Delbanco, Nicholas (Vol. 13)
Delbanco, Nicholas 1942–
Delbanco is a British-born American author of novels, poems, and short stories. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)
Delbanco is one of those consistently highly acclaimed writers few readers have heard of, much less read. "Sherbrookes," his eighth novel, is also sure to be critically well received. A wonderful and strange book, written in lyrical yet spare prose, it contains insights few writers can claim…. Delbanco steers clear of grotesque or Gothic overtones; he keeps his story clean and taut. And although his characters and their lives are peculiar, if not unique, they are always credible, and their story is intriguing and compelling. (p. 64)
Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the November 6, 1978, issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), November 6, 1978.
[Nicholas Delbanco has depicted the] underside of family life in Possession (1977) and now Sherbrookes, the first two volumes of a trilogy about the waning days of a wealthy New England family….
Besides the hovering ghost of Judah, Sherbrookes has many other elements of gothic romance: an ancient mansion, a family curse, an unbreakable will, a mysterious pregnancy, and a moonlight suicide. Certainly, it seems to me that Sherbrookes does not operate like a realistic novel—by means of character, incident, or plot. Many of the characters are blanks; this is particularly true of Ian Sherbrooke, who seems at first almost like an empty cell awaiting the entry of a new...
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Delbanco's vision [in Sherbrookes] is fundamentally pessimistic in a time when this view has been criticized as being purely negative and unconstructive, threatening the future of fiction. Yet Delbanco deserves to be read precisely because in confronting his characters with the realities of death and isolation, he gives them compensating acts of love, will and endurance. (p. 41)
Tim Myers, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1979 by The New Republic, Inc.), January 10, 1979.
(The entire section is 76 words.)
Delbanco, Nicholas (Vol. 167)
Nicholas Delbanco 1942-
(Full name Nicholas Franklin Delbanco) English-born American novelist, short story writer, essayist, travel writer, critic, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Delbanco's career through 2001. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 6 and 13.
Delbanco is best known for his works of fiction, most notably the Sherbrookes Trilogy, which traces five generations of a prominent New England family. His many novels include the experimental work In the Middle Distance (1971), a part-fictional, part-autobiographical narrative, In the Name of Mercy (1995), a murder mystery focused on the issue of doctor-assisted suicide, and What Remains (2000), the story of a German-Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany to settle in England and the United States. Delbanco's short stories, like his novels, address themes of aging, masculinity, intergenerational family dynamics, the craft of writing, and tensions between the past and the present. His style is characterized by poetic language, multiple character perspectives, and narratives that jump back and forth between distinct time periods. Delbanco's several works of nonfiction range across a variety of subjects, including travel writing, literary biography, and music history.
Delbanco was born on August 27, 1942, in London, England, the son of German Jews who had left Germany before World War II to escape Nazi persecution. When Delbanco was six years old, the family immigrated to the United States, where they settled in Larchmont, New York. Delbanco graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1963 with a major in literature. In 1966 he completed a master's degree in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Delbanco was twenty-four when his first novel, The Martlet's Tale (1966), was published. In 1970 he married Elena Greenhouse, with whom he has two children. Delbanco has held posts at several colleges and universities throughout the United States. He taught creative writing and English literature in the department of language and literature at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, from 1966 to 1984. From 1984 to 1985 he taught as a professor of English at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1985 Delbanco was hired as a professor of English at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he serves as the head of the graduate program in creative writing as well as the Hopwood Awards program. Delbanco was also a staff member at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference from 1984 to 1994. He has received numerous awards and accolades, including the National Endowment for the Arts creative writing award in 1973 and 1982, the PEN syndicated fiction award in 1983, 1985, and 1989, and the Michigan Council for the Arts award in 1986.
