Brave new worlds

DANGEROUS PILGRIMAGES: transatlantic mythologies and the novel Malcolm Bradbury Secker & Warburg £25

In 1955, the young Malcolm Bradbury crossed the Atlantic on board the Queen Mary to take up a post at the University of Indiana. Within a few years he had begun his transatlantic novel Stepping Westward (1965). He had also begun planning this critical work, Dangerous Pilgrimages, whose freshness and excitement belie the 30-plus years of its gestation.

Literary relations between the United States and Europe form a long and tangled story, which Bradbury tells chronologically. The book is built round what are effectively essays on individual writers, interspersed with passages of general reflection and of more condensed information. This makes it easy to read in chunks, as well as to refer back to.

Bradbury opens with Chateaubriand and James Fenimore Cooper. The former visited America for five months in 1791: Bradbury demonstrates how in Atala (1801) he was able to project onto the decline of the indigenous nations a European Romantic melancholy which assured the book's rapid success. He quotes Cooper apologising for America's lack of the history, manners and society on which fiction depended, but goes on to show that in his Leatherstocking novels Cooper invented the Western, the first specifically American literary form. For an influential American imagining of Europe, Bradbury turns to Washington Irving, about whom he writes at loving and persuasive length. Not only did Irving create the tourist England of Stratford, Westminster and bucolic picturesqueness: he also naturalised European folk-tale motifs into an American setting, perhaps most powerfully in Rip Van Winkle. Irving, the first American to be a professional writer, created a poetic Europe for America and suggested to Europeans that America had its own poetry. This double achievement places him at the head of a new tradition.

Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne and their contemporaries are interestingly discussed, but the next high point in this book is the treatment of Henry James. James's peculiarly elusive intelligence, the way in which his thinking impregnates his fiction without being stated, has always made him a difficult critical challenge, and Bradbury rises to it admirably. As when dealing with Mark Twain, he uses an adept blend of biography and social history to establish the worlds in which James moved both in America and in Europe, but interwoven with this is an account of the three major phases of James's career which is both enlightening and shrewd. One test of a book with this one's encyclopedic ambitions is whether it can handle detail properly: Bradbury's paragraph on The Portrait of a Lady (1881) blends a paraphrase of the novel's structure with quotation in a remarkably lucid fashion.

The most familiar phase of this story is, of course, that of Paris in the Twenties, the Paris of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Here, little new is said about the usual protagonists, but Bradbury gives us a very useful account of the central role played by Gertrude Stein. "Stein may have created some of the century's most obscure and some would say unreadable books", he says, but "in facilitating one of the great cultural transactions of the century, the transatlantic passage of the modern, she was, as she said, a power, a legend and, well, a genius." He also conveys how exciting Stein would have been to know.

Bradbury writes as a liberal humanist, which means that his grasp of avant-garde work is not always certain. Like his predecessor George Orwell, he takes Henry Miller far too seriously - few non-academics, I suspect, have ever read much more than the dirty bits. However, for the most part his stance makes his arguments accessible and usually sympathetic. I was sorry that in dealing with more recent work he did not say more about Philip Roth, and that he accepts Gore Vidal's own pretence of being an American writer in exile rather than a participant in the transatlantic relationship. Vidal's magnificent historical novels are meant to educate, not just the Republic, but us.

These are minor cavils. Bradbury has read a very great deal and describes it enticingly. His text would have benefited from editing to remove repetitions, but reads easily. His final suggestion - that moves towards European union reflect and perhaps repeat the emergence of the United States - takes too benign a view of our politics but is thought-provoking. The one real pity is that this book is confined to the novel, because there is another side to this story. An account which does not deal with Longfellow or T S Eliot is necessarily limited, and we could do with a companion volume dealing as thoroughly and engagingly with poetic relations.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada