Autodidact: self-taught

Jan
25
2013

Poe & Pearl, The Beginning of an Obsession

by V. L. Craven

It's a raven reading a book! When I was twelve, we had to memorise a poem for English class and the teacher said if someone chose ‘The Raven’ they’d automatically get 100 percent. I was on it. It was a few months after I’d realised wearing all black meant never having to think about clothes reciting the entire poem–the class growing more incredulous with every stanza–solidified my status as creepy weirdo (now it’d be ‘goth’, I’m sure).

Aside from the grade (I got a 99 because I didn’t knock on the side of the podium when the titular bird did), I loved the atmosphere of the poem and carried around the book it was in [see the cover to the right] everywhere for at least a year like some sort of literary safety blanket. I may have been some sort of macabre freak who read too much, but Poe was on my side! My favourites were the gloomier stories (Usher, Red Death, and Silence: A Fable were my favourites). If it didn’t look like someone was going to go mad, die of some unnamed disease or just die horribly some other way I quickly lost interest.

I did reports on short stories in class the following two years (‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’) and freaked my classmates right out. It was brilliant. The second year we had to do something creative based on the story, so I made up an advert where you could buy tickets to the masque. I was a fun teenager.

The Poe Shadow Flash forward many years, and other macabre authors, and I came across Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow , which hypothesizes about the events of Poe’s final days. [Incidentally, I picked it up because I’d loved Pearl’s The Dante Club . You should read it. It’s very good.] While writing this post, I came upon a page on Pearl’s website with bonus content for his novels. Now I want to re-read the book, and I may do once I’ve finished the two Poe bios I’m reading.

Reading Pearl’s book reminded me of the man who’d started me on my journey into the dark corners of literature and I picked up (read: got from Amazon  for free) all five volumes of Poe’s fiction. I’ve now read all of them and my favourite quotes are  here . I’m still adding some, but that’s a good portion.

Though I still prefer his horror stories, I can now appreciate his descriptions of nature in ‘The Landscape Garden’ and Arnheim, as well as find the humour in ‘Never Bet the Devil Your Head’ and ‘The Angel of the Odd’ amongst others.

Some of his short pieces were baffling, however, and I found  this Wikipedia page with information on most of his short fiction to be very useful.

Once through the man’s work, I wanted more and began looking for novels and stories that featured Poe as a character. I’ll begin reviewing those next week.

Nov
09
2012

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse

by V. L. Craven

Following on from Otsuichi’s GOTH, I picked up a copy of Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse , which is two novellas (the other is Black Fairy Tale ) and a short story ‘Yuko’ .

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is about two children (brother and sister) who accidentally (or not?) kill a young girl and spend the story trying to hide her body from the people searching for her. The story is told from the p.o.v. of the girl’s corpse. The boy has a crush on a nineteen-years-old girl, Midori, whom his sister admires. They finally decide to throw the body down a shaft at the top of a shrine and have no choice but to do so during the annual summer firework display. Using a pulley, they manage to get the body to the top and when they follow, they find Midori waiting. She’d worked out what happened and helped get rid of the body, something at which she had a great deal of practise, as she’d been killing boys that looked like the boy. At the end of the story, she holds the boy and hopes she can stop.

Signature Otsuichi–simply written, but interesting, plot-wise

Black Fairy Tale : We start with a story about a a raven who befriends a girl with no eyes. (Ravens can learn to speak just like parrots.) He wants her to be able to see, so he plucks eyes from people and brings them to the girl. When she puts them in her sockets, she can see the things the people could see. She keeps the eyes in a jar beneath her bed. That is a short story, which proceeds between the story of a young woman who has an eye transplant and begins seeing what the original owner of the eye sees. Visions that become increasingly disturbing and hint at a gruesome crime and kidnapping. She travels to his village in order to help the victims and gets more than she bargained for. The perpetrator turns out to be the man who wrote the story about the raven, who discovered at a young age that if he maimed something in a way that would normally be fatal, that thing (human or animal) would continue living in a new, mutilated state. He has several…creatures in his house by the time the police find them. .

The pacing was very well-done but this one is NOT for the squeamish.

‘Yuko’ : A young woman begins working in a large house, which she enjoys but wonders about the mistress of the house, as she’s never around and the master insists she stay out of their room. Eventually her curiosity gets the better of her and she goes into the bedroom, which is lined with dolls with blank faces either laughing or crying. The lady of the house, Yuko, is also a doll. The master insists she’s unwell. When she’s ‘well’, she speaks to him in a harsh whisper. Upon talking to a previous servant, the girl discovers his first wife died two years previously (she’s buried in the back garden) and Yuko is his second wife. In order to help him accept that she’s a doll, the girl sets her on fire. The master sees this as his wife being on fire and tries to damp the flames. He winds up in a mental hospital, where he blames the girl’s difficult family life for her psychosis in believing his wife was a doll.

I thought this one would be predictable, but Otsuichi managed to slip in a surprise. Nice one.

May
11
2012

Smothered by A.J. Morlan

by V. L. Craven

I’ve been reading Smothered Dolls by A.J. Morlan, which was sent to me by a book-friend who knows my tastes better than me, apparently. I’ve never thought of myself as a horror fan, but these stories kept my interest. The first story is the most autobiographical and the afterword where Morlan explains the inspiration for the story is gasp-worthy.

Calling Morlan’s work ‘horror’ doesn’t do her justice–it’s too small a box. Yes, some of her stories are cringe-inducing–I couldn’t finish one about snakes in carousel horses–but others are speculative fiction. Two of my favourite stories are of that type. One is about what would happen if a person could bring dead animals (or people) back from the dead and if that was the only chance that person had to die. Meaning that they couldn’t be killed after their resurrection.

Another story I quite enjoyed was about civic duty. If you’re name gets chosen for you to participate in a justice system then it’s an honour and you’d better do your bit, right?

The only critique I have are the afterwords after each story explaining how the story is connected to the author’s life. Sometimes it’s interesting to know how an author’s writing is affected by their life. Other times it ruins the mystery. Morlan went a little overkill with her afterwords, but if a reader is more interested in what an author does with the truth than the actual truth he or she can skip the afterwords easily enough.

Of course, how you’re going to get a copy of this book is anyone’s guess, as I read the ARC and the specs on the back list it as being $44. On Amazon it says there were only 500 signed copies.

Anyway, here are the stories (most of which have appeared in other places) and my rating:

“Smothered Dolls” or “The Girl Who Could Never Be Good”: 4/5. Yikes.

“The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World”: 4/. Georgia O’Keeffe inspired story about one of those contests where a person wins a vehicle if they keep their hands on it the longest. I wouldn’t consider it horror, but something about it is haunting. The descriptions of O’Keeffe’s paintings are wonderful.

“No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be”: 3.5/5. Enormous painted cats look out for their creator.

“The German Lady”: 4/5. Very nice fair-tale for grown-ups. More interesting than scary.

“Civic Duties”: 5/5. Excellent speculative fiction.

“Powder”: 4/5. The second most disturbing story in the collection, just after the first story.

“In a Fine and Verdant Place”: 5/5. Based on a real-life serial killer, this one is one of the best.

“Dora’s Trunk”: 3.5/5. Interesting take on the Pandora myth.

“Yet Another Poisoned Apple for the Fairy Princess”: 4/5. Shiver-inducing modern fairy tale for adults. This one made me chuckle, actually, but I’m a little twisted.

“The Gemutlichkeit Escape”: 5/5. I never thought I’d read anything that’d make Hitler interesting, but here it is.

“The On’ner”: 4.5/5. Finest speculative fiction. Very thought-provoking.

“Tattoo”: 4/5. This one made me cringe a bit, but the concept behind it was quite interesting to me. It’s about a victim of a gang rape who takes back her body using tattoos.

“Need”: 4/5. Written in the earliest days of the internet, this is one of those stories where a person writes awful things that then come true. Even though it’s a fairly well-trod theme this story was well done.

“And The Horses Hiss at Midnight”: 3.5/5. Jeebus, I couldn’t finish this one. I have a thing about snakes and genitals. I got through most of it and what I read was written well enough.

“Milan, March 1972″: 4/5. About an artist who becomes obsessed with a particular photograph of a model who killed herself in his apartment. The descriptions of his artwork make this one a great read. Any author that can describe food, music or paintings evocatively gets my respect.

[This review is from an earlier blog. The original post date was 27 November, 2007]

Feb
17
2012

Poe

by V. L. Craven

An artist is only an artist thanks to his exquisite sense of beauty — a sense which provides him with intoxicating delights, but at the same time implying and including a sense, equally exquisite, of all deformity and disproportion.

–Charles Baudelaire. Notes Nouvelles sur Edgar Poe iii. 1857.

Edgar A. Poe: An Appreciation [from The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe The Raven Edition]
-01- “No man,” Poe himself wrote, “has recorded, no man has dared to record, the wonders of his inner life.”
-02- William Winter’s poem, read at the dedication exercises of the Actors’ Monument to Poe, May 4, 1885, in New York: He was the voice of beauty and of woe, Passion and mystery and the dread unknown; Pure as the mountains of perpetual snow, Cold as the icy winds that round them moan, Dark as the eaves wherein earth’s thunders groan, Wild as the tempests of the upper sky, Sweet as the faint, far-off celestial tone of angel whispers, fluttering from on high, And tender as love’s tear when youth and beauty die.

