The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 6, Number 2, Pages 38-40
Spring, 1981

Editor's Bookshelf

The End of the Russian Empire: Captain Pavel N. Golovin's Last Report

(Portland, Oregon, 1979: $21.95)

Translated with Introduction and Notes by Basil Dmytryshyn and E.A.P. Crown hart- Vaughan (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1979. pp. ix-249. $21.95).

This work might appeal to two audience types: the specialist in Russian-American history and the general reader. It provides the specialist with a look at the materials available to the Russian bureaucratic decision-maker. General readers will find information on virtually every aspect of nineteenth-century Alaska.

Golovin's report consists of two roughly equal sections. The first section, richly illustrated with maps and original drawings, covers events from the early Bering expeditions to the state of the colony in 1861. Descriptions of mineral resources, nature of the Russian colonists, and views on the native population are some of the topics covered. The information is very brief and highly colored by the biases of Golovin.

The second section is of interest to specialists or trivia buffs. It consists of appendices concerning the activities of the Russian American Company, a glossary, and a bibliography for further study.

Non-Russian readers interested in gaining an understanding of the Russian view of the Alaskan colony might enjoy this work.

Jere Donegan

Associate Professor of History

Eastern Washington University

 

Northwest Perspectives: Essays on the Culture of the Pacific Northwest

(Seattle and London, 1979: $14.95)

Edited by Edwin R. Bingham and Glen A. Love (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1979. pp. 247. Bibliography).

Written for the 1976 Summer Institute in Northwest History and Literature at the University of Oregon, this collection of essays asks large questions about the identity, nature, and value of Northwest culture - though its editors maintain more tempered and realizable hopes for it: 'There are materials ... from which a reader of Northwest writing can gain some sense of identity, some consciousness of historical roots, some idea of the broad and diverse margins of existence, some promise of sustained purpose and ultimate fulfillment." The materials are divided into three sections: "Artists of the Folk" (two articles), "Founders and Settlers" (three articles), and "Literary Interpreters" (seven articles). In the first section, both Jarold Ramsey's study of Indian literature and Barre Toelken's of Northwest folklore are as much pleas (quite convincing pleas) for the importance of their subject as they are fascinating glimpses into the subjects themselves. The need for gathering scattered materials in libraries and the basically oral mode of both areas make preservation of materials difficult and urgent. Understanding more about the Indians' feeling for the land would also seem especially timely.

The historians in their section seem almost painfully aware of Santayana's dictum about the lessons of history, pointedly avoiding boosterism, seeing in the history of the Northwest the problems (as well as successes, of course) of the country writ regionally. While Norman Clark tells the exemplary inside story of the William O. Douglas family, he also points out the typical cycle of regional boom and bust, development and stagnation (Are we still in the stagnation phase?), and ends by wondering if, in the future, the existence of the Northwest will have made any cultural impact at all. Barnett Singer's two nineteenth-century "notables" certainly represent their times: Simeon Gannet Reed, the self-made millionaire miner and entrepreneur, whose money founded Reed College, and Thomas Lamb Eliot, minister of illustrious family and first guiding light of that college.

The literary section of the book clearly presents evidence for the existence of important writers in the Northwest, some well-known (Theodore Roethke and William Stafford), some not so well known but deserving a wider audience (Vardis Fisher and H.L. Davis). George Venn surveys the "Continuity of Northwest Literature" from the early "collective epic," as he calls it, consisting of early diaries, journals and letters, through early important journals, such as H.G. Merriam's The Frontier to contemporaries such as Richard Hugo and David Wagoner. A fairly large proportion of the writers discussed wrote in the tradition of the "western," but nearly all tried to use the genre to make a serious, personal statement. Perhaps the best known, at least popularly, was Ernest Haycox, who Richard Etulain claims was not a regional writer (Haycox himself questioned the whole concept of regionalism) except in his last novel, The Earthbeakers, in which "he nearly achieved a work genuinely of the Pacific Northwest as opposed to one simply set in the region." Vardis Fisher and H.L. Davis emerge from this discussion with considerable stature, the poetry of Davis especially a pleasant surprise. George M. Armstrong's explication of Davis' western prometheus story, "Kettle of Fire," justifies Davis' Pulitzer Prize-winning stature. Proving that critics can also write gracefully, Barbara Meldrum sensitively summarizes Fisher's handling of the western: "For Fisher, the West became much more than the meeting point between savagery and civilization; it became a state of mind, a paradise that must be found within, and that blossoms only through the dynamism of love." Surely an important addition to Roethke criticism is Kermit Vanderbilt's argument - against prevailing opinion - that Roethke is, in an important way, a regional poet. Completing this collection, a full annotated bibliography by Ward Tonsfeldt should satisfy the need for sources of further knowledge that the preceding discussions have, it is hoped, aroused.

If the essays here do not present compelling evidence for a coherent regionalism in the Northwest, either felt from within or delineated from without, they do seem to be connected by at least one thread, revealingly described in its tentativeness by George Venn: "It may be that environment and the human response to it will emerge as the source of continuity in the region's literature that cannot be easily dismissed." This tentativeness is, in the end, the dominant tone; if the hope of the editors to furnish materials for significant study of regionalism is surely justified, they also strike the key-note of limitations: "some sense" of identity, "some promise" of fulfillment. Perhaps it's enough. Let us hope it is not the case with Northwest regionalism as with John Phoenix's fabulous beast, the Perockius Oregoniensis, which had legs longer on one side than the other to facilitate running around mountains; now extinct, of course, since once climbing to the mountain top it couldn't get down. "The tops of mountains," said Phoenix, "are just covered with the bones of those that get caught there." But that is not a proper or fair note on which to end. The oftquoted lines of Theodore Roethke are much better and capture succinctly both the intentions of the editors and the contributors' attitude toward their subject.

There are those to whom place is unimportant,

But this place, where sea and fresh water meet,

Is important -

"The Rose"

James Busskohl

Eastern Washington University