Some of Delbanco's earliest novels are modern stories based on biblical and classical texts. The Martlet's Tale is a reimagining of the biblical tale of the prodigal son, set in modern Greece. Fathering (1973) is a modern retelling of the Theban trilogy—Sophocles's series of plays about Oedipus and Antigone. In the Middle Distance is an experimental novel combining fiction and autobiography in a self-conscious, multi-layered narrative voice. In the Middle Distance alternates between first-person narration in the form of a journal kept by the protagonist—a fictional author by the name of Nicholas Delbanco—and third-person narration which describes the life of the Delbanco character. The novel intentionally blurs the distinctions between the real-life author Nicholas Delbanco and the fictional character who shares the same name. The plot concerns the writer's attempts to remodel his farmhouse in upstate New York while engaging in self-analysis and struggling with his creative process. Delbanco's Sherbrookes Trilogy—Possession (1977), Sherbrookes (1978), and Stillness (1980)—follows the history and genealogy of the Sherbrookes, a distinguished family from Vermont. The Sherbrookes Trilogy is written in Delbanco's characteristic poetic prose and examines the tensions between the family's past and present. In the Name of Mercy, set in a hospice care facility in Michigan, explores the topical issue of doctor-assisted suicide within the genre of the murder mystery. Old Scores (1997) describes an affair between a professor and a student on a small Vermont college campus that turns out to have a profound impact on the lives of both characters. The narrative of Old Scores moves back and forth between the time of the affair and the present lives of the characters. What Remains follows three generations of a German-Jewish family who fled Hamburg to escape the Holocaust and settled in England and the United States. The story is told from the multiple perspectives of various members of the family.
The short stories in About My Table, and Other Stories (1983) focus on men in their late thirties grappling with the experience of aging who are torn between marital commitments and their own escapist fantasies. The tales in The Writer's Trade, and Other Stories (1990) feature characters who are writers in the process of struggling with their craft and their careers. In the 1980s Delbanco began to publish various works of nonfiction, covering a wide range of topics. Group Portrait (1982) examines a group of famous writers—including Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, and H. G. Wells—who all lived in the same area of England during the early twentieth century. Delbanco discusses the professional and personal relationships between the writers and the extent of their influence on each other's writing. The Beaux Arts Trio: A Portrait (1985) is based on Delbanco's travels with this well-known musical trio; one member of group is his wife's father. Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France (1989) recounts Delbanco's journey with his wife and two daughters through the region of Provence in southern France. Delbanco contrasts his current perspective of the region with his impressions from his previous journeys to the area. The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life (2000) includes a collection of fiction and essays on the craft of writing. The title piece is Delbanco's fictional reconstruction of an incident in which a suitcase full of original manuscripts by Ernest Hemingway was lost in a train station. In The Countess of Stanlein Restored: A History of the Countess of Stanlein Ex-Paganini Stradivarius Cello of 1707 (2001) Delbanco traces the history and restoration process of his father-in-law's antique musical instrument, a rare Stradivarius cello crafted in 1707.
Delbanco's first novel, The Martlet's Tale, earned him early recognition as a promising young novelist. Gregory L. Morris has extolled In the Middle Distance for its complex narrative structure, arguing that, “What Delbanco ultimately pursues in this novel is a triple-layered examination of self and the ability to accurately declare the truths of that examination.” The novels of the Sherbrookes Trilogy have remained Delbanco's most celebrated works of fiction. Critics have complimented the poetic prose and deftly drawn characters in the trilogy and have lauded Delbanco's treatment of the family's intergenerational tensions. His novel In the Name of Mercy has received mixed assessments. Some critics have found the fictional narrative compelling and praised Delbanco for his ability to build suspense. Others have found the novel overly topical in addressing the issue of doctor-assisted suicide and observed that the book fails to adequately clarify the arguments on either side of the debate. Reviewers have been generally enthusiastic about What Remains, applauding Delbanco's skill at crafting the alternating perspectives of the novel's variety of characters. Neil Gordon has admired Delbanco's characterizations in What Remains, remarking that, “In a prose as evocative and clear as any being written in America today, Delbanco draws us into the very thought processes of his characters, showing us the past through their eyes and with the thick reality of their emotions.” Critical response to Delbanco's short story collections has been largely positive, with commentators praising Delbanco's craftsmanship and ability to evoke strong emotion through well-chosen details. Richard Eder has observed that the stories in About My Table are “written with breathtaking technique and an uncanny ability to bring a penetrating emotion up out of a gesture, a pause or a random thought.” Response to Delbanco's various works of nonfiction, however, has been largely mixed. Reviewers of Group Portrait have faulted Delbanco for failing to provide the reader with new insight or information on the authors included in the study. Despite these criticisms, the work has been commended for expressing a strong sense of affection for its subjects. Additionally, several critics have found Delbanco's accounts of his travels in The Beaux Arts Trio and Running in Place to be tedious and overwritten, offering little in the way of original observations on his subject. On the other hand, The Countess of Stanlein Restored has garnered an enthusiastic response by some reviewers, with Amanda Heller describing the book as “a little gem, a trove of fact, lore, and sensual description evoking two enduring and intertwined traditions—the art of the musician and the art of the luthier.”
