The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on January 19, 1986 · Page 44
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 44

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 19, 1986
Page 44
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The Salina Journal Entertainment Sunday, January 19,1986 Page 4 Author reviews Dickens' social philosophy By JOHN GROSS The New York Times DICKENS AND THE SOCIAL ORDER. By Myron Magnet. 266 pages. University of Pennsylvania Press. $39.95. What was Charles Dickens' social philosophy? Did he even have one, beyond what one critic has called the "philosophy of Christmas"? To the extent that Dickens can be given a political label, he has traditionally been seen as a splendid Review but piecemeal liberal reformer, a radical in the Victorian sense of the term who directed his anger against specific social abuses and then fell back on hazy appeals for a change of heart all round. Some writers, however, notable among them Shaw and Edmund Wilson, have argued that his radicalism went much deeper, that in his later novels in particular he was engaged — without quite realizing it — in a critique of capitalist society that was no less acute for being impressionistic. Over the last 20 or 30 years, among academic critics at least, this view has come close to being the prevailing orthodoxy. In "Dickens and the Social Order," Myron Magnet has two principal aims. One is to persuade us that Dickens was far more a novelist of ideas than his reputation suggests; the other is to demonstrate that his liberal (or radical) attitudes were embedded in an essentially conservative view of the world. Oh both counts, he seems successful; his book is well argued, attractively written and all in all one of the most stimulating study of Dickens to have appeared in recent years. It is the early works that illustrate Magnet's political thesis most clearly. He confines himself to four of them, beginning with "Nicholas Nickleby," a novel he sees as being not merely concerned but positively saturated with the problem of aggression — an aggression that Dickens himself regarded as inborn and universal, "with virtually the status of an instinct." True, "Nickleby" also affirms that the hard-won conventions of society may enable us to keep this instinct under control; that comedy and fantasy — particularly the organized fantasy called art — offer a measure of relief; that here and there we can find pockets of genuine benevolence. But the dominant impression left by the novel remains one of a perpetual battlefield, where a ferocious will to power is the order of the day. The next novel Dickens wrote, "Barnaby Rudge," marked a major step forward in his social thinking. The scenes that make it a masterpiece are those that show what happens when social restraints break down, as the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots sweep through 18th-century London; the result — portrayed in terrifying, hallucinatory detail — is a frenzy of pure destruction, and ultimately of self- destruction, too. But these scenes are not only an unforgettable spectacle. They are also, as Magnet makes clear, set in a firm intellectual context. Almost every part of the novel contributes either to a deep Hobbesian distrust of "natural man," or to its corollary, a belief that it takes civilization to humanize us and keep us human. Civilization, though ideally we learn to internalize its demands, also means law. One of the key symbolic moments of the novel is the scene where the mob attacks the town house of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, and sets fire to his library. There can be no mistaking the sense of horror conveyed by this episode; the author of "Bleak House" may have had little love for most practitioners of the law, but that didn't make him lose sight of first principles. Yet even in "Barnaby Rudge" he found room for a bullying, unjust magistrate, and for many other examples of the abuse of authority. He also drew a figure in whom pathological extremes meet — Dennis, the public hangman turned rioter. 'Runaway Train' is at least four movies in one By JANET MASLIN The New York Times NEW YORK — Akira Kurosawa wrote an early screenplay for "Runaway Train," but he was probably not responsible for the film's references to Michael Jackson and Wayne Newton, or for the coarseness of a lot of its dialogue. Kurosawa's contribution, to a film whose screenplay is credited to Review Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker, can apparently be found in the crude energy and bravado of its central metaphor. Andrei Konchalovsky, the Soviet-born director whose "Maria's Lovers" was another odd but interesting hybrid of international styles, "Runaway Train" is at least four movies in one. There's a brutal prison section, a control-room drama, a claustrophobic three-party interchange and a labored, extended visual metaphor that might mean anything, or nothing. "It is a symbol for whatever you want it to be," Konchalovsky has said. What is well worth watching here, much more so than the train itself, is Jon Voight, who gives a fiery performance in an unusually hard-edged role. Voight, with scars reshaping his eyes and wearing a gleaming metal tooth, plays a hard-boiled prisoner named Manny, a convicted killer who has been welded into his cell by a sadistic warden. After the early part of the film, which shows Manny in some savage fights, he escapes with a young sidekick named Buck (Eric Roberts) and boards the train of the title. Unbeknown to Manny and Buck, [ the engineer dies—and leaves the train hurtling at breakneck speed on what is inevitably a collision course. The nihilism and the vicious intensity , of Veight's performance here are entirely different from anything else he has done on screen; it's a shame those qualities emerge in such a vigorous but disjointed film. Everything else in "Runaway Train" borders on the absurd, from Roberts playing yet another noisy blowhard to Rebecca DeM- ornay as a young woman in pigtails who somehow joins the two escaped convicts on their desperate ride. "Boy, I guess you guys picked the wrong train!" she says. The film often tries nobly but unsuccessfully for a metaphysical dimension, as when someone in the control room stares at his television screen and wonders, "Why didn't we stop it, with all this junk, all this high technology?" Best sellers Jon Voight makes a daring attempt to escape from prison on the "Runaway Train." N.Y. Times News Service (Last week's ratings in parentheses) FICTION 1. The Mammoth Hunters, Jean Auel (1) 2. Lake Woebegon Days, Garrison Keillor (3) 3. Texas, JamesMichener (2) 4. Contact, CarlSagan(4) 5. Secrets, Danielle Steel (5) 6. Galapagos, KurtVonnegut (7) 7. Lucky, Jackie Collins (13) 8. The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler (9) 9. The Secrets of Harry Bright, Joseph Wambaugh (8) 10. What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies (-) 11. London Match, Len Deighton (-) 12. Skeleton Crew, Stephen King (6) 13. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, RobertA.Heinlein(ll) 14. The Storyteller, Harold Robbins (15) 15. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (10) NON-FICTION 1. lacocca: An Autobiography, Lee lacocca with William Novak (2) 2. Yeager: An Autobiography, Chuck YeagerandLeo Janos (1) 3.1 Never Played the Game, Howard Cosell with Peter Bonventre (3) 4. Dancing In the Light, Shirley Mac- LaSne(5) 5. Elvis and Me, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (4) 6. On the Road with Charles Kuralt, Charles Kuralt (6) 7. House, TracyKidder(7) 8. Comet, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (8) 9. Yon Can Fool All of the People All of the Time, ArtBuchwald(lO) 10. A Passion for Excellence, Tom Peters and Nancy Austin (-) 11. Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas (-) 12. A Light In the Attic, Shel Silverstein (15) 13. Only One Woof, JamesHerriot(9) 14. Ferraro: My Story, Geraldine A. Ferraro with Linda Bird Francke (13) 15. Shoot Low, Boys — They're Riding' Shetland Ponies, Lewis Grizzard (12) ADVICE, HOW-TO, MISC. 1. Fit for Life, Harvey Diamond and Marilyn Diamond (1) 2. The Be (Happy) Attitudes, Robert Schuller(2) 3. Jane Brody's Good Food Book, Jane E.Brody(S) 4. CaUanetics, Callan Pinckney with SallieBatson(-) 5. The Frugal Gourmet, Je£fSmith(3) New books at the Salina Public Library Riches and Honor, TomHyman The Red Fox, Anthony Hyde Elvis and Me, Priscilla Presley Galapagos, KurtVonnegut The Kingdom of the Wicked, Anthony Burgess

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