March 2023

My book of the month for March was Heinrich von Kleist's, The Marquise of O and Other Stories

For the Edith Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle (1907) video: Uploaded to YouTube 2023/04/15
Exceptionally strong children's story. Interesting to compare with the work of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Unlike Burnett, there are so many references to classical culture, to Romanticism, to ballads, to folklore. However, Burnett's handling of character is far better, the four children in this tale remain flat throughout, unlike Mary Lennox, Dickon, and Colin in The Secret Garden. The marble dinosaur swimming in the lake resembles a similar scene in Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912).
Edith Nesbit, Five Children and It (1902)
Rather forgettable 'novel,' which was really a bunch of standalone episodes that were not even chained together. The only real point of interest was that as part of the central conceit the servants of the house could not observe the effects of the children's wishes. This did make for some curious, imaginative comedy.
Julia Briggs Edith Nesbit: A Woman of Passion (1987)
Read for background on Nesbit. Charming anecdote regarding her friendship, toward the end of her life, with the young Noel Coward.

Kobo Abe, The Box Man (1973)
This must rank as one of the worst things I've ever read. Experimental to the point where there is simply no way of knowing who is speaking, what is happening, or why. To top things off, this is filled with unpleasant voyeurism that seems to thrill the narrator(s) and author alike.
Knut Hamsun, Dreamers (1904)
Superb short novel that comes somewhere between George Douglas Brown's The House with the Green Shutters and Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree, presenting both the feuds and the romantic intrigues of a village.
Muriel Spark, Loitering With Intent
Very artful, funny, but ultimately rather slight piece of entertainment.

Short Stories
Boccaccio, The Decameron The tenth story of the tenth day, that of Griselda
I read this as part of my study of The Winter's Tale, a short and fascinating tale of the lengths a nobleman goes to in order to test the obedience of his wife, even taking her children away from her to, supposedly, be killed.

Luigi Pirandello: Short Stories
Twelve Letters
Magnificent story, full of twists and turns, and yet the scene is nothing but a private meeting between a man and a woman and their conversation.
Another absolutely phenomenal story. A man arrives at the house of his mistress, the wife of his friend, to tell her he believes their affair has been discovered. Superbly done.
The Best of Friends
Another very strong story. A man is accosted by a stranger who appears to know him intimately, they have lunch together, and all the while the man cannot recall the name of his guest. A little like the scene in Lost Highway, David Lynch.
Bitter Waters
Another magnificent story. Features a duel again, as does Twelve Letters. Reminiscent of the monster's conversation with Victor Frankenstein, there's a malicious delight in the telling of this story, one can understand why the man so enjoys sharing it, that despite the parts that show him in a poor light, the fact is he ultimately triumphed over both his wife and her lover. Even the fact he still comes to take the waters each year, despite not being ill any more, only underlines how he enjoys simply being there, making his presence felt, as it were, savoring his victory.

Katherine Mansfield: Bliss (collection published in 1918)
A story that focuses on the subtext of a supposedly Platonic friendship between an intellectually-minded pair. Very interesting conclusion.
A trained contralto singer who is clinging to her dreams of a career in showbusiness gives them up and takes her first step into, presumably, prostitution. A kind of 'story before the story'.
The Man Without a Temperament
A restless husband, denoted by him playing with his signet ring repeatedly, suffers silently through his tubercular wife's retreat to an unspecified location on the continent. A very strange moment here where some very young girls bathing in the nude react with horror to the appearance of the Englishman. Is this a suggestion that he's previously interacted with them in some inappropriate manner?
Mr. Reginald Peacock's Day
Good character study of a day in the life of a vain music teacher who adores, with the notable exception of his wife, all women.
Sun and Moon
A very slight story about a young brother and sister which seems to be chiefly a celebration of being rich.
Feuille d'Album
One of the first strong stories, with more of a modernist touch. About a somewhat mysterious young artist whom the females on the Paris art scene have given up on.
A Dill Pickle
One of the stronger stories, a woman runs into a man she broke up with six years previously who has successfully lived out the dreams of travel they planned together.
A woman (with the invalidism that Tomalin notes was prevalent during the age) resolves to break up with a man who disturbs her during the period she reserves each day for having headaches, and goes off to have her hair done instead. The owner and the employee at the salon seem very changed, and the woman wonders, somewhat narcissistically, if she is the cause of the change. After having her hair done, however, the stylist informs her that his young daughter died that morning. After this news, the woman changes her mind and keeps the lunch appointment with the man. I think this kind of story may have at once been seen as new and daring, but we've grown accustomed to this kind of misdirection, so it's as well to recall that fact and give it it's proper due.
The Escape
Very amusing sketch of a couple on a Mediterranean holiday who simply don't like one another much.
The Garden Party
One of Mansfield's most famous stories. Short and not, at first sight, that interesting. Closer inspection does reveal some interest, though. Fictionalized account of a true event that took place in 1907. See Gerri Kimber's book on Mansfield's early years for details.

