The Good News According to Luke by Eduard Schweitzer, translated by David Green (SPCK, £16.50).
THE ENGLISH translations of Eduard Schweitzer's commentaries on Matthew and Mark have already appeared and been warmly received for the simplicity of presentation by a specialist of profound learning.
His Luke therefore will be equally welcome. Luke of course is one of the most attractive of the N T authors. "Probably everyone's favourite," says Richard McKenna, "because his Jesus is the most warmly human."
But readers of commentaries should not expect to meet the author, the subject of what is written. "Who is Luke"? asks the commentator. "His name does not appear in the text; it is first mentioned toward the end of the second century." So however dearly we love him, there is no chance of tracking him down to obtain his picture or autograph, The commentator on the other hand gives us plenty of work to do on the Lucan text with some surprises.
Thus the parable of the Prodigal Son appears under the title "The Powerless Almighty Father," and the reader is soon asked to note where the verb is in aorist or in the imperfect tense.
Commentaries indeed are designed to deflate the imaginative or poetic pictures that inevitably have become the aura of sacred texts. Ii' the reader wishes to know what the words to the text really, literally mean, then this is the sort of book he needs.
If you love St Luke and his work, then get this book and begin to do some profitable study before you are carried away by sentiment.
And don't be too put off by some quirks in the translation, which is happily RSV except just here and there — "Desirously I have desired to eat this Passover with you."
Conrad Pepler, OP
Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken (Gollancz , £7.95).
JANE Austen's Mansfield Park, you will recall, ends on the implied note that beyond and after the story told in detail by the author, life for all the characters runs a smooth course. God, so to speak, takes over.
And now, in Mansfield Revisited, Joan Aiken takes over. In her foreword she disclaims any attempt to offer a seventh novel by Jane Austen. But the temptation, however vehemently denied or resisted, is all too evidently there. More of that later.
An enterprise of this nature is fraught with all sorts of dangers. To try to pick up a story written almost 200 years ago and revive the times and lives of characters beloved of millions of readers is to walk a literary tightrope. And I don't think Joan Aiken manages at all well.
In the first place, Mansfield Park is a fairy tale, but then all novels are, in a sense, fairy tales. For writers of genius there is no such thing as real life. It is only lesser writers and, perhaps, book reviewers, poor hacks, who insist on "real life" as a setting for fiction. In this sense, there is no point in Joan Aiken or any one else wanting "to find
out what happened after Fanny married Edmund, and when Susan came to live at Mansfield."
If we are to take seriously the element of interest in the story itself, then any one familiar with Jane Austen's novel will find a mass of repetitive details in description and narrative in the present novel. And I shall refrain from repeating them here.
But the real quandary in a project like this is whether to adopt the style of the original author or to be one's own self to today. In either case the outcome is bound to be unsatisfactory, as is indeed the case in Mansfield Revisited.
Just as Jane Austen uses Fanny to sift the story, so Joan Aiken continues the narrative through the consciousness of Susan, Fanny's lively sister, who becomes the new stationary niece in the Betram household. So it is hoped that the reader of ii.fansfield Park will pick up Mansfield Revisited and not notice the hand and voice of a new lady at work. And there's the rub.
For style is not a choice of words alone. It constitutes an intrinsic component of the author's personality. And here we are dealing with the style of a writer of genius. Such genius cannot find expression in a writer's literary style unless it is present in his or her soul.
A mode of expression can be worked to perfection by an author; but at best it will be an artificial mechanism devoid of the spark of genius. And Jane Austen, working with her delicate brush on a little piece of ivory (as she said herself), is the most difficult to copy.
However, Joan Aiken was, despite her protestations, sorely tempted by "an overmastering wish" to pick up Mansfield Park where Jane Austen had left it. I suspect that most lovers of Jane Austen would wish that Joan Aiken had resisted the temptation long enough for it to go away.
But then she probably subscribes to Oscar Wilde's dictum that the best way to overcome a temptation is to succumb to it.