The Martlet's Tale (novel) 1966
Grasse, 3/23/66 (novel) 1968
Consider Sappho Burning (novel) 1969
News (novel) 1970
In the Middle Distance (novel) 1971
Fathering (novel) 1973
Small Rain (novel) 1975
*Possession (novel) 1977
*Sherbrookes (novel) 1978
*Stillness (novel) 1980
Group Portrait: Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, and H. G. Wells (criticism) 1982
About My Table, and Other Stories (short stories) 1983
The Beaux Arts Trio: A Portrait (nonfiction) 1985
Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France (travel writing) 1989
The Writer's Trade, and Other Stories (short stories) 1990
Writers and Their Craft: Short Stories and Essays on the Narrative [editor; with Laurence Goldstein] (short stories and essays) 1991
In the Name of Mercy (novel) 1995
Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work [editor; with Alan Cheuse] (nonfiction) 1996
Old Scores (novel) 1997
The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life (nonfiction) 2000
What Remains (novel) 2000
The Countess of Stanlein Restored: A History of the Countess of Stanlein Ex-Paganini Stradivarius Cello of 1707 (nonfiction) 2001
*These novels comprise Delbanco's Sherbrookes Trilogy.
SOURCE: Massie, Allan. “Foreigners.” Spectator 249, no. 8048 (9 October 1982): 28-9.
[In the following review, Massie describes Group Portrait as interesting, perceptive, and well-crafted.]
‘Some years ago my friend H. G. Wells wrote to the papers to say that for many years he was conscious of a ring of foreign conspirators plotting against British letters at no great distance from his residence, Spade House, Sandgate’. (Ford Madox Ford: Return to Yesterday.) These words lie at the heart of Mr Delbanco's book, [Group Portrait,] though, curiously, he doesn't quote them. Three of the foreign conspirators were Henry James, Joseph Conrad and...
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SOURCE: Tuohy, Frank. “Birds of a Feather.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4151 (22 October 1982): 1148.
[In the following review, Tuohy comments that Group Portrait fails to offer the reader any new insight or information on its subject.]
Nicholas Delbanco has planned his work [Group Portrait] to illustrate what he calls “colleagueship” or “collegiality”: a quality that he identifies as having existed among these writers when all of them were living close to each other in West Kent or East Sussex around the turn of the century.
Today, especially when one is resident at a university, it is easy to assume that writers enjoy...
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SOURCE: Moser, Thomas C. “Views of Edwardian Fiction.” Sewanee Review 91, no. 2 (April 1983): 282-91.
[In the following review, Moser compares Group Portrait with two other books on Edwardian fiction. Moser comments that Delbanco's book is neatly organized and well-written, and that the strength of the book lies in the author's expression of a strong sense of affection for his subject.]
Even though all periods, all decades, are transitional, the Edwardian age is one of the most conspicuous. Richard Ellmann's phrase is the “two faces” of Edward; Samuel Hynes's, the Edwardian “turn of mind.” Between the end of Victoria's lengthy reign with its...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Fidelity and the Urge to Fight.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (7 August 1983): 2, 8.
