A reading list for every young woman
What books should every young woman read? We put this question to a distinguished group of writers and intellectuals. We asked them to name four books they consider essential for the educated woman. If you're curious, Jane Austen won the pageant with the most mentions. Tied for second place: two dead white males, Aristotle and Thucydides. Most surprising book to make the list ... Mommie Dearest.
Dear Jane (I'll call you Jane):
You ask me to recommend four books for your college reading list. That's a good number, four. It forces your correspondent to choose works for more than pleasure, or even literary value. I guess it's the old, "What books would you want with you on a desert island?" question, particularly appropriate for college, where life is best when insular. The four I offer you are high on pleasure and literary value. But I believe that they also present several minds worthy of your admiration. If you emerge from college knowing whom to admire, you'll be way ahead of the game. You'll note that of the four I suggest, only one author is a woman; I am only a feminist when it comes to rights.
First, I suggest that you read Boswell's Life of Johnson. Boswell himself was an interesting combination of fellows: one corrupt and weak, the other wishing to improve himself by an attachment to a superior person. The man he wrote of, Dr. Johnson, was superior in ways that are deeply moving as well as intellectually impressive. Johnson was poor, and was always on the side of the poor. But he could not tolerate cant about human nature, and he balanced his mind between conservative moderation and liberal impulses (much like our own Constitution). He also feared death so gravely that he could hardly speak of it, which suggests that he appreciated what he could not know. He was physically unattractive, too, which put him at a useful distance from the world, and undoubtedly honed his capacity for sympathy. Best of all, he was equally generous and stern, and (thank God) judgmental. You'll like him.
I urge you to read George Eliot's Daniel Deronda as well. Others will lead you to Middlemarch, and properly; the reason I'd like you to read Daniel Deronda is to see how a first-rate writer of fiction, a complete artist, is also capable of living in, and understanding, the world of events. For some reason, for example, Eliot in nineteenth-century England glommed onto the idea of Zionism and the future state of Israel . More generally, you'll appreciate how it is possible to live with one's private emotions and imagery, yet also be aware of greater influences. This, from DD: "There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their lives." Any recent terrible moment come to mind?
The greatest war novel ever written is All Quiet on the Western Front. I want you to read it even if you already have. People call it an antiwar novel, and, on one level, I suppose it is. But its finer quality lies in the depiction of human helplessness in the face of human pulses--war being the deadliest. There's no better account of the danger of pride or of the pettiness of men at arms. And, of course, it will break your heart.
Finally, The Great Gatsby. And before you roll your eyes to heaven, let me assure you that I did the same thing at your age. And yet it is an endlessly rich novel, not just because of the old theme of yearning, but because every character counts. And every character represents a major American type, thus idea. There are no minor characters in Gatsby. Huckleberry Finn may be the novel of the discovery of our national soul. But Gatsby is about the way we turned out. It really is as good as the people you mistrust say it is.
Well, Jane, that's my list. Enjoy the books, enjoy college, and don't forget to write to your folks. Best, Roger.
Roger Rosenblatt's award-winning essays appear in Time and the NewsHour. He is author of Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969 (Little Brown).
1. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (c. 410 B.C.)
The first work of analytic history in world culture, written by a seasoned soldier and general. In its minute account of the disastrous war with Sparta that would destroy classical Athens , it demonstrates the fundamental principles of diplomacy and military strategy that all ambitious young men and women should study, particularly those who aspire to public office. The most startling revelation of this book is how little the cruel game of politics has changed in 2,500 years.
2. George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871-72)
An epic novel by one of England 's great women writers. With exhaustive detail, it patiently recreates an entire society, showing the webwork of behavior and convention that obstructs and defeats our best intentions. Its perspective is mature and philosophical as it penetrates to the innermost thoughts and emotions of its vividly drawn characters. Eliot observes and dissects social class with scientific neutrality and without the tiresome bombast and outdated formulas of academic Marxism.
3. Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World (1940; rev. 1956)
A sweeping overview of the idiosyncratic sexual themes and drives in Western culture, tracing the influence of Christian mysticism on the courtly love tradition and showing the ominous intertwining of love and death in our most romantic stories, from Tristan and Isolde to Romeo and Juliet. Learned and urbane, this elegant book is an excellent example of the old standards in humanities scholarship that were swept away in the past thirty years by poststructuralism and postmodernism, with their contorted jargon and nonsensical theories about sex.
4. Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (1956)
The best introduction by far to representation of the human figure in art. The Nude is a beautifully written work of sophisticated connoisseurship that analyzes art in its own terms rather than imposing strident, politicized categories on it. It outlines the major body types, male and female, in Western art and, via a wealth of illustrations, trains the reader's eye to detect and evaluate proportion. This book reveres art--an attitude all too rare at universities these days. Students who read Clark will be safely inoculated against the worst excesses of feminist theory, with its prattle about "objectification" and "the male gaze"--terms cooked up by ideologues with glaringly little knowledge afar feeling for art.
Camille Paglia, a libertarian feminist, is the author of four books. She is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia .
BEGIN WITH THE FAMILIAR: My first suggestion would be Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, not only because it is one of the most perfect novels ever written, but also because of its abundant wisdom. Some thoughtless people, noting how delightful Jane Austen's novels are, mistakenly conclude that they must therefore be superficial entertainments. They err in believing that what delights cannot also instruct. In fact, Austen's novels--the best of them, anyway--are as deep as anything by Dostoyevsky, just not as gloomy.
Austen had originally intended to call the book First Impressions, and one of her major themes is what we might call the ripening of first impressions into considered judgments. Austen is too wise to believe we should dispense with prejudice: "Prejudice," Edmund Burke said, "renders a man's virtue his habit." But Austen also knew that prejudice, lest it degenerate into complacency or worse, must be educated, tested against experience. That is one of the great lessons of Pride and Prejudice.
Another lesson has to do with the education of appetite. When Lydia and Wickham elope, Elizabeth sadly reflects on "how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue." The right ordering of passion and virtue is a constant theme in Austen's novels. It is also the chief subject of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle's magisterial inquiry into the workings of moral life. I offer Aristotle's Ethics as my second book, partly because it is a stupendous compendium of insight about the human heart, partly because of its immense influence through the ages, and partly because it is comparatively neglected today.
Aristotle, like Jane Austen, was an antisentimentalist. He was level-headed. He saw things clearly and sought to call them by their right names. "Only a blockhead," he observes, "can fail to realize that our characters are the result of our conduct." And again: "It is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil." A final example: "We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.... In a word, our moral dispositions are formed as a result of the corresponding activities."
At a time when convention is condemned as "inauthentic" and habit is repudiated in favor of novelty, Aristotle's book provides a reliable anchor in prudence and other civilizing virtues. We have been living off the capital of civilization for so long that we naturally forget what herculean efforts had to be mobilized to accumulate that capital in the first place. Aristotle's Ethics provides an account of what fully-fledged civilized life looks like; Physics and Politics, a short masterpiece by the nineteenthcentury English essayist Walter Bagehot (pronounced "badge-it"), provides a sort of natural history of how civilizations developed.
They develop slowly and painfully. That is Bagehot's chief message: That the movement from savagery and barbarism to civilization and the rule of law is nasty, brutish, and long. Being the beneficiaries of millennia of struggle, we are tempted to pretend that the struggle never existed or was somehow incidental to the relative tranquility we now enjoy. Bagehot's unflinching inquiry into the constituents of civilization is a salutary antidote to temptation.
Austen, Aristotle, and Bagehot were realists. So was David Stove (1927-1994), a brilliant but little known Australian philosopher. Almost anything by Stove could be read with immense profit. His most important work concerned irrationalism in the philosophy of science, that benighted swamp of confusion popularized by covert irrationalists like Karl Popper and Thomas "Mr. Paradigm Change" Kuhn. But Stove was also an occasional essayist of scintillating power and insight. And my fourth suggestion is his long essay "The Intellectual Capacity of Women" (available in my anthology of Stove's writings, Against the Idols of the Age).