Edgar Allan Poe by James Russell Lowell [from The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe The Raven Edition]
-01- Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the inner life of imaginative men,
-02- An early poem is only remarkable when it displays an effort of reason.
-03- Great wits are allied to madness only inasmuch as they are possessed and carried away by their demon,
-04- To the eye of genius, the veil of the spiritual world is ever rent asunder that it may perceive the ministers of good and evil who throng continually around it. No man of mere talent ever flung his inkstand at the devil.
-05- When we say that Mr. Poe had genius, we do not mean to say that he has produced evidence of the highest. But to say that he possesses it at all is to say that he needs only zeal, industry, and a reverence for the trust reposed in him, to achieve the proudest triumphs and the greenest laurels.
-06- Mr. Poe has two of the prime qualities of genius, a faculty of vigorous yet minute analysis, and a wonderful fecundity of imagination. The first of these faculties is as needful to the artist in words, as a knowledge of anatomy is to the artist in colors or in stone. This enables him to conceive truly, to maintain a proper relation of parts, and to draw a correct outline, while the second groups, fills up and colors. Both of these Mr. Poe has displayed with singular distinctness in his prose works, the last predominating in his earlier tales, and the first in his
-07- But, in estimating the amount of power displayed in his works, we must be governed by his own design, and placing them by the side of his own ideal, find how much is wanting.
-08- He combines in a very remarkable manner two faculties which are seldom found united; a power of influencing the mind of the reader by the impalpable shadows of mystery, and a minuteness of detail which does not leave a pin or a button unnoticed.
-09- His mind at once reaches forward to the effect to be produced. Having resolved to bring about certain emotions in the reader, he makes all subordinate parts tend strictly to the common centre.
-10- Mr. Poe has no sympathy with Mysticism. The Mystic dwells in the mystery, is enveloped with it; it colors all his thoughts; it affects his optic nerve especially, and the commonest things get a rainbow edging from it. Mr. Poe, on the other hand, is a spectator _ab extra_. He analyzes, he dissects, he watches “with an eye serene, The very pulse of the machine,” for such it practically is to him, with wheels and cogs and piston-rods, all working to produce a certain end.

The Death of Edgar A. Poe by Willis [from The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe The Raven Edition]
-01- “His conversation was at times almost supramortal in its eloquence. His voice was modulated with astonishing skill, and his large and variably expressive eyes looked repose or shot fiery tumult into theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was changeless in pallor, as his imagination quickened his blood or drew it back frozen to his heart.
-02- “He was at all times a dreamer-dwelling in ideal realms-in heaven or hell-peopled with the creatures and the accidents of his brain. He walked-the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayer (never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned, but) for their happiness who at the moment were objects of his idolatry; or with his glances introverted to a heart gnawed with anguish, and with a face shrouded in gloom, he would brave the wildest storms, and all night, with drenched garments and arms beating the winds and rains, would speak as if the spirits that at such times only could be evoked by him from the Aidenn, close by whose portals his disturbed soul sought to forget the ills to which his constitution subjected him—close by the Aidenn where were those he loved-the Aidenn which he might never see, but in fitful glimpses, as its gates opened to receive the less fiery and more happy natures whose destiny to sin did not involve the doom of death.
-03- “He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit subjugated his will and engrossed his faculties, always to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow. The remarkable poem of ‘The Raven’ was probably much more nearly than has been supposed, even by those who were very intimate with him, a reflection and an echo of his own history. _He_ was that bird’s “‘Unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore– Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of ‘Never-never more.’ “Every genuine author in a greater or less degree leaves in his works, whatever their design, traces of his personal character: elements of his immortal being, in which the individual survives the person. While we read the pages of the ‘Fall of the House of Usher,’ or of ‘Mesmeric Revelations,’ we see in the solemn and stately gloom which invests one, and in the subtle metaphysical analysis of both, indications of the idiosyncrasies of what was most remarkable and peculiar in the author’s intellectual nature.
-04- his harsh experience had deprived him of all faith in man or woman. He had made up his mind upon the numberless complexities of the social world, and the whole system with him was an imposture. This conviction gave a direction to his shrewd and naturally unamiable character. Still, though he regarded society as composed altogether of villains, the sharpness of his intellect was not of that kind which enabled him to cope with villany, while it continually caused him by overshots to fail of the success of honesty. He was in many respects like Francis Vivian in Bulwer’s novel of ‘The Caxtons.’ Passion, in him, comprehended–many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him, but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth, but his cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy–his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere–had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudices against him. Irascible, envious–bad enough, but not the worst, for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold, repellant cynicism, his passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed to him no moral susceptibility; and, what was more remarkable in a proud nature, little or nothing of the true point of honor. He had, to a morbid excess, that, desire to rise which is vulgarly called ambition, but no wish for the esteem or the love of his species; only the hard wish to succeed-not shine, not serve–succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit.
-05- With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual face, as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible, of course, not to treat him always with deferential courtesy, and, to our occasional request that he would not probe too deep in a criticism, or that he would erase a passage colored too highly with his resentments against society and mankind, he readily and courteously assented-far more yielding than most men, we thought, on points so excusably sensitive.
-06- we had seen but one presentment of the man-a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability.
-07- The arrogance, vanity, and depravity of heart, of which Mr. Poe was generally accused, seem to us referable altogether to this reversed phase of his character. Under that degree of intoxication which only acted upon him by demonizing his sense of truth and right, he doubtless said and did much that was wholly irreconcilable with his better nature;
-08- “My general aim is to start a Magazine, to be called ‘The Stylus,’
-09- these descriptions of him, when morally insane, seeming to us like portraits, painted in sickness, of a man we have only known in health.
-10- Mr. Poe wrote with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular level to be well paid.
-11- what does not a devotion like this-pure, disinterested and holy as the watch of an invisible spirit-say for him who inspired it?

‘The Assignation’
-01- There are surely other worlds than this–other thoughts than the thoughts of the multitude–other speculations than the speculations of the sophist.
-02- Nor can I better define that peculiarity of spirit which seemed to place him so essentially apart from all other human beings, than by calling it a habit of intense and continual thought, pervading even his most trivial actions–intruding upon his moments of dalliance–and interweaving itself with his very flashes of merriment–like adders which writhe from out the eyes of the grinning masks in the cornices around the temples of Persepolis.
-03- I could not help, however, repeatedly observing, through the mingled tone of levity and solemnity with which he rapidly descanted upon matters of little importance, a certain air of trepidation–a degree of nervous unction in action and in speech–an unquiet excitability of manner which appeared to me at all times unaccountable,
-04- Frequently, too, pausing in the middle of a sentence whose commencement he had apparently forgotten, he seemed to be listening in the deepest attention, as if either in momentary expectation of a visiter, or to sounds which must have had existence in his imagination alone.
-05- They appeared to me white–whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words–and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with the intensity of their expression of firmness–of immoveable resolution–of stern contempt of human torture.

‘The Balloon-Hoax’
PLOT: Several men traverse the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. The bulk of the story revolves around diary entries by the men involved, which is similar to the structure of Hans Pfaal.
-01- (*1) Note.–Mr. Ainsworth has not attempted to account for this phenomenon, [that the ocean appears concave from a high altitude] which, however, is quite susceptible of explanation. A line dropped from an elevation of 25,000 feet, perpendicularly to the surface of the earth (or sea), would form the perpendicular of a right-angled triangle, of which the base would extend from the right angle to the horizon, and the hypothenuse from the horizon to the balloon. But the 25,000 feet of altitude is little or nothing, in comparison with the extent of the prospect. In other words, the base and hypothenuse of the supposed triangle would be so long when compared with the perpendicular, that the two former may be regarded as nearly parallel. In this manner the horizon of the æronaut would appear to be on a level with the car. But, as the point immediately beneath him seems, and is, at a great distance below him, it seems, of course, also, at a great distance below the horizon. Hence the impression of concavity; and this impression must remain, until the elevation shall bear so great a proportion to the extent of prospect, that the apparent parallelism of the base and hypothenuse disappears–when the earth’s real convexity must become apparent.

‘Berenice’
—Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum forelevatas.–Ebn Zaiat. —
-01- MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform.
-02- But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are, have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.
-03- My baptismal name is Egaeus; that of my family I will not mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray, hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries; and in many striking particulars–in the character of the family mansion–in the frescos of the chief saloon–in the tapestries of the dormitories–in the chiselling of some buttresses in the armory–but more especially in the gallery of antique paintings–in the fashion of the library chamber–and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the library’s contents–there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant the belief.
-04- Convinced myself, I seek not to convince.
-05- In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking from the long night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the very regions of fairy land–into a palace of imagination–into the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition–it is not singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye–that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth in reverie; but it is singular that as years rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers–it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my life–wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character of my commonest thought. The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, not the material of my every-day existence, but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.
-06- Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls.
-07- …to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind;
-08- mine, the studies of the cloister–I living within my own heart, and addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation
-09- Tertullian’s “De Carne Christi,” in which the paradoxical sentence “_Mortuus est Dei filius; credible est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est,_” occupied my undivided time, for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.
-10- In the strange anomaly of my existence, feeling with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind.

‘The Black Cat’
-01- There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute [dog] , which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasional to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.
-02- Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart—one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?
-03- I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.
-04- Pluto–this was the cat’s name–was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.
-05- Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?
-06- I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon.
-07- Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates–the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself,

‘The Business Man’
-01- If there is any thing on earth I hate, it is a genius. Your geniuses are all arrant asses—the greater the genius the greater the ass—and to this rule there is no exception whatever. Especially, you cannot make a man of business out of a genius,
-02- The Assault-and-Battery business, into which I was now forced to adventure for a livelihood, was somewhat ill-adapted to the delicate nature of my constitution; but I went to work in it with a good heart,
-03- These, however, are not individuals, but corporations; and corporations, it is very well known, have neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned.

