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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Ethan Frome (1911) by Edith Wharton

A young Edith Wharton

Book Review
Ethan Frome (1911)
by Edith Wharton

  I am powering through the first 20 years of 20th century literature, in doubt thanks to the combination of genre fiction and shorter length works of serious fiction that have begun to populate the 20th century section of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  Clocking in at a scant 150 pages, Ethan Frome is more of a novella than a novel.  Either way I'm not complaining. Unlike the House of Mirth, which was a fairly conventional marriage-plot type book enlivened by Wharton's awareness of Henry James' output, Ethan Frome seems more indebted to Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, with a "retro" rather than "modern" feel and characters who are far from the glamour of London/Paris/New York.

  The plot of Frome revolves around the titular character and his longing for his wife's impoverished cousin (and his house mate) Mattie Silver.  Like a Hardy or Eliot novel,  Ethan Frome is a novel about small people living unhappy lives.  Not a novel with a moral agenda in mind necessarily, but certainly not one which celebrates its dour subject matter.  Like the work of Henry James, Ethan Frome foreshadows the awakening of the self-consciously "serious" novel which sees itself not as popular entertainment but as a sophisticated art.  This is a move that was a half century in coming, and an event that didn't fully come into focus until after Henry James had his various statements.

 Like the work of Gertrude Stein, Wharton knew of James and sought to bring his insights to bear without being transparently imitative.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fantômas (1911) by Marcel Allain & Pierre Souvestre


Book Review
Fantômas (1911)
by Marcel Allain & Pierre Souvestre

  Yeah well I'm not going to hold a book review of a pulp book about a sociopathic French serial killer until 2014.  Some books are so nerdy that this blog is the only place where I bring them up, Fantômas, a French pulp fiction series that was just in time to be adopted by the film industry and spread world wide, is an anti-hero, endlessly hunted by a well-meaning Parisian detective.  The original was published in 1911 and translated in 1915.  Fantômas never really took off in the English speaking world, but it is easy to see his influence in the world of comic books and super heroes, since he ran around in a mask and had an almost supernatural ability to disguise himself.

  It is worth mentioning that the criminal activity of Fantômas is extremely gory- the first number includes him ripping the throat of a noble woman for ear to ear, and the denouement involves an innocent man being guillotined in place of the guilty criminal.  This book is also notable because it carries the "influenced the early Surrealist/Dadaists."  Unintentionally, I'm sure, it's hard to read Fantômas as a particularly inspired early edition of the true crime/detective genre, with an anti-hero as the recurring protagonist instead of a hero/detective.

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