begins with his death, this is still a novelnabout Alexander. His successors arenhaunted by the memory of their greatnleader, whose corpse is so significant thatnhis generals are willing to fight for it.nThere are certain periods of history soninteresting that no one, not even annovelist or a historian, can make themndull: Rome in the days of Cicero andnCaesar, England under the Stuarts,nJapan under leyasu. The Mediterraneannworld in the time of Alexander was notnblessed with Cicero’s speeches andnCaesar’s Commentaries: its history wasnpreserved by such valuable writers as Arrian,nPlutarch, and Quintus Curtius. Tonbe candid, a literate reader is more likelynto derive pleasure from rereading Arriannand Plutarch than from looking throughnMrs. Renault’s trilogy.nIt is not that she does not know how tonwrite a novel—her arrangement of materialnis often very clever—or that she hasnnot mastered the sources—errors are rarenindeed. The problem lies in her vision ofnthe Greeks and her perception of theirncharacters. After reading one of hernnovels, the reader is likely to feel thatnAlexander, Ptolemy, and Aristotle arenreal men, not of the 4th century B.C. butnof the 20th A.D. In the novels of thentrilogy, any character that conflicted withnAlexander is revealed as flawed, narrowminded,nand self-serving. Alexandernmay have condescended to Aristotle andnDemosthenes; it is not an attitude thatnsuits a writer of best-sellers.nWe do not turn to imaginative literaturenfor academic and balanced verdictsnon historical personages; we look for conviction.nShakespeare’s Richards andnHenrys may be worthless as historicalnstudies, but they do embody a sort ofnEnglish prejudice which is the next bestnthing to intuition. There is more to Johnsonnthan Boswell’s life, more to Scottnthan his son-in-law could comprehend,nbut Johnson and Scott live for us todaynprincipally as their biographers’ creations.nNone of Renault’s characters carrynthe conviction either of the dramatistnor of the biographer. Her generals arenthoroughly modern men, corporaten[ LIBI-RAI. ClITDRKnnLiberal ElegancenThe Sjtion ha.s imported from Britainna pinko punk. i)ncChri.<.tophcrHifclK-ns,nto report on the American political scenenwirh the English liberal left’s fiimousntouih (){ chtss. Here is how it enrichesnAmeriian political literature. .Mr. Hirchcnsnis I’ommcnrinjf on the conservative’;’ndisenchantment with Prc-iidcnt Reagan.nFirst he makes a generalized intellectualn.statement:nI’lie iiHiMn-ativf niintl i.’- no more > it i< ilcji;iiH.nNext comes a circumstantial politicalnob.servation:nThe ciriffinul iinniiyamc of tlic rijjhtnwas ihc e.Yclubiun I’l irs tailrrs FromnReagan – iriin.r lircle.nschemers whose lives have been spoilednby their parents.nIt may be unfair to blame a novelistnfor sharing the vices of an age. The trendnof modern fiction requires a novelist tonrender all the tics and quirks of a character.nPublishers hand out checklists of 37ncharacter traits (I have seen one) that anwriter needs to establish for each characrer.nEven more enervating is the compulsionnto “analyze” characrers by establishingnprobable motives and causes innthe character’s psychohistory. Alexandernis scarred—most improbably for anGreek or a Macedonian—by the sight ofnhis naked father, whom he grows to hate.nAmbitious sons do not usually need Dr.nFreud to tell them that they envy theirnfather’s power. All these quirks andnmotives succeed only in diminishingnAlexander’s stature. Plutarch, the greatestngossip of ancient literature, recognizednthat “a trifling incident” cann”show more of his character than the battlesnwhere he slays thousands”; nonethe­nnnrinally we read a publicisric metaphor ofnhis highest-quality writing:nThcir-riiiiJis.irc jiist noi in ihciroii);!!.nWhat elegance of argumentation. Whatnfine.sseofsivle. i.Jnless, he knew the value of selection, andnhe concentrated, “as portrait paintersnconcentrate on the eyes and face,” onnthings that “express the soul.” InnMary Renault’s treatment, Alexandernemerges as genuinely heroic only after hisndeath makes further description andnanalysis impossible.nIt is hard to imagine a successftil novelnabout Alexander. The great historicalnnovels—Scott’s Waverly, Thackeray’snHenry Esmond2XiA Barry Lyndon—conspicuouslynavoid great men as centralncharacters. It is interesting to comparenThackeray’s failure to bring off GeorgenWashington in The Virginians, where henis a major character, with his success inncatching something of Samuel Johnsonnin Barry Lyndon’s recollections:nHe drank tea twice or thrice at mynhouse, misbehaving himself mostngrossly; treating my opinions with nonmore respect than those of a schoolboy;nand telling me to mind mynhorses and tailors and nor troublenmyself about letters.nDecember 1983n