by Phoebe Adams
BEAUDSLEY (Braziller, $6.00) is a straightforward, one-foOt-alter-theother biography by STANLEY WEINTRAUB. Because of his striking and immensely influential style, his connection (largely an invention of the public imagination) with the Wilde scandal, and his death at the age of twenty-six, Beardsley’s reputation has a certain melodramatic cast which the facts of his life do not justify. He was tubercular from childhood, always subject to periods of invalidism, and what strength he had went into his strange, startling drawings, his thoroughly professional work in book decoration, and his art editorships with the Fellow Book and the Savoy. The aggressively avant-garde set in which Beardsley moved included the poet Dowson, who was also tubercular and assisted the progress of his disease with applications of alcohol, drugs, dirt, and slobbering self-pity. Beardsley frankly detested the sight of him. It was understandable, for Beardsley himself proposed to sink with guns firing and colors flying, and did; his last drawings, done when he could hardly struggle out of bed, show no diminution of skill or energy. Beardsley’s life was entirely in his eye. his ear (he was a devoted concert-goer), and the imagination from which, in his candle-lit studio, he dredged erotic and frightening images to be converted into elegant, ironic, impertinent drawings. Except for the drawings, Beardsley was practical, sensible, indomitably cheerful, and so reserved that bis biographer has discovered nobody at all who ever claimed convincingly to have seen Beardsley without his mask. Mr. Wein traub can record, therefore, only the surface of Beardsley’s struggle “to remain among the walking wounded.” He does it with a decent avoidance of sentimentality and an adequate presentation of the time in which Beardsley lived and the people who admired or denounced him.
In SIGNS AND WONDERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $6.95), FRANÇOISE MALLET-JORIS has written a thick novel populated with enough characters to keep even Tolstoy busy. The book, in fact, rather suggests something out of nineteenth-century Russia, for it ranges from horror to farce but remains throughout concerned with good and evil, with the necessity of distinguishing one from the other, and with the problem of reconciling oneself to the permanent coexistence of these conflicting elements. All of which sounds very philosophical and abstract, while the book itself is full of incident and uproar, following, as it does, the adventures of a melancholy novelist and a cheerful lady journalist as they poke about southern France interviewing Algerian repatriates lor a financially nebulous and politically dubious magazine.
Books about obscure antique peoples tend, if they are honest scholarly works, to become catalogues of what has been dug up where, and when, possibly, it was buried. ISABEL HENDERSON’S THE PICTS (Praeger, $7.50) is something of an exception, for while her heart is pretty obviously with the Pictish sculpture and jewelry to which she attributes extensive influence, the author has devoted a good part of this study to a history of the Pictish kingdom. This organization lasted through several Dark Age centuries, was presumably literate in its later stages, and left behind not a single known document. The story is therefore devoid of specific detail and picturesque ornament, but in a general way, with a minimum of conjecture, Dr. Henderson has retrieved an interesting fragment of the past.
JAMES MELLAART, lecturer in Anatolian archaeology at the University of London, describes discoveries at a Neolithic town on the Anatolian plateau in ÇATAL HÜYÜK (McGraw-Hill, $9.95). The astounding thing about this prepottery settlement is that it emerges so clearly as a town, a civic center of luxury and sophistication, with long-distance trade in a variety of materials and commodities, neatly kept houses, and a profusion of adroitly decorated shrines. The shrines may not be all that profuse, actually, since Mr. Mellaart suspects that his dig hit the religious quarter of the town, a small portion of the whole. All this, including unmistakable ancestors of the Boy Scout knife and wall-to-wall carpeting, in 6500 B.C. Mr. Mellaart writes with infectious love for his subject and docs not hesitate to speculate on the pre-eminence of the Great Goddess in Çatal Hüyük’s religion or to draw parallels with building practices still existent in the area.
LOST HERITAGE OF ALASKA (World, $15.00), by POLLY and LEON GORDON MILLER, is a lively but distressing history of collisions between white men and the Indians of Alaska and the Northwest Coast. It is distressing for the usual reasons of misunderstanding, exploitation, and brutality, and lively because the Millers quote constantly from the reports, letters, journals, and ship’s logs written by explorers and traders. Some of these fellows spelled by dead reckoning, but most of them were sharp, inquisitive observers. Almost nobody saw any good in the Indians, who were in fact intelligent people with a remarkable artistic tradition. The poor creatures are still getting the short end of the stick even in this sympathetic book, which is full of photographs of handsome sculptures, boxes, weapons, masks, totem poles, and mysterious oddments, mostly uncaptioned so that one knows not what they are, where they are, or which tribe produced them.
EDWARD GOREY’S THE UTTER ZOO (Meredith, $2.95) runs from the Ampoo, which “is intensely neat,” to the Zote, of which “what can be said? There was just one, and now it’s dead.” This alphabet of nonexistent beasts may mystify the general, but Gorey fans will purr over it.