‘The Cask of Amontillado’
-01- THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled–but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong. It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
-02- The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.”
-03- Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.
-04- I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.
-05- observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.” He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication. “Nitre?” he asked, at length. “Nitre,” I replied.
-06- “These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.” “The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”
-07- “I forget your arms.” “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” “And the motto?” “Nemo me impune lacessit.”
-08- We had passed through walls of piled bones, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs.
-09- “The nitre!” I said: “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones.
-10- We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame. At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use in itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.
-11- “Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed it is very damp.
-12- I had scarcely laid the first tier of my masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast.
-13- It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight;

‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una’
-01- Yes, it was of Death I spoke. And here how singularly sounds that word which of old was wont to bring terror to all hearts—throwing a mildew upon all pleasures!
-02- Una. Ah, Death, the spectre which sate at all feasts! How often, Monos, did we lose ourselves in speculations upon its nature!
-03- How mysteriously did it act as a check to human bliss—saying unto it “thus far, and no farther!” That earnest mutual love, my own Monos, which burned within our bosoms how vainly did we flatter ourselves, feeling happy in its first up-springing, that our happiness would strengthen with its strength! Alas! as it grew, so grew in our hearts the dread of that evil hour which was hurrying to separate us forever! Thus, in time, it became painful to love. Hate would have been mercy then.
-04- Monos. Speak not here of these griefs, dear Una—mine, mine, forever now!
-05- Prematurely induced by intemperance of knowledge the old age of the world drew on. This the mass of mankind saw not, or, living lustily although unhappily, affected not to see. But, for myself, the Earth’s records had taught me to look for widest ruin as the price of highest civilization.
-06- Words are vague things. My condition did not deprive me of sentience. It appeared to me not greatly dissimilar to the extreme quiescence of him, who, having slumbered long and profoundly, lying motionless and fully prostrate in a midsummer noon, begins to steal slowly back into consciousness, through the mere sufficiency of his sleep, and without being awakened by external disturbances.

‘The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion’
-01- But the truth of a vitally important fact soon makes its way into the understanding of even the most stolid.
-02- Even the grossly ignorant aroused their sluggish capacities to such considerations.
-03- The learned now gave their intellect—their soul—to no such points as the allaying of fear, or to the sustenance of loved theory. They sought—they panted for right views. They groaned for perfected knowledge.
-04- the wise were now freely permitted to rule the reason and the fancy of the crowd.
-05- As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled superstition from her throne.
-06- The feeblest intellect had derived vigor from excessive interest.
-07- It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen in every one hundred of the atmosphere.
-08- The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels.

‘Descent Into the Maelstrom’
-01- I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer’s account of the Mare Tenebrarum. A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever.
-02- “It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.
-03- “Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl.
-04- I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors.
-05- It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious–for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. ‘This fir tree,’ I found myself at one time saying, ‘will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,’–and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before.

‘The Domain of Arnheim’ 
-01-… even now, in the present darkness and madness of all thought on the great question of the social condition, it is not impossible that man, the individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions, may be happy.

‘The Duc de L’Omelette’
-01- “Who am I?—ah, true! I am Baal-Zebub, Prince of the Fly. I took thee, just now, from a rose-wood coffin inlaid with ivory. Thou wast curiously scented, and labelled as per invoice. Belial sent thee,—my Inspector of Cemeteries.
-02- The apartment was superb. Even De L’Omelette pronounced it bien comme il faut. It was not its length nor its breadth,—but its height—ah, that was appalling!—There was no ceiling—certainly none—but a dense whirling mass of fiery-colored clouds. His Grace’s brain reeled as he glanced upward. From above, hung a chain of an unknown blood-red metal—its upper end lost, like the city of Boston, parmi les nues. From its nether extremity swung a large cresset. The Duc knew it to be a ruby; but from it there poured a light so intense, so still, so terrible…
-03- The Duc De L’Omelette is terror-stricken; for, through the lurid vista which a single uncurtained window is affording, lo! gleams the most ghastly of all fires!

‘Eleonora’
Sub conservatione formae specificae salva anima. Raymond Lully.
-01- Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
-02- She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came upon that vale; for it lay away up among a range of giant hills that hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and, to reach our happy home, there was need of putting back, with force, the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers. Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley–I, and my cousin, and her mother.
-03- From the dim regions beyond the mountains at the upper end of our encircled domain, there crept out a narrow and deep river, brighter than all save the eyes of Eleonora; and, winding stealthily about in mazy courses, it passed away, at length, through a shadowy gorge, among hills still dimmer than those whence it had issued. We called it the “River of Silence”; for there seemed to be a hushing influence in its flow. No murmur arose from its bed, and so gently it wandered along, that the pearly pebbles upon which we loved to gaze, far down within its bosom, stirred not at all, but lay in a motionless content, each in its own old station, shining on gloriously forever. The margin of the river, and of the many dazzling rivulets that glided through devious ways into its channel, as well as the spaces that extended from the margins away down into the depths of the streams until they reached the bed of pebbles at the bottom,–these spots, not less than the whole surface of the valley, from the river to the mountains that girdled it in, were carpeted all by a soft green grass, thick, short, perfectly even, and vanilla-perfumed, but so besprinkled throughout with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel, that its exceeding beauty spoke to our hearts in loud tones, of the love and of the glory of God.
-04- Hand in hand about this valley, for fifteen years, roamed I with Eleonora before Love entered within our hearts. It was one evening at the close of the third lustrum of her life, and of the fourth of my own, that we sat, locked in each other’s embrace, beneath the serpent-like trees, and looked down within the water of the River of Silence at our images therein. We spoke no words during the rest of that sweet day, and our words even upon the morrow were tremulous and few.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
[ Son coeur est un luth suspendu; Sitot qu’on le touche il resonne… _De Beranger_. ‘His/her heart is a poised lute; as soon as it is touched, it resounds.’]
-01- DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
-02- I know not how it was–but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me–upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain–upon the bleak walls–upon the vacant eye-like windows–upon a few rank sedges–and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees–with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium–the bitter lapse into everyday life–the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart–an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it–I paused to think–what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down–but with a shudder even more thrilling than before–upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.
-03- I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity–an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn–a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.
-04- I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, & irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
-05- Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual.
-06- And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.
-07- Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.
-08- An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.
-09- I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me–while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy
-10- The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
-11- an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit–an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.
-12- But evil things, in robes of sorrow,         Assailed the monarch’s high estate;     (Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow         Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)     And, round about his home, the glory         That blushed and bloomed     Is but a dim-remembered story         Of the old time entombed.                         VI.     And travellers now within that valley,         Through the red-litten windows, see     Vast forms that move fantastically         To a discordant melody;     While, like a rapid ghastly river,         Through the pale door,     A hideous throng rush out forever,         And laugh–but smile no more.
-13- Our books–the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid–were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We pored together over such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indagine, and of De la Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorium, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and OEgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic–the manual of a forgotten church–the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.
-14- A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.
-15- Sleep came not near my couch–while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room–of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.
-16- The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this–yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars–nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.
-17- From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened–there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind–the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight–my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder–there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters–and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”

[Notes] : A visitor to a decrepit house is summoned to cheer the male, whose sister (his twin) is quite ill, probably with consumption. She dies and they put her in a coffin in a tomb. She wasn’t really dead, though, and was walled up alive. She clawed her way out of the coffin and shoved her way through the iron door only to collapse into her brother’s arms and die. The image of her standing before them in her death shroud was particularly evocation. I do not see how incest was hinted at.

‘The Gold Bug’
-01- This soon ripened into friendship–for there was much in the recluse to excite interest and esteem. I found him well educated, with unusual powers of mind, but infected with misanthropy, and subject to perverse moods of alternate enthusiasm and melancholy. He had with him many books, but rarely employed them.
-02- “And will you promise me, upon your honor, that when this freak of yours is over,
-03- In this manner we journeyed for about two hours, and the sun was just setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary than any yet seen. It was a species of table land, near the summit of an almost inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves into the valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against which they reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an air of still sterner solemnity to the scene.
-04- Upon the whole, I was sadly vexed and puzzled, but, at length, I concluded to make a virtue of necessity–to dig with a good will, and thus the sooner to convince the visionary, by ocular demonstration, of the fallacy of the opinions he entertained.
-05- I say the singularity of this coincidence absolutely stupified me for a time. This is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind struggles to establish a connexion–a sequence of cause and effect–and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis.
-06- You are well aware that chemical preparations exist, and have existed time out of mind, by means of which it is possible to write upon either paper or vellum, so that the characters shall become visible only when subjected to the action of fire. Zaffre, digested in aqua regia, and diluted with four times its weight of water, is sometimes employed; a green tint results. The regulus of cobalt, dissolved in spirit of nitre, gives a red. These colors disappear at longer or shorter intervals after the material written upon cools, but again become apparent upon the re-application of heat.
-07- Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to take interest in such riddles,
-08- “You observe there are no divisions between the words. Had there been divisions, the task would have been comparatively easy. In such case I should have commenced with a collation and analysis of the shorter words, and, had a word of a single letter occurred, as is most likely, (a or I, for example,) I should have considered the solution as assured. But, there being no division, my first step was to ascertain the predominant letters, as well as the least frequent. Counting all, I constructed a table,…”Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e. Afterwards, succession runs thus: _a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z_. _E_ predominates so remarkably that an individual sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not the prevailing character.
-09- “It is now time that we arrange our key, as far as discovered, in a tabular form, to avoid confusion. It will stand thus: 5 represents a † ” d 8 ” e 3 ” g 4 ” h 6 ” i * ” n ‡ ” o ( ” r ; ” t

‘Hop-Frog’
-01- many monarchs would have found it difficult to get through their days (days are rather longer at court than elsewhere) without both a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at.
-02- “Drink, I say!” shouted the monster, “or by the fiends-‘

‘The Imp of the Perverse’
-01- We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand.

