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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ben Hur (1880) by Lew Wallace

The famous chariot race from the 1959 film version of Ben Hur

Book Review
Ben Hur
by Lew Wallace
p.1880

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

  It's the 80s, ok? The 1880s?  Only 20 years until the 20th century.  Are you excited???? Can you feel it? Modernism is breathing hot breath on my neck- I can feel it coming.  Ben Hur these days is best known for the Chariot race from the 1959 film of the book, but the book itself is more then a chariot race.  Rather, its the full story of Judah Ben-Hur, the heir to the estates of a wealthy Jewish family, he is imprisoned and sent to the galleys after he accidentally dislodges a roof tile that happens to hit the Roman Governor in the head.

Charlton Heston playing Ben Hur in the 1959 film version of the 1880 novel.


  While rowing in a Roman galley he is befriended by a Roman officer, who decides to adopt him as his son and heir on his death bed.  Hur returns to Jerusalem, where he bests his rival in the famous chariot race and then spends the rest of the book hanging out with Jesus.

  It is hard to believe, but I think Ben Hur is the first example of what was to become a popular 20th century genre called "Sword & Sandals."  It's a genre made most famous by film, Spartacus & Ben Hur and the religious spin on Ben Hur hardly removes it from that category.  Wallace is sure to give ample description to the creature comforts (and discomforts) of live under the Romans in the Holy Land.  The overall impact is to set the scene as surely as Thomas Hardy sets the scene in his fictionalized English countryside of Wessex.

  The most unusual aspect of Ben Hur is that it represents the revival of the historical novel, a genre which, by 1880, had been out of fashion for more then a half century.

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