly in 1820). The composer Richard Wagner, also motivated by his stalled career, was less enthralled by repeated visits to the British capital, wondering aloud whether “anything [is] more repugnant than the real genuine Englishman.” Although Christiansen suggests the London music establishment found Wagner “exasperating” (or worse) in return, he notes that “In 1855 Wagner’s music had been freakish, marginal; by 1877 it assumed a central position in . . . Victorian culture.” By contrast, the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1847 voyage from America is portrayed as a personal journey meant to assuage his own deep spiritual melancholy. Emerson lectured frequently, however, and he was sufficiently well-received that his journal (English Traits) became a bestseller and his transcendentalist philosophy soon took root in Victorian thought. Later chapters explore how seemingly frivolous trends instigated by particular foreigners—American “spirit rappers” (mediums), Australian cricketers, and Italian purveyors of “exotic dancing” (essentially ballet)—took on a popular resonance that outlasted the Victorian era and entered the mainstream of British cultural life.

A nimbly written, satisfyingly detailed survey, suggesting new directions in considering the Victorian era.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87113-790-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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