Columns and columns of gifts

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature, edited by Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 632 pp. $24.95. This abridgment of the fifth edition of the OCEL has been updated to include new material. It's a handy place to track down the provenance of fictional characters, look up plot summaries, literary terms, and publication dates, and pore over the thumbnail biographies of the pets, novelists, playwrights, publishers, historians, and philosophers who contributed, great and small, to the body of English literature. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature, edited by James D. Hart. New York: Oxford University Press. 497 pp. $24.95.

Like its English ``cousin,'' this book is wonderfully useful for quick references and just as enjoyable for browsing. It begins in colonial times and includes entries as recent as playwrights Marsha Norman and David Mamet. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Oxford Companion to German Literature, Second Edition, edited by Henry and Mary Garland. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1,020 pp. $49.95.

From Faust (in his many ``incarnations'') to Fidelio, Novalis to Nietzsche, Bach to Brecht, Kantian idealism to Marxian dialectical materialism, from German translations of the Bible (most notably Luther's) to that prickly term ``Biedermeier'' (variously applied to furniture and literature) - a remarkable range of German culture is ably covered here: a world at once strange and familiar.

Especially fascinating (to this one-time student, at least) are the plot summaries of German Romantic fictions. They are, indeed, just as improbable as they seemed to me when I tried to struggle through them in the German and innocently attributed their strangeness to my insufficient linguistic skill. Now I know: E.T.A. Hoffman did describe a young man in a glass bottle in love with a pretty serpent! Ludwig Tieck did, too, invent a dog that talked like someone's mother! And the list goes on. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Dictionary of National Biography: 1971-1980, with a cumulative index covering 1901-1980, edited by Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1,010 pp. $98.

Appearing once a decade, sequential editions of the Dictionary of National Biography continually update the vast Victorian enterprise first undertaken by Leslie Stephen. Among the 748 people in this edition are Charlie Chaplin, Edward VIII, Montgomery of Alamein, P.G. Wodehouse, Alfred Hitchcock, John Lennon, and Cecil Day-Lewis (whose lives all ended within the decade 1971-80).

The entries are all signed, many of them written by people as distinguished or as interesting as their subjects: The critic Frank Kermode writes on critic I.A. Richards, Lord Blake himself on Anthony Eden; and novelist Barbara Pym is commemorated by her friend Philip Larkin, the poet.

Among the prominent ``Britons'' included in the DNB are some who would recoil in horror to be categorized as British: Irish Republican leader Eamon de Valera and Cypriot President Makarios, to name two. Many of the entries are surprisingly frank. Almost all seem definitive, two factors that make this reference work a continuing classic. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Oh Say Can You See: Unexpected Anecdotes about American History, by John Whitcomb and Claire Whitcomb. New York: Morrow. 347 pp. Illustrated. $16.95.

Anecdotes, like potato chips, can be hard to resist: You sample just a few and before you know it, you've devoured them all. This collection of true stories - some familiar, some less so - provides an enticing mix of the funny, the tragic, the ironic, the significant, the trivial, and the surprising, from tales of the Wild West to White House gossip. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Gustave Caillebotte, by Kirk Varnedoe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 220 pp. Illustrated. $39.95.

Almost everyone recognizes Caillebotte's masterpiece ``Rue de Paris, Temps de pluie,'' with its sweeping perspective of buildings, broad boulevards, and umbrella-carrying walkers in the Paris rain. But the name of Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94) is far from a household word.

Thanks to this judicious, perceptive, and elegantly produced study, which combines a fully illustrated, annotated catalog, a biography, a discussion of Caillebotte's techniques, and much more, one of the youngest and least studied of the Impressionists reemerges as the important and intriguing figure he was.

An additional virtue is the way Varnedoe places the major paintings in a wide variety of contexts, with illustrations of Caillebotte's preliminary sketches, Varnedoe's own photographs of the subjects, and treatments of similar themes and subjects by artists who may have influenced Caillebotte. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World, by Donald R. Howard. New York: Dutton. 636 pp. Illustrated. $29.95.

