It is unfortunate that the recent readership for Fitz Hugh Ludlow's writing has been confined mostly to counterculture types perusing reprints of his most famous work, _The Hasheesh Eater_. Ludlow in his time was a popular writer, and he deserves a wider readership than he presently has. Donald Dulchinos's new biography will, one hopes, help him find that new audience in the years to come. To this end, one of the most valuable parts of the book is the discussion of Ludlow's short stories, and novels like _The Primpenny Family_ and _The Household Angel_. Here Dulchinos provides synopses, copiously illustrates Ludlow's ready satiric bent, and analyzes the increasing maturity of an artist who died far too young--age 36. (In passing, Dulchinos also produces a valuable introduction to the publishing of books and periodicals during the 1850s and '60s).
Dulchinos's book presents Ludlow's life in a balanced way, though he clearly likes his subject. He pulls together information that has previously existed only in unpublished letters and diaries, and makes valuable connections between Ludlow's work and his life-story. The picture that emerges is that of a brilliant and well-educated man whose inner demons often found an outlet in his fascination first with hashish and then opium. In addition, Dulchinos shows Ludlow as a caring humanitarian who first brought the opium addiction crisis among Civil War veterans to the attention of the American public, and who worked to cure many of the veterans who contacted him, sometimes to the point of supporting them out of his own not particularly deep pockets.
The book is written in a lively style and is not overly laden with details, as are some biographies which drown important events in a sea of trivial information. The book does have two problems, but these rest more with the publisher than with Dulchinos. First, it is poorly proofread; indeed, one suspects that it was never proofread. Second, it lacks an index. An index, though onerous to prepare, is an invaluable asset, especially in a book that attempts to break new ground for an unjustly neglected author.
Ludlow led an interesting life; Dulchinos has told that life well, drawing all the strands together. Anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century literature, literary life, and social conditions will find it well worth reading.