REVIEWS: Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
1999 Volume 9 Issue 1; March.
Bi-annual LIBRE9N1 REVIEWS


REVIEWS


Reviews in this issue:

_Dom Casmurro: A Novel_ by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson.
Reviewed by Hsaio-Hung Lee

Sellars, Jane. _Charlotte Bronte_.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Malia

Heller, Jules, and Nancy G. Heller. _North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century.
Reviewed by Tony Skeats

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_Dom Casmurro: A Novel_ by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 258 p. ISBN: 0195193984

"Narrative Insecurity in Fictional Autobiography: Dom_Casmurro"

The novel,_Dom_Casmurro_, fits well into the genre of fictional autobiography prevalent especially in Victorian literature, and exemplified by such masterpieces as _Jane_Eyre_, _Villette_, and _David_Copperfield_. The mimetic nature of fictional autobiographies, which describe and explain the world through the authors' own experiences, are precursors to novels of realism. Therefore, fictional  autobiographies seem to deliver to the reader the narrator's personal history,  as Charles Dickens' _David_Copperfield_ whose subtitle reads _the Personal History of David Copperfield_implies.

Narratively speaking, a typical narrative of fictional autobiography  follows a traditional pattern of chronology that has a beginning, a middle,  and an end. Fictional autobiographical text is unified by the voice of "I". In other words, the use of "I" creates textual continuity, provides an authentic interpretation of the meaning of the narrative history, and most importantly,  reinforces the narrator's self identity.

When David Copperfield starts the narrative of his personal life,  the uncertainty to hold onto the central position is obvious: "Whether  I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station  will be held by anybody else, these pages must show" (Dickens,  1950, p. 1). Like Dickens' problematic "I" as the source of struggle,  Bento Santiago (Bentinho), the narrator, is not exactly sure what will be the title  for his book: "Still, I couldn't find a better title for my narrative: if I  can't find another before I finish the book, I'll keep this one"  (Machado de Assis, 1997, p. 5). The author is obviously not   comfortable with his chosen title, _Dom_Casmurro_ for the implication  that it carries. However, behind the camouflage of the title and the  pompous image of aristocracy, the story of Bentinho, represents a text of  narrative insecurity.

Stated clearly in Chapter II, the book is "to tie the two ends of  life together, and bring back youth in old age" (Machado de Assis,  1997, p. 5). "The same contrast between life inside the house,  which is placid, and the noisy world outside" (Machado de Assis,  1997, p. 5) is the exact reverse of his writing that records the  overflow of emotion, turmoil of jealousy inside the house and  monotonous life outside. To Bentinho, life is like acting on the stage.   The narrator has first brought this Renaissance metaphor to the attention  of the reader in Chapter VIII and IX. The famous quotation  "Life is an opera" (Machado de Assis, 1997, p. 17) has caught the attention of literary criticism to label his narrative ambiguous  (Somerlate-Barbosa, 1992, p. 235). From the very beginning, the narrator's confession of his failure to reconstruct the events and his  own experiences point to the absence of the "I," which is the center of the   narration: "If it was only others that were missing, all well and  good: one gets over the loss of other people as best one can; but I  myself am missing, and that lacuna is all-important" (Machado de  Assis, 1997, p. 5). From time to time, Bentinho’s imaginary world (such as his conversation with the emperor to gain support against his mother’s  plan to make him a priest) overwhelms the world of reality, thus challenging the reader to re-read his narrative for truth and meaning.

Unlike Dora, whose role as a child wife has marked the growth of David Copperfield as a promising young man, Capitu's presence  as a lover and a wife further magnifies the narrator's insecurity in  his relationship with his mother, his wife, his son, and his best friend,  not to mention his dependent, Jose Diaz, a member of the household.   Capitu is his inspiration when he needs her "daring ideas" to defy his   mother's control of his career.

On the other hand, she easily falls prey to his suspicion of her having  committed adultery with Escobar after his establishment as a  lawyer. His relationship with Capitu demonstrates his attempt to maintain  total control of both her body and of her mind. The transition from the  narrative tone of excessive descriptions of Capitu's physical attractiveness to his detective-like observations of his wife is a   testimony to not only his insecure family life, but also to the insecurity  of the "I" as a narrator, who, instead of telling his story, is threatened  to be taken over by other narratives such as the potential stories of illicit affairs between Capitu and his best friend, Escobar. It is this fear of  replacement that has driven the narrator to stage the death scene of  Escobar; the exile of Capitu; and the untimely loss of his son, Ezekiel, to  typhoid-whose resemblance to Escobar led Bentiho to suspect Capitu  of having had an affair with Escobar.

Even at the end when the narrator tries to justify his jealousy, he has to concede to the dead and the absent others. Their story  of deception becomes the central theme. The dominant voice of "I"  is gradually fading and finally missing. The "all-important lacuna"  in his narrative is eventually filled by the subversive one of  somebody else' stories.