In the vivid characterizations of the richly diverse crew of Canterbury pilgrims and in the engaging narrative voice we hear in his other poems, the presence of a distinctive and appealing personality hovers over Geoffrey Chaucer's works. His life as soldier, squire, diplomat, husband, civil servant, knight, and poet was almost as rich a tapestry as he left us in his writing.

This full-scale life of Chaucer deftly interweaves biography, history, and literary criticism, maintaining a high standard of scholarship while telling Chaucer's story in an affably down-to-earth style that might well have pleased the author of ``The Canterbury Tales.'' ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Raphael, by Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny. New Haven: Yale University Press. 250 pp. Illustrated. $19.95 paperback.

If Caillebotte has suffered from lack of exposure, the great Renaissance master Raphael has suffered - or his critical reputation has - from being overexposed. This gorgeously illustrated study helps us see Raphael's achievement afresh by combining the hefty body of ongoing scholarship with keenly spirited criticism. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- River of Light: Monet's Impressions of the Seine, by Douglas Skeggs, New York: Knopf. 153 pp. Illustrated. $25.

The interplay of light and shadow, image and reflection, air, mist, and water, the solid and the flowing - the central themes of Monet's paintings can be traced by examining his impressions of the River Seine and its various environs. This charming book views Monet's life and art from that perspective, juxtaposing photographs of the river with color plates of Monet's paintings, and following the course of his life from a boyhood on the Seine estuary to his old age at Giverny, where a tributary of the river was diverted to flow through his water gardens. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The New Yorker Cartoon Album, 1975-1985. New York: Penguin Books. Unpaginated. $14.95 paperback.

The perfect gift for friends who are fixated on New Yorker cartoons, this collection amply represents the range of styles: from those that rely on the wit of captions to those that depend on the juxtaposition of caption and picture, to those whose humor is entirely pictorial. Artists include Charles Addams, Ed Arno, Whitney Darrow Jr., J.J. Semp'e, Charles Saxon, and Saul Steinberg. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Capability Brown: The Story of a Master Gardener, by Thomas Hinde. New York and London: Norton. 224 pp. Illustrated. $27.50.

Lancelot (Capability) Brown (1716-83) practically invented what we think of as the English country house landscape. England's most influential gardener rose from fairly humble beginnings, but earned the nickname ``Capability'' - not (as one might suspect) on account of his enormous capabilities - but from his habit of explaining to his rich patrons how much ``capability'' their estates had. His carefully ``natural'' style - featuring parks, rolling hills, ponds, lakes, pools, groves of trees arranged with seeming informality yet not without a brilliant sense of understated design - became a landmark.

This beautifully illustrated biography provides much interesting background about Brown's eminent patrons and about his admirers and his critics, proving - among other things - just how controversial a ``quiet'' activity like gardening can be. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris, by Thomas E. Crow. New Haven: Yale University Press. 290 pp. Illustrated $19.91, paperback.

Now in paper, this prizewinning study of the free, public exhibitions in the French Academy's Salon during the 18th century examines the effect of the public exhibition upon the artist - as distinguished from the experience of painting for a private patron.

In the grand style of David and the dramatic, anecdotal bourgeois idiom of Greuze, there is thus a kind of common denominator. A provocative, well-researched book on an interesting topic that is less recondite than may first appear. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Forgotten Household Crafts, by John Seymour. New York: Knopf. 191 pp. Illustrated. $24.95.

From the heavy labor of milking, buttermaking, rug beating, laundering, and open-hearth cookery to the more delicate crafts of quilting, knitting, and embroidery, this book covers a vast variety of activities - all subsumed under the rubric of homemaking in years gone by. The detailed accounts and illustrations of these old-fashioned crafts are fascinating - whether or not they happen to arouse in the reader a feeling of faint horror or the intense nostalgia with which Seymour plainly regards them.

Feminists and others in need of an antidote to Seymour's charming, if one-sided, paean to domesticity should read this book in conjunction with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1903 expos'e of ``The Home'' to remind themselves that not every old-fashioned dwelling was a bower of labor-intensive bliss. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Rajput Palaces: The Development of an Architectural Style, 1450-1750, by G.H.R. Tillotson. New Haven: Yale University Press. 224 pp. $45.

