Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, April 21, 2012



Caleb Williams
by William Godwin
Published  in 1794
Read on an Amazon Kindle Ereader

   Caleb Williams is a book that fell into the bottom ten 18th century entries on the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die List solely on cost grounds.   Both the Penguin and Oxford Worlds Classics edition are more then 5 bucks, so over ten when you add in shipping.   Most of the books remaining  on the Bottom 10 are relatively "hard to get" and/or not free on the Kindle or in Google IBooks.

  I can tell you right now that the last book on the 18th century portion of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die is going to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie or; The New Heloise, his 700 + page epistolary novel.  It costs more then 30 bucks on Amazon when you add in shipping, and there is only one current version.  Julie costs twenty bucks on Kindle, which is ridiculous.

   Other then that I've bought all the remaining titles on the "Bottom 10" :  Denis Diderot's The Nun,  Marquis De Sade's Justine, Confessions and Reveries of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau AND Dangerous Liasons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.  Oh and Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, which, I shit you not, is over three thousand Kindle sized pages- in 10 volumes.  Not stoked about reading that last one.  Did I mention is Clarissa is not only 3000 pages on a Kindle BUT ALSO an epistolary Novel?  That is three thousand pages... of letters.

  Returning to Caleb Williams... Caleb Williams is a 'minor classic.'  The Author, William Godwin is famous for his early anarchist leanings and his philosophical type writings surrounding that subject.  But he also wrote Caleb Williams, which is hailed (incorrectly I would argue) as the "first mystery novel" on William Godwin's Wikipedia page. (1)

  You could argue that Caleb Williams is a late 18th century pre-cursor to the Realism trends of the early 19th century.  Certainly, when you consider Caleb  Williams besides to other contemporary late-Gothic efforts like Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and M.G. Lewis' The Monk, the 1790s look like either a Gothic revival or an actual flourishing of the Audience for Gothic fiction.   At any rate, you can observe a distinct trend of "popular taste" during this period and that is a taste for Gothic fiction. 

   Godwin, writing in the 1790s did not draw from the same Romantic tropes that his contemporary Gothic-influenced writers used.  For example, The Monk is set in Spain and The Mysteries of Udolpho in Italy- two of the most "Romantic" of destinations.  Rather Godwin seems more influenced by Protestant confessional literature- which goes back to Daniel Defoe's use of motifs as early as Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe

  In Caleb Williams, the titular character is a boy "in service" to the wealthy Lord Falkland.  During the course of his service, he learns that Falkland murdered a local bully and then let two innocent men hang for the crime.  Caleb decides to leave Falkland's service because he "can't take it." and Falkland flips out- setting in motion a two hundred page chase/persecution drama that sees Caleb William thrown into jail repeatedly, adopting whimsical disguises and fleeing from place to place, always being pursued by the agents of Falkland, who is irrationally obsessed with silencing Williams and keeping him from ever exposing his secret.

 I thought the actual material written by the 1001 Books staff was insightful for Caleb Williams, comparing the narrative to something Kafka would write, and I think that is the proper reference point for a Modern reader- it's an example of the literature of paranoia/persecution- a huge 20th/21st century subject.


(1)  From the Wikipedia Entry:

Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and   Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, which attacks aristocratic privilege, but also is the first mystery novel.


The Adventures of Caleb Williams is not a "mystery novel."  Continuing with the Wikipedia centered research method in this blog post, the Mystery Novel has two main categories:

       Although normally associated with the crime genre, the term "mystery fiction" may in certain situations refer to a completely different genre, where the focus is on supernatural or thriller mystery (the solution doesn't have to be logical, and even no crime is involved). (WIKIPEDIA ENTRY FOR MYSTERY FICTION)

  What Wikipedia is so in-artfully trying to say is that the Mystery Novel is not just Detective/Crime fiction featuring a Sherlock Holmes style investigator, but also includes the "Supernatural Thriller."  I would argue that this is incorrect, and that the supernatural thriller is not a "mystery novel" at all but rather a "horror story" or "Horror Fiction" as wikipedia calls this genre.

  Godwin is not writing a "mystery novel" rather he is drawing on the supernatural themes of Gothic fiction which was pioneered by Horace Walpole's 1764 inventor of the genre, The Castle of Otranto.  Gothic fiction involves the combination of horror and romance.


Friday, April 20, 2012



by Henry Fielding
published 1751
Read Public Domain Kindle Edition

   Amelia is the last of the major PICARESQUE English Novels from the 18th century.  It's not the last major novel of the 18th century I have left to read, that would belong to Samuel Richardson's Clarissa- all 1000 pages of it.  However, it is an opportunity to make some observations about the Art form of the Picaresque Novel, and the important role it played in the development of modern literature.