This book has my highest recommendation for any library, public or academic, and can be enjoyed by readers of different ages and backgrounds.

Hsaio-Hung Lee
Troy State University
Hhlee@trojan.troyst.edu


REFERENCES:

Dickens, Charles. _David Copperfield_. New York: The
Modern Library, 1950.

Lee, Hsiao-Hung.
_"Possibilities of Hidden Things": Narrative Transgression in
Victorian Fictional Autobiography._ New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1996.

Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria. _Dom Casmurro._ New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997.

Somerlate Barbosa, Maria Jose. _Life as an Opera:
Dom Casmurro and The_Floating_Opera in: Comparative Literature Studies._
29(3), 223-37. 1992.

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Sellars, Jane. _Charlotte Bronte_. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998. 128 p. ISBN: 0195214390

Modern literary criticism has long sought to eliminate the study of an author’s life from the study of their work. The public, however, clamors for this  information as a way to understand the work better. Charlotte Bronte, the  author of _Jane Eyre_, is one of the best examples of why it can be very important to have the background known for literary works. _Jane Eyre_ has never gone out of print, and the demand for biographies about Charlotte, and  indeed her entire family, has seldom waned. Jane Sellars has produced a  well-written, copiously illustrated life of this well-loved author as part of a  new series from the British Library entitled _Writers’ Lives._

Sellars’ credentials and access to materials uniquely qualify her to write this book. She served as director of the Bronte Parsonage Museum for seven years, and has contributed elsewhere to the study of the Bronte family and their amazing talents. In addition, the British Library also provided access to an outstanding collection of manuscripts, proofs, first editions, diaries, and letters. This book serves as a fine introduction to the world and times of  Charlotte Bronte. These resources give the reader solid insight to the author as a human being. Charlotte Bronte was a complex, talented person who experienced tragedy, ambition, despair, and accomplishment and conveyed  those experiences through her books to her readers. She was able to write a  very accessible novel in _Jane Eyre_ that looked at the human condition accurately, if romantically, and still ranks as one of the finest works of English literature.

While this is not a full literary biography, Sellars meets her goal of providing a detailed introduction to Charlotte Bronte very well. Her writing style is clear and unambiguous, and conveys an obvious affection for her subject that should communicate well to readers. The only complaint might be that the "Further Reading" should have been a more thorough and formal bibliography. This book belongs in high school and undergraduate libraries and should be exceptionally welcome in public libraries as a follow up to large generalized literary biographical sources.

Elizabeth Malia
Eastern Washington University
emalia@ewu.edu

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Heller, Jules, and Nancy G. Heller. _North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century._ New York: Garland Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-8153-2584-3 (pbk.), 0-8240-6049-0 (cloth). $29.95 (paper), $135.00 (cloth). Ill., index. xxii+612 pp. Published in hardcover 1995.

The continuing interest in women artists which has developed over the past few years has resulted in a re-assessment of their place, significance and influence in the history and evolution of art.

Together with this interest has come a need for research tools to support such scholarship; the work reviewed here is an example of the type of secondary materials which are being published in this field.

One might question the need for a volume whose scope is as specific as this; however, the advantage of such limiting of scope is that many less well-known artists can be included who might otherwise have been left out of works of a broader nature either geographically or chronologically.

Jules Heller is Professor Emeritus of Art at Arizona State University; Nancy Heller is Associate Professor of Humanities at the Univeristy of Arts in Philadelphia.

There are approximately 1500 biographical entries of varying length in this dictionary, which covers all art forms. The entries cover women artists who were born between circa 1840 (for example, Mary Cassatt is included) and 1960, the major portion of whose careers took place in North America (i.e., Canada, the United States and Mexico). The coverage includes Mexican and Inuit artists.

Each entry in the dictionary contains a short bibliography of as few as one reference and as many as ten to fifteen for further research. The biographies have been written by individuals working in the fine arts: academics, museum directors or curators, freelance writers, art historians and in some cases, graduate students. Unfortunately, this range of backgrounds results in some unevenness in the quality of the biographies; in general, however, the entries are of a fairly high standard.

In addition to the biographies, there are three groups of black and white illustrations, numbering about 100 in total, which provide visual examples of the work of some of the women referenced in the text.

In total, this is a worthy addition to most libraries with fine arts and/or women's studies collections; the fact that it is now available in a softcover edition at an unusually low price makes it that much more attractive to libraries which must allocate funds judiciously.

Terry Skeats
Bishop's University
tskeats@ubishops.ca

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_LIBRES: Library and Information Science
Electronic Journal_ (ISSN 1058-6768) March 31, 1999
Volume 9 Issue 1.
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