For those with more exotic tastes, this detailed study of the Rajput palaces of northwestern India examines a form of Hindu architecture that flourished in the period when India was ruled by Muslim emperors. Tillotson traces the variety of influences that coalesced in this architectural style. He also sketches the political, social, economic, and geographical background. His close scrutiny of the palaces themselves is matched by his attention to previous scholarship. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rosetti and His Circle, by Max Beerbohm, edited with an introduction by N. John Hall. New Haven: Yale University Press. Unpaginated. $19.95.

The ``incomparable'' caricaturist and humorist Max Beerbohm is represented here by his sharp, yet not unkind, caricatures of the late 19th-century ``high aesthetic band,'' as another parodist, W.S. Gilbert, once called them. They included the Rosetti siblings (Christina, Dante Gabriel, and William Michael); their Pre-Raphaelite fellow artists; and other members of their circle - from tiny, flame-haired Swinburne to the grim, looming figure of Carlyle. Hall includes a handful of astonishing photographs in which the principals look quite as bizarre as Beerbohm's caricatures. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Cities and People: A Social and Architectural History, by Mark Girouard. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 397 pp. Illustrated. $19.95 paperback.

Caillebotte's rainy Paris street adorns the cover of Mark Girouard's intriguing, if diffuse, study of the city in history. Looking back to 9th-century Constantinople, forward to Los Angeles, and covering in between a succession of cities at their times of peak development - Venice, Bruges, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York, Mexico City, and more - Girouard contrasts the Utopian ideal of a planned ``Jerusalem'' in harmony with nature with (in his view) the more vital and realistic vision of the city as ``Babylon,'' an ``organic'' center of iniquity and innovation. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Winnie Ille Pu: A Latin Version of A.A. Milne's ``Winnie the Pooh,'' translated by Alexander Lenard. New York: Dutton/Obelisk. 148 pp. Illustrated. $6.95 paperback.

Some call him saccharine. A.A. Milne's son, the model and namesake for Christopher Robin, grew tired of being identified with his father's creation. Humorist Dorothy Parker mocked the teddy bear and his friends. But most readers (including this one) find them ceaselessly adorable. This is the first paperback edition of the Latinization that enjoyed a great vogue in the early 1960s, when Pooh's indefatigable fans had the unexpected pleasure of meeting their old friend anew in an ancient tongue. E.H. Shepard's delightful illustrations still adorn the text.

``Vivat Pu!'' ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, by Arlene Croce. Dutton/Obelisk. 191 pp. Illustrated. $12.95 paperback.

Dance critic Arlene Croce has assembled herein nearly everything any fan would wish to know about those magical films that teamed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the story lines, the songs, and, of course, the dance numbers.

Buoyantly enthusiastic, yet deftly analytical, the text is a happy blend of information and criticism. It is full of photographs in the brilliant black-and-white that made the Astaire-Rogers movies look as elegant as moonlight. Croce explains how their dancing, done in the most polished, least emotional of styles, conveys heights and depths of emotion beyond the reach of the lightweight story lines. An added attraction is the pair of ``flip sequences'' on the upper page corners, which yield a waltz from ``Swing Time'' in one direction and a tap dance from ``Follow the Fleet'' in the other. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols, by Elizabeth Poston. 144 pp. $3.95 paperback.

This collection of musical arrangements of 50 carols from France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, England, Russia, America, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere spans the centuries and runs the musical gamut from folk tunes to the works of composers from J.S. Bach to Gustav Holst. The introduction discusses the history of carols, including the manner in which pagan dance songs found their way into Christian tradition. A brief history of each carol is provided, along with English translations of those in foreign tongues. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Restoration: A Political and Religious History of England and Wales, 1658-1667, by Ronald Hutton. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 379 pp. Illustrated. $12.95.

The restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660 marked a turning point in English history. It ushered in an era in which political compromise and religious toleration came to be valued more highly than confrontation and die-hard fervor. It was also a time of dramatic events: the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

This detailed history of that transitional period is seen by its author as clearing the ground for future studies. It untangles some complicated events, yet is written with the common reader in mind: in a brisk narrative style that is easy to follow, even for readers with little or no previous knowledge of the period.

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