Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850 by Carl Dawson

The Crystal Palance

Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850
by Carl Dawson
p. 1979, The Johns Hopkins University Press

  This is a survey of English Literature circa 1850, with an eye towards inclusiveness well summarized in this quote:

     English book reading habits were essentially serious... of the 45,000 books listed by the London Catalogue (sic) as published between 1816 and 1851, 10,300 were works on divinity.  Sermons were bought, and presumably read.  Newman's Tract 90 (of controversial interest to be sure) sold 12,000 copies before it finally went out of print in 1846...In a list of 117 new books noted in the Athenaeum on October 23, 1841, thirty-nine were on religious subjects, eleven were poetry, ten medical, thirteen travel and only sixteen were novels.  p. 109, citing John Dodds, The Age of Paradox.

  On the later sample of 117 works published in fall 1841, 13% are novels.  Over the course of the 1816 and 1851 period, we're talking 5800 novels, or 135 novels a year.  This is a period before serialization of novels is acceptable, so assume that this number increases vastly after 1850 as serialized novels are increasingly published.

  What is interesting to note here is the disproportionate role that those novels play in our understanding of this period.  If you look at the other categories of literature: religious subjects, poetry, medical and travel- they are assigned little attention- I'm talking about the works in those categories during this specific time period- not the categories themselves.

   Dawson's main point in Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850 is that critics were slow to embrace the novel even as the general reading public flocked to buy them

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

Book Review
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris)
by Victor Hugo
published in 1831
Read on a Kindle

  I think Victor Hugo has a bad rap because the current popular versions of his two enduring hits (this book and Les Miserables) are a Disney movie and a Broadway musical.   I can say that the Disney movie does not do the novel a whole lot of justice.  The novel is super dark, set in Paris in the 15th century, Victor Hugo is doing his best take on a Sir Walter Scott novel: historical fiction.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published at the tail end of Sir Walter Scott's prolific 1820s.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was translated twice in 1833, once by noted literary scenester William Hazlitt.  There are also six major new translations in the 19th and 20th century.

   The enduring international popularity of this work lies in the "Orientalization" of Paris by a Parisian, a kind of self-colonization where the Artist is knowingly catering to Audience taste. The key, of course, is setting The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the past.   There is no ignoring the clunky narrative that is a hallwark of Sir Walter Scott and his followers- the reader is treated to a street by street description of Paris that would be awkward in A  TRAVEL BOOK- it takes up 50 plus pages of text in the Kindle edition.

  The sheer length of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is off-putting to a modern reader, but the digressive/documentary interludes kind of ring a bell for people who like David Foster Wallace or William Vollmann.  At the same time I can easily see why Disney chose to make a "Disney Version"- hey, it's public domain material.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac

Book Review
Eugénie Grandet
by  Honoré de Balzac
p. 1833
Terrible Free Amazon Kindle version- don't read it.

  From a technical perspective this is the worst ebook I've ever read because it actually omits portions of the text- specifically the text of the letters between the two main characters at the end of the book.  Eugénie Grandet is a cautionary tale about the perils of free books.  Honoré de Balzac is a transitional figure between  the less self-conscious fiction of the 18th century and the more morally complex works of the 19th century.

      Honoré de Balzac was a prolific writer- like Sir Walter Scott, he wrote to clear debt. (1)  Like Sir Walter Scott, or for that matter, Charles Dickens, there is a lot of Balzac to choose from.  His main activity occurred between 1830 and ended just before 1850.  Eugénie Grandet was actually written the same year as Le Père Goriot, another work that Balzac placed onto the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  

     That is at least one similarity between Honoré de Balzac and Charles Dickens, who wrote Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at the same time only four years later.  I think the best way to explain this is a rise in the size of the available Audience for Novels between 1830 and 1850.   The Audience has "arrived" by 1850. (2)  Dickens and Balzac are fortunate in that they were writing Novels at the right time, and had the right disposition to take advantage of an upward surge in Audience size for their work.

   Their success is a demonstration of what a combination of good work ethic and good timing in terms of size of potential Audience can achieve for a working Artist seeking to earn a living from his/her work.


(1) 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, 2006 edition, entry on Eugénie Grandet by  Honoré de Balzac 
(2) Victorian High Noon


Monday, July 02, 2012

Dead Souls ( Мёртвые души) by NIkolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol

Book Review

Dead Souls
by Nikolai Gogol
p. 1842
1842 English Translation by D. J. Hogarth
Read on an Amazon Kindle

     Nikolai Gogol is the first Russian-language author to appear in the 2003 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list, and in that regard he's a category creator.  The category is, "The Russian novel."  If you look at the history of the novel before Nikolai Gogol emerged, you are talking about English, French, German, Italian and Spanish language works. After the Russian language Authors begin publishing, you have to go until nearly 1880 before another language appears on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list (Swedish, The Red Room by August Strindberg, published in 1879.)

     In the present day, Russia is a foot note in the world market for culture.  Despite impressive achievements in a variety of Artistic endeavors, the market/Audience size for sales of cultural products is pitiably small.   Russia in that regard is more like Brazil, India or China in terms of having a market for culture that lags behind either the Audience size or cultural tradition or both.

  To talk about the "world market for culture" is to talk about cultural products with a severe slant towards the cultural products of the post-industrial West:  English, French, German, Spanish and Italian language products that appeal to their own populations and same-language speaking markets in other countries.  Thus, Russia, and the Russian language novel is the interesting case of a relatively minor Audience for a cultural product producing an out-size number of practitioners of that art-form.

  From the very beginning, you get the sense that Nikolai Gogol is writing with two Audiences in mind: A largely hypothetical Audience of Russians, and the already existing foreign Audience of novel readers in countries like Germany, France and England.   That is a dual focus that is similar to the perspective of a contemporary musical artist trying to emerge from some underground scene into the main-stream pop environment- they have to producer Art with one eye on each Audience, and the compromise can drive you mad.

 At least, I suspect it drove Nikolai Gogol mad.  Dead Souls is a famously incomplete novel, incomplete in that it is split into two volumes and the second volume contains substantial omissions of crucial episodes that render the work confusing.  Nikolai Gogol burnt two complete versions of Volume II and finally starved himself to death in the throes of madness before completing the third, existing version.

  The plot of Dead Souls: A disgraced government bureaucrat rides around the country-side to buy the rights to dead serfs who remain registered as living with the government to the end that he can then use the souls as collateral to borrow money to buy an estate, is both congruent to the modern reader and a distinctly Russian setting.   Critics have habitually de-emphasized the importance of the plot in favor of a celebration of the style and characterization of Gogol's writing, but the mordant humor and exotic character behavior help explain the long-term success of Dead Souls in English/French/German/Spanish/etc translation.

  Nikolai Gogol wrote "short stories" before they existed as a genre, thus he is often omitted as a "founder" of the short story.  He published five volumes of short stories between 1831 and 1835, in addition to books of essays and plays.   Dead Souls is the last work he is credited with Authoring as well as his only Novel. 

SEZIO Brings Back The Golden Hill Block Part as The Golden Hill Street Fair

What: Golden Hill Street Fair
When: Sunday, July 22. 11am-6pm.
Where: 25th St, Between B & C
Cost: FREE!

In typical street fair fashion, there will be food from local eateries, a Stone beer garden, art activies including live screen printing, and of course, live music:

5pm - The Donkeys
4pm - Cuckoo Chaos
3pm - The Tree Ring
2pm - Little Deadman
1pm - Jeans Wilder
12pm - Family Wagon

  What can I say about this besides good luck!  I always thought it was a good idea!

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