Izaak Walton

Article excerpt

Izaak Walton. By P G. Stanwood. Twayne's English Authors Series No. 548. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. xvii + 124 pp. $28.95 (cloth).

I find Izaak Walton himself easier to wade through than this exploration of his writing and context. If you want to know about English prose, the development of biography, the exploration of concepts which plague mortal humans, or even how to catch a fish, then read Walton's own writing.

However, having done that, come back to Stanwood's critical introduction. The dust jacket informs us that this book "addresses readers ranging from advanced high school students to university professors" and that it is intended for the "informed reader." The blurb does not lie. Take, for instance, p. 63, where within a few sentences Stanwood refers to "piscatory manual," "bucolic myth," "the georgic convention" and "didactic strain." Frankly, if you can't handle that sort of language this is not the introduction to Walton you need. But if you are familiar with those ideas-or are keen to learn-Stanwood will shed interesting new light on Walton's work.

What kept me reading this book was the approach to the subject. Whilst Stanwood appears to be a little too impressed by the way a tippler's son gets to spend his life with High Church Anglican Clerics (this is more of a backbone than a theme) his main achievement is to put Walton in the theological-and therefore the political-environment of sixteenth- to seventeenthcentury England.

Never forget the levels of pain, suffering and division within England during this period. The civil strife and political turmoil hit hard at the spiritual identity of the English as well as their material well-being. …