  The PICARO, as he was originally known, was a Spanish gentleman of uncertain birth who cheated and swindled his way through society in a classic "anti-hero" style.   This character demanded a literary vehicle that was long on plot and low on character development. PICARO's by definition, do not learn from their mistakes, they simply escape the consequences for their actions by the manipulation of plot.

    The two major examples of 18th century adaptations of the Picaresque format are Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding.   Tobias Smollett was the Author of three major, thoroughly amoral picaresque novels: Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle and Humphrey Clinker.  All three Novels featured heroes who behave abominably during the course of the Novel.  Henry Fielding, around the same time as Smollett, also wrote three major Novels that made use of the Picaresque format:  Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and Amelia.

    Comparing the two novelists is nothing new. In fact, you can find the Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Volume X: The Age of Johnson, Chapter II, section 27, "Final Comparison between the literary achievements and influence of Fielding and Smollett." (1)

   Amelia, I think, is generally though to be the least of these six classic Novels.  Perhaps because it was published late in Fielding's career.  Perhaps that's because he tinkered with the format of the classic Picaresque.  In Amelia, the young Picaro marries the virtuous Amelia and then spends the rest of the novel fighting off would-be corrupter of her virtue.   As any student of the picaresque knows, the Picaro does not spend his nights and days fretting about his dear sweet wife.  Would Don Juan do that? No.

  At the same time it's hard not to feel that Fielding was moving in the realist direction that was to characterize Novels of the 19th century.  Although I'm no specialist, the references to current events in the 1750s were recognizable as were the place location.   Amelia is a work anchored to a specific time and place, which is less true of the other picaresque hits of the mid 18th century, which tend to move between "city" and "country."

  By all accounts, the pacing and structure of all picaresque Novels are less then harmonious to the modern reader.  They are a reminder of just how much development the form of the Novel has experienced in the last three hundred years.  Surely the fact that it is possible for me to write this review 261 years after is sufficient testimony that Amelia continues to maintain it's status as a literary classic, and a hit, and therefore worth reviewing. 


(1)  That conclusion is:  

The direct influence of Fielding is harder to estimate than that of Smollett... But the very completeness and individuality of Fielding’s work prevented his founding a school. The singleness of intellectual standpoint which governs all his novels makes him difficult of imitation; and he is no less different from those who have taken him as model than he is from Cervantes, whom he professed to follow. But this it is safe to say: that Fielding, a master of the philosophical study of character, founded the novel of character and raised it to a degree of merit which is not likely to be surpassed...The novel of character must always go to Fielding as its great exemplar.  36
  Smollett’s novels have about them more of the quarry and less of the statue. He is richer in types than Fielding; and it needs only a mention of his naval scenes and characters to raise memories of a whole literature. The picaresque novel in general, which burst into activity soon after the publication of Roderick Random, was under heavy obligations to Smollett, and nowhere more so than in its first modern example, Pickwick. Dickens, indeed, who was a great reader of Smollett, was his most eminent disciple. In both, we find the observation of superficial oddities of speech and manner carried to the finest point; in both, we find these oddities and the episodes which display them more interesting than the main plot; in both, we find that, beneath those oddities, there is often a lack of real character.  Although, at the present moment, the picaresque novel has fallen a little out of fashion, Smollett will continue to be read by those who are not too squeamish or too stay-at-home to find in him complete recreation.


Thursday, April 19, 2012


Peregrine Pickle
by Tobias George Smollett
p. 1751
p. standard revised edition 1758
Read on Amazon KINDLE

        It is easy to tell you how Tobias Smollett's Peregrine Pickle made it into my personal "Bottom 10 of 18th Century Classic Novels."
       First, I hated the other two Tobias Smollett books I read as part of the 18th century portion of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (1).  I think it's important to note that I don't feel like I owe any special deference to the creators/editors of this list, but that a lot of the questions surrounding considerations on the 18th century portion are what we in the legal field call "A settled question of law."
     Second, Peregrine Pickle is what you call a looongggg book.  The Amazon Kindle product page says 748  pages but I swear it was over 1100 pages on my Kindle.  1100 Pages.  He was using Roman Numerals for Chapter Numbering that I didn't even recognize. (Is C 100 or 50?)  I just can't imagine many people read this book.  It doesn't have an Oxford World Classic's edition, a Penguin Classics edition or even a Dover Thrift edition.  In fact, before the Kindle/Ereader I probably never would have read Peregrine Pickle at all.
     Third,  like Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker, Peregrine Pickle lacks what we Moderns call "character development."  Maybe I'll just let Robert Gorham Davis explain, as he does in his introduction to the 1950 Rineheart edition of Humphrey Clinker:

