Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope
by Edith Stilwell
p. 1962
The Norton Library

      Alexander Pope was a poet/litteratur/wit in the early 18th century.   He kind of straddled the gap between  post-Elizabethan aristocrat pleasing verse and the more radical poetic visions of Wordsworth and De Quincey.  Pope surely suffers by being a pre-Romantic figure.  He is an Artist of the aristocracy, even though he himself was no aristocrat, and I think this biographical detaili provides an indelible taint to modern taste.  Also the work itself- famous poems like The Rape of the Lock or his collaborative literary effort Martin Scriberlus does not maintain an Audience outside the discipline of literature of history.

    The highest sales rating of ANY Alexander Pope biography is in the 3 millions for 1988's Alexander Pope: A Life by Maynard Mack.  The sales ranking for the #1 selling book by Pope is in the 500,000 range- for the 2009 Oxford World's Classic edition of Collected Works.  What I'm trying to say is that Alexander Pope has a small Audience.

   Before reading this biography I had heard about The Rape of the Lock, but didn't now anything.  Basically, it is what you call a "pastoral" or poem about the countryside- published sometime between 1812 and 1814, and a big part of the appeal was that it was "correct" - I suppose today we would call it "politically correct" in that it did not offend any political/cultural sensibilities.  This was a big difference between Pope and romantic poets like Wordsworth and De Quincey- who were much more outre in their exercise of  poetic license.

   Despite the lack of popular appeal, Pope was situated at a time and place:  London fashionable society in the early 18th century-  which is an objectively interesting milieu, standing as it does on the threshold of modern Art- whether it be literature, painting, architecture.   In all ways London in the early 18th century was on the cusp of Modernity, it just hadn't quite arrived.

  Pope, along with contemporaries/successors like Samuel Johnson or his bro Richard Gay (1), were transitional figures between art that is wholly pre-modern, and the beginnings of modern art.  They were kind of the seat ushers for the Romantic Movement spectacle- the back drop, if you will.   All of these transitional figures are characterized by use of forms like play writing, amateur theatrical performance, versifying and writing letters.  There is a kind of analogy to the nature of Pope's artistic output and the output of contemporary  multi-functional celebrities- Drawing attention in many fields of endeavor!  Arguably not producing any good Art!

  I guess there are people out there who think that The Rape of the Lock is a classic example of English Poetry from the 18th century and others who think Martin Scriberlus is an important step in the development of the Novel, but I highly out there are very many of either group.

  It's easy to see some kind of BBC/PBS/HBO kind of movie/series that deals with this scene.  There would be a lot of foppery- A LOT- it would be like glam rock in that aspect.   Unlike the Romantic poets- Pope and his circle were much into hanging out with fashionable ladies- who often paid the bills- this is an overlap with "Court Society" portraits of the early 18th century, and later artistic development would be a move away from that scene- a rejection of it.


(1)  Richard Gay is a book discovery winner.  He is like the original fancy lad- here is the description straight from Sitwell's text:

   He had a childlike delight in finery and good food.  He liked plenty of ribbons and a fine wig, and to stay at Bath where he was surrounded by beauties;  and those loves and tastes were a constant source of amusement to himself and to his friends, all of whom loved him with great devotion and laughed at him endlessly.

Friday, April 06, 2012


H. G. Wells

The Island of Dr. Moreau
by H.G. Wells
published in 1896
Project Guternberg EBook #159
Read on Ipad/Ebook

   Mostly people just know the Marlon Brandon starring film that is based on this novella.  Who can forget that creepy little guy up above?

  I think it fair to observe that Wells is the author who put the "science" in the term "science-fiction" in that he invented a category of fiction drawing inspiration from science as supposed to social interactions between rich people, history, or the renaissance era tradition of written wit.

  Today, science fiction and fantasy are lumped together as a single genre, or two sub categories- see Amazon where the category is "Science Fiction & Fantasy" and the sub-categories are Science Fiction, Fantasy and "Gaming."

  If The Time Machine is H.G. Wells contribution to the "time travel" category of sci-fi, The Island of Dr. Moreau is his contribution to the "bio-horror" category- best known today through the Sigorney Weaver Alien series of films.  Like The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a novella- about 150 pages long.

  On the whole, The Island of Dr. Moreau is more interesting the The Time Machine because the biology based man-animals of Dr. Moreau are more relevant then the class based evolution  featured in The Time Machine.  What is amazing is that both themes remain relevant to the point where they've been divorced from important source material in literature.

