A reader's delight by Noel Perrin

By Noel Perrin

Certainly one of America's most interesting essayists writes approximately forty literary masterpieces which were wrongfully forgotten or have been neglected within the first position.

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One of these enclaves comprises the island of Crete, and it reproduces Minoan culture (as Graves imagines it), complete with worship of the Mother Goddess. That turns out to have been a good idea. Within a century or two, New Cretan ideas are dominant in most of the world, and it is to one of the many small New Cretan kingdoms that Venn-Thomas gets summoned. War, incidentally, makes a vigorous reappearance in New Cretan culture, with all sorts of splendid fightingbut Page 34 hardly any casualties.

There are two metaphors, three alliterations, five adjectives, and eight compositional elements in that sentence, and it's not even one of the longer ones. Lyly had a huge successenough so that it amused Shakespeare to parody him (Falstaff does a funny imitation of eu- Page 15 phuism in Henry IV), but no one would now read him for pleasure. The case is quite different with the mannerists who flourished at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. People still crowd in to see The Importance of Being Earnest, that very mannered play by Oscar Wilde.

Most of all, though, she wanted to lead the life of the country and to be in the middle of whatever danger or excitement there was to be in the middle of. She generally was. Starting in 1934, she began to write a series of wonderful books about these trips. There are few travel books better than The Southern Gates of Arabia or The Valleys of the Assassins or A Winter in Arabia. Only, "travel book" is too cozy and safe a namethese are books composed equally of adventure and of fine observation. There was much to observe.

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