I have noted with some amusement that even the title of Stove's essay on women tends to elicit a frisson of anxiety. "He is not going to... He wouldn't dare...You don't mean to say that he actually argues.... "Well, yes. "I believe," Stove writes in his first sentence, "that the intellectual capacity of women is on the whole inferior to that of men." He offers as his main reason for this belief the uncomfortable observation that "the intellectual performance of women is inferior to men." In other words, he explains, it is the same sort of reasoning as that which convinces us that "Fords are on the whole inferior to Mercedes; or as that which convinces dog-fanciers that Irish setters are not as smart as labradors; or as that which convinces everyone that the intellectual capacity of seven-year-old children is on the whole inferior to that of nine-year-olds. They do not do as well, and we infer from this that they cannot do as well." Of course, this is not, Stove readily acknowledges, proof: "performance is no infallible guide to capacity." Still, "it is, in the end, the only guide we have or can have."
Is Stove right? I really don't know. Would it matter if he were? Probably not. But at a moment when young women are surrounded by a chorus of feminist claptrap, how refreshing it would be to entertain, if but momentarily, a contrary opinion that, even if mistaken, is carefully argued, wittily expressed, and genuinely provocative. Jane Austen would doubtless have raised an eyebrow if confronted with David Stove's essay. But I suspect she would also have been amused. She might have penned a compelling reply. One thing we can be sure of is that she would not have started whining about misogyny and the depredations of patriarchy.
New Criterion Managing Editor Roger Kimball is author of Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee).
THE BOOKS I HOPE young women would read are the same books I would hope young men would read, and the same books I hope every thinking person would read. The main problems we all must face come not from being male or female, or young or old, or black or white, etc., but from being human, and it is a pity that these days we are more preoccupied with our differences than with what we have in common. What we have in common is mortality (perhaps the biggest problem of all), not only our own mortality, but that of those we love. It seems also that war has been, always been, central to human existence, and it has never been a good or happy solution, even though it can bring out the best, as well as the worst in human beings. So I'd recommend The Iliad; The Odyssey, Thucydides' Peloponnesian War, and the Aeneid. I'd throw in some Greek dramas too if I had a fifth choice. It's not (since I'm a classicist) that these are the only books I've read. It's just that these are the books that I loved when I first read them and that I've turned to constantly during my life, especially in difficult times. And what other kinds of times are there?
Mary Lefkowitz is the Andrew W Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College . She is author of Not Out of Africa (Basic Books).
MY RECOMMENDATION to any young woman would be to fortify herself against the impending and inevitable assault upon the "patriarchy"--which is the feminist word for life as we have known it for as far back as anyone can trace--by looking at four nineteenth and early twentieth-century English novels (always to be preferred to novels in translation if only because you want to get the period flavor of the language as well as the social background), in which strong women show that life under the old dispensation is rather poorly accounted for in terms of men's "oppression" of women.
Not, of course, that it cannot be so accounted for. The beauty of "gender studies" as of other forms of neo-Marxism a way of looking at the world is that everything can be made to fit the prescribed pattern. But the reader who encounters at an impressionable stage Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion, or Becky Sharp in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, or Lilly Dale in Trollope's Small House at Allington, or Sophia Barnes in Arnold Bennett's Old Wives' Tale--to name just the first four out of a whole galaxy of possibilities that come to mind--will have a much harder time keeping her focus on women as mere victims of the male social hegemony in those benighted times.
For these feminine "role-models" are all at least as much the victims of men and of social forces as today's career women who are sexually harassed or encounter glass ceilings or are not given enough maternity leave, but none wastes her life supposing that some political magic solution would bring (or, worse, would have brought) all her troubles to an end.
Anne Elliot, for instance, must face the consequences in her extended spinsterdom of an excessive prudence in her youth (not a common dilemma!) in rejecting the man she loved. Becky Sharp copes with the social disadvantage of being poor and orphaned by hardening herself to make use of her wit and beauty without love--and without scruple. Lilly Dale gives her heart as only a woman can give it who knows that the marriage vows mean what they say and then is thrown over for another. Sophia Baines marries a worthless wastrel for love and, when he leaves her, grimly sets out with habits of thrift and industry and strong-minded independence, learned in provincial England, to get through life during the siege of Paris and the Commune and, alone in a foreign land, to become a successful businesswoman.
It is impossible not to love and admire these four women, even when (as in Becky's case) you would be chary of making their acquaintance in real life. One comes to the end of each of the four novels with a sense of having been privileged to witness a life well and bravely lived. And there is nothing like that spectacle to make all the talk of "patriarchy" and "empowerment" seem not so much wrong as irrelevant. Sure, you could see the world in that way if you wanted to, but why would you want to with such models of human (and feminine) nobility and goodness before you?
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and American editor of the Times Literary Supplement.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN
WITHOUT SOME SENSE of the past, we stumble into the future. The past provides a frame of reference, a horizon against which we measure our own thoughts. It makes a huge difference, therefore, whether we are engaging giants or gnats. The giants goad and challenge us, force us out of ourselves, compel us to go beyond ourselves. So, four books--actually, I had to stretch it to five--that do that and that every educated young woman should read are:
St. Augustine , The Confessions. This giant of the West seems so much our contemporary. He tells us that he knows he exists because he is capable of doubt. He has "become a question to myself." As we like to say, we can relate to that! But Augustine instructs because he does not spin inward; he refuses the blandishments of narcissism. His confession is also a brilliant, even breath-taking profession of belief The chapters on time and memory have challenged serious thinkers ever since and these alone are worth the price of admission.
Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian. In one of the great texts of the Reformation, Luther helps to define the paradoxes of human freedom cast against a horizon of belief. The Christian, he tells us, is both free and a servant, bidden to love God and serve her neighbor. This freedom is nor the often rootless, boundaryless freedom of so much modern conceit, but a far more complex and ambiguous freedom because we are not free from conjuring with freedom itself When our freedom is untethered to wider meaning and purpose, we tend to flail about, experiment in extreme and often destructive ways. So much contemporary musing about freedom is so thin. Luther helps to thicken things up.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America . Every American citizen should read this one. Tocqueville's masterwork is a tour de force that helps one to understand America 's greatness and energy and America 's tragedies, including the tragedy of race. As with any great thinker, Tocqueville shows there is no easy way either to understand America or, indeed, to be an American. Our freedom sends our bodies and minds exploring, we thirst for equality and adventure. But this freedom invites what Tocqueville calls "democratic despotism" as we cast off all the ties that bind. Finding ourselves in a kind of isolating and existential aloneness, we are more rather than less likely to fall in with the "tyranny of the majority." A bracing and difficult work. One learns from Tocqueville that democratic citizenship is not for sissies.
Albert Camus, The Rebel. This is Camus' great essay on the revolutionary temptation, by which he means the tendency for rebellion of the sort that affirms human solidarity to slide over into totalitarian revolution that denies and destroys that solidarity. The revolutionist succumbs to the chialist temptation, presuming he can bring heaven down to earth. In the process he creates hell as everything that stands in his way must be eliminated. A brilliant warning about ideologies, those that tormented the twentieth century and those that might torment us yet.
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House. One of the great American autobiographies, Addams' is as much the story of an extraordinary institution--the settlement house known as Hull-House--as it is Addams' own. This volume shows what a life of moral purpose and earnestness can yield, even in a time and place when young women lacked the vote. This did not prevent Jane Addams and her colleagues from becoming public women in the full-fledged civic sense. They concentrated not on what they were denied but on what they were called upon to do. Hers is also a story of an America confident in her purpose without being chauvinistic and capable of welcoming and incorporating a greater wave of immigration than any the world has ever known. Those of us with immigrant grandparents have much to be grateful for.
Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago . Her most recent book is Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (Basic Books).
MANY OF THE BOOKS on my list are probably best read in courses, where students can get some guidance making their way through the complicated arguments as well as feedback from what will inevitably be the animated class discussions.
Start with Aristotle's Politics, a storehouse of political wisdom. It is rough going for women, for right off the bat Aristotle says that women and men are not by nature equal. As I say to my students, Aristotle makes a terrible first impression and if he were a blind date, there would probably not be a second. But this is a mistake. Women need to read and understand serious arguments that they don't agree with or like. And working your way carefully through Aristotle pays off handsomely in the cultivation of practical wisdom and moderation.
