Books: The Virgin Laureate

THE SOT-WEED FACTOR (806 pp.)—John Barth—Doubleday ($7.50).

"What am I? Virgin, sir! Poet, sir! I am a virgin and a poet; less than mortal and more; not a man, but Mankind! I shall regard my innocence as badge of my strength and proof of my calling: let her who's worthy oft take it from me!"

The speaker is a remarkable man, a "rangy, gangling flitch" who broods away his days in the company of the "fops and fools of the coffeehouses" of 17th century London. What distinguishes him from his fellows is not only his...

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