[In the following review, Eder discusses the themes of aging and the struggle of individuals caught between marital fidelity and escapist fantasy in the stories of About My Table.]
“We do not die from being ill; we die from being alive,” Montaigne wrote. [In About My Table,] Nicholas Delbanco writes of early middle life, when a certain amount of dying has already been done. Bloom has become sheen. The body's youthfulness is still there, but beginning to harden into its own memorial—it will not be renewed. It is the time when blows become...
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SOURCE: Hulbert, Ann. “Welcome the Wimps.” New Republic 189, no. 18 (31 October 1983): 35-8.
[In the following review, Hulbert compares About My Table to two other books of fiction about “men ill at ease in a post-feminist age.” Hulbert asserts that Delbanco's stories are poorly plotted and lacking in variety, and that the female characters are mere caricatures, observing that the collection fails to evoke a “moral sympathy” in the reader.]
“A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex (1949), the book that helped inspire a flood of literature...
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SOURCE: Delbanco, Nicholas, and Gregory L. Morris. “An Interview with Nicholas Delbanco.” Contemporary Literature 25, no. 4 (winter 1984): 386-96.
[In the following interview, which originally took place in November 1983, Delbanco discusses connections between his fiction and his own life, developments in his writing style, and the origins of his Sherbrookes trilogy.]
Nicholas Delbanco lives in Bennington, Vermont and teaches at Bennington College, where he directs the Bennington Writing Workshop and directs the M.F.A. in Writing program. He is the author of ten novels, including the three books of the acclaimed Sherbrookes trilogy (Possession,...
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SOURCE: Review of Group Portrait, by Nicholas Delbanco. Southern Humanities Review 18, no. 3 (summer 1984): 268-69.
[In the following review, the critic asserts that Group Portrait offers little new factual information concerning the community of six authors in London in 1900, and that the central ideas of the book are not argued in depth.]
In 1900 within a day's journey from each other, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, and H. G. Wells were neighbors in Kent and East Sussex. Comparing their situation to the expatriate Left Bank of Paris and to Bloomsbury, Nicholas Delbanco examines the community of these artists [in Group...
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SOURCE: Morris, Gregory L. “Nicholas Delbanco in the Middle Distance.” Critique 29, no. 1 (fall 1987): 30-45.
[In the following essay, Morris discusses In the Middle Distance in terms of its multilayered narrative, observing that the novel is an examination of the self and the writer's struggle to accurately represent the truth about himself.]
Nicholas Delbanco is the author of eleven published works of fiction. The earliest of these works were experimental, dense, and highly subjective; Delbanco's emphasis here was largely upon language, and in such novels as Grasse, 3/23/66 and Consider Sappho Burning, he strained the limits of allusiveness...
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SOURCE: Wildman, Eugene. “Going Away Again.” Chicago Tribune Books (23 July 1989): 4-5.
[In the following review, Wildman describes Running in Place as part autobiography, part travel literature, and observes that the book is an expression of Delbanco's “love affair” with the area of Provence, France.]
The interplay of memory and landscape is the subject of this non-fiction offering by novelist Nicholas Delbanco. The book [Running in Place] is part autobiography, part travel literature and is an account of the author's several stays in Provence, that storied region of the South of France. It is a description of a love affair with the land, a...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Travel Writing that Goes No Place.” Christian Science Monitor 81, no. 195 (1 September 1989): 13.
[In the following review, Rubin is highly critical of Running in Place, describing the book as unoriginal, uninteresting, monotonous, and poorly organized.]
Society hostess Elsa Maxwell is often credited with turning the South of France, specifically the Cote d'Azur, into a fashionable summer resort in the 1920s. (Before that, it was a place “resorted to” chiefly in the winter.) But Provence, the region of southeastern France that includes that stretch of coastline, has a long history of colorful associations: Roman Gaul, the...
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SOURCE: Pritchard, Melissa. “The Perils of Literature.” Chicago Tribune Books (4 February 1990): 6-7.