  Unlike The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau has some fairly indelible images- Wells' description of the man-beasts being foremost among them.  It's important to recognize that "horror" tropes related to the treatment of "monsters" were becoming well established in the late 19th century- Bram Stoker's  Dracula was published three years later(based on semi-published source material written by Lord Byron that dated back to the time Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelly), and Frankenstein itself had been out for more than half a century.  Poe had been out for more then a half century.

    The division of course, being between monsters of science and monsters of the supernatural- Frankenstein and Dr.  Moreau's creatures on one side of the room, Dracula, Werewolves and Ghosts on the other.  You get that kind of expansiveness in the word "monster" because in it's original meaning it covers all things not found in nature- including both the supernatural and any successors.  Monsters of science obviously succeed the monsters of the supernatural, but you would have to say the supernatural retains an upper hand with the Audience because of the strong association with Religion.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


H. G. Wells

The Time Machine
by H.G. Wells
p. 1896
Guternberg Project Ebook #35(!)
Read on Ipad/Ebook

  I suppose a useful specialty in 19th century British literature would be adapting Victorian source material to modern taste. Then a movie studio could call you up and be like, "Hey we're having trouble making this Charlotte Bronte novel into a movie, can you help us punch up the script?" And you would be like, "Hell yeah!!!"

 The Time Machine was a break-out hit for Wells- published first in serial form then as a book.  It has become an enduring text that has spawned numerous sequels and re-makes in the form of both books and movies.   The division it introduces between "Eloi" and "Morlocks"- one living above the ground- one living below- is a themes that resonates outside Wells specific milieu of early sci-fi. For example, you can see that same theme in many Zombie movies.

  It is, I think also uncomfortably close to Racist theories of evolution that mar late 19th and early 20th century thought.  I don't think you can really call Wells a Racist- he seems like a pretty progressive dude, but The Time Machine can't help but adopt a social Darwinist tinge.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


Around the World in 80 Days
by Jules Verne
p. 1872

    Jules Verne is best known as an early practitioner of Science Fiction, but Around the World in Eighty Days, arguably his most popular, enduring work, is more like an Action-Adventure movie than Science Fiction.  In it, Phineas Fogg, London gentleman, sets off on a round-the-world-trip after making a bet over dinner at his Gentlemen's club.  The Wikipedia entry for Around the World in 80 Days basically says this book has been critically disrespected due to a combination of poor translation and a critical lack of respect for what is commonly called "Children's Literature."

     But as I reviewed recent coverage of the opening of Hunger Games, it couldn't be more clear that the BEST way for an Author to establish an enduring Audience is for he or she to write a commercially successful series of Young Adult Fiction- whether it be boy wizards, post-apocalyptic game shows, vampires OR A COMBINATION OF ALL THREE.   That is probably due to a fact that the "average" reading level for most adults- and adults who read books and buy movie tickets- is "Young Adult."   The Audience for the "serious" novels that have the same status of being included on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list (2006 ed.) is minimal by comparison. Has anyone read The Enchanted Wanderer by Nicolar Leskov? Published the same year as Around The World in Eight Days by Jules Verne?  I'm guessing that is no one.   No one has read The Enchanted Wanderer by Nicolai Leskov, because he's an obscure Russian language author who doesn't write adventure stories for children.

   It is pretty clear to me after reading Around the World in Eighty Days, as well as other mid to late 19th century Adventure titles by Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Ridder Haggard, that there is not better advise to a young writer then, "Write a children's adventure book and include a supernatural element."    If people find the universe engaging and like the main character, the rest can just fall into place.

  So in that way- Around the World in Eighty Days is a seminal title in that the pacing approximates the contemporary pace for a work of young adult fiction- even if the idea is less appealing and the original text as written in French as it ever was.    Within the DNA of Around the World in Eighty Days is the foundation of every Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, James Bond,  Spy Novel,  Airport Thriller every written.

  Let's put it this way- if your favorite novel of all time is The Enchanted Wanderer by Nicolai Leskov, the odds of developing an Audience for your fiction is about one in a million.  If, on the other hand, you are emulating Jules Verne in Around the World in Eighty Days, you are up to a 1 in 10,000 level of success, just because you are writing something that has an established Audience and a proven track record of appealing to the broadest possible Audience.

  Also,   Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne is available for free on any Ereader device of your choice:  KINDLE, IPAD- wtvr.   Check it out, especially would be writers of fiction.

Blog Archive