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Nonfiction in Brief

July 17, 1988|SONJA BOLLE


The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939 by Paul Greenhalgh (Manchester University Press/ St. Martin's Press: $49.95) A history of the flowering period of the World's Fairs, this delightful albeit scholarly book examines the ideals of progress expressed in the expositions as well as the crippling expenditures that nations undertook to put on these unabashed celebrations of empire. Paul Greenhalgh traces the origin of the fairs to the post-revolutionary French industrial and craft displays, which were designed to sell stockpiled goods and to assure the populace that the nation's industry was still viable.

Only slowly did the expositions acquire the "atmosphere of cultural pageantry" associated with the great fairs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As other countries adopted the idea--notably England and the United States--the character of the fairs changed: The British influence was to add curiosities, gadgets and inventions to the traditional industrial and agricultural exhibits, thereby increasing the exhibition's role as a public entertainment and drawing greater crowds. The Great Exhibition of 1851, for which the famous Crystal Palace was erected, drew 6.5 million visitors.

The fairs also became increasingly international, and increasingly competitive and politicized. By 1928, delegates from 92 countries signed a "Convention Relating to International Exhibitions"--in part responding to suggestions that certain countries intentionally boycotted others' expositions to make them fail.

With plentiful but not overworked detail, Greenhalgh shows how, by bringing together so many objects and people in the first popular international forums, the world's fairs significantly influenced modern tastes and attitudes, and contributed to the development of the concept of national identity.


by Maynard Solomon (Harvard University Press: $29.50) A hybrid of historical scholarship, psychoanalytic interpretation and musicology, this collection of 16 essays takes up in turn subjects such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, his religious leanings, the struggle for guardianship of his nephew, Karl, his journal (the Tagebuch , elaborately but perplexingly annotated by the essayist), his birth year delusion (Beethoven believed he was two years younger than he was) and his pretensions to nobility (the "von" was not his by birthright). Maynard Solomon calls the essays "depth studies of psychological, historical, and creative issues whose implications cannot be fully explored within the confines of a narrative biography." Solomon has also written a biography of Beethoven.

Larding his text with an unwieldy number of quotes from musicologists, philosophers and literary figures, Solomon seeks to integrate his understanding of Beethoven's works and his life within a framework of "applied psychoanalysis." The Ninth Symphony, for instance, is "Beethoven's 'A la recherche du temps perdu'," a search for Arcadian innocence. The four dreams that Beethoven reports in his correspondence are also subjected to psychoanalytic scrutiny and found to express a yearning for "the heartfelt--and unanswered--cry of the child for the parents' love."

Similarly fanciful is Solomon's account of Beethoven's family romance, depicted most vividly in the anguished struggle waged by the composer after the death of his brother for guardianship of his nephew. Solomon argues that an unwitting result of his seizure of Karl and his involvement with his brother's wife was the creation of a "fantasy family"; this imbroglio was not, as some have believed, the manifestation of a sadistic and authoritarian personality, but "a delusory way of fulfilling his thwarted longings to participate in family life."

Solomon does remain mindful of the relation between Beethoven the person and Beethoven the musician. He explains that however closely associated Beethoven has been with romanticism (he wrote the Ninth Symphony using Schiller's "Ode to Joy"), his music cannot be labeled as purely romantic. Nor can he be accurately described as a classical composer; Solomon rather characterizes his music as profoundly modern.


Shipwrecks and Survivals

by Mervyn Horder (Duckworth/Ronald P. Frye, Kingston, Ontario: $28.95) Stories of shipwreck make up a special category of adventure tales; their protagonists didn't actually set out to have the adventure they find themselves in. There is, therefore, a particularly heroic quality to the fortitude and ingenuity celebrated in these accounts. "On Their Own" is a collection of 16 such tales, some extracted verbatim from older accounts, some retold by the author. They are chosen from classic shipwreck literature, such as the 17th-Century "A Long and Disconsolate Captivity," as well as from more recent sources, such as the four survival stories from World War II reprinted here for the first time from the British Naval Archives.

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