   In the strictest sense the picaresque novel is the biography or autobiography of a picaro, a rogue, a servant, a witty swindler, an antihero.  In a broader sense it is the travel adventures of an unsettled young man, often of good birth, who has the moral characteristics of the picaro, the love of hoaxes and intrigues.  Though there is usually some sort of success, change of heart or reconciliation at the end, the picaresque novel differs from the "growing up" novel introduced by romanticism- Wilhelm Meister,  The Sentimental Education, Of Human Bondage,- in that there is no organic growth of the particular character through experience.  The adventures are self-sufficient, require only type characters, and could happen in almost any sequence equally well.

  So it's one thing to write a thousand page Harry Potter novel where every single reader desperately cares about "what happens" to the main character, quite another to sustain the interest of an Audience through scenery and slap-stick humor.   It puts the Picaresque novel closer to genre films and "true crime" TV shows then other motifs in 18th century literature.   The behavior in Peregrine Pickle can be quite shocking at times- certainly "pre-Victorian" in terms of the depiction of say, sexual mores.

   In Peregrine Pickle, for example, the titular picaro spends about 200 page trying to bang this chick in a series of inns between Paris and Amsterdam.  There are def. accusations of "rape" contained in Peregrine Pickle and "comic" behavior that quite obviously involves the kind of sexual assault that gets you locked up in state prison.  It was a different time.

 Unfortunately, Peregrine Pickle's brief interesting moments, whether they be the lead character trying to rape some chick or an interesting depiction of the emerging public sphere of the 18th century, are interspersed with hundreds of pages of non-hits, and even entire other books.  For example, the Memoirs of a Lady of Quality take up 300 pages in the middle of Peregrine Pickle and basically are a whole other story told by a woman who has no relationship to Peregrine Pickle.   This is how Smollett rolled, people, he was a working writer and got paid by the word.

  It's hard to recommend Peregrine Pickle to anyone.  After all, Roderick Random is written first, and Humphrey Clinker is supposed to be the best, which leaves Peregrine Pickle in a distant third place.  And thus, Peregrine Pickle- number nine(?) on my bottom ten Literary Classics of the 18th century.

(1)  Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Roxana by Daniel Defoe


by Daniel Defoe
p. 1724
Everyman Edition
Edited by Robert Clark
p. 1998

 I read this book three or four years ago, and I think I just didn't like it that much, so never wrote a review.  I think I read it before I seriously thought I could actually read all of the books on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, 2006 edition, list.

  Defoe has three books on the list: Robinson Crusoe (reviewed 2/11/08), published in 1719 arguably invented the Novel as an Art Form distinct in the larger field of "Literature."  Moll Flanders (reviewed 2/10/08) and Roxana both cover the same territory: the life story of a woman who is a mistress/wife/whore in bawdy 18th century, pre-Victorian prudishness times.

 Of the two, Moll Flanders came first, and Roxana was published two years later.  Both were 'hits' although the primitive state of the marketplace for literary work in the 1720s probably limited the fortune that Daniel Defoe attained (if not the fame.)

 It is strange to me that Roxana even made it onto the list, but it was written so early and Defoe just doesn't have anything other then these three novels to put on the list, so the 18th century section is thin enough with Roxana on the list.

  If you are keeping track of my progress on "closing out" the 18th century section of the 2006 edition of 1001 One Books To Read Before You Die, here is an updated scorecard:

(1)Amelia – Henry Fielding  *
(2) Peregrine Pickle – Tobias George Smollett  *
Fanny Hill – John Cleland (12/1/08)
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding (9/24/08)
Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett (10/05/08)
(3) Clarissa – Samuel Richardson  *
Pamela – Samuel Richardson (10/12/08)
Jacques the Fatalist – Denis Diderot (11/1/08)
Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus – J. Arbuthnot, J. Gay, T. Parnell, A. PopeJ. Swift (3/21/12)
Joseph Andrews – Henry Fielding (2/8/08)
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift (3/26/12)
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (10/1/08)
Roxana – Daniel Defoe (4/18/12)
Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe (2/10/08)
Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood (11/1/08)
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (2/11/08)
A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift (2/12/08)

  Samuel Richardson's Clarissa is a monster though- 10 separate volumes on the Amazon Kindle Store: NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO IT.

