Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Amok (1922) by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is apparently such a big influence on Wes Anderson that he dedicated his most recent film, Hotel Budapest, to him. 

Book Review
Amok (1922)
by Stefan Zweig
in The Royal Game and Other Stories
1981 Harmony Press translated from the German by Jill Sutcliffe

  Add to the seemingly endless list of authors I've never heard of, Stefan Zweig.  I was blissfully unaware of him until last month, when I went to see the new Wes Anderson film, Hotel Budapest, and saw that he had, in fact, dedicated the film to Stefan Zweig. Zweig is a bit of a forgotten man in the story of 20th century literature.  It's true today, and it was true in 1981, when John Fowles wrote the introduction to the volume that contained the version of Amok that I read.  According to Fowles, Zweig was hugely popular in his day, which makes his eclipse all the more puzzling.

 I mean, I'm not saying I'm some kind of literary expert, but I feel like if he was being read today I would not have heard of him for the very first time via the end credits in a Wes Anderson film.  Again, according to Fowles, Zweig was obsessed with the idea of obsession, or "mono-mania" as he called it back then.  Like many enduring authors of the 1920s, Zweig was hip to the teaching of Freud (Zweig was a Viennan by birth and lived there until the great unpleasantness of World War II began to take shape.)

 Amok is framed by an unnamed narrator taking a cruise to Australia from Southeast Asia.  On board he meets a Doctor who is actively seeking to avoid everyone else on board.  The Doctor relates to him the story of a wealthy English wife of a Dutch trader who is seeking to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of an affair that took place while her husband was abroad.  The Doctor refuses her rich offer of money, instead insisting that be able to "fully possess her."  He compares his state to what happens to the natives when they drink to much- they "run amok" - a familiar term to us today, but not in 1922.

  I think this is the first description of an abortion in any story I've read, chronologically speaking.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Return of the Solider (1918) by Rebecca West

World War I was not fun.

Book Review
The Return of the Solider (1918)
 by Rebecca West

  Sometimes I just want to cut and paste two or three paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry for the book I've just read and just say "hey- this pretty much sums it up, y'all."  Lately I'm preoccupied by the prospect that I'm getting close enough to the present for copyright protections to kick in.  Today I was sitting in federal court and actually thought "What about the library!"  Just trying to give some insight into my thought process.  Then I went onto my phone to look up Raymond Roussel- who has two VERY expensive books on the 1001 Books list- and they didn't have it in the catalog for the San Diego library.  And THEN going waaaaay back I was like, "WAIT- what about interlibrary loan."  So yeah, that's what I've got going on over here.

  The Return of the Solider was Rebecca West's first Novel (Novella?) and was the "only book about World War I written by a woman during World War I." (Thanks wikipedia!)  The story concerns an upper class gentleman who gets shell shock and ends up with amnesia- partial amnesia- specifically he can't remember the last 15 years of his life, including marrying his airhead upper class wife and their dead son.  Instead, he remembers being in love with a working class woman who has sine married.

  Many mid century critics were unkind to The Return of the Soldier because West engages in clumsy Freudian-ism but since we now know that Freudian-ism is a crock of shit across the board it is hard to hold that against her.  It's interesting to see Freud creep into the novel in the 1910-1920 period.  I'm assuming it will reach crescendo status in the 20s. EXCITED TO FIND OUT!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) by E.M. Forster

Helena Bonham Carter HAS starred in a movie version of E.M Forester's Where Angels Fear to Tread

Book Review
Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
by E.M. Forster

  If you were to judge only from late 19th/early 20th century Novels that have been adapted by Merchant-Ivory into feature films in the late 20th century, you might think that EVERY such novel takes place largely Italy.  In fact,  Italy as a setting for the novel is a relatively recent/rare development as of 1905, and most of the practitioners were Americans (Nathaniel Hawthorne did it first or close to it, and Henry James set Portrait of a Lady there in the 1880s.)  I think you can chock the English reluctance to place novels in Italy to a general chauvinism about England and Englishness that lasted well into the 20th century.  American novelists, on the other hand, were looking for someplace cooler than American that wasn't England, and Italy seems to have been a decent fit.

   Thus, the Italian landscape of Where Angels Fear to Tread, published in 1905, might seem deceptively unoriginal to a modern reader, but the truth is that for the time/place it was, in fact, original and far from cliche. The plot of Where Angels Fear to Tread concerns the young widow Lillia Herriton, who escapes the claustrophobic embrace of her dead husbands upper class family by decamping to a small town in Italy (sounds like Tuscany?) where she falls in love and marries a wholly unsuitable Italian- Gino, a "son of a dentist" who is young and charming and of course, handsome.

  The marriage is (of course) not a happy one, and when Lillia dies giving birth to a child, her dead husbands family sets into motion a series of machinations with the goal of liberating the infant child from the clutches of Gino.  It's a plot that sounds absurd to us in a world of single mothers and non-nuclear families, but makes sense in the context of the late Victorians and their ridiculous obsessions with class and family descent.  The question of "Why the FUCK are these crazy English people doing this crazy shit?" looms large over the plot of Where Angels Fear to Tread, but a reader with a fondness/sympathy for the Victorians won't be too offended.

 Forster, known for his use of irony and wit, is a fun read, something like an Edith Wharton in terms of his use of humor, so the book is not a dull affair.

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