Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Making of Americans (1925) by Gertrude Stein

Book Review
The Making of Americans
(1925) by Gertrude Stein
San Diego Public Library Edition

  When the back of the book says, "an under-appreciated modernist classic," RUN, because that means you are in for some repetitive, incomprehensible prose.  Or at least that was my experience with The Making of Americans, which Stein wrote between 1903 and 1911, but which wasn't published until 1924 (in an edition of 500) and which didn't get a full, unedited American edition until 1995. I read the edited 1934 Harcourt Brace version, and sue me for not wanting to wade through the "full" version.  The 1934 Harcourt Brace version was 400 pages, the 1995 edition is a full 926 edition.  Who has the time for that?

 The style of The Making of Americans is best described as "epic" as in "sounds like a Scandinavian epic poem from the middle ages"- she uses a ton of repetition, a narrator who comments (often uninterestingly) on events of the novel, and a very limited vocabulary to tell the story of several generations of Americans.  The Making of Americans very much reminded me of Scandinavian literature, in particular, Knut Hamsun's The Growth of the Soil.  Although Hamsun is practically writing detective fiction when you compare the vivacity of his prose to that of Stein.

 I mean seriously- watch out- The Making of Americans is a doozy.  Not fun. For graduate students ONLY. Full stop.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Counterfeiters(novel)(1925) by André Gide

Schematic of the character relationships in Gide's The Counterfeiters

Book Review
The Counterfeiters(novel)(1925)
 by André Gide

   Any attempt to understand The Counterfeiters needs to start with the chart above.  That chart shows you the interrelationships between the characters in The Counterfeiters, and it should be enough to make your head spin.  Truly the 1920s are when we can add a "degree of difficulty" to more familiar descriptive terms like "readability" when describing specific works of literature.   Books by James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust and of course Gide all require a greater mental effort than what is required to enjoy an Edith Wharton or Dashiell Hammett.  The Counterfeiters represents another front in the developing war of experimental Modernism vs. the readable Victorian novel.

  Does that make these books more interesting and worthwhile than their more readable, enjoyably contemporaries?  I would argue NOT. I would argue that the experimental Modernism of the early 20th century in literature was a mistake, since it by necessity advances the idea of art without audience.  The audience-less masterpiece is a staple of 20th century literature and my sense is the situation is only going to get worse before it gets better. Oliver, Edouards nephew AND love and Bernard,

  The Counterfeiters is many things, but none of those things is a conventionally plotted novel. The 10-15 major character intersect in a variety of ways: family, lovers, friends, employees. The title of the novel, The Counterfeiters, also refers to the name of a novel that Edouard is writing during the course of the novel.  It also references an actual counterfeiting ring involving Olivier and Bernard.  Gide switches between the use of omniscient third person narrator and journal entries recounting current events.  Plots appear and disappear. Focusing on any single relationship or development is difficult.

  Gide writes conventionall enough in terms of prose style and puntucation, and he eschews radical stream-of-consciousness narration, making The Counterfeiters easy enough to read, but difficult to really understand.  By that I mean "difficult to understand what is actually going on."  Any deeper appreciation about the themes of homosexuality and youthful ennui that run underneath the convoluted plot require first understanding the plot itself.  So again, take a look at that chart above if you are planning to tackle The Counterfeiters, and don't make the mistake of treating it as a light read.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Last September (book) (1929) by Elizabeth Bowen

Author Elizabeth Bowen

Book Review
The Last September (book)(1929)
by Elizabeth Bowen
Anchor Books edition 2000

   The front cover of the library edition of The Last September proudly proclaims that it is "Now a Major Motion Picture from Trimark Pictures."   The box office mojo page for the film version said it had a domestic gross of less than 500,000 USD so I think the "Major" part of that sentence is more wishful thinking.

  Elizabeth Bowen was the daughter of Anglo-Irish stock, The Last September, although published in 1929, concerns events surrounding the Irish War of Independence close to a decade prior.  Anyone familiar with the tropes of "colonial" and/or "post-colonial" literature will be on familiar ground with the plot of this book:  A wealthy, though somewhat naïve young daughter of the occupiers gradually deals with the reality of regime change in increasingly concrete fashion.

 I believe I've previously observed that the Anglo-Irish literary canon of the 19th and early 20th century represents the first serious attempt at a colonial/post-colonial literature, where the never ending triumph of the master race is not taken completely for granted.  This distinguishes Bowen and her ilk from authors like Conrad, who wrote about colonies and colonialism without ever supposing that such a state could (or should) come to a close.   Because Bowen, like many of her Anglo-Irish peers, is a daughter of the conquerors and not the conquered, her work is a way point on the path towards full-blown post-colonial literatures of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

  At times, The Last September reads very much like a "marriage and property" novel of the previous century, but then the lead characters beau is shot dead by the Irish Republican Army, and the novel memorably concludes with an image of the country house which has been the setting for the action being set aflame, and you know that the times are a  changin'.

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