[In the following review, Pritchard praises The Writer's Trade as a brilliantly ordered and controlled book that examines the “craft and peril” of being a writer.]
Each of us erects our hidden altars, secretly hoping for salvation from mortality. Art exists as a particularly potent religion, the artist exalted as free agent, as re-creator of the universe. In Nicholas Delbanco's 13th book and second collection of short stories, The Writers' Trade, the craft and peril of being a writer is scrupulously examined.
In the title story,...
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SOURCE: Simmons, Charles. “The Non-Telling Detail.” Washington Post (8 February 1990): B3.
[In the following review, Simmons comments that most of the stories in The Writer's Trade are flawed and bogged down by tedious details, but does reserve praise for two of the stories which he contends are well-written.]
Most of these nine stories are full of faults, some more interesting than others. In the title story [of The Writer's Trade] 22-year-old Mark Fusco has just published a first novel. It gets good reviews, and he appears to be at the start of a successful writing career. Author Nicholas Delbanco describes his professional progress: “Mark was...
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SOURCE: Cummins, Walter. Review of Writers and Their Craft, by Nicholas Delbanco. Studies in Short Fiction 30, no. 1 (winter 1993): 102-03.
[In the following review, Cummins asserts that Writers and Their Craft is entertaining, but that it fails to provide new ideas or a fresh perspective on the craft of writing.]
This collection, [Writers and Their Craft,] material originally contained in a two-volume issue of Michigan Quarterly Review, is an olio of essays, interviews, memoirs, short statements, stories, and even cartoons that the editors hoped would provide “a kind of road map through [American fiction] of the 1990s, a work whose...
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SOURCE: Idema, James. “Fatal Decisions.” Chicago Tribune Books (1 October 1995): 6.
[In the following review, Idema praises In the Name of Mercy as an entertaining, masterfully written novel that includes a number of compelling characters. Idema comments that, although Delbanco's views on the issue of doctor-assisted suicide seem ambiguous, the story is thoroughly engaging.]
What seems for much of Nicholas Delbanco's riveting new novel to be an eloquent plea for legitimatizing euthanasia becomes in the long run more a cautionary tale. Man cannot be trusted with the institutionalized practice of assisted suicide, Delbanco appears to say. For all its merciful...
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SOURCE: Leggett, John. “Can Death Be Humane and Cost-Effective?” Los Angeles Times (3 October 1995): 6.
[In the following review, Leggett comments that the novel In the Name of Mercy is a provocative story, but that it fails to clarify the arguments for and against doctor-assisted suicide.]
Nicholas Delbanco has taken on a provocative theme in his new novel, In the Name of Mercy.
He has seen the conflict between a doctor's Hippocratic obligation to heal, to do no harm, to leave the ending of a life to God and the contrary belief, acclaimed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, that there is mercy in hastening the death of an incurable patient in...
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SOURCE: Kellman, Steven G. “Half in Love with Easeful Death.” Michigan Quarterly Review 36, no. 3 (summer 1997): 520-28.
[In the following review, Kellman discusses In the Name of Mercy in the context of societal debates over doctor-assisted suicide, and compares Delbanco's novel to other books addressing the same issue. Kellman asserts that In the Name of Mercy holds little interest as a work of fiction, beyond its topical relevance to a current social problem.]
To be or not to be is the most compelling of all literary questions. The illustrious cases of Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Phaedra, Willy Loman, Ophelia, Antigone, Dido, Romeo, Hedda Gabler,...
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SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “A Single Jew.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 15 (9 October 1997): 8-9.
[In the following review, Kazin asserts that Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work offers no new information or understanding that isn't already made clear in Malamud's fiction.]
Bernard Malamud's The Magic Barrel was awarded the National Book Award for 1958 against the outraged opposition of one judge. Malamud, amazed that he had won, exclaimed, “A miracle has passed.” He was delayed by a reporter in getting to the dinner in his honor. The waiter, looking him up and down, briskly informed him that the table was full and that there was no...
