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review 2017-04-05 11:00
A Widower’s Grief: Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach
Bruges-La-Morte - Georges Rodenbach,Will Stone,Mike Mitchell
BRUGES LA MORTE - GEORGES RODENBACH

Women or men who need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one are popular figures in literature. Often, the grieving find new joy, maybe even new love by the end of the story and at first this also seems to be the case in the late nineteenth-century novel Bruges-la-morte by almost forgotten Belgian journalist, poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898). But he was obsessed with death and so it’s little wonder that his symbolist chef-d'œuvre first published in 1892 is a thoroughly gloomy piece of prose poetry, a short Gothic novel in the vein of his contemporary Oscar Wilde. The book focuses on the melancholy scene of dead or moribund Bruges in Belgium at least as much as on the woebegone protagonist who has chosen the city to indulge in his infinite sorrow after the death of his adored wife and in keeping her memory alive.

 

The central figure of Bruges-la-morte is the widower Hugue Viane who is forty years old and whom the author describes as prematurely aged by grief. In the opening scene, aptly set on a day in November, he has been living in Bruges for five years, i.e. ever since the day after his beloved wife had died. It was the bleak atmosphere of the mediaeval city with its many convents, dark canals and narrow streets that brought him there because it corresponded perfectly with his anguish and allowed him to get completely wrapped up in mourning. In the first edition of his short novel Georges Rodenbach included several black-and-white photos of the city to increase the effect of his very poetical though sombre portrait of Bruges. But he shows the city also as a place of deep religiosity and he makes Hugue Viane live on Quai du Rosaire (Quay of the Rosary!) where a big procession passes every year on Ascension Day. To the widower his house is less a home than it’s a shrine dedicated to his dearest departed. Above all, the drawing rooms serve him as places of adulation. With great skill and in great detail Georges Rodenbach evokes the feeling of two rooms crammed with all kinds of memorabilia of Hugue Viane’s late wife. Some of them can be called her relics with due right, notably the long blonde plait that, on one of the last days of her suffering, he cut from her head instead of just a curl and that he keeps under glass on her now mute piano. The plait is so sacred to him that he doesn’t even dare to touch it! As can be expected of an inconsolable mourner, he leads a withdrawn life following an almost monastic routine. Mostly, he stays at home in his room, but in the late afternoon, he likes to go out for a walk through the city that he loves at this time of day because it’s sad like him. During one of these solitary walks, a woman looking just like his late wife crosses his way. The encounter is so brief that he isn’t sure that he really saw her. Nonetheless, he begins to search her during his walks and one evening there she is again. He follows her into the theatre where she is a dancer. Not without hesitation he addresses her and he can’t help beginning an affair with the woman who seems a second chance for happiness with his wife resurrected. And thus fate takes its fatal course…

 

Overall, Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach is an impressive short novel that flows over with all kinds of most beautiful allegories and metaphors that not only allow but also inspire thorough analysis. I loved its poetical language that offers lots of remarkable images and that feels exceedingly precise in spite or because of the author’s frequent use of vague or ambiguous words or expressions. For me the read was a great pleasure and I can’t thank enough my friend in Belgium who surprised me with the book past year. It’s a shame that such a marvellous piece of fiction had to remain in the darkness of literary oblivion for a hundred years until someone thought of bringing it back to light… and to the attention of avid readers like me.

 

Bruges-La-Morte - Georges Rodenbach,Will Stone,Mike Mitchell 

 

Nota bene:

Since George Rodenbach died already in 1898, the original French versions of his work are all in the public domain and can be downloaded legally and free from sites like Ebooks libres et gratuits. If old translations of this impressive short novel exist, they might be in the public domain too, but all English editions that I found are of very recent date and therefore copyrighted.

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review 2016-05-28 11:00
A Woman Longing for Peace: The Church of Solitude by Grazia Deledda
Church of Solitude the - Grazia Deledda,E. Ann Matter
La chiesa della solitudine - Grazia Deledda

So here's a classical novel dealing with a very serious topic. This time it's breast cancer. Its author is the Nobel laureate in Literature of 1926 who suffered from breast cancer herself. She died in 1936, the same year when the novel was published.

 

However, The Church of Solitude isn't just the author's attempt to cope with her own fate. Far from it! Like all this writer's novels it offers a very interesting as well as first-rate portrait of rural life on Sardinia, Italy, during the 1930s. Moreover, its plot surrounding a female protagonist who suffers from breast cancer and who longs for nothing but peace and quiet so she tries her best to keep at bay her suitors is touching as well as gripping. I enjoyed the read and hope that the novel will be to your taste too!

