- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Stackpole Books; 1st Stackpole Books ed edition (July 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0811702383
- ISBN-13: 978-0811702386
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,685,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Buchanan Dying : A Play Hardcover – July 1, 2000
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He also observes from this writing experience how "history" is constructed in the fragility of the writer's judgment in weighing and interrogating the disparate data forms from which descriptive writing emerges. A wise scholar named Van Harvey in his book, The Historian and the Believer, once observed that what we call "history" is a field-encompassing field and requires from the historian the skillful interpretation and weaving together of information from many disciplines--psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, religion, and politics, including some awareness of their important sub-disciplines. Such difficulties notwithstanding, Updike warns that "the effort to delve into history left me convinced of the unconscionable amount of bluff, fraud, and elision that any allegedly historical account, labeled fiction or not, entails." This is precisely the sort of wizened sensitivity which we have come to expect and appreciate in Updike's work.
Updike's historical research is solid. His excellent afterword goes through the Buchanan Papers that were edited by James R. Moore as well as the standard biographies and histories of the coming of the Civil War. From Kenneth Stampp to Avery Craven to Allan Nevins to Roy Franklin Nichols, Updike is familiar with the leading works of the impending crisis. This reflects well as he incorporates real figures and conversations along with fictional conversations.
The familiar pattern of events unfolds in Buchanan's mind. The death of Anne Coleman; the tense relationships with Jackson and Polk; Buchanan's ambitions and his tortured path to the presidency; the Dred Scott decision; the feud with Stephen Douglas over Lecompton; the secession of the South, all this plays out in the dying Buchanan's mind. Updike refers to this work as a "play meant to be read" and it probably would not be well adapted on the stage yet it is worth reading. While Buchanan remains a passive character (much like Rabbit?), Updike is fair to his historical memory.Read more ›
In a well researched work, Updike explores almost every controversial aspect of Buchanan's life, including his near expulsion from Dickinson College as a youth, his terminated engagement to Anne Coleman and her mysterious sudden death, his handling (or mishandling) of the controversial Kansas constitution issue, his inattention as southern cabinet members sent weapons and other resources to southern states on the eve of secession, and his passive and weak response when southern states finally seceded. The play also explores Buchanan's unsympathetic attitude towards slavery and his influences on the outcome of the famed Dred Scott decision.
The second act of the play is a series of reminiscences of Buchanan during his presidency, but with overlapping incidents from other periods of his life which insinuate themselves and merge together. For example, in a segment when Buchanan and his cabinet are considering how to deal with the defense of Fort Sumpter, he segues into a letter he received from Anne Coleman explaining the reason for their breakup.Read more ›