The Peripatetic Reviewer

STANLEY: An Adventurer Explored by Richard HallHoughton Mifflin, $12.50
Of all the books of adventurous travel published in the nineteenth century, the two by Henry Stanley, How I Found Livingstone and Through the Dark Continent, were probably the most widely read. But who was Stanley? Who paid him to find the long lost Livingstone? And why was the Royal Geographical Society so down on him? The questions are answered in this provocative and fascinating biography.
To begin with, Richard Hall had Stanley’s cryptic diaries, from which the less creditable episodes had been torn out, an immense correspondence, and an unfinished autobiography, carefully sanitized by the explorer’s widow. In addition he had the unstinting help of Richard Stanley, the explorer’s grandson, and his own remarkable skill in solving the riddles about a loveless youngster who, by fierce determination, rose to fame.
He was born in 1841, the illegitimate son of John Rowlands, a Welsh farmer. The boy was shunned by his mother, educated in an orphanage, and, when he ran off to Liverpool, so subjected to drudgery that at the age of seventeen, five days before Christmas, he signed on as a cabin boy on a packet bound for New Orleans.
America gave him the opportunity England had denied. In New Orleans he was befriended and adopted by a prosperous cotton broker, Henry Stanley, and took Stanley’s name. In the Civil War, having no real allegiance, he fought on both sides, first in the Louisiana Infantry, and then, after his capture, on a federal warship. He began to make his mark when he went west as a free-lance reporter. He wrote of how Generals Sherman and Sheridan sought to “pacify” the Indians, and his graphic dispatches from the Plains eventually brought him to the attention of James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald, who was looking for sensational material. The western experience taught young Stanley hardihood, to write swiftly and graphically, and to be ruthlessly competitive. Along the way he became a friend of Mark Twain’s and was naturalized.
Stanley’s first assignment for Bennett was to accompany Sir Robert Napier’s army in Abyssinia in its overwhelming campaign against the demented Emperor Theodore. The British resented him as a Yankee journalist, but with fast work and well-placed bribes, his dispatches appeared in the Herald a week before the British journalists caught up with him. Bennett followed up this scoop by sending Stanley to Zanzibar with an unlimited bank account, commissioned to find Dr. Livingstone, the African explorer and a British national hero, lost for two years and whereabouts unknown. In London the Royal Geographical Society raised funds for Livingstone’s relief; Kirk, the British consul in Zanzibar, was making languid efforts, but it was Stanley, with his iron will and the loyalty he inspired in the natives, who found the aged doctor, indeed on the verge of collapse, gave him his immortal greeting and a bottle of champagne, and then stayed on with him for four months while together they explored Lake Tanganyika. Livingstone refused to leave Africa (where he was to die a year later), and when Stanley returned to Zanzibar to send off his magnificent story, the British Relief Expedition, newly arrived, met him with suspicion and dismay.
Livingstone’s appreciative letters helped to quell the prejudice in London, and when Stanley received a gold medal from the hands of Queen Victoria, his enemies in the Royal Geographical Society were silenced.
Stanley’s second expedition was one of vindication, and when he had crossed Africa and emerged by way of the Congo, battling his way through hostile tribes and surviving the deadly malaria, his commitment to Africa was absolute. He became the secret agent of King Leopold II of the Belgians, and in that era of imperialism, the colony which he carved out of the Congo with his amazing stamina was the largest and richest of them all.
It is in the telling of Stanley’s tormented private life that the biographer touches our feelings. Stanley, who had known so little love in boyhood, had no better luck with the women of whom he was enamored in his prime. He was jilted by the New York beauty Alice Pike, and his long-delayed marriage to Dorothy Tennant was consummated when his strength was ebbing. “I was not sent into the world to be happy,” he wrote, “nor to search for happiness. I was sent for a special work.”
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS by John Updike Knopf, $6.95
This is the story, in the form of a sardonic confession, written by a Protestant minister during his enforced “retreat” in a desert sanatorium. Having lost interest in his family and confidence in his faith (“I have no faith. Or, rather, I have faith, but it doesn’t seem to apply,” he tells his father), the Reverend Tom Mansfield has solaced himself making love to Alicia (“Alicia in bed was a revelation”), the thickwaisted, bespectacled organist, and then to a few others, including the wife of his leading deacon, “by way of being helpful.” After the scandal, rather than defrock him, his bishop sends Tom west for a thirty-day dry-out under the stern eye of Ms. Frynne, manageress of a rest home where the therapy requires that he eschew religion, play golf and poker with the other inmates, and write down whatever comes to mind.