 

If you'd like to know about this novel by Italian Nobel laureate, please click here to read my review on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany or you can find its duplicate here  Read the Nobels.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2016-05-05 11:00
A Woman’s Misery in a Male World: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa (Penguin Classics) - Emilia Pardo Bazán,Paul O'Prey
Los Pazos De Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazán

As I already remarked two years ago, when I wrote a biography of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany (»»» read her author’s portrait there), the important Spanish author unlike her male counterparts from English-speaking countries and France began to fall into oblivion rather soon after she gained considerable fame for her work. Several of her books have been translated into English. Two of them are her most famous novel The House of Ulloa from 1886, which has been reissued in English translation only in 2013, and its often overlooked sequel Mother Nature from 1887. As an example of Spanish Naturalist writing above all the first deserves a closer look.

 

The House of Ulloa is set towards the end of the reign of Spanish Queen Isabel II, more precisely just before the liberal revolution of 1868. Father Julián Alvarez enters into service with Don Pedro Moscoso who has a remote country estate in Galicia and is generally known as marquis of Ulloa although in reality the title belongs to a cousin living in Santiago. The young priest is supposed to take care of the marquis’ affairs sorting papers in the library that are in a complete mess, but to his great dismay he finds that his private life is in disorder too and the estate threatened by ruin. In fact, his employer turns out to be a man of loose morals who openly consorts with his mistress Sabel working in the kitchen and treats his illegitimate four-year-old no better than his hounds. Moreover, his daily life is filled with little more than hunting and drinking. When pious and naïve Father Julián asks Don Pedro to change his ways, he admits that he can’t because his steward Primitivo, the father of Sabel, would never allow it and has the power to turn all peasants of the region against him. Nonetheless, the priest hopes to lead his employer back on the path of virtue and suggests that he passes some time in Santiago to choose a wife from his Cousin Manuel’s daughters. Thus he marries Marcelina, called Nucha, and brings her to the house of Ulloa as his wife and new mistress of the estate, but the discreet young woman soon realises that she isn’t accepted and that her husband goes on with his life as if she weren’t there. She suffers and makes Father Julián her confidant. The priest, though, is powerless and can only watch what is going on. Meanwhile, Don Pedro gets involved into politics which at the time is inseparably linked with corruption and risks his estate…

 

In this naturalist masterpiece the nineteenth-century author Emilia Pardo Bazán skilfully interweaves the main story of predominantly male decadence and corruption in politics as well as society with a feminist critique of a patriarchal world that submits women of all classes to a sexual double standard, violence and abuse in the name of Catholic religion and often with the help of clerics. Although the novel touches very serious topics and has a not less serious plot, its tone is not only gloomy like the wintry landscape of Galicia but also full of wit and clever irony. Moreover, it’s a timeless work of literature that has lost none of its power and meaning in this modern world. In other words, The House of Ulloa is one of those almost forgotten classics that deserve being read more widely outside its country of origin Spain.

 

Nota bene:

The original Spanish versions of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s work have long entered into the public domain and many of them as well as some older translations are available for free via the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes, on Feedbooks, on Project Gutenberg, on Wikisource, and several other sites of the kind.

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review 2016-02-04 11:00
Confession of an Infatuation: Letter from an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig
Letter from an Unknown Woman - Stefan Zweig
Brief einer Unbekannten und andere Meistererzählungen - Stefan Zweig

In his time Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was one of the most famous and most successful German-language writers, but when – despairing at the political situation in his country of origin (he was Austrian of Jewish descent) – he took his own life in Brazilian exile, he knew that he was a relic of The World of Yesterday as he had perpetuated it in his autobiography. The works of the prolific author are classics of literature today and many of them have never gone out of print here in the German-speaking world, but their English translations seem to have fallen into oblivion to be rediscovered only recently. The novella that I’m reviewing today counts among Stefan Zweig’s most important and superb ones. It’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (Brief einer Unbekannten) first published in 1922 and adapted for the screen several times, e.g. one from 1948 directed by Max Ophüls.

 

It’s 1918 and a flu pandemic ravages in Europe killing tens of thousands of people. Upon his return to Vienna after three days of rest in the Austrian mountains, the renowned novelist just referred to as R. finds in his mail an envelope containing two dozen pages in a lady’s hand without name or address of the sender. From this letter he learns for the first time that he had a son and that he just died. The mourning mother, who is sick herself and just waiting for death to reunite her with the deceased boy, reveals to the self-centred and philandering novelist the story of her long infatuation for him and of her life. She first knew him at the age of thirteen when he moved into the house where she lived with her widowed mother in the apartment opposite his. For her it was love at first sight, but she didn’t only fall for the bachelor’s good looks and his charms. His refined and extravagant way of life and his writing attracted her also. Through the spying hole in the door she watched with pleasure elegant women come at night and go in the morning, until her mother remarried and they moved to Innsbruck. However, she could never forget R. When she was eighteen, she found herself a job and returned to Vienna in the hope of meeting him. So they did. He didn’t remember her and she didn’t remind him of their previous acquaintance. They had dinner together and passed three passionate nights together before he left Vienna once more for extended holidays. Although she soon discovered that she was pregnant, she never had any intention of telling her lover and forcing him into marriage. She had the child, a boy, but as an unmarried mother any decent job to earn a living was barred to her. Thus she decided to use her beauty and sell her body to rich men becoming their mistress for one night or longer stretches of time. On a night out she met her beloved R. again. He had completely forgotten her and she left it at it wishing to spend another, a last passionate night with the love of her life knowing well that she’ll be gone from his mind as soon as she will have left.

