"Literature, strictly consider'd, has never recognized the people, and whatever may be said, does not today. Speaking generally, the tendencies of literature, as hitherto pursued, have been to make most critical and querulous men."
In a prepublication interview, Leslie Fiedler remarked that he had wanted for years to use the title he has given to his latest book. In Fiedler on the Roof, however, the authorial persona resembles neither that of the effervescent Lev Teitlebaum of the Broadway stage, nor of the genially witty Fiedler of many previous books (Love and Death in the American Novel, What Was Literature?, etc.). This unfamiliar Fiedler is not so much a new Fiedler (the essays comprising the present volume were written between 1970 and 1989) as it is an unexpected one, although readers who have followed the critic's work closely over the past half-century (I have not read To the Gentiles, published in 1973) will likely be in some way prepared for what is anyway another Fielder—angry, at times spiteful, intending insult, and tormented always by a strain of cultural confusion that John Murray Cuddihy so well explained in The Ordeal of Civility, a sociological work of significance published sixteen years ago.
As a young professor of English at the state university at Missoula, Montana,...