Rousseau's Emile is another work that women should read because Rousseau really creates the modern notion of romantic love. Many women are still drawn to this idea--or at least parts of it. Reading Rousseau carefully will help them better understand what romantic love entails and decide for themselves how compelling a vision it presents. Do they like Sophie? Are they looking for Emile? What are the attractions? The drawbacks?
For Jews and Christians alike, I think Genesis is especially worth reading, and there are no finer commentaries on Genesis than those by Leon Kass. For any woman looking for a genuinely philosophic and at the same time respectful treatment of biblical morality and of the relations between men and women, Genesis, with interpretative essays by Leon Kass, is a must. And on the subject of marriage, my students have found C.S. Lewis' discussion of "Christian Marriage" in Mere Christianity most provocative.
I'd also recommend David Hume's short and charming essay Of the Study of History, where Hume, speaking directly to female readers, argues that history can teach them important truths about the human condition that novels and romances tend to obscure. Read it, and learn!
Still, novels have their place, and I'd happily recommend any and all of the novels of Jane Austen--a perfect antidote to our unbuttoned age. And if the young women are of the marrying disposition, they might want to pick up a copy of Leon and Amy Kass' Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, to learn more about courtship and love from the masters. And of course, there is Shakespeare, who imagined so many different kinds of loves and the difficulties and delights they bring.
And finally, if they wish to take Hume's advice, there are the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, who can teach our young readers about the moral virtues of prudence, moderation, and magnanimity, all served up with suitable wit, and just about anything by or about Churchill. At present, I am reading Geoffrey Best's Churchill: A Study in Greatness and would warmly recommend that.
Jean Yarbrough is a professor of government at Bowdoin Colloege.
I WAS FOLLOWED into the world by seven siblings. Because the three closest in age to me were sisters, I acquired an intimate view of certain kinds of female reading habits at a very early age. Indisputably, just as there are chick flicks there are gal books. Even as a youngster I understood that dipping into the occasional Laura Ingalls Wilder or Judy Blume, though perhaps unrewarding on the merits, was an act of considerable anthropological utility.
It is important for men and women to have a sense of the literature, whether juvenile or mature, that exists more or less exclusively for enjoyment by the other sex. So any mandatory reading list for young women should include at least one quintessential guy book. The one I'd recommend is The Natural Man, by Ed McClanahan. No guy I know has failed to find this coming-of-age tale, with its bawdy vernacular, a tour de force of comic insight into the adolescent male condition. It would be helpful for women to understand this, if only as a warning.
Does anyone dispute the importance of positive role models? There is by now a capacious amount of updated role-model literature for young women, much of it mediocre and some of it appalling. A second book to include on the reading list would be Hildegard of Bingen, by Fiona Maddocks. Hildegard (1098-1179) won't be a role model for most modern young women in any literal sense (she was a nun), but she deserves some sort of transcendent role-model status. Known mostly for her music, Hildegard possessed one of the most widely creative minds and forceful characters of her age--imagine a combination of Jeane Kirkpatrick, Hannah Arendt, Madame Curie, Margaret Thatcher, and Joni Mitchell.
A role model of a different sort, and of value for fostering the virtue of negative inducement, is the actress Joan Crawford, memorialized in her daughter Christian's Mommie Dearest, a third suggestion for the list. Every reader will have her own most memorable moment--is it the scissors-and-the-yellow-dress scene? the Bon-Ami-scouring-powder-in-the-bathroom episode? the reading of the will? Bookshelves today sag with manuals about mothering in general, and about combining motherhood and career in particular. Mommie Dearest provides no practical advice at all, but it will leave the young reader with a powerful emotional resolve: "Dear God, whatever I do, don't let me be like her."
Into the basket I would also throw a copy of the Chinese classic The Art of War, written more than 2,000 years ago by the master strategist Sun Tzu. Thumbing recently through the index of my Oxford paperback edition- "Envoys, duplicity of"; "Maneuvre, pre-battle"; "Secret operations, delicacy of"; "Sieges, when not to undertake"; "Terrain, dangerous types of"--I realized that this was probably a dating manual that had somehow fallen into military hands. Whatever the truth, its advice is broadly applicable by anyone to almost all spheres of life.