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SOURCE: Buckeye, Robert. Review of Old Scores, by Nicholas Delbanco. Review of Contemporary Fiction 18, no. 1 (spring 1998): 250-51.
[In the following review of Old Scores, Buckeye praises Delbanco's writing as intelligent, compassionate, and well-crafted.]
We know the story: the sixties; college; the professor, Paul Ballard, and the student he becomes involved with, Elizabeth Sieverdsen; the brief flaring of their love, its near predictable failure. It was the sixties, after all, and too many mistook indulgence for love. And its sequel: to revisit, with the cold eye of experience and time, that youthful evanescence. Or, even worse, to come together again...
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SOURCE: Gundy, Jeff. “Handling the Truth.” Georgia Review 106, no. 3 (fall 2000): 559-72.
[In the following excerpt, Gundy explores notions of truth in the essay collections of several authors, including Delbanco's The Lost Suitcase.]
Essays are often viewed as a kind of supplement, something that novelists and poets do with the leftover thoughts and stray impulses and bits of material that won't fit into their “real” work. Several aspects of the books under discussion here support this theory. One of them begins with an essay that the author breezily confesses having pieced together out of fragments from his commonplace book. And while dust-jacket notes are...
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SOURCE: Gordon, Neil. “No Direction Home.” Washington Post Book World (14 January 2001): 3-4.
[In the following review, Gordon praises What Remains for its thoughtful, evocative, and lucid prose, as well as vivid characterization. Gordon discusses the theme of Jewish identity in the wake of the Holocaust as treated in Delbanco's novel.]
The Holocaust is not only the brutal history of an attempted genocide nor the nightmarish story of the camps. It's also a symphony of dignity lost, of warmth and childhood forever poisoned by the knowledge that generations of Jews anchored in Europe were uprooted in a few sudden years by implacable bureaucrats and jackbooted...
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SOURCE: Kirshenbaum, Binnie. “A Desire to Belong.” New Leader 134, no. 1 (January-February 2001): 30-1.
[In the following review, Kirshenbaum praises What Remains as emotionally compelling and gracefully written.]
Nicholas Delbanco's 13th novel is a breathtakingly beautiful slim volume. But don't be misled by its size. The scope of What Remains is epic, spanning generations and continents. It is further testimony to Delbanco's skill as a writer that he artfully packs so much into such a compact work. There is nothing splashy here, no verbal pyrotechnics. Rather, it is the grace of language and of ideas that creates the gravitational pull which draws...
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SOURCE: Heller, Amanda. Review of The Countess of Stanlein Restored, by Nicholas Delbanco. Boston Globe (19 August 2001): D3.
[In the following review, Heller describes The Countess of Stanlein Restored as an intriguing account focused on both the art of the musician and the art of the luthier.]
It is one of those confluences of circumstance best summed up as “genius of place”: For a number of variably evident reasons, about 300 years ago in the vicinity of Cremona, in northern Italy, a handful of craftsmen briefly produced the most sublime violins and cellos the world has ever known. Their names speak for themselves: Amati, Guarneri, and the most...
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SOURCE: Elliott, Robin. “Lure and Lore of the Cello.” Irish Times (27 October 2001): 69.
[In the following excerpt, Elliott describes The Countess of Stanlein Restored as an engaging and affectionate portrait of a rare cello.]
The cello is an object of such consummate perfection that it is hard to believe that it was created by the human mind. It is exquisitely beautiful to look at, and has a range of musical expression rivalled only by the violin. By turns, it can provide a sturdy yet flexible accompanying line, or take flight in full-throated song. …
[In The Countess of Stanlein Restored,] Delbanco sheds light on the mysterious...
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SOURCE: Foss, Michael. “Yours for Twenty Pence.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5148 (30 November 2001): 21.
[In the following review, Foss offers a mixed assessment of The Countess of Stanlein Restored, faulting Delbanco for focusing too heavily on renowned persons such as cello-craftsman Antonio Stradivari and cellist Bernard Greenhouse, among others.]