‘The Island of the Fay’
-01- The other or eastern end of the isle was whelmed in the blackest shade. A sombre, yet beautiful and peaceful gloom here pervaded all things. The trees were dark in color, and mournful in form and attitude, wreathing themselves into sad, solemn, and spectral shapes that conveyed ideas of mortal sorrow and untimely death. The grass wore the deep tint of the cypress, and the heads of its blades hung droopingly, and hither and thither among it were many small unsightly hillocks, low and narrow, and not very long, that had the aspect of graves, but were not; although over and all about them the rue and the rosemary clambered. The shade of the trees fell heavily upon the water, and seemed to bury itself therein, impregnating the depths of the element with darkness. I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream; while other shadows issued momently from the trees, taking the place of their predecessors thus entombed.

‘The Landscape Garden’
-01- it is not impossible that Man, the individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions, may be happy.
-02- It is, indeed evident, that with less of the instinctive philosophy which, now and then, stands so well in the stead of experience, Mr. Ellison would have found himself precipitated, by the very extraordinary successes of his life, into the common vortex of Unhappiness which yawns for those of preeminent endowments.
-03- The ideas of my friend may be summed up in a few words. He admitted but four unvarying laws, or rather elementary principles, of Bliss. That which he considered chief, was (strange to say!) the simple and purely physical one of free exercise in the open air. “The health,” he said, “attainable by other means than this is scarcely worth the name.”
-04- His second principle was the love of woman. His third was the contempt of ambition. His fourth was an object of unceasing pursuit; and he held that, other things being equal, the extent of happiness was proportioned to the spirituality of this object.
-05- His intellect was of that order to which the attainment of knowledge is less a labor than a necessity and an intuition.
-06- the most advantageous, if not the sole legitimate field for the exercise of the poetic sentiment, was to be found in the creation of novel moods of purely physical loveliness.

‘Loss of Breath’
-01- THE MOST notorious ill-fortune must in the end yield to the untiring courage of philosophy—as the most stubborn city to the ceaseless vigilance of an enemy. Shalmanezer, as we have it in holy writings, lay three years before Samaria; yet it fell. Sardanapalus—see Diodorus—maintained himself seven in Nineveh; but to no purpose. Troy expired at the close of the second lustrum; and Azoth, as Aristaeus declares upon his honour as a gentleman, opened at last her gates to Psammetichus, after having barred them for the fifth part of a century….
-02- I was preparing to launch forth a new and more decided epithet of opprobrium, which should not fail, if ejaculated, to convince her of her insignificance,
-03- A thousand vague and lachrymatory fancies took possession of my soul,
-04- it is a trait in the perversity of human nature to reject the obvious and the ready, for the far-distant and equivocal.
-05- I was here, accordingly, thrown out at the sign of the “Crow” (by which tavern the coach happened to be passing), without meeting with any farther accident than the breaking of both my arms, under the left hind wheel of the vehicle. I must besides do the driver the justice to state that he did not forget to throw after me the largest of my trunks, which, unfortunately falling on my head, fractured my skull in a manner at once interesting and extraordinary.
-06- All, however, was attributed to the effects of a new galvanic battery, wherewith the apothecary, who is really a man of information, performed several curious experiments, in which, from my personal share in their fulfillment, I could not help feeling deeply interested.
-07- It was a course of mortification to me, nevertheless, that although I made several attempts at conversation, my powers of speech were so entirely in abeyance, that I could not even open my mouth; much less, then, make reply to some ingenious but fanciful theories of which, under other circumstances, my minute acquaintance with the Hippocratian pathology would have afforded me a ready confutation.

‘The Man That Was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo & Kickapoo Campaign’
001 In especial, the slightest appearance of mystery—of any point I cannot exactly comprehend—puts me at once into a pitiable state of agitation.

‘The Masque of the Red Death’
-01- THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal–the redness and the horror of blood.
-02- Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue–and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange–the fifth with white–the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet–a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all. It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.
-03- To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these–the dreams–writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away–they have endured but an instant–and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods.
-04- But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise–then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.
-05- In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood–and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror. When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers)
-06- the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple–through the purple to the green–through the green to the orange–through this again to the white–and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry–and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.
-07- And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

‘Mellonta Tauta to the Editors of the Lady’s Book’
001. Get ready your spectacles and make up your mind to be annoyed. I mean to write at you every day during this odious voyage.
002 we live in an age so enlightened that no such a thing as an individual is supposed to exist. It is the mass for which the true Humanity cares.
003 ‘Thus must we say that, not once or twice, or a few times, but with almost infinite repetitions, the same opinions come round in a circle among men.’
004 We lay to a few minutes to ask the cutter some questions, and learned, among other glorious news, that civil war is raging in Africa, while the plague is doing its good work beautifully both in Yurope and Ayesher. Is it not truly remarkable that, before the magnificent light shed upon philosophy by Humanity, the world was accustomed to regard War and Pestilence as calamities? Do you know that prayers were actually offered up in the ancient temples to the end that these evils (!) might not be visited upon mankind? Is it not really difficult to comprehend upon what principle of interest our forefathers acted? Were they so blind as not to perceive that the destruction of a myriad of individuals is only so much positive advantage to the mass!
005 he was scarcely hearkened to at all by his contemporaries, who looked upon him as merely an ingenious sort of madman
006 because the philosophers (?) of the day declared the thing impossible. Really now it does seem to me quite unaccountable how any thing so obviously feasible could have escaped the sagacity of the ancient savans. But in all ages the great obstacles to advancement in Art have been opposed by the so-called men of science
007 I am almost devoured by ennui.
008 He has been occupied all the day in the attempt to convince me that the ancient Amriccans governed themselves!—did ever anybody hear of such an absurdity?—that they existed in a sort of every-man-for-himself confederacy, after the fashion of the “prairie dogs” that we read of in fable. He says that they started with the queerest idea conceivable, viz: that all men are born free and equal—this in the very teeth of the laws of gradation so visibly impressed upon all things both in the moral and physical universe. Every man “voted,” as they called it—that is to say meddled with public affairs—until at length, it was discovered that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s, and that the “Republic” (so the absurd thing was called) was without a government at all.
009 the first circumstance which disturbed, very particularly, the self-complacency of the philosophers who constructed this “Republic,” was the startling discovery that universal suffrage gave opportunity for fraudulent schemes, by means of which any desired number of votes might at any time be polled, without the possibility of prevention or even detection, by any party which should be merely villainous enough not to be ashamed of the fraud.
010 A little reflection upon this discovery sufficed to render evident the consequences, which were that rascality must predominate—in a word, that a republican government could never be any thing but a rascally one.
011 While the philosophers, however, were busied in blushing at their stupidity in not having foreseen these inevitable evils, and intent upon the invention of new theories, the matter was put to an abrupt issue by a fellow of the name of Mob, who took every thing into his own hands and set up a despotism, in comparison with which those of the fabulous Zeros and Hellofagabaluses were respectable and delectable. This Mob (a foreigner, by-the-by), is said to have been the most odious of all men that ever encumbered the earth. He was a giant in stature—insolent, rapacious, filthy, had the gall of a bullock with the heart of a hyena and the brains of a peacock. He died, at length, by dint of his own energies, which exhausted him. Nevertheless, he had his uses, as every thing has, however vile, and taught mankind a lesson which to this day it is in no danger of forgetting—never to run directly contrary to the natural analogies.
012 As for Republicanism, no analogy could be found for it upon the face of the earth—unless we except the case of the “prairie dogs,” an exception which seems to demonstrate, if anything, that democracy is a very admirable form of government—for dogs.
013 It is related of them that they were acute in many respects, but were oddly afflicted with monomania for building what, in the ancient Amriccan, was denominated “churches”—a kind of pagoda instituted for the worship of two idols that went by the names of Wealth and Fashion. In the end, it is said, the island became, nine tenths of it, church. The women, too, it appears, were oddly deformed by a natural protuberance of the region just below the small of the back—although, most unaccountably, this deformity was looked upon altogether in the light of a beauty. One or two pictures of these singular women have in fact, been miraculously preserved. They look very odd, very—like something between a turkey-cock and a dromedary.

‘Mesmeric Revelation’
-01- those who doubt, are your mere doubters by profession–an unprofitable and disreputable tribe.
-02- To be happy at any one point we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed.

‘Morella’
-01- With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning or regulate their vague intensity. Yet me met; and fate bound us together at the altar, and I never spoke of passion nor thought of love. She, however, shunned society, and, attaching herself to me alone rendered me happy. It is a happiness to wonder; it is a happiness to dream.
-02- Morella’s erudition was profound. As I hope to live, her talents were of no common order—her powers of mind were gigantic. I felt this, and, in many matters, became her pupil. … These, for what reason I could not imagine, were her favourite and constant study—and that in process of time they became my own, should be attributed to the simple but effectual influence of habit and example…
-03- Persuaded of this, I abandoned myself implicitly to the guidance of my wife, and entered with an unflinching heart into the intricacies of her studies.

