I’m back from my travels, and circumscribing Pessoa like a terrier trying to find a way into a rathole. I’ve also caught up on some stimulating blog posts in the alt-lit neighbourhood:
Have you read Lampedusa? I’ve owned the Everyman edition of The Leopard for 15 years but never read beyond 100 pages, though I enjoyed each one of them. This post at Anecdotal Evidence links to an excellent essay by Javier Marías, in which he writes:
“The few people who knew him well were astonished at his encyclopedic knowledge of literature and history, on both of which subjects he possessed a vast library. He had not only read all the important and essential writers, but also the second-rate and the mediocre, whom, especially as regards the novel, he considered to be as necessary as the greats: `One has to learn how to be bored,’ he used to say, and he read bad literature with interest and patience. Buying books was almost his sole expense and sole luxury.”
Isabella at Magnificent Octopus is documenting her reading of Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. Of course, I immediately want to reread Lispector’s elusive work that pushes at the extreme possibilities of language.
Pykk is unpacking Arno Schmidt’s Collected Stories, 1996, and his longer School for Atheists: a Novella = Comedy in 6 Acts, 1972.
Joe at roughghosts is discovering the wonder that is Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief, which a dear friend introduced to me some years ago.
Scott W. at seraillon writes compellingly about Emilio’s Carnival and makes it likely I’ll get to Svevo’s work sooner than later.
Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here? Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause that’s in every contract. That just says, uh, it says, uh, if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified. Fiorello: Well, I don’t know… Driftwood: It’s all right. That’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause. Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!
The first film that the Marx Brothers made for MGM, A Night at the Opera is on my list of top-5 films. The scene above never fails to brighten my mood.
I am invoking the Sanity Clause on my participation in the Art of the Novella Reading Challenge. Thirteen books down, I am beyond Passionate. With the last novella, I reached my delight ceiling and this challenge began to feel less like fun and more like hard slog. For the rest of the month I’ll be cheerleading Frances in her continued attempt to read all 42 novellas in the series.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
My Life by Chekhov
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson
Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance by Sholem Aleichem
The Devil by Tolstoy
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Tolstoy
The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
Two of the thirteen I disliked, and two I thought first-rate. The others brought pleasure. There are some brilliant stories in the remaining twenty-nine novellas, which I look forward to reading at a more leisurely pace. For now, having digested thirteen new stories and many more memorable characters, I have binged on fiction. It is time for a little poetry, some diaries perhaps and non-fiction.
One of those writers I keep meaning to get around to, Italo Svevo’s best known work is The Confessions of Zeno. Svevo was tutored by James Joyce, then an English teacher at the Berlitz school in Trieste. Joyce reputedly used Svevo as his model for Leopold Bloom. This English edition of The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl was translated by the Woolf’s Hogarth Press. Translated by Lacy Collison-Morley, the translation was criticised in the TLS review (1931): ” … important qualities of the Italian edition [are] missing from the English translation.”
In common with Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych, Svevo deals with mortality and sexual obsession. Tonally the two books could not be more different, instead of Tolstoy’s lacerating prose The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl has a toothsome, ironic tone. The theme is the perennial morality of old men desiring young women, and the consequences of taking action. My expectations for the book were greater than my enjoyment, but I found pleasure in the depiction of the old man and his moral vacillations.