This curious little book [The Countess of Stanlein Restored] promises to tell the story of the life, and the restoration, of a musical instrument. The instrument is the so-called Countess of Stanlein cello, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1707 and now in the possession of the respected American cellist...
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Flanagan, Thomas. “Old Masters of the Modern Novel.” Washington Post Book World 13, no. 27 (4 July 1982): 3, 13.
Flanagan criticizes Group Portrait as offering little in the way of new information, but praises Delbanco for expressing a strong sense of affection for his subject.
Ruttencutter, Helen Drees. “Working in Harmony.” Washington Post (9 February 1985): G2.
Ruttencutter argues that The Beaux Arts Trio is “disappointing” and comments that Delbanco inserts himself into the text too much.
Slung, Michele. “Aix Marks the Spot: Traveling through...
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Delbanco, Nicholas (Vol. 6)
Delbanco, Nicholas 1942–
Delbanco is a British-born American author of novels, poems, and short stories. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)
Except for Austrian grandfather Hans, who has anyway a rather minimalist mentality, the characters [in Fathering] are vague—and in respect to emotion, positively ghostly. Roughly the same paragraph form repeats throughout the book: a character begins to express something revealing, but opaquely coy detail and random thoughts pop in … and they slowly come to a halt, like lessons in entropy. This amounts to using the techniques of Woolf and Joyce not for discovery and revelation but to block comprehension, and it's aggravated by the author's nostalgic and protective attitude…. Why does an author want to present characters with poor character but protect them with the suggestion that even the author's knowledge is necessarily partial? This nouvelle vague ploy would go down better if the author didn't claim the Zeus-like power to orchestrate a neo-Sophoclean finale involving blatant coincidences.
Delbanco is skilled and his talent is genuine. Once or twice, in relation to Hans, the writing explodes, but it's impeded by the sense that its long drawn out seduction depends too much, like porn, on veils and anonymity. Hopefully this exasperatingly blocked book is not the one to judge the author by. (p. 19)
Martin Washburn, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © 1974 by The Village Voice, Inc., 1974), January 3, 1974.
Nicholas Delbanco writes like an inspired maniac, with a brilliant outpouring of image and idea; perhaps, therefore, he exists. His novel [Fathering], however, lacks coherence of action, apparently unable to resolve its uneasy balance between internal and external reality. If Robert only fantasized sleeping with his proxy mother, the imaginary event would assume its proper place in a long series of mental extravagances. As a real event, it makes demands which the narrative can't fulfill, for the book evades any real examination of its consequences. Nor does this incest in the first place derive from any clear necessity of character or event: though it expresses the deepest laws of human nature, no one seems aware of that fact. The author, brilliantly alive to the chaos of the inner life, is unable to relate the psyche to what happens externally, and seems unaware of the lack of relationship. Fathering doesn't know what it's doing—doing many things well, never shaping them into a whole. (p. 295)
Patricia Meyer Spacks, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1974 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVII, No. 2, Summer, 1974.
Some of the difficulties [of Delbanco's novels] have to do with a tight, elliptical, syntactically compressed language; also with a profuse allusiveness, and with a structural abruptness (i.e., the reader's uncertainty as to how one thing has led to another) manifest variously at the level of sentence structure, paragraphing, chapter and the novel as a whole…. Delbanco's novels are clearly in the modernist mainstream; his affinities (whether or not of direct influence) are with such writers as Joyce, Faulkner, Beckett, and the French "new novelists."
If Delbanco's style is difficult, it also offers many rewards. On one level, the sheer wit and verbal agility—probably annoying to some readers—are a delight to others…. There is a pervasive anecdotal instinct in Delbanco's books—all sorts of little stories, parables, jokes, tall tales, riddles, etc., popping up constantly and contributing both to the sense of verbal display and of structural discontinuity. Grasse is basically a series of aphorisms in the form of a meditation, beneath which lurks a fiction.