‘MS. Found in a Bottle’
01. Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other.
02. I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns at Balbec, and Tadmore and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.
03. …about a league on either side of us, may be seen, indistinctly and at intervals, stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away into the desolate sky and looking like the walls of the universe.
04. Upon the whole, no person could be less liable than myself to be led away from the severe precincts of truth by the ignes fatui of superstition.
[NOTE.] –The “MS. Found in a Bottle,” was originally published in 1831, and it was not until many years afterwards that I became acquainted with the maps of Mercator, in which the ocean is represented as rushing, by four mouths, into the (northern) Polar Gulf, to be absorbed into the bowels of the earth; the Pole itself being represented by a black rock, towering to a prodigious height.

‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’
-01- The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles.
-02- He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension præternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.
-03- Yet to calculate is not in itself to analyse. A chess-player, for example, does the one without effort at the other. It follows that the game of chess, in its effects upon mental character, is greatly misunderstood. I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by a the elaborate frivolity of chess.
-04- In this latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed resulting in injury or defeat.
-05- The possible moves being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is the more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers. In draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished, and the mere attention being left comparatively unemployed, what advantages are obtained by either party are obtained by superior acumen.
-06- Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, while eschewing chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a similar nature so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best chess-player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all those more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind.
-07- To observe attentively is to remember distinctly;
-08- He makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences.
-09- The analytical power should not be confounded with ample ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man is often remarkably incapable of analysis.
-10- I was astonished, too, at the vast extent of his reading; and, above all, I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid freshness of his imagination. Seeking in Paris the objects I then sought, I felt that the society of such a man would be to me a treasure beyond price; and this feeling I frankly confided to him. It was at length arranged that we should live together during my stay in the city; and as my worldly circumstances were somewhat less embarrassed than his own, I was permitted to be at the expense of renting, and furnishing in a style which suited the rather fantastic gloom of our common temper, a time-eaten and grotesque mansion, long deserted through superstitions into which we did not inquire, and tottering to its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg St. Germain.
-11- Had the routine of our life at this place been known to the world, we should have been regarded as madmen–although, perhaps, as madmen of a harmless nature. Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no visitors. Indeed the locality of our retirement had been carefully kept a secret from my own former associates; and it had been many years since Dupin had ceased to know or be known in Paris. We existed within ourselves alone.
-12- It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call it?) to be enamored of the Night for her own sake; and into this bizarrerie, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up to his wild whims with a perfect abandon. The sable divinity would not herself dwell with us always; but we could counterfeit her presence. At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the messy shutters of our old building; lighting a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams–reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets arm in arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford.
-13- We were strolling one night down a long dirty street in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both, apparently, occupied with thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once Dupin broke forth with these words: “He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Théâtre des Variétés.” “There can be no doubt of that,” I replied unwittingly, and not at first observing (so much had I been absorbed in reflection) the extraordinary manner in which the speaker had chimed in with my meditations. In an instant afterward I recollected myself, and my astonishment was profound.
-14- “Dupin,” said I, gravely, “this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of —–?” Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought. –“of Chantilly,” said he, “why do you pause? You were remarking to yourself that his diminutive figure unfitted him for tragedy.”
-15- There are few persons who have not, at some period of their lives, amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is often full of interest and he who attempts it for the first time is astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence between the starting-point and the goal.
-16- Had but little difficulty in getting it open, on account of its being a double or folding gate, and bolted neither at bottom not top.
-17- Truth is not always in a well. In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial. The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.
-18- To look at a star by glances–to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the star distinctly–is to have the best appreciation of its lustre–a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it. A greater number of rays actually fall upon the eye in the latter case, but, in the former, there is the more refined capacity for comprehension. By undue profundity we perplex and enfeeble thought; and it is possible to make even Venus herself vanish from the firmanent by a scrutiny too sustained, too concentrated, or too direct.
-19- Coincidences ten times as remarkable as this (the delivery of the money, and murder committed within three days upon the party receiving it), happen to all of us every hour of our lives, without attracting even momentary notice. Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities–that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration.

‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’
-01- There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide. Men and circumstances generally modify the ideal train of events, so that it seems imperfect, and its consequences are equally imperfect. Thus with the Reformation; instead of Protestantism came Lutheranism. –Novalis. Moral Ansichten.
-02- THERE are few persons, even among the calmest thinkers, who have not occasionally been startled into a vague yet thrilling half-credence in the supernatural, by coincidences of so seemingly marvellous a character that, as mere coincidences, the intellect has been unable to receive them.
-03- Upon the winding up of the tragedy involved in the deaths of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, the Chevalier dismissed the affair at once from his attention, and relapsed into his old habits of moody reverie. Prone, at all times, to abstraction, I readily fell in with his humor; and, continuing to occupy our chambers in the Faubourg Saint Germain, we gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.
-04- I would here observe that very much of what is rejected as evidence by a court, is the best of evidence to the intellect.
-05- The history of human knowledge has so uninterruptedly shown that to collateral, or incidental, or accidental events we are indebted for the most numerous and most valuable discoveries, that it has at length become necessary, in any prospective view of improvement, to make not only large, but the largest allowances for inventions that shall arise by chance, and quite out of the range of ordinary expectation.
-06- It is no longer philosophical to base, upon what has been, a vision of what is to be.
-07- An individual has committed the murder. He is alone with the ghost of the departed. He is appalled by what lies motionless before him. The fury of his passion is over, and there is abundant room in his heart for the natural awe of the deed.
-08- Thus the jurisprudence of every nation will show that, when law becomes a science and a system, it ceases to be justice.

Narrative of A. Gordon Pym
-01- I used frequently to go home with him, and remain all day, and sometimes all night. We occupied the same bed, and he would be sure to keep me awake until almost light, telling me stories of the natives of the Island of Tinian, and other places he had visited in his travels.
-02- he had drunk far more than I suspected, and that his conduct in bed had been the result of a highly-concentrated state of intoxication–a state which, like madness, frequently enables the victim to imitate the outward demeanour of one in perfect possession of his senses.
-03- It is probable, indeed, that our intimate communion had resulted in a partial interchange of character.
-04- To pass this man with a casual glance, one might imagine him to be convulsed with laughter, but a second look would induce a shuddering acknowledgment, that if such an expression were indicative of merriment, the merriment must be that of a demon.
-05- the infinitely more terrible distresses and dangers from which we had so lately and so providentially been delivered caused us to regard what we now endured as but little more than an ordinary evil

 ‘Never Bet the Devil Your Head’
-001- “CON tal que las costumbres de un autor,” says Don Thomas de las Torres, in the preface to his “Amatory Poems” “sean puras y castas, importo muy poco que no sean igualmente severas sus obras”—meaning, in plain English, that, provided the morals of an author are pure personally, it signifies nothing what are the morals of his books.
-002- Every fiction should have a moral; and, what is more to the purpose, the critics have discovered that every fiction has.
-003- In short, it has been shown that no man can sit down to write without a very profound design. Thus to authors in general much trouble is spared. A novelist, for example, need have no care of his moral. It is there—that is to say, it is somewhere—and the moral and the critics can take care of themselves. When the proper time arrives, all that the gentleman intended, and all that he did not intend, will be brought to light, in the “Dial,” or the “Down-Easter,” together with all that he ought to have intended, and the rest that he clearly meant to intend:—so that it will all come very straight in the end.
-004- Defuncti injuria ne afficiantur was a law of the twelve tables, and De mortuis nil nisi bonum is an excellent injunction—even if the dead in question be nothing but dead small beer.
-005- I am always displeased by circumstances for which I cannot account. Mysteries force a man to think, and so injure his health.
-006- upon the figure of a little lame old gentleman of venerable aspect. Nothing could be more reverend than his whole appearance; for he not only had on a full suit of black, but his shirt was perfectly clean and the collar turned very neatly down over a white cravat, while his hair was parted in front like a girl’s. His hands were clasped pensively together over his stomach,
-007- I looked sternly at my friend while I thus addressed him; for, to say the truth, I felt particularly puzzled, and when a man is particularly puzzled he must knit his brows and look savage, or else he is pretty sure to look like a fool.
-008- I do not attempt to defend my remark on the score of profundity; I did not think it profound myself; but I have noticed that the effect of our speeches is not always proportionate with their importance in our own eyes;
-009- I hurried up to him and found that he had received what might be termed a serious injury. The truth is, he had been deprived of his head,

‘The Oblong Box’
001. among other names, I was rejoiced to see that of Mr. Cornelius Wyatt, a young artist, for whom I entertained feelings of warm friendship.
002. He had been with me a fellow-student at C— University, where we were very much together. He had the ordinary temperament of genius, and was a compound of misanthropy, sensibility, and enthusiasm.
003 I was, just at that epoch, in one of those moody frames of mind which make a man abnormally inquisitive about trifles
004. I had nothing to do but to return home and digest my impatience at leisure.
005. If not positively ugly, she was not, I think, very far from it
006 One day he came upon deck, and, taking his arm as had been my wont, I sauntered with him backward and forward.
007 as I spoke the words, I smiled knowingly, winked, and touched him gently with my forefinger in the ribs.
008 I had been nervous—drank too much strong green tea, and slept ill at night—in fact, for two nights I could not be properly said to sleep at all.
009 Mr. Wyatt, no doubt, according to custom, was merely giving the rein to one of his hobbies—indulging in one of his fits of artistic enthusiasm.
010 I forbear to depict my sensations upon the gallows; although here, undoubtedly, I could speak to the point, and it is a topic upon which nothing has been well said. In fact, to write upon such a theme it is necessary to have been hanged. Every author should confine himself to matters of experience. Thus Mark Antony composed a treatise upon getting drunk.