André Maurois:
The Will
Very slight story concerning a couple who buy a large country house, the man rich and much older than his wife, and a visit from their neighbors discloses his plan to leave everything to her. On the drive home, the neighbors talk in the car and the wife says she would like such an arrangment, and has in fact already looked into its feasibility.
The Campaign
Exchange between two newspaper men after the death of a political opponent and their differing views on how to report his demise.
The Corinthian Porch
The elderly Lord and Lady Barchester are forced to sell their house next to the Park, and walk past the house each day as it's being demolished. This process reveals layers that recall moments in Lady Barchester's past and she finally discloses a secret to her husband that he tenderly receives.

Heinrich Von Kleist:
The Earthquake in Chile
Excellent story in which a young woman and her lover are spared death, one by beheading, the other by suicide, by a massive earthquake, before being killed later in a church by an angry mob.
Michael Kohlhaas
One of the strongest short stories (though long, 100 pages+) I have ever read, concerning a horse-dealer's attempts to obtain justice against a Junker who ill-used him by detaining two of his horses. Through one of the most convoluted, but largely realistic, narratives I have read, this trivial event leads firstly to a campaign of violence, then to tortuous legal proceedings, drawing in the Emperor himself, until the resolution sees Kohlhaas win his own case while losing the one trying him for his campaign of violence. Vindicated, he is executed. There is also a supernatural element, too. A tale that prefigures absurdism and existentialism.
St Cecilia or The Power of the Music
Excellent story about a group of iconoclasts, led by four brothers, who plan to smash up a cathedral during the festival of Corpus Christi, only to be held spellbound by the musical performance. The brothers are 'blasted by lightning' and, their whereabouts unknown, they are discovered by their mother in an insane asylum, where they spend their days in worship. The mother comes into possession of a letter written before the planned attack, and shows this to the abbess on a visit there, who then reveals another dimension to the events of that day.
The Foundling
Yet another excellent tale that begins with an encounter with a plague-ridden boy who, in an act of pity, the protagonist assists, only for this to precipitate the death of his own son from plague. He determines to raise the boy, now recovered and orphaned, as his own, and eventually adopts him and makes over all his property to him. Unfortunately, however, the boy, now grown, favors a life of vice and becomes jealous of his adopted father's wife, who he slowly learns has a secret...
The Duel
Another convoluted tale that involves the law and which begins with the assassination of a duke, most probably by his half-brother (which turns out to be the case). However, the alibi this man provides impugns the reputation of a lady, who is called to trial. She appeals to her true love for protection, and he challenges the count to a duel. The outcome of this duel is extraordinary and leads towards a conclusion which exonerates the count of one crime and sees him confess another. Magnificent!
The Beggarwoman of Locarno
Ruin befalls the owner of a castle when his rough treatment of a beggarwoman causes her ghost to haunt the room where she died, until, in a fit of madness he sets the castle ablaze. Only two pages long.

Critical Works
Karen Thornber, World Literature and the Health Humanities: Translingual Encounters with Brain Disorders (book chapter)
Harvard professor interested in same intersection of global literature and illness narratives as myself.
Mary Beth Rose, Plotting Motherhood in Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern Literature (Chapter 3)
Considers Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale as an early modern treatment of the Griselda story, comparing it with three medieval versions of this tale by Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.
Nolen Gertz, Nihilism (Chapters 1 -5)
A 'for dummies' approach to the topic that I did not find appealing.
Claire Tomalin, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life Biography of Katherine Mansfield. First chapter emphasizes Mansfield's mutability (the numerous names she used), her estrangement from her family, her family's wealth but lack of cultural capital, and the supposed fact that it was her cousin, Elizabeth Von Arnim's literary success, that made young Katherine wish to be a writer.
John Plotz, Hogg and the Short Story (from The Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg)
Interesting in its own right for its observations on the short story and the conventions established in the 1830s by Poe which called for 'singleness of effect'. Plotz points out how Scott adhered to this principle in a story like The Two Drovers, but Hogg deliberatedly sabotaged the production of such an effect. This story underscores that all the supposed innovations of modernism can be found much earlier; there's also mention of Goethe's definition of the short story, which accurately describes Mansfield's The Garden Party, one can then see the party itself as 'the event that breaks with the everyday' deliberately being overtaken by another event, a death, unplanned, which for Laura supplants the former but for her mother (and the guests) does not. This produces a reading where one can see a kind of Philistinism in Mrs Sheridan and her guests. In fact, her comment, "You're the artistic one," speaks to her not being artistic.
Warren Walker, The Unresolved Conflict of The Garden Party
Argues there are two strands to the story, one successfully resolved, the other not (the relationship between Laura and her mother)
Donald Taylor, Crashing the Garden Party
Responds to Walker with two readings, first as dream/reality (persuasive) and second is a mythic one (less persuasive)