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Cassandra Novel Four Essays

Booklist. LXXX, June 15, 1984, p. 1432.

Fries, Marilyn Sibley, ed. Responses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989. A collection of essays by twenty-one critics covering many of Wolf’s texts from a variety of critical perspectives. Not only includes essays from a feminist perspective but also gives some idea of the varieties of literary methodologies applied to Wolf’s work. Contains an index and an extensive bibliography.

Herrmann, Anne. The Dialogic and Difference: An/Other Woman in Virginia Woolf and Christa Wolf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Insightful feminist analysis of the construction of the female subject in the works of Virginia Woolf and Christa Wolf. An index and a bibliography including many references to feminist theory are provided.

Kirkus Reviews. LII, June 1, 1984, p. 530.

Kuhn, Anna K. Christa Wolf’s Utopian Vision: From Marxism to Feminism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. An insightful analysis of Wolf’s development from her early works to Storfall (1987; Accident, 1989). Kuhn traces Wolf’s movement from a reliance on Marxism as an ideology to a later development of a more feminist position. Includes an index and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary works.

Library Journal. CIX, July, 1984, p. 1328.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 29, 1984, p. 1.

The Nation. CCXXXIX, September 22, 1984, p. 246.

New Leader. LXXVII, October 15, 1984, p. 14.

The New Republic. CXCI, July 30, 1984, p. 40.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIX, September 9, 1984, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXV, May 18, 1984, p. 144.

Wolf, Christa. The Author’s Dimension: Selected Essays. Edited by Alexander Stephan. Translated by Jan van Heurck. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993. A collection of essays by Wolf on a wide variety of political and literary topics. Provides useful insights into the author and her attitudes toward literature and politics. Includes an introduction by Grace Paley.

Wolf, Christa. The Fourth Dimension: Interviews with Christa Wolf. Translated by Hilary Pilkington. New York: Verso, 1988. A collection of interviews with Wolf. Very useful for understanding Wolf’s process of composition, as well as her political concerns. A short bibliography of primary works is included. Contains an introduction by Karin McPherson.

World Literature Today. LVII, Autumn, 1983, p. 629.

Mary Lefkowitz, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College, is the author of ''Heroines and Hysterics'' and the coeditor of ''Women's Life in Greece and Rome.'' CASSANDRA

A Novel and Four Essays. By Christa Wolf. Translated by Jan van Heurck. 305 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $17.95.

By Mary Lefkowitz

OF the many painful scenes in surviving Greek tragedy, perhaps the most poignant is Aeschylus' portrayal of Cassandra in ''Agamemnon.'' She sees that in a few minutes she will be murdered, but the chorus cannot understand her visions, although she describes them all too clearly. Only after her death do the people realize she is yet another innocent victim not only of the war at Troy but of a family curse that will now claim her murderers as its next victims.

To the East German novelist Christa Wolf, Cassandra is the symbolic representative of women in the Western world, whose talents and intelligence have been suppressed in order to serve the interests of men, power and destruction. Mrs. Wolf arrives at this ambitious equation by a series of imaginative leaps. She sets the familiar and unfamiliar characters of Trojan legend in a world she reconstructs not from ancient myth but from the speculations of archeologists and historians - and even more, from her own perceptions of the modern world, especially the capitalist West.

Formed of such diverse components, Mrs. Wolf's Troy becomes, especially in the eyes of the sensitive Cassandra, a society whose original innocence is repeatedly violated by corruption, deception and violence. Cassandra is raped by a fellow priest of Apollo, becomes the lover of Aeneas by whom she has twins, is imprisoned and released and goes into exile in the mountains with other women; men taunt and assail her because she sees through their posturings and recognizes immediately that Helen, stolen by Paris and thus the cause of the war with the Greeks, is only a phantom. After the misery of her previous life, the death of her family and friends and even her death at Mycenae come as anticlimaxes. What matters is her realization of truth, especially about the characters of the people around her.

Mrs. Wolf gives a vivid impression of life in the preindustrial age when days are marked by sunrise and sunset and one butchers and disembowels the animals one sacrifices and then eats. But in no other respect does ''Cassandra'' resemble a historical novel, since Mrs. Wolf has selected only those facts about the ancient world that suit her political purposes. She believes in the myth of an egalitarian matriarchy usurped by a male hierarchy - a utopian fantasy without historical basis. Her research methods, as she frankly tells us in the accompanying essays and diaries, are eclectic, unsystematic and intuitive; modern Greece suggests to her the character of the ancient Greeks, especially in its superstition, bureaucracy, corruption and repression of women. She seems able to recapture her own innocence only at home, behind the Iron Curtain, where she can see the West as a kind of Greece writ large. If Mrs. Wolf had looked more closely at Aeschylus instead of relying on a 19th-century handbook's recasting of the myth, she would have seen that in the original story Cassandra chose her own fate. Apollo offered her, the most beautiful of Priam's daughters, whatever she wanted if she would have intercourse with him. She asked for the gift of prophecy but then refused to keep her part of the bargain, so the god punished her by keeping her from being believed. If she had slept with him, she would have been able to prophesy and to bear a son who would have become a famous hero - not a bad deal considering what the gods were capable of doing to men and women if they felt like it. The ancient Greeks, whatever their limitations, believed in freedom of choice; their women were no more victimized by the world around them than their men;

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