  After that it's only:

4) Julie; or, the New Eloise – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
5) Confessions – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
6) Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
7) Reveries of a Solitary Walker – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
8) The Nun – Denis Diderot

9) The Adventures of Caleb Williams – William Godwin
10) Justine – Marquis de Sade


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Originally published in 1796
This Edition "Burt's Home Library" published 189?
Read on Amazon Kindle

  I'm in my knock-down/drag-out phase with the titles remaining on the 1700s portion of the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  I'm essentially down to a couple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau titles, and three early English novels that run about 1000+ plus, each.(1)

 I don't what I will do celebrate this accomplishment. But I'd like to point out that it will have taken me about four and a half years to complete this task.  I don't want any recognition, please- how embarrassing to be known for some tiny part of one's life.

 Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship made it to the "bottom 10" category because it is towards the end of the century and is a text in German translation.  The Germans are hardly represented in the 1700s portion of the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die- just Goethe x2.

    I frankly question whether the exclusion of Friedrich Schiller's On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters.  Let me make the case for including On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters and excluding a title like Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile Or; On Education, or, for that matter, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

(1)  On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters was published in 1796.
(2)  On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters is the stylistic equal of those included in the 1700s section of the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Books like Rousseau's, Emile; On EducationReveries of a Solitary Walker & Confessions.
(3) On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters is easier to read an more relevant to contemporary life then ANY of Rousseau's books. Can we not read about Jean-Jacques Rousseau in history books without him getting four books on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list?

  THERE! I said it.  As for Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, I bring up Schiller because they were big bros back in the 1780s-1790s Frankfurt/Strasbourg.   They were also hooked up with Johann Herder, who was a big boss in the German Enlightenment philosophy scene of the late 18th century.

 A key interesting part of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is the way Hamlet is used in the plot.  I guess Shakespeare had only recently been translated into German, and the main character's introduction to and obsession with Hamlet gives parts of this book a real pop cultur-ey sheen- like he could just have easily been obsessed with a rock and roll band, or, for that matter, a Romantic era poet.

   Wilhelm Meister is what they call a "bildungsroman."  I discussed the bildungsroman, briefly, in my recent review of Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  In English translation bildungsroman is a genre of literature best described as a "Coming of Age Story."  Originally developed in 18th century books like Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the bildungsroman combines picaresque techniques of plot mechanics and character depiction to the moral philosophizing of French writers like Voltaire and Rousseau, to whom Goethe is clearly in debt, at least in a literary sense.

  Goethe is a giant to be sure, but I found The Sorrows of Young Werther to be the bigger hit.  I guess Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship gets the credit for "founding" the Coming of Age Novel, so give credit where credit is due, but I certainly didn't enjoy it in this translation.

  Unfortunately I almost certainly read a bad translation that dates from the 19th century, which let to problems both with the formatting of the Ebook- like- the Chapter heading appears at the bottom of the page with no text under neath, to a complete absence of footnotes, introduction and end notes.   Something I've learned after reading only two books on the Kindle is that I miss the Oxford Worlds Classics edition- the most recent one of those I read was Rameau's Nephew by Denis Diderot and the experience was frankly superior.

  As someone who held out on buying an Ereader I can frankly see justification FOR holding out.  The argument being basically, who are you that you read so much and so fast that you need an Ereader?  At the same time I can't argue with the convenience of the device.  The fact is, you can fill your head with garbage whether you read regular books or have an Ereader, and the same is true about reading books in specialty fields.

  I don't think though that the Kindle will increase the amount of time I read each day, it will just decrease the amount of time between books- changing it from a decision process "Which book do i read next?" to an automatic function. That's bound to speed things up.


(1) Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett, Amelia by Henry Fielding and The Adventures of Caleb Williams by William Godwin.

Desert daze is rad: fresh and onlys and young prisms tonight!

I had a great time yesterday at the desert daze festival at dillon's roadhouse in desert hot springs ca. I caught sets by five different bands in just over 2 hours. Desert daze is every day until april 22nd. If you are in town for coachella or a local you owe it to yourself to check it out. Tonight is young primes and fresh and onlys! It's a fun, cool vibe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Coachella is like a hipster runoff column

I didn't go to coachella in 2012, but I'm in the area because I have a place here. I would just like to observe that the obvious looking coachella attendees are the biggest bunch of frat bros and broettes I've seen anywhere except possibly the strip in Vegas on a Friday night at around 11 pm. Who still goes to coachella, you might ask? People who have never gone before. I'm not judging these people, simply making an accurate, descriptive observation. Coachella 2012 is just about as cool as the MTV music video awards, which is to say super or not at all depending on the perspective of a particular audience member.

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