 

The epistolary novella is a skilful double portrait of the anonymous woman and the bon vivant novelist that displays both of them in great psychological depth and entirely true to life. The voice of the feverish mourning mother confessing her life story to her ignorant lover is full of despair about her loss and yet not at all sentimental or even bitter, but it’s gripping and touching. For the rest, Stefan Zweig’s language is that of an extraordinarily well educated, highly cultured and much travelled man of his time that today feels a bit old-fashioned or even odd at times, but it flows lightly and is therefore a great pleasure to read.

 

Letter from an Unknown Woman - Stefan Zweig 

 

You liked what you learned about Letter from an Unknown Woman? Read also my long review of Stefan Zweig’s Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

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review 2015-12-17 11:00
A Boy and a Red Lama on the Diamond Way: Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Kim (Wordsworth Classics) - Rudyard Kipling

Worldwide most reading lists for children contain at least one book written by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 1907 “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. Without doubt The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are the most popular and most widely read ones of his children’s books along with Just So Stories, but also his 1901 novel Kim uses to be classed with the classics of children’s literature although the author wrote it for adult readers really.

 

In fact, Kim is a gripping adventure and spy novel surrounding the orphaned Irishboy Kimball O'Hara who is thirteen years old when his story begins in the streets of Lahore, India. Rudyard Kipling set the boy’s almost savage existence against a colourful and vibrant backdrop of India around 1900 that includes many details of daily life, customs, society, politics and not least religion that children or less informed adults may not fully grasp nor be interested in. Even Kim only understands part of what is going on. He is too young and he never knew the life of a European Sahib, but grew up like any Indian boy in the poor neighbourhood. He never learnt to write nor to read. Moreover, he speaks the local languages better than English. Kim is a clever boy, though, with many friends and perfectly able to look after himself, when

 

“… there shuffled round the corner, from the roaring Motee Bazar, such a man as Kim, who thought he knew all castes, had never seen. He was nearly six feet high, dressed in fold upon fold of dingy stuff like horse-blanketing, and not one fold of it could Kim refer to any known trade or profession. At his belt hung a long open-work iron pencase and a wooden rosary such as holy men wear. On his head was a gigantic sort of tam-o'-shanter. His face was yellow and wrinkled, like that of Fook Shing, the Chinese bootmaker in the bazar. His eyes turned up at the corners and looked like little slits of onyx.”

 

As it turns out, the man is an old Red Lama from Tibet called Teshoo on a pilgrimage to find Buddha’s legendary “River of the Arrow” that frees from the “Wheel of Things”. Out of curiosity and because Kim feels that the old man will need help to get along in a country full of crooks, he joins him as his disciple. At the same time Kim thinks that wandering about with the lama will give him the opportunity to look out for the great Red Bull on a green field that – as his late father always told him – would come for him with the Colonel riding on his tall horse and nine hundred devils. To raise money for the travel Kim accepts to secretly take a letter to an Englishman in Umballa for his Punjabi friend, the horse-dealer Mahbub Ali, and thus first gets involved in espionage in colonial India where local powers still try to shake off British rule and regain sovereignty. Before long, both Teshoo Lama as well as a British officer in charge of recruiting spies see to it that Kim gets some formal education and he becomes a St Xavier's boy in Partibus at Lucknow for nearly three years. Then he resumes his wanderings with Teshoo Lama to be initiated as a spy afterwards, but he is pushed into the trade much sooner than expected…

 

All things considered, I enjoyed reading Kim very much. It’s true that from today’s point of view the novel must be called a children’s book rather than adult fiction, and yet, it offers such a vivid and detailed picture of Indian cultures and religions that it amazed me. In addition, it is a testimonial of Indian history from the point of view of an Englishman whose great intelligence and exceedingly sound education show through every line.

 

Kim (Wordsworth Classics) - Rudyard Kipling 

 

Nota bene

Since Rudyard Kipling has been dead for so long, it goes without saying that his works are in the public domain and can legally be downloaded for free from sites like Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks.net just for instance. A expertly made-up free edition of Kim is available on Feedbooks.

 

* * * * * 

 This review is a contribution

 

to the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015,http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.com/2014/12/announcing-back-to-classics-challenge.html

namely to the category Children's Classic.

 

»»» see my post for this challenge on Edith's Miscellany with the complete reading list.

 


http://readnobels.blogspot.com/ &

 

to the perpetual Read the Nobels challenge.
 
For more information and a complete list of books that I already reviewed for it »»» please read my challenge post on Edith's Miscellany!
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