Potpourri

Five brief book reviews

Male and Female, by Margaret Mead. Morrow, $5,00.

An admirable introduction to anthropology, and one that integrates it closely with psychoanalytic concepts. Miss Mead’s “study of the sexes in a changing world” is completely accessible to the layman, and, to the interested layman, completely fascinating. This is a big, crowded — perhaps overcrowded — book, which sets ouI to answer the question; “How are men and women to think about their maleness and femaleness in the twentieth century, in which so many of our old ideas must he made new ?” The first half analyzes the mores of seven primitive societies, the second analyzes the condition of the “two sexes in contemporary America.” They seem to be doing rather badly. We have a lot to learn from the Samoans.

Masterpieces of Sculpture in the National Gallery of Art, by Charles Seymour, Jr. CowardMcCann. $9.75.

This magnificent volume presents 284 photographic illustrations of sculpture in the National Gallery of Art, exemplifying “aspects of the western tradition" from the thirteenth century to Rodin. Among the artists represented are Ghiberti, Donatello, Desiderio Da Settignano, Mino Da Fiesole, Verrocchio, and Cellini. Mr. Seymour, Curator of Sculpture at the National Gallery, contributes an analysis of each work and a selective bibliography. The photography and printing are superlative.

Maupassant: A Lion in the Path, by Francis Steegmuller. Random House, $5.00.

Mr. Steegmuller’s critical biography seemed to me to have one weakness — a lack of stylistic distinction — and a great many important qualities. The author has both the tact and the candor required to deal effectively with his subject’s fascinating and scandalous career, with its sexual excesses and its terrible battle against syphilis. Moreover Mr. Steegmuller is both an illuminating student of character and a literary critic with a mind of his own and an acute one.

Two points deserve to be singled out. The underlying theme of Maupassant’s work — the humiliation of woman — is shown to reflect the shock caused by his mother’s enforced separation from her dissolute husband: a hurt which explains, and was voluminously avenged in. Maupassant’s almost invariable portrayal of husbands as brutes or fools and always as cuckolds. More importantly, perhaps, Mr. Steegmuller shows us the fallacy of the legend that Maupassant is a specialist of the “trick” ending.

The book contains four hitherto unpublished short stones by Maupassant, and exposes as fakes sixty-five stories published in American editions of Maupassant’s works.

The Islands of Unwisdom, by Robert Graves. Doubleday, $3.50.

The erudite and heterodox Mr. Graves has written another historical novel which, of course, is sui generis, though it contains the customary ingredients of the costume romance. As a matter of fact, the book shows that a poet and superior literary craftsman such as Graves can make the confectioners of synthetic historical fiction look like sissies when it comes to dishing out passion, high adventure, and deeds bloody and most foul.

The high adventure is that of a flotilla which set sail from Peru in 1595 in search of gold and conquest in the Solomons for Philip II of Spain. The passion’s storm center is the wife of the flotilla’s commander, Ysabel Barreto, a career girl who wound up as the only woman admiral in the Spanish Navy, thanks to her promotional talent in the then fiercely competitive murder business. Starvation, plague, and the ineffable savageries inflicted on the Pacific natives keep the atmosphere lurid enough to satisfy the most demanding armchair sadist. Graves documents his story from diaries and other records never translated into English; and, as usual, he contributes some fascinating footnotes to history.

The Rock Pool, by Cyril Connolly. New Directions, $1.50,

This novel first appeared in 1936 under the imprint of a press in Paris which specialized in books that American and British publishers had found too hot to handle, Mr. Connolly wrote it after a decade of reviewing, to spike his fears that the maxim “Those who can’t, teach! “ might apply to him. If The Rock Pool suggests that Connolly the critic outranks the novelist, it also proves that he can turn out a superior and entertaining piece of fiction.

The story depicts the decline and fall of a snobbish young Oxonian with literary pretensions, who meets up with a group of Bohemians in a shabby resort on the Riviera. At first the hero tells himself, patronizingly, that he will study the community like a rock pool and get a book out of its singularly raffish mores. Instead he is swiftly dragged into the pool’s mysterious, predatory life. He is hypnotized by its denizens, whom he finds at once atrocious and strangely beautiful, and who lacerate his feelings, plunder him, and leave him utterly demoralized, a Peraod sodden derelict. Mr. Connolly has sketched in sharp outline a truly exotic assortment of characters, most of them sublimely decadent. The magic of the Riviera landscape somehow heightens the demoniacal atmosphere, and the action progresses with a giddy acceleration.