‘Old English Poetry’
001. IT should not be doubted that at least one-third of the affection with which we regard the elder poets of Great Britain should be-attributed to what is, in itself, a thing apart from poetry-we mean to the simple love of the antique-and if demanded his opinion of their productions, would mention vaguely, yet with perfect sincerity, a sense of dreamy, wild, indefinite, and he would perhaps say, indefinable delight; on being required to point out the source of this so shadowy pleasure, he would be apt to speak of the quaint in phraseology and in general handling. This quaintness is, in fact, a very powerful adjunct to ideality, but in the case in question it arises independently of the author’s will, and is altogether apart from his intention. Words and their rhythm have varied. Verses which affect us to-day with a vivid delight, and which delight, in many instances, may be traced to the one source, quaintness, must have worn in the days of their construction, a very commonplace air.
002. They used little art in composition. Their writings sprang immediately from the soul-and partook intensely of that soul’s nature.
003. We copy a portion of Marvell’s “Maiden lamenting for her Fawn,” which we prefer-not only as a specimen of the elder poets, but in itself as a beautiful poem, abounding in pathos, exquisitely delicate imagination and truthfulness-to anything of its species:

 

‘The Oval Portrait’
-01- THE chateau into which my valet had ventured to make forcible entrance, rather than permit me, in my desperately wounded condition, to pass a night in the open air, was one of those piles of commingled gloom and grandeur which have so long frowned among the Appennines, not less in fact than in the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe.
-02- To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned. We established ourselves in one of the smallest and least sumptuously furnished apartments. It lay in a remote turret of the building. Its decorations were rich, yet tattered and antique.
-03- The portrait, I have already said, was that of a young girl. It was a mere head and shoulders, done in what is technically termed a vignette manner; much in the style of the favorite heads of Sully. The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair melted imperceptibly into the vague yet deep shadow which formed the back-ground of the whole. The frame was oval, richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque.

‘Philosophy of Furniture’ (essay)
-01- In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture of their residences, the English are supreme. … The Italians have but little sentiment beyond marbles and colours. In France, meliora probant, deteriora sequuntur—the people are too much a race of gadabouts to maintain those household proprieties of which, indeed, they have a delicate appreciation, or at least the elements of a proper sense. The Chinese and most of the eastern races have a warm but inappropriate fancy. The Scotch are poor decorists. The Dutch have, perhaps, an indeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are all curtains—a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. The Yankees alone are preposterous.
-02- How this happens, it is not difficult to see. We have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readily understood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself.
-03- wealth is not, in England, the loftiest object of ambition as constituting a nobility; and secondly, that there, the true nobility of blood, confining itself within the strict limits of legitimate taste, rather avoids than affects that mere costliness in which a parvenu rivalry may at any time be successfully attempted.
-04- In short, the cost of an article of furniture has at length come to be, with us, nearly the sole test of its merit in a decorative point of view—and this test, once established, has led the way to many analogous errors, readily traceable to the one primitive folly.
-05- Very often the eye is offended by their inartistic arrangement. Straight lines are too prevalent—too uninterruptedly continued—or clumsily interrupted at right angles. If curved lines occur, they are repeated into unpleasant uniformity.
-06- By undue precision, the appearance of many a fine apartment is utterly spoiled.
-07- Curtains are rarely well disposed, or well chosen in respect to other decorations. With formal furniture, curtains are out of place; and an extensive volume of drapery of any kind is, under any circumstance, irreconcilable with good taste—the proper quantum, as well as the proper adjustment, depending upon the character of the general effect.
-08- Carpets are better understood of late than of ancient days, but we still very frequently err in their patterns and colours. The soul of the apartment is the carpet. From it are deduced not only the hues but the forms of all objects incumbent. A judge at common law may be an ordinary man; a good judge of a carpet must be a genius. Yet we have heard discoursing of carpets, with the air “d’un mouton qui reve,” fellows who should not and who could not be entrusted with the management of their own moustaches. … As regards texture, the Saxony is alone admissible. Brussels is the preterpluperfect tense of fashion, and Turkey is taste in its dying agonies. … The abomination of flowers, or representations of well-known objects of any kind, should not be endured within the limits of Christendom.
-09- Indeed, whether on carpets, or curtains, or tapestry, or ottoman coverings, all upholstery of this nature should be rigidly Arabesque.
-10- As for those antique floor-cloth & still occasionally seen in the dwellings of the rabble—cloths of huge, sprawling, and radiating devises, stripe-interspersed, and glorious with all hues, among which no ground is intelligible—these are but the wicked invention of a race of time-servers and money-lovers—children of Baal and worshippers of Mammon—Benthams, who, to spare thought and economize fancy, first cruelly invented the [??] and then established joint-stock companies to twirl it by steam.
-11- A mild, or what artists term a cool light, with its consequent warm shadows, will do wonders for even an ill-furnished apartment. Never was a more lovely thought than that of the astral lamp. We mean, of course, the astral lamp proper—the lamp of Argand, with its original plain ground-glass shade, and its tempered and uniform moonlight rays. The cut-glass shade is a weak invention of the enemy. … It is not too much to say, that the deliberate employer of a cut-glass shade, is either radically deficient in taste, or blindly subservient to the caprices of fashion.
-12- The rage for glitter-because its idea has become as we before observed, confounded with that of magnificence in the abstract—has led us, also, to the exaggerated employment of mirrors. We line our dwellings with great British plates, and then imagine we have done a fine thing. Now the slightest thought will be sufficient to convince any one who has an eye at all, of the ill effect of numerous looking-glasses, and especially of large ones. Regarded apart from its reflection, the mirror presents a continuous, flat, colourless, unrelieved surface,—a thing always and obviously unpleasant.
-13- It is an evil growing out of our republican institutions, that here a man of large purse has usually a very little soul which he keeps in it.
-14- The corruption of taste is a portion or a pendant of the dollar-manufacture. As we grow rich, our ideas grow rusty.
-15- Even now, there is present to our mind’s eye a small and not, ostentatious chamber with whose decorations no fault can be found. The proprietor lies asleep on a sofa—the weather is cool—the time is near midnight: we will make a sketch of the room during his slumber. It is oblong—some thirty feet in length and twenty-five in breadth—a shape affording the best(ordinary) opportunities for the adjustment of furniture. It has but one door—by no means a wide one—which is at one end of the parallelogram, and but two windows, which are at the other. These latter are large, reaching down to the floor—have deep recesses—and open on an Italian veranda. Their panes are of a crimson-tinted glass, set in rose-wood framings, more massive than usual. They are curtained within the recess, by a thick silver tissue adapted to the shape of the window, and hanging loosely in small volumes. Without the recess are curtains of an exceedingly rich crimson silk, fringed with a deep network of gold, and lined with silver tissue, which is the material of the exterior blind. There are no cornices; but the folds of the whole fabric (which are sharp rather than massive, and have an airy appearance), issue from beneath a broad entablature of rich giltwork, which encircles the room at the junction of the ceiling and walls. The drapery is thrown open also, or closed, by means of a thick rope of gold loosely enveloping it, and resolving itself readily into a knot; no pins or other such devices are apparent. The colours of the curtains and their fringe—the tints of crimson and gold—appear everywhere in profusion, and determine the character of the room. The carpet—of Saxony material—is quite half an inch thick, and is of the same crimson ground, relieved simply by the appearance of a gold cord (like that festooning the curtains) slightly relieved above the surface of the ground, and thrown upon it in such a manner as to form a succession of short irregular curves—one occasionally overlaying the other. The walls are prepared with a glossy paper of a silver gray tint, spotted with small Arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalent crimson. Many paintings relieve the expanse of paper. These are chiefly landscapes of an imaginative cast—such as the fairy grottoes of Stanfield, or the lake of the Dismal Swamp of Chapman. There are, nevertheless, three or four female heads, of an ethereal beauty-portraits in the manner of Sully. The tone of each picture is warm, but dark. There are no “brilliant effects.” Repose speaks in all. Not one is of small size. Diminutive paintings give that spotty look to a room, which is the blemish of so many a fine work of Art overtouched. The frames are broad but not deep, and richly carved, without being dulled or filagreed. They have the whole lustre of burnished gold. They lie flat on the walls, and do not hang off with cords. The designs themselves are often seen to better advantage in this latter position, but the general appearance of the chamber is injured. But one mirror—and this not a very large one—is visible. In shape it is nearly circular—and it is hung so that a reflection of the person can be obtained from it in none of the ordinary sitting-places of the room. Two large low sofas of rosewood and crimson silk, gold-flowered, form the only seats, with the exception of two light conversation chairs, also of rose-wood. There is a pianoforte (rose-wood, also), without cover, and thrown open. An octagonal table, formed altogether of the richest gold-threaded marble, is placed near one of the sofas. This is also without cover—the drapery of the curtains has been thought sufficient.. Four large and gorgeous Sevres vases, in which bloom a profusion of sweet and vivid flowers, occupy the slightly rounded angles of the room. A tall candelabrum, bearing a small antique lamp with highly perfumed oil, is standing near the head of my sleeping friend. Some light and graceful hanging shelves, with golden edges and crimson silk cords with gold tassels, sustain two or three hundred magnificently bound books. Beyond these things, there is no furniture, if we except an Argand lamp, with a plain crimson-tinted ground glass shade, which depends from He lofty vaulted ceiling by a single slender gold chain, and throws a tranquil but magical radiance over all.