Finally, there should be something from the Bible. Angry feminists would likely recommend the Book of Deuteronomy, always cited as one of the ur-texts of patriarchal oppression. But I would favor the Song of Songs, with its incomparable poetic evocation of mutual love, two-thirds of its verses written in the female voice. Some scholars have even suggested that the Song of Songs was composed in part by a woman. Who knows? But it is highly charged stuff--and for that reason was the most frequently copied book of the Bible by medieval scribes.
As Hildegard of Bingen could have told you.
Cullen Murphy is managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. He is author of The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own (Houghton Mifflin).
1. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813). I know, I know, "everyone" recommends this one, Austen's most popular novel. In this case, "everyone" happens to be right, for in it Austen created two of the most engaging young people known to fiction: smart, pretty, genteel-poor Elizabeth Bennet, and filthy-rich, handsome, insufferable Fitzwilliam Darcy (if his last name rings a bell from last year's film version of Bridget Jones's Diary, that's because the movie's plot was stolen from Austen's novel). Elizabeth and Darcy struggle with their pride, and with their prejudice against each other's social position, then discover each other's virtues of generosity, honor, and high spirits. What could be more satisfying both as a read and as a lesson in how to pick a mate? On top of it all, with Pride and Prejudice and its 1811 predecessor, Sense and Sensibility (almost as good), Jane Austen invented the novel as we now know it. Before Austen, novels were either rambling guy-sagas or sentimental weepers. Austen gave fiction structure, sophistication, and emotional maturity--nor bad for a parsons spinster daughter. Pride and Prejudice also contains one of the most famous opening lines in the history of the literature: "it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." How can you not read on?
2. Carmina, by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (23 B.C.). You know him as Horace, the greatest of the Latin lyric poets, and the Carmina are also known in English as his "Odes." Horace wrote two thousand years ago, but these short poems, models of literary economy, resonate now more than ever, with their themes of life's brevity and of the perennial human need for beauty, meaning, and love. The Carmina are best read in Latin--a language that every college student should master, not just because it is the baseline language of our Western civilization, but because it is beautiful. No translation can quite capture the melodiousness and haunting sadness of lines like these: Tu ne quaesieris--scire nefas-- quem mihi, quem tibi / finem di dederint, Leuconog (Do not ask--it is wrong to know--what end the gods have ordained for me and for you, my Leuconoe). Words to ponder hard after September 11, 2001. If you must read Horace in English, I recommend David Ferry's The Odes of Horace (1998), which includes the Latin on facing pages.
3. The Tempest, by William Shakespeare (1611). Just before he retired from the theater, the Bard wrote his last great play, The Tempest, set in, of all places, America--or rather, the America that most Englishmen of his time imagined, an offshore Caribbean island. Neither a tragedy nor a comedy, The Tempest is a play, therefore, that every American and especially every American college student should read, for its most famous line is "O brave new world!" and its theme is about making fresh starts in a brave new world of new experiences. (Another famous phrase that Shakespeare coined in the play is "sea change.") The hero, Prospero, was duke of Milan in the Old World , but now, marooned in the New after a failed assassination by his own brother, he's forced literally to survive by his wits, as a sorcerer, with the spirit Ariel as his incorporeal retainer. Prospero's lovely daughter, Miranda, who has never seen a young man before, has to learn how to distinguish courtship from seduction when a handsome prince i s shipwrecked on the island in the title's "tempest." A hefty dose of realism tempers the magic and the optimism; the savages aren't noble (think Caliban), and Prospero's murderous brother washes up on the island. Shakespeare understood astutely that the human heart can be so malign as nearly to defy human forgiveness--a useful lesson for a country with a war on.
