Review by Choice Review
Robert Detweiler probed the public aspects of religion and literature in Uncivil Rites (CH, Feb'97), and William Lynch tried long ago to examine the religious "dimensions" of the literary imagination (Christ and Apollo, 1960). But Kazin explores the private religious imaginations of writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner (Melville is a favorite): "I am interested not in the artist's professions of belief but in the imagination he brings to his tale of religion in human affairs." Readers should be grateful to Kazin for turning his own luminous imagination and erudition on this timely topic. In the tradition of Edmund Wilson and H.L. Mencken, Kazin eschews technical jargon in favor of a lucid account of, to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, America's "God-haunted" writers, whether the self be proclaimed as God (e.g., Whitman) or whether the writer claims no adherence to God (Faulkner). In an age in which "a politicized, intolerant, and paranoic religion, always crowing of its popularity, is too public and aims to coerce the rest of us," Kazin holds up for scrutiny the American writer, who shares "no common religious heritage at all" and who revels in his resistance to "the mob." Kazin's sane voice speaks lovingly in troubled times. All academic and public libraries should own this book. E. J. Dupuy St. Joseph Seminary College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Secular treatments of God can be the more interesting if only because of their heavy doses of doubt. Writing with the full force of his crisp and lucid style, Kazin (On Native Grounds) is chiefly concerned with demonstrating how each of the 12 major writers he covers traded heavily on their own doubts and discarded conventional Christian faith to invent a personal version of God. Such individualism marks Kazin's American style of dealing with the Almighty. Stretching often beyond the boundaries of its title, each chapter is a wondrous essay on American historyeven brief treatments of Twain and Lincoln seem monumental. Only a few of the pieces have been previously published. Kazin proves himself that rarest of modern creaturesa writer who can abide the artistry of another whose political views he considers repugnant. Faced with T.S. Eliot's legendary prejudices, Kazin was asked, "`How can you admire such an enemy of the Jews?' I replied that if I had to exclude anti-Semites, I would have little enough to read." The breadth of Kazin's humor and humanity makes this book a joy. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Writing with his usual stylistic verve and penetration, Kazin examines our great authors' uneasy but self-sufficient sense of God. In his fifth decade of producing criticism, Kazin masterfully continues the old-fashioned, demanding critical tradition of intimately reading the great works and grounding an analysis of them in a sense of history and biography. Like his survey of nature in American letters, A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature (1988), this new work is a focused retracing of manifestations of our country's brand of Protestantism, typically Calvinist, in the works of major writers, from Hawthorne's struggles with his Puritan inheritance to Faulkner's God-forsaken vision of the postCivil War South. Kazin is not out to reassess his familiar subjects-- Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, etc.--in any radical fashion, however passionately he writes about them. Nor, in his august manner, does he acknowledge much previous critical writing, even, most obviously, Van Wyck Brooks on Puritanism, Twain, or Emerson. Often, basic close readings are the chief matter, such as of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and Dickinson's poetry. When he finds a good anecdote or quote, he is apt to repeat it for its own sake, to say nothing of his dropping of eminent names. Deflating memories of the elderly Robert Frost in his egotistical, hoary-Yankee mode caustically pervade an examination of the poet's complex views of human existence and natural design. Conversely, Kazin musters a stirring, fervently moral tone to take on the religious watershed of abolitionism and the Civil War, encompassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (``New England's last holiness'') and Lincoln's remarkable Second Inaugural Address on divine providence. Often more ecstatic than analytic, still this is an intensely erudite rereading of American authors' varieties of religious experience.
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