Delbanco's virtuosity is by no means gimmickry, or primarily playfulness. Deeper rewards are inherent in the style. There is a special kind of electric tension between various polar opposites: between, for example, a certain sparseness, tautness, an immensely willful austerity on the one hand, and a lushness, a fertility, sometimes an exotic luridness on the other; between physical immediacy, tangibility, and a continuous insistence toward abstraction; between a certain pop-art quality, and a faultlessly disciplined intellectuality; ultimately, perhaps, between art and life. There is a measure of Lawrence Durrell in Delbanco (particularly in the exotic settings of The Martlet's Tale and parts of Sappho) but a Durrell enriched, complicated and purified by a countervailing severity and control. Perhaps there is more of Wallace Stevens than of Durrell. In most of the novels the verbal wizardry is at once both expression and suppression of strong emotions and turbulent insights. Words both sublimate emotion and, by compression, heat it up. In short, this is a very poetic kind of fiction. (pp. 85-6)
[There] is, in Delbanco's last three novels, an important public and political dimension which makes him very much a writer of his time—by which I mean a writer coming of age in the turbulent, activist, too often violent sixties. News is the most political of his books, and certainly one of the best…. In In the Middle Distance the highly introspective protagonist (all Delbanco's characters are highly introspective—in one or two instances implausibly so) meditates on all manner of things, but among them political issues like Cambodia and the Spanish Civil War. In Fathering there is similarly a great deal of passing political comment and awareness…. Delbanco is perfectly capable of writing straightforward, lucid, traditional narrative if he wants to—like a cubist painter, say, who can be meticulously representational if he has a mind to. (p. 86)
Much of what happens [in Fathering] is intrinsically lurid and sensational—suicide, incest, murder, cancer, rape, prostitution—yet the luridness is splendidly contained and sublimated by that verbal rapidity and acuity which, in the fiction, represents the character's hyperactive awareness, and, outside it, the author's mastery of his material. (p. 87)
Fathering seems to me especially Faulknerian—particularly the "difficult" Faulkner of Absalom, Absalom! Both novels engage the generational theme in a similar context: both involve a torturous seeking out of a murky family tree; both are about failed continuity, violent fragmentation and alienation…. Much of the novel could be construed as an enactment of his vision or sense of identity simultaneously asserted and violated in generational continuity. What is enacted are various rites of marital (and sexual) attraction and repulsion, yearnings and hates as between fathers and sons, tainted communions between mothers and sons, many separations, many dismemberments. Dismemberment, disjunction is one of the central motifs of the book, together with the yearning for renewed conjunction. Many images point up the theme…. In the final analysis, Fathering is a novel about loss…. Yet, as in many other fine works of literature, the negations of the imagination are, after all, affirmations. (pp. 87-8)
Stanley G. Eskin, "The Virtuosity of Nicholas Delbanco," in Mainstream (copyright © 1974 by The Theodor Herzl Foundation, Inc.), October, 1974, pp. 85-8.
How a writer of Mr. Delbanco's skill and depth could have written a highbrow "Love Story" is something of a mystery, but that, unfortunately, is what he has done. If ["Small Rain"] weren't so high-toned, it could almost be mistaken for a parody—from the ultra-romantic meeting of Anthony Hope-Harding (a sixty-year-old English bachelor vacationing in his dilapidated house in the South of France) and Maija von Einzeedle (a bored Swiss mother of two who has been married for twenty years to a dullard), through the kitsch lovers' dialogue, school of Noël and Gertie ("You're a foolish person. And you can't remember Sanskrit either"), and the big obstacles (her husband, his job) that you know they'll overcome, to the tragic ending. In the interstices of all this, there are, encouragingly, signs of the author's undeniable talent and continuing sanity. Hope-Harding and Einzeedle are full-blown, thoroughly modern, if late-blooming, people, and their unpinned passion for each other has a certain grandeur and weight that demand to be taken seriously. But the artificiality of their conversations and the sheer straining for effect intrude constantly. As in his last novel, "Fathering," Mr. Delbanco gives one the feeling that ambition outdistances his perspective …, and that though this is his seventh novel he has yet to find his real voice. (p. 83)
The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), August 18, 1975.