4. The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette, by Thomas E. Hill, edited by William P. Yenne (1994). Treating other people courteously is as essential to civilized life as Horace, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. I'd recommend anything by Judith Martin (the syndicated "Miss Manners"), but her books are long, and this one, a distillation of the late-nineteenth-century etiquette manuals of Thomas Hill (1832-1915) is only 127 pages. Hill was the Lord Chesterfield of upwardly mobile Americans in his time, and his topics ranged from conversation ("do not make a parade of being acquainted with distinguished or wealthy people") to the table ("all unusual noises when eating should be avoided") to wooing ("a lady is not obliged to invite her escort to enter the house when he accompanies her home"). Naturally, you will have to correct some of Hill's advice to account for changed times (unescorted females don't have to enter hotel dining rooms by the "ladies' entrance" anymore), but overall, his counsel will save you f rom boorishness and snobbishness and show you how to be firm about unwanted advances beforehand so you won't have to sue for harassment later. Hill also firmly believed that no woman should have to settle for a jerk: "Unmarried ladies of mature years are proverbially among the most intelligent, accomplished, and independent to be found in society."
Charlotte Allen is author of The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus (Free Press).
LEWIS CARROLL, Alice in Wonderland. How to see through the looking glass at people for whom words mean only what they choose them to mean--and the ever contemporary Red Queens insistence: "Verdict first, trial afterwards."
Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon. A reality novel on the essence of Stalinism but also sempiternally contemporary in its focus on how dishonest means corrupt all ends, even the intentionally noble ones (e.g., getting campaign finance reform by punishing anonymous speech).
Mark Twain, Hucklebeny Finn. The most American of all novels, in its true, unsentimental diversity of characters and its transcendence of race through elemental humanity.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House. Down Alice 's rabbit hole of justice through serpentine court systems.
W.H. Auden, Collected Poems. Unblinking wisdom, wit, and vulnerability. And a prescient perception of John Ashcroft: "Others say, Law is our Fate;/ Others say, Law is our State/ Others say, others say/ Law is no more/ Law has gone away.
Ralph Ellison, Living with Music. The life force of jazz reverberating through his experiential, confident definition of Americanism.
Nat Hentoff writes a nationally syndicated column for the Village Voice.
COLLEGE READING should unsettle childish assumptions. In their place, it should leave a deepening awareness of the vast cross-generational conversation of culture in which those who read are privileged to take part. It should open the student to unknown or underappreciated aspects of reality, and to disciplines useful for exploring reality. The purpose of the exercise is not mere accumulation or intellectual display but wisdom for life.
On that theory, four short books come to mind, accessible to a young woman of 2002, whether literary or science-minded, and apt to invite reflection along useful avenues:
For light on the choices that confront her as a woman--whether to marry; whether to have children; how to rear them--Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher's The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. As an empirical, demographic study, this has the advantage of cutting through the ideological chaos left behind by decades of liberation and its aftermath and clearing a space where readers of various starring assumptions can meet. It is a fine introduction to social science--and to the universality of marriage as a social institution--but also a well-turned argument for "rooted relationships" as those in which adults as well as children flourish.
To help rescue her pride in America from those who teach that all its saints are plaster, Richard Brookhiser's Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. This "moral biography" brings alive the role of character in leadership, and the role of leadership in great historical accomplishments, to wit, the forging of the world's first constitutional democracy. It will call our student's attention to some unfashionable virtues--reticence, civility, martial valor, constancy--along with the limitations of a Virginia planter who only in death finally reconciled his actions with his often-expressed repugnance at slavery. And it will cause her to consider the paradox of a nonintellectual who staked his life on ideas--for the blessing, he said, of "millions yet unborn," including us here and now.
To expand her acquaintance with the high achievements of a non-Western civilization and help equip her to think about the post-September 11 challenges facing her generation, Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. Here is connoisseurship at its most attractive: a handsome example of erudition brought to bear on a contemporary problem, and the tactful handling of inflammatory subject matter. That these intellectual graces are compatible with the author's energetic political engagement--he argues publicly for a U.S.-led regime change in Iraq --should not be lost on our student.
To address her spiritual thirst, and demonstrate indelibly that there's more in heaven and earth than they told her in high school, a work by a usually slighted American genius, Charity and Its Fruits: Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life, by Jonathan Edwards. What better solvent for preconceived notions than this collection of crystalline sermons by the chief of Puritans? Whatever our student's religious background, Edwards will enlarge her understanding of eighteenth-century New England, and enlarge her understanding of love--which, as he notes, is "the great and essential thing."
Claudia Winkler is managing editor of the Weekly Standard.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Independent Women's Forum
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group