Four Stories by American Women , edited by Cynthia Griffin Wolff (Penguin, $6.95). Of the four stories gathered in this anthology, two are well-known (that haunting feminist ghost story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and "The Country of the Pointed Firs," by Sarah Orne Jewett); one is a not-so-well-known piece by a national great ("Souls Belated," by Edith Wharton); the last -- and earliest -- is an obscure work by an unjustly neglected writer ("Life in the Iron Mills," by Rebecca Harding Davis). The editor's dual motive is to celebrate their creators' artistry and to mark the evolution of writing as a career for American women.
The Quincunx , by Charles Palliser (Ballantine, $12.95). Here is a new novel both Dickensian and Collinsian (Wilkie, that is -- and the two great Victorians were fast friends). The Quincunx is shrouded in foggy mystery, endowed with meticulously researched settings in London and the English hinterlands, thronging with deliciously exaggerated characters, and mazy with plots and counterplots centering on a lost legacy and the five-sided figure of the book's title. Despite these features, some reviewers found it harder to turn the book's pages than others, and be advised that those pages' number is legion.
The Fixed Period , by Anthony Trollope (University of Michigan, $12.95). Among Trollope's 47 novels, this is one of the neglected oddities: a science-fictional fable about the Republic of Brittanula, where compulsory euthanasia kicks in when a citizen reaches age 67. R.H. Super, the author of a splendid new biography of Trollope (also available from the University of Michigan in cloth and paperback), has edited the text and written an introduction in which he notes controversy over the book lingering as late as 1919. One of literature's little ironies: Trollope began the novel in 1880, when he was 65. Two years later, not long after it was published, he died. NONFICTION
Essays: Ancient & Modern , by Bernard Knox (Johns Hopkins, $12.95). Bernard Knox was wounded in the Spanish Civil War and fought as a guerrilla behind the lines in France and Italy during World War II; in later years he became a distinguished classicist, received the George Jean Nathan Prize for his criticism and spent many years as the director of the Center for Hellenic Studies here in Washington; since his retirement he has made himself into a superb literary journalist. Along with a substantial autobiographical introduction, this collection includes pieces on the ancient world, essays on modern writers like Housman, Auden and Forster, and articles on Spain, classical scholarship and much else, all of them written with grace and authority.
Incident at a Summer House , by Alexander Gorlov; translated by Richard Lourie (Gessen Publishing, P.O. Box 1721, Brookline, Mass. 02146, $12.95). As writers like Serge Dovlatov and Vladimir Voinovich have shown in their satires and comedies of Soviet life, it's easy in Moscow or Leningrad for the smallest infraction to balloon into a major bureaucratic fiasco. So it was for Alexander Gorlov, who one day went out to his friend Alexander Solzhenitsyn's dachau, found the KGB ransacking the place, and soon found himself the victim of a relentless official investigation, at times harrowing, at times hilarious, that led eventually to his emigration to the United States where he is currently a professor of mechanical engineering at Northeastern University. Only in Russia. Only in America.
Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow , by Neil R. McMillen (University of Illinois Press, $14.95). This history of blacks in Mississippi begins, roughly, with the disenfranchisement of blacks in 1890 and ends in 1930 when the Great Depression held the country in its grip. In the preface, Neil R. McMillen writes that his purpose in writing the book was twofold -- "to study black-white relations and the black circumstance from the bottom up." Thus, over chapters whose topics include politics, education, labor and the law, McMillen examines how blacks and whites interacted and how blacks made their own world amid the strictures imposed by whites. Dark Journey won the 1990 Bancroft Prize in American History.
The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World , by Luciano Canfora; translated by Martin Ryle (University of California, $11.95). Scholars, amateur and professional, have long day-dreamed over the treasures of the ancient world that disappeared in the burning of the Library at Alexandria. Aristotle's treatise on comedy? Tragedies by Sophocles as good as "Oedipus the King"? Complete poems by Sappho and Archilochus? In this attractive book Canfora gathers together everything that can be learned about the Alexandrian library and presents a lucid, even thrilling account of its development, heyday and eventual destruction.