Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s by Winifred Hughes

Black Bess: popular penny dreadful.

Book Review
The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s
by Winifred Hughes
Princeton University Press 1981

  I have a list of a few hundred books on my Amazon wish list, all books that were too expensive to acquire when I was interested.  Thought I might use my new library card to address that situation.  The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s has been on the list for half a decade- it is out of print and will run you at least 30 bucks on Amazon.  The hardcover edition I checked out from the San Diego Public Library will run you one hundred and twenty.  Hard to believe it has gone out of print like that- but the Amazon.com says that there is a new paperback edition coming out next month.

  In the 1001 Books project, the Sensation Novels of the 1860s are represented by two titles, both by Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone and The Woman in White.   According to Hughes, The Woman in White is the quintessential Sensation Novel, and The Moonstone is the main link between the sensation novel and it's successors: the detective novel and the thriller.   The Sensation novel is significant because it happened at a time when the over-all Audience for novels expanded greatly as a result of increases in the literacy rate.  The Sensation Novel was preceded by the Penny Dreadful, shorter descriptions of horrific "real life" events in fictionalized form.

   In addition Hughes runs through some of the lesser remembered exponents of the genre with separate chapters on Charles Reade and a shared chapter on M.E. Braddon (female author) and Mrs. Henry Wood.  To Hughes, the primary characteristic of the Sensation Novels of the 1860s is the melding of "Romantic fantasy" with "realism."   The Sensation Novel was also notable in how it evoked a tremendously serious (and negative) response, largely because they were so popular with Audiences.  This critical dynamic of "highbrow" critics looking down on "lowbrow" popular arts would hold for two generations, virtually unopposed until after the first World War. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The People of Hemsö (1887) by August Strindberg

A poweful look from August Strindberg


The People of Hemsö (1887)
by August Strindberg
Norvik Press 2013
Translation by Peter Graves

  Here is another tough book to track down. Twenty dollars for the just published translation by Peter Graves, and not held by San Diego Public Library- had to get it sent from the UCSD library. I think I was musing on this subject earlier- which is that faking that you have read all 1001 Books to Read Before You Die would be pretty easy with an internet connection, so I feel compelled to offer the details surrounding by acquisition and intake of each volume, lest a question be raised about whether I actually completed the task. Unlike Strindberg's first novel, The Red Room, the roman a clef about Stockholm bohemian life, The People of Hemsö is a "proper" novel, about the wholly fictional lives of a group of rural Swedes living on a combination farm/fishery on an isolated fjord.

 A main difference between Strindberg and other early Scandanvian novels like Gösta Berling’s Saga  by Selma Lagerlöf (1890) and The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun is that Strindberg's third person perspective is less straight forward, less "mythic" than the voice adopted by Lagerlof and Hamsun. Strindberg holds himself back from fully embracing the characters or their concerns, putting The People of Hemso between satire and realism.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Elena and Her Men (1956) d. Jean Renoir

Ingrid Bergman in Elena and Her Men (1956) d. Jean Renoir

Movie Review
Elena and Her Men (1956)
 d. Jean Renoir
Criterion Collection #244

   Another popular category within the Criterion Collection is the lighter works of directors who are generally considered to be "serious" types. Elena and Her Men, a romantic comedy starring Ingrid Bergman as a Polish Princess, fits neatly into this category.  Set after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, Bergman's Princess Elena Sorokowska is the object of affection for multiple men.  You've got Henri de Chevincourt, a quiet but influential aristocrat who prefers to stay out of the limelight, then you've got General Rollan, who is being pushed by his supporters to assume dictatorial powers in the aftermath of a border dispute over a "captured" French observation balloon.

 I don't think Elena and Her Men is supposed to be anything other than light comedy, but a movie about a potential dictator in the aftermath of World War II seems like a strange choice for a romantic comedy.  Throughout the film, Bergman is pushed to use her influence with the General to get him to become Dictator, but ultimately she tells him to follow his heart and helps him escape his fate by means of kissing his romantic revival (she makes out with the revival in front of the assembled masses while the General slips out the front door.)

 For me, 85% of the pleasure of watching this movie came from Bergman's performance and 15% from the post-Franco-Prussian War milieu.  Renoir does a stylish, professional job executing his task, but I can see why the New Wave critics might have found films like this wanting.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Sun Also Rises (1926) by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway in an early passport photograph.  Considering the role Europe played in his writings, the early passport photo seems biographically significant.

Book Review
The Sun Also Rises (1926)
by Ernest Hemingway

  The Sun Also Rises is a huge hit in terms of sales and artistic merit.  More then any other single work, The Sun Also Rises for inspiring mid 1920s American style among college students, graduates and the urban artistic class.  The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway's first novel, and it has to be up there with best first novels of all time.

  Rises is what is called a "Roman a(w/ accent) clef,"  a fictitious scenario that is actually a thinly disguised description of the artist and his friends.  The Roman a clef is analogous  to the "movies about movies" genre, and "movies about movies" are usually roman a clef's.

  The artistic process of fictionalizing real life events is the very definition of self-aware art. I agree with Harold Bloom, who says that The Sun Also Rises is more compelling in terms of prose style and formal elements than in terms of characters.  The "villain" if there is one is a Jewish contemporary and the anti-Semitism isn't in any way non-central to that character.  I think the misogyny is less troubling because the main character is impotent because of an "old war wound."

  For me, the character issues aren't important, The Sun Also Rises is such a wake up call in the world of the novel.  Just speaking as someone who has been reading the novels that come before The Sun Also Rises.

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