‘The Purloined Letter’
-01- with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library,
-02- “That is another of your odd notions,” said the Prefect, who had a fashion of calling every thing “odd” that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of “oddities.”
-03- “Not altogether a fool,” said G., “but then he’s a poet, which I take to be only one remove from a fool.”
-04- “It is merely,” I said, “an identification of the reasoner’s intellect with that of his opponent.” “It is,” said Dupin; “and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as follows: ‘When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.’ This response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella.” “And the identification,” I said, “of the reasoner’s intellect with that of his opponent, depends, if I understand you aright, upon the accuracy with which the opponent’s intellect is admeasured.” “For its practical value it depends upon this,” replied Dupin; “and the Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they would have hidden it. They are right in this much–that their own ingenuity is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own, and very usually when it is below.
-05- It is not more true in the former, that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that its subsequent momentum is commensurate with this difficulty, than it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more forcible, more constant, and more eventful in their movements than those of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and more embarrassed and full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress.
-06- “There is a game of puzzles,” he resumed, “which is played upon a map. One party playing requires another to find a given word–the name of town, river, state or empire–any word, in short, upon the motley and perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These, like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious;
-07- like a great many pleasant things, is more pleasant than true,

‘The Sphinx’
-01- My host was of a less excitable temperament, and, although greatly depressed in spirits, exerted himself to sustain my own. His richly philosophical intellect was not at any time affected by unrealities. To the substances of terror he was sufficiently alive, but of its shadows he had no apprehension.
-02- His endeavors to arouse me from the condition of abnormal gloom into which I had fallen, were frustrated, in great measure, by certain volumes which I had found in his library. These were of a character to force into germination whatever seeds of hereditary superstition lay latent in my bosom. I had been reading these books without his knowledge, and thus he was often at a loss to account for the forcible impressions which had been made upon my fancy.
-03- A favorite topic with me was the popular belief in omens—a belief which, at this one epoch of my life, I was almost seriously disposed to defend. On this subject we had long and animated discussions—he maintaining the utter groundlessness of faith in such matters,—I contending that a popular sentiment arising with absolute spontaneity- that is to say, without apparent traces of suggestion—had in itself the unmistakable elements of truth, and was entitled to as much respect as that intuition which is the idiosyncrasy of the individual man of genius.
-04- an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which had in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have been excused for regarding it as an omen.

‘The Tell-Tale Heart’
-01- It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

‘The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal’
-01- It was not, however, that to life itself I had any, positive disgust, but that I was harassed beyond endurance by the adventitious miseries attending my situation.
-02- I reflected that man is the veriest slave of custom, and that many points in the routine of his existence are deemed essentially important, which are only so at all by his having rendered them habitual.
-03- Some of the over-wise even made themselves ridiculous by decrying the whole business; as nothing better than a hoax. But hoax, with these sort of people, is, I believe, a general term for all matters above their comprehension.

‘Von Kempelen and His Discovery’
-01- Very little dependence is to be placed upon it, in my humble opinion; and if I were not well aware, from experience, how very easily men of science are mystified, on points out of their usual range of inquiry, I should be profoundly astonished at finding so eminent a chemist as Professor Draper, discussing Mr. Kissam’s (or is it Mr. Quizzem’s?) pretensions to the discovery, in so serious a tone.

‘William Wilson’
-01- Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle. From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus. What chance–what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate.
-02- But the house!–how quaint an old building was this!–to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings–to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult, at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were innumerable–inconceivable–and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars.
-03- If there is on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its companions.
-04- I secretly felt that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle.

Sep
19
2011

“The Fox” by DH Lawrence

by V. L. Craven

This is my first D.H. Lawrence and while it was interesting and quite well written, I wonder about Lawrence’s feelings about women as people. He admitted loving men romantically, if not sexually, but that doesn’t preclude him thinking women were lost without men.

The story is about two women trying to run a small farm in England after the First World War. They obviously love one another dearly. A young soldier shows up and seemingly gleefully tears their world apart. One of the women seems quite glad to no longer have to be with a woman for reasons that come across as being quite misogynistic, though Lawrence could have simply been sticking to the beliefs of the day. The final few pages didn’t seem to hold with the rest of the book, which made me wonder if it ended differently originally but someone made him change the end.

I do want to read more of Lawrence’s work, but would prefer something that didn’t leave me making a baroo face (that’s the face dogs make when they heard something high pitched or curious–that head tilt).

Oct
20
2010

Celebrity Chekhov by Ben Greenman

by V. L. Craven

If you think Anton Chekhov’s writing would be too staid, too removed from modern life to be worthwhile then Celebrity Chekhov is an inventive (and very amusing) retelling of some of Chekhov’s most famous stories, recast with celebrities. Greenman does an excellent job fitting personalities to stories, making Chekhov accessible to new readers and treating old fans to a new prism through which to view his works. Great fun. Guest stars include: Paris Hilton, David Letterman, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicholson.

Aug
15
2010

Two Poe Stories

by V. L. Craven

Poe Quotes:

“The Cask of Amontillado” by E.A. Poe
-1- It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile _now_ was at the thought of his immolation.

This must be the most perfectly rendered description of a murderous smile in all of literature.

“MS. Found in a Bottle” by E.A.Poe
-1- Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other.
-2- I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns at Balbec, and Tadmore and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.
-3- …about a league on either side of us, may be seen, indistinctly and at intervals, stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away into the desolate sky and looking like the walls of the universe.

Jun
26
2010

Kafka: “Wedding Preparations in the Country”

by V. L. Craven

This one is about the difference between how others see us and how we actually are… I think. It’s difficult to know, as several pages of the manuscript were missing. On the outside, it’s about a man who lives in the city making the arduous journey to the countryside where he’s to make preparations for his wedding. He’s full of doubt and anxiety about the entire endeavour, though we find out in the end that people see him in quite a different light.

At first, I thought it was unfair that Kafka led us on such a roundabout journey, which became as difficult for the reader as it was for the protagonist, when in the end—the very last paragraph, in fact—we finally get the point of the story.

Perhaps on another level it’s about reality versus perception, as the travelling that need be done in order to get to the countryside isn’t really all that strenuous, it’s only made so by our man out of fear and dislike of the countryside.

-7- The lady…now looked at him. She did so indifferently, and she was perhaps, in any case, only looking at the falling rain in front of him or at the small nameplates of firms that were fixed to the door over his head. Raban thought she looked amazed. “Well,” he thought, “if I could tell her the whole story, she would ceased to be astonished. One works so feverishly at the office that afterwards one is too tired even to enjoy one’s holidays properly. But even all that work does not give one a claim to be treated lovingly by everyone; on the contrary, one is alone, a total stranger and only an object of curiosity. And so long as you say ‘one’ instead of ‘I’, there’s nothing in it and one can easily tell the story; but as soon as you admit to yourself that it is you yourself, you feel as though transfixed and horrified.”

-8- Then it seemed to Raban that he would get through the long bad time of the next fortnight, too. For it was only a fortnight, that was to say, a limited period, and even if the annoyances grew ever greater, still, the time during which one had to endure them would be growing shorter and shorter. Thus, undoubtedly, courage would increase. “All the people who try to torment me, and who have now occupied the entire space around me, will quite gradually be thrust back by the beneficent passage of these days, without my having to help them even in the very least. And, as it will come about quite naturally, I can be weak and quiet and let everything happen to me, and yet everything must turn out well, through the sheer fact of the passing of the days. And besides, can’t I do it the way I always used to as a child in matters that were dangerous? I don’t even need to go to the country myself, it isn’t necessary. I’ll send my clothed body. If it staggers out of the door of my room, the staggering will indicate not fear but nothingness. Nor is it a sign of excitement if it stumbles on the stairs, if it travels into the country, sobbing as it goes, and there eats its supper in tears.”

-9- “…I shall make them angry if I try to pacify them. Oh, if I could only make them thoroughly angry in the attempt to pacify them.”

-10- There was the omnibus; he quickly climbed into the empty compartment, sat down by the windowpane behind the driver’s box, and hunched his back into the corner, for he had done all that was necessary. For if the driver is asleep, he will wake up toward morning; if he is dead, then a new driver will come, or the innkeeper, and should that not happen either, then passengers will come by early morning train, people in a hurry, making a noise. In any case one can be quiet, one may even draw the curtains over the windows and wait for the jerk with which the vehicle must start.

-11- …it was really wasting one’s time to stand about here in this hall, looking at the rain, but if one spent the time, besides, in chatter, one was wasting it double.

-12- Now Raban had believed for some time that nothing other people said about his capabilities or opinions had been able to affect him, on the contrary, that he had positively abandoned the position where he had listened, all submissively, to everything that was said, so that people were now simply wasting their breath whether they happened to be against him or for him.

-13- …books are useful in every sense and quite especially in respects in which one would not expect it. For when one is about to embark on some enterprise, it is precisely the books whose contents have nothing at all in common with the enterprise that are the most useful. For the reader…will be stimulated by the book to all kinds of thoughts concerning his enterprise. Now, however, since the contents of the book are precisely something of utter indifferent, the reader is not at all impeded in those thoughts, and he passes through the midst of the book with the,. As once the Jews passed through the Red Sea…

Jun
12
2010

Saturday Shorts: Kafka

by V. L. Craven

This week I’ve begun a collection of Kafka’s short stories. I’ve only read three thus far and I’m hooked, though I know I’m missing at least half of what he’s trying to say. I have an Oxford Very Short Introduction to Kafka, though, so hopefully that will shed some light on the situation.

The three I’ve read are:

“Before the Law”
This is a parable about what we wish for—what keeps us from getting what we believe we desire and the way those things are lies.