What comes to Tom’s mind is this narrative, in which the two recurring themes are his intellectual misgivings, especially his running disparagement of Tillich and Buttman, and, sensually, his obsession with sex, beginning with the seduction of his wife, Jane, and lingering over the variations of adultery leading to his disgrace, as the women in his congregation, sensing that he is on the loose, flock to him to be “counseled.” Mr. Updike is as clinically explicit about these combinations as he was in his long novel Couples. The habit of sermonizing is strong in Tom Mansfield, and as the Sabbath approaches he delivers himself of mock sermons, sharp-witted and irreverent. He views himself without apology, and his humor, of which he has plenty, betrays him in Freudian slips which he solemnly records in footnotes.
The religious who fall from grace are a fact, and only a few recover. In his novel The Edge of Sadness. Edwin O’Connor wrote of a priest who was an alcoholic and of his lonely struggle to reinstate himself in a grim parish after sobering up. Updike’s novella in its brevity attempts no resolution; it is the clever revelation of a state of mind, highly intelligent, enslaved and cynical, and the ending gives not the slightest indication that the hero will make any less of a mess after his return from incarceration.
BEAUTY AND SADNESS by Yasunari Kawabata Knopf, $7.95
Yasunari Kawabata as a boy had intended to become a painter, but his early short stories, the first published when he was in high school, were so well received that he continued to write. His story “The Izu Dancer,” which appeared in 1925 and was later reprinted in The Atlantic, dealt with the shy eroticism of adolescence, a theme which he was to develop with increasing skill in his novels, and when in 1968 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he became the most widely read Japanese author in the Occident. Why he committed suicide four years later is unknown, but it is in character that Kawabata’s admiration of French Impressionism as it took root in Japan, his delight in young love, and his brooding death are the distinguishing elements in his posthumous novel.
The story embraces five characters, and it begins when Oki, a successful middle-aged novelist of Tokyo, is on his way to Kyoto with the sentimental hope of hearing the New Year’s bells with Otoko, the girl he seduced twenty-four years ago and never forgot. She was fifteen at the time of their passionate affair, and when their baby died at birth she attempted to kill herself. After a slow recovery she began to paint, and is now an established artist in the Japanese Impressionist tradition.
Otoko shares her guesthouse on the grounds of an old temple with Keiko, a girl of astonishing beauty with a talent for swift, abstract canvases. Keiko is fiercely devoted to the older woman; she knows of the early tragic love affair and out of jealousy will exact revenge by seducing either the novelist or his immature son.
The beauty of the novel comes from its lovely descriptions of the flower paintings and of Otoko’s portraits, which are in contrast with Keiko’s impulsive abstracts such as the undulating green impression of the tea plantation. The suspense arises from the relighting of the old love and from young Keiko’s relentless tantalizing: she is daring, and her murderous impulse Hares up repeatedly.
Much of the story is told in dialogue, translated by Howard Hibbett in a manner that is quite true to life. But these people talk around and about; they repeat themselves to the point where the reader yearns for them to decide. It is a mark of Kawabata’s genius that what one remembers is Keiko’s painting of the plum blossom, the soothing summer evening on the balcony of Ofusa’s tea house, the famous old stone gardens of Kyoto, the classical beauty of Japan as it is embodied in the dignity of the heroine, Otoko.
TYRANTS DESTROYED by Vladimir Nabokov McGraw-Hill, $7.95
I have sometimes wondered if among his several accomplishments Mr. Nabokov was not at his best in the short story, and the appearance of this collection of his earliest work confirms me in my belief. Twelve of the thirteen in the volume were originally written in Russian and have been skillfully translated with the collaboration of his son Dmitri. They are, as he tells us in the Foreword. “representative of my carefree expatriate output between 1924 and 1939, in Berlin, Paris, and Mentone.” I take the word “carefree” with a pinch of salt, for he suffered the impoverishment of all refugees and that experience adds depth to his narratives.
One is very soon impressed with Nabokov’s versatility. In the title story, written in the spring of 1938, when tyrants were in the ascendancy, he concentrates his feeling of outrage in a fantasy that pierces the three of them. He tells us that he tutored boys during his expatriation, and the ignominy of tutors everywhere is reflected in the sixteen pages of “Perfection.” In “A Nursery Tale,” one of the earliest, young Frwin is tempted by the devil to stroll about town choosing the harem which he will be free to enjoy at midnight a number of the girls are as young as Lolita, and it is surprising to see what happens. “Music,” the most deft story in the book, shows the pathos of a broken marriage when the divorced couple meet by chance at a piano recital.
For originality, for the surprising beauty of simile and metaphor, and for the mischievous Olympian serenity with which he creates his situations. Nabokov is in a class by himself.