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The Territory Around Us

In his literary journalism, critic, novelist and memoirist Robert Begiebing offers readers a rare view of American authors at transformative moments in their careers. Celebrated New England historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, poet Sydney Lea and Maine Poets Laureate Wesley McNair and Baron Wormser, and novelists Merle Drown and Norman Mailer are among the authors profiled and reviewed. Begiebing also addresses issues as significant to us today as they were at the time of original periodical publication: the nature of American conservatism, the political economy of our budgetary priorities, and the looming global ecological crisis. Presenting journalism originally published in Art Times, Harvard Magazine, The Mailer Review, The Maine Times, The New Hampshire Times, The Portsmouth (NH) Sunday Herald, The Southern New Hampshire University Journal, USA Today Magazine, Writing Nature, and World Magazine, this book offers a rich, uncommon collection of three decades of work by an entertaining and independent writer.

A Berkshire Boyhood (2015)

Neither celebrity-gawk, "misery memoir," nor confessional melodrama, A Berkshire Boyhood is more reminiscent of such memoirs as Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and Emily Fox Gordon's Are You Happy? In fact A Berkshire Boyhood will strike readers as a parallel universe to Gordon's book, her own story of growing up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, as a privileged faculty brat and young girl in the 1950s. Berkshire Boyhood is a boy's story of growing up from working class roots in that same place and time. It explores family troubles arising out of the wounds and separations of World War II, ethnic religiosity, and adolescent sexuality (1950s variety). Its deeper appeal comes from our curiosity about the 1950s and the Boomer generation, from fraught relations between that generation and their parents, who fought WWII, from our interest in the influence of landscape on human development, and from a vision of post-war years as a decade seething with the anger and dissent of an incipient counterculture that would explode in the sixties.

The Turner Erotica (2013)

J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), the greatest British landscape painter and one of the most revolutionary influences on Western art since the eighteenth century, left upon his death a rich and varied legacy to Britain’s National Gallery, including more than 19,000 sketch studies containing considerable erotica. When John Ruskin, Turner’s greatest supporter at the time, discovered the erotic works, he, with the help of National Gallery Keeper Ralph Wornum, burned most of the material they found offensive. The Turner Erotica (which serves as the final novel in Begiebing's historical tetralogy) follows narrator William James Stillman (the young American artist, Consul to Rome and Crete, friend of Ruskin, and acquaintance of Turner) as he pursues a dangerous quest across Britain, Europe, and New England to discover and save the few remaining studies that through theft and betrayal escaped Ruskin’s outraged fire. In his quest, Stillman enlists the help of Pre-Raphaelite William Rossetti, the liberated American painter Allegra Fullerton, and Sir Richard Burton (the greatest linguist, swordsman, pistol-shot, and covert agent for the British government in the 19th century). Stillman’s obsession with the surviving erotic studies arises out of their potential value to British art history and his deep sense that the studies contain a secret clue to the master’s celebrated body of public work.

The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin (1991, 2012)

New England 1648. The Piscataqua Settlement. A young woman has been found dead, her violated body stripped naked and thrown into a river. Her husband, a reclusive and learned man, has mysteriously halted his legal proceedings against the most likely suspect, who has disappeared into the wilderness. The settlement’s elders call on a young Englishman, Richard Browne, to discover the truth about what happened. But the more he learns, the more puzzling the crime becomes, and the more he finds himself drawn to the wife of the missing suspect... Based on an actual unsolved murder from the records of Colonial America.

The University Press of New England has published a new, 20th anniversary edition of the novel (in both e-book and hard copy formats).

The Adventures of Allegra Fullerton (1999)

A picaresque novel of the remarkable life of a liberated 19th-century woman.

Allegra Fullerton, a young widow in the early 19th century, struggles toward independence and artistic fulfillment in a society unprepared to grant either to a woman.

From her "stalking" by a powerful and dissolute young industrialist to her friendship with Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, another independent-minded woman; from her artistic awakening in Italy, influenced by, among others, a young John Ruskin, to her re-awakened passion as a woman, Allegra Fullerton narrates her story in a voice that is wry, wise, but eternally optimistic.

The daily life of New England and Italy in the 1830s and 1840s -- especially the circumstances of an itinerant portrait painter and struggling artist -- is rendered in rich and authentic detail. And Allegra's own consciousness is very much the product of her era, even as she struggles constantly to transcend the limited role that society offers her. Infused with picaresque humor and adventure, with meditations on art and freedom, and with the captivating, intelligent voice of Allegra herself, The Adventures of Allegra Fullerton is an enjoyable, engrossing novel.

Rebecca Wentworth's Distraction (2003)

Daniel Sanborn, trained in the academies of London, arrives in Colonial Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to establish himself as a portraitist. His very first commission, however—to paint the adopted daughter of a prominent local family—will challenge his most cherished beliefs about art and life. Mysterious and solemn, twelve-year-old Rebecca Wentworth reveals herself to be an artistic prodigy of incandescent genius, and the victim of bizarre, disturbing visions. Her family, confused and frightened by the girl’s uncanny talent and strange paintings, has decided to send her away for her own protection. Sanborn, however, becomes fascinated by Rebecca and her gifts.

Confident, accomplished, and reassuringly conventional, Sanborn succeeds over time in establishing himself as painter to Portsmouth’s elite. But even as he cultivates his position as artistic entrepreneur—investing in land, furthering his business connections—he also conspires with Rebecca’s former governess to learn where the girl has been sent. Gradually yielding to his growing obsession, Sanborn tracks Rebecca to a frontier village in the interior of New Hampshire. His interference precipitates a family crisis concerning her ultimate fate, and Sanborn is made the agent for presenting Rebecca, now seventeen, with a stark and unappealing choice.


Click here to purchase along with the other four books in the tetralogy.

Other Books by Robert J. Begiebing

Acts of Regeneration: Allegory and Archetype in the Work of Norman Mailer (1981)

Toward a New Synthesis: John Fowles, John Gardner, and Norman Mailer (1989)

The Literature of Nature: The British and American Traditions (1990)
(a critical anthology with V. Owen Grumbling)

Ernest and Norman: A Dialogue in Two Acts (2010)