Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Memoirs of Martinus Scriberlus by Alexander Pope et. al.

Alexander Pope


The Memoirs of Martinus Scriberlus
by Alexander Pope
Oxford University Free Edition
originally published 1741

   Here's a good example of a book I would have never read without an Ipad or similar reader device. It's on the original 2006 List of 1001 Books to Read but it's hardly long enough (100 pages) or  "novel-y" enough to warrant non-specialist attention. The sheer lack of novels on the date of publication makes it notable,   The Memoirs of Matinus Scriberlus is also of note because it was also the product of a group of writer/Artists, the Scriblerus Club, who were critical in creating the the "modern" market for literature.  Like other groups in different places and times, these guys operated in cliques- with Scriblerus Club facing off against the Samuel Johnson inspired "The Club" in the early to mid 18th century London literary scene.

  I would counsel that all casual readers steer clear- stick to Gargantua and Pantagruel and Tristam Shandy  for the same themes developed in a more classically novelistic fashion, i.e. with plot, characters and scenery.

 On the other hand it was published really super early- 1740s was just after "the novel" was invented, so there aren't alot of similar books outside of the two mentioned above. And it's free, and only 100 pages.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe

Hollywood made some bad movie versions of Poe's stories.
Book Review
The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe
Project Gutenberg Edition 
Published 1997, #932
p. 1839
Read on Ipad Ebooks Program

   Project Gutenberg has been out there, doing it's thing since waaayyyy before Ebooks, Ereaders, or, for that matter, the Internet really got going, but I would have to say that this is Project Gutenberg's moment to become the Wikipedia of Ereading.

  I'm more excited by the format combination:  Project Gutenberg/Ipad/Ebooks Program then the work itself. First of all, The Fall of the House of Usher is, at best, a novella, but more like a short story. It was 35 pages long on the Ebooks/Ipad vertical orientation.  Second, it's not one but THREE short stories that Poe gets on the 1001 Books list (2006 edition.)   There only about 150 books for the entire 19th century, so listing 3 works that together are less then a hundred pages is unwarranted, particularly since I'm pretty sure they are rarely published as stand alone 'books'- let alone qualifying as a 'novel.'

  Just to take the 3 stories that made it to the list: The Fall of The House of Usher, The Purloined Letter and The Pit and the Pendulum- only the first is available as a stand-alone Ebook- paid or free- for the other two you need to get the "Collected Works" or "Short Stories Of" the Author.

  A second strike against The Fall of the House of Usher is that I hate short stories with an abiding passion.  I've been reading the New Yorker for 20 years now, and I've read maybe- one? or two? short stories in that entire time.  I mean, I actually had pretensions of being a WRITER at one point, and I could never bring myself to read the weekly New Yorker short story- the best example of a market for that commodity (short story) as exists in the entire English speaking world.

 Getting a short story in the New Yorker is the equivalent of getting a BNM award on Pitchfork, ha ha.

  The final strike against The Fall of the House of Usher is I feel like Poe has scored tons of undeserved critical attention paid not to the work, but to his life and the critical/economic response to his work- which was mixed, at best.   According to Wiki Poe is allegedly the first "major" America to try to make a living off of writing.  His failure to do so puts him in the pantheon of early 19th century Romantic writers- just based on his biography.

      The work, meanwhile, The Fall of The House of Usher included, is interesting, but doesn't really contribute anything except an example of extreme brevity in a literary work with Novelistic scope.   The Fall of The House of Usher is an example of late, late, Gothic motifs.   The first flush of the Gothic Novel was actually in the 18th century, when books like The Castle of Otranto and The Monk were published- and achieved commercial and critical success.

     By the early 19th century, skilled Authors were incorporating Gothic literary themes, but typically as only one of a number of styles that were utilized to obtain the maximum of Audience and critical attention.   This incorporation of Gothic as a subsidiary style is seen in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and even earlier scattered throughout the work of Jane Austen.

   Which is to say that Poe wasn't doing anything particularly original, nor was he that great at it.   When you consider that both James Hoggs' The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner AND Charles Maturins',  Melmoth the Wanderer were published long before Poe wrote the The Fall of the House of Usher, the later begins to look like a pale imitation of more sophisticated source material.

   Or perhaps you could argue that by utilizing brevity Poe is the master stylist, whereas the earlier Authors, lumbering through 300 plus pages of cranky ghosts and clanky castles, are limiting their potential Audience.  There is no question that the short length of The Fall of the House of Usher helped it draw attention upon initial publication.   It also likely hurt critical reaction.

I guess you could say that The Fall of the House of Usher is a good point of introduction for the Gothic style, but it is literally starting at the end of the line.

Monday, March 19, 2012

She by H. Rider Haggard

by H. Rider Haggard
Originally published 1887
This Edition- Project Gutenberg Public Domain Edition
Read on Ipad Eboks Program

  I've held out on buying a Kindle because I see it as a device to read celebrity biographys and romance novels, but as I found on my wife's Ipad- all of the classics are available in a couple different common Public Domain Formats- Project Gutenberg did this book- An Interesting Narraitve by Equiano- was done by Oxford University.

 These public domain editions are bare bones- no introduction,  no non-textual notes or bibliography or index-  all you get is the book itself in a readable format.  That's fine for ALOT of the "1001 Books To Read Before You Die" list of books.  She by H. Rider Haggard is a good example- his King Solomon's Mine is also on the list, and once you've read on scholarly essay on Haggard and his work, you've read enough.  Haggard was the inventor of the "Lost World" genre, and his books have a breezy, popular feel  that  resembles the pace of modern Airport thrillers.

  In the Ebook format, the Project Gutenberg version of the She text runs about 350 pages- with the Ipad held up right. That's a great deal shorter then most of the books of the 18th century, and many from early in the 19th century.   Haggard was in many ways an early Modern writer, Imperialist/Victorian stylistics aside.

 I probably would have never paid for a paper copy of the book- but for Free? On an Ipad? Shoot- it is an adventure novel- fun stuff.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


The Charterhouse of Parma
by Stendhal
originally published 1839
this edition Barnes & Nobles "LIBRARY OF ESSENTIAL READING SERIES"
p. 2006

  Am I only the one who can imagine a post-apocalyptic scenario where the only remaining books are located in a bombed out Barnes & Noble?  If that were the case, this 2006 Barnes & Noble edition of The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal might be the only COPY LEFT of this book in the whole world.

  That would be sad, because this edition of Charterhouse of Parma, translated by Lady Mary Loyd, was initially published in 1901.(1)  It was obviously chosen by Barnes & Noble because it's publication date places it in the public domain.  The Oxford's Worlds Classics edition, translated by Margaret Mauldon dates from 1997.

  I would call Lady Mary Loyd's translation of The Charterhouse of Parma terrible, and therefore this book is essentially useless for anyone who has made an intelligent choice as to which translation they pick- as I did not.

  In particular I would like to point out the translator's use of the word FREAK- apparently in either it's meaning in 1901 OR some early meaning from the 19th century in either French or Italian usage.  I am wholly unaware of what meaning this word could have as of 1901, or as of 1955- when the translation was allegedly revised by Robert Cantwell.

  The Charterhouse of Parma was Stendhal's last work before he died in 1842.   His life/career is the sort that begins to tickle the fancy of a would-be modern Artist, in that he was self-conscious about Romantic canon's of Artistic behavior. In fact, he wrote widely on non-fiction topics, mainly in the are of Art, Travel and Aesthetics that would be familiar to any PBS documentary host.  An Anthony Bourdain of his day, without the food.

  One broad generalization that you can make about early 19th century French Novelists, is that they were able to 'play' with Romantic literary themes in a way that both embraced them and commented critically on them at the same time, with the use of "Realist" techniques.   This complementing use of Romanticism and Realism in the service of Art is a popular mix that didn't really find full exposition until Movies blossomed in the 20th century, but the extent that one art form can inspire another, The Charterhouse of Parma is epic and cinematic in scope in a way that few books were before.

  The "few books that were before" are mostly the novels of Sir Walter Scott who was spinning off hit after hit through the 1820s.   I'm assuming that Scott was familiar to Stendhal. Stendhal's non-fiction background separates him from the "pure" Novelists that were yet to come, but he was def. self-consciously Romantic in temperament and his works powerfully reflect that theme.

  He also fearlessly jumps between time periods in a way that pre-saged Modernist technique.  The use of time like that sweeps the reader along through the narrative, and the transitions require attention.

 However, I can't recommend this version because I personally think the translation is terrible. And what does the word "freak" mean throughout the novel?  Like an emotional freak-out?


(1)  The Oxford Guide To Literature in English Translation, 2001 edition, viewed in Google Libary clip form.

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