“An Imperial Message”
About a message from a dying Emperor that’s just for you but will never reach you because there are too many impediments between the messenger and yourself. Because you can never receive the message you will spend your time dreaming of what it might be.
I think this one is about grandiosity of thought—that to presume an all-powerful emperor would have a message just for you and would use his dying breath to convey it is ridiculously presumptuous.

“Description of a Struggle”

I’m almost at a complete loss on what this story is about beneath the words. On the surface, it’s three revolving shorter pieces about man’s struggle with other men, with nature and with his own mind. One part is about a man who meets another man at a party and then walks with him into the night. I believe the second man is but a fiction the narrator (the first man) invented. In another story he invents the landscape to suit his whims, which reminds me of my lucid dreams—there’s an extended section that’s particularly beautifully written, transcribed below. This story is reminiscent of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading and The Defense (or Despair—Nabokov has two novels where the protagonist realises he has ultimate control over his reality).

-1- All day in the office, evenings at a party, at night in the streets, and nothing to excess. A way of life so natural that it borders on the excessive!

-2- From these words I imagined that my acquaintance suspected in me something which, although it wasn’t there, made me nevertheless rise in his estimation by his suspecting it. … Who knows, this man [ … ] might be capable of bestowing on me in the eyes of the world a value without my having to work for it.

-3- I had to restrain myself from putting my arm around his shoulders and kissing him on the eyes as a reward for having absolutely no use for me.

-4- I promptly stood up straight as though I had been pulled up by the hair.

-5- I walk on, unperturbed. But since, as a pedestrian, I dreaded the effort of climbing the mountainous road, I let it become gradually flatter, let it slope down into a valley in the distance. The stones vanished at my will and the wind disappeared.
…Because I love pinewoods I went through woods of this kind, and since I like gazing silently up at the stars, the stars appeared slowly in the sky, as is their wont. I say only a few fleecy which a wind, blowing just at their height, pulled through the air…
Opposite and at some distance from my road, probably separated from it by a river as well, I caused to rise an enormously high mountain whose plateau, overgrown with brushwood, bordered on the sky. I could see quite clearly the little ramifications of the highest branches and their movements. This sight, ordinary as it may be, made me so happy that I, as a small bird on a twig of those distant scrubby bushes, forgot the let the moon come up.

-6- Feeling that this required an answer, I put my hand in the hip pocket of my trousers as though I were looking for something. Actually, I wasn’t looking for anything, I just wished to change my appearance in order to show interest in the conversation.

Kafka seems interested in the futility of life, I think, which would make sense as he’s thought of as an existentialist writer.

Thus far I’m finding the work both challenging and rewarding.

Jun
05
2010

“The Book-Bag” by W. Somerset Maugham

by V. L. Craven

This week’s short story is a bibliophile’s dream. It’s about a man who lives in terror of being caught out without a book on one of his travels. I know the feeling–it’s the main reason I’ve been making a digital library. I already have over 6,000 books in my netbook. What’s a bigger thrill for the serious reader than having an entire library in something the size of a hardback?

Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without–who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severeed fcrom reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?–and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.

And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful suply of his dealy balm I never venture far without a sifficiency of reading matter. Books are so necessary to me that when in a railway train I hae become aware that fellow-travellers have come away without a single one I have been seized with a veritable dismay. But when I am starting on a long journey the problem is formidable. I have learnt my lesson. Once, imprisoned bu illness for three months in a hill-town in Java, I came to the end of all the books I had brought with me. …
Since then I have made a point of travelling with the largest sack made for carrying soiled linen and filling it to the brim with books to suit every possible occasion and every mood. It weighs a ton and strong porters reel under its weight. Customhouse officials look at it askance, but recoil from it with consternation when I give them my word that it contains nothing but books. Its inconvenience is that the particular work I suddenly hanker to read is always at the bottom and it is impossible for me to get it without emptying the book-bag’s entire contents upon the floor.

I pointed to the book-bag. It stood upright, bulging oddly, so that it looked like a humpbacked gnome somewhat the worse for liquor.

I knew from long experience how to unpack it. I threw it over on its side, seized its leather bottom and, walking backwards, dragged the sack away from its contents. A river of books poured on to the floor.

There were books of all kinds. Volumes of verse, novels, philosophical works, critical studies (they say books about books are profitless, but they certainly make very pleasant reading), biographies, history; there were books to read when you were ill ad books to read when your brain, all aleart, craved for something to grapply with, there were books that you had alwas wanted to read, but in the hurry of life at home had never found time to, there were books to read at sea when you were meandering through narrow waters ib a tramp steamer, and there were books for bad weather when your whole cabin creaked and you had to wedge yourself in your bunk in order not to fall out; there were books chosen solely for their length, which you took with you when on some expedition you had to travel light, and there were books you could read when you could read nothing else.

And one for the solitary types out there:

She seldom left the estate. She had plenty to do. She read a lot. She was never bored. She seemed quite happy in her own company, and when she had visitors it was only from a sense of duty. She didn’t want them to think her ungracious. But it was an effort and she told me she heaved a sigh of relief when she saw the last of them and could again enjoy without disturbance the peaceful loneliness of the bungalow. She was a very curious girl.

May
27
2010

Short Stories of the Week

by V. L. Craven

Short stories have never been my forte. I don’t know why–I tend to like them when I read them–I just don’t read them very much. Since I’m finding myself coming up with ideas for short stories more than for novels I thought I should make a conscious effort to read more of them. So Thursdays will be notes about the short stories I’ve read during the previous week. This week I’m reading Great English Short Stories edited and introduced by Christopher Isherwood. It’s a collection of his favourite stories written by people from the British Isles between

“The Invisible Man” by G.K. Chesterton. This story was originally published in 1910, as the stereotypes attest. This is my first Father Brown mystery and the way he goes about solving cases is so different from contemporary fiction that I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve read other stories in the series. I enjoyed a great deal the way Chesterton inserted science fiction into an otherwise perfectly reality-based story in the shape of steampunk automatons.

“Albert Nobbs” by George Moore — A woman (Albert) takes up men’s clothing in order to make more money working than she would if she remained a woman. She meets another woman who has chosen to live the same way (Hubert) who says she’s married to another woman and it’s wonderful to have a companion. Albert decides she would like the same sort of situation and begins looking for a suitable mate. The story is about a love affair of Albert’s. This isn’t a story about lesbianism–there’s no sex or even hint of any physical attraction between any of the women–it’s a story about trying to find what you need in life from the point at which you find yourself.

Delicate  and heart-breaking, this is my favourite story thus far. Reminiscent of Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness.

“The Blind Man” by D.H. Lawrence — A man loses his sight in the first world war and is happy in his superficial ignorance of the world. He and his wife become recluses until she takes up an old friendship with a man she’d known a couple of years prior. The story is about the marital relationship rather than logistics of being blind.Their response to their situation is to cut themselves off from others–further distancing themselves from the outside world, as though being blind and caring for the blind isn’t alienating enough.

His wife feels blinded by darkness at one point in the story and her reaction of fear and uncertainty was an interesting contrast to his response. Also, in that scene, her husband is working in the dark, but because he’s used to it the dynamic of the relationship shifts–he becomes the one who can ‘see’ because he’s accustomed to the darkness.

I know I’m missing a bit about this story, but whatever it is is just out of my grasp.

“The Song of the Siren” by E.M. Forster — I enjoy the way he writes, there’s something almost magical about it, but I have no idea what Forster was trying to say with this story. On the outside, it’s about a man who’s seen a Siren and how it drove him insane. There’s other things going on, though, and it must be a metaphor for something but I’m not experienced enough to see what it is. In that way he reminds me of Iris Murdoch. I love her work but I know at least half of her point is flying over my head fast enough to ripple my hair.

May
21
2010

The Secret Sharer pt 2

by V. L. Craven

Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” is an excellent suspenseful short story. A captain of a ship, very new to the job and unsure of his place with the crew, takes onboard a man from a nearby ship who’s killed another man. The captain of that boat comes looking for the castaway in order to bring him to justice on land. The narrator and the murderer look very much alike (and at times I wondered if they were the same person), which is where the title comes from. The two men spend a lot of time together, whispering in the captain’s room.

The story is about man’s place amongst other men, but, more importantly, his place within himself. The castaway is a metaphor for the captain–he feels alone on the ship, as though he’s just been thrown aboard. He only feels safe to be himself in his room, particularly at night when he’s not expected to be out and about giving orders. And up until the last couple of sentences one doesn’t know if he’ll be caught and sent to shore (shown to be a weak captain) or if he’ll escape/prove himself.

Aside from the plot, the writing is beautiful. An example:

And in the same whisper, as if we two whenever we talked had to say things to each other which were not fit for the world to hear…

It was also full of Existentialist concepts/references:

His expression was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might wear.

And yet, haggard as he appeared, he looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm–almost invulnerable.

“He was one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness. Miserable devils that have no business to live at all.”

The first two quotes are about being self-sufficient–a being separate from humanity. In a way, that’s also what the third quote is about–how there are people who are morally superior to others by dint of intelligence and disposition and the others wouldn’t be missed if they hopped it.

“The Secret Sharer” is available here from Project Gutenberg.

May
20
2010

The Secret Sharer part 1

by V. L. Craven

Yesterday I began reading a collection of short stories collected from the British Isles and compiled in 1957 by Christopher Isherwood. I’m still luxuriating in The Anatomy of Melancholy , but it’s too heavy–in both senses–to read whilst on the recumbent bike.

The first story in the collection ( Great English Short Stories ) is “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad and has the most wonderful descriptions, like:

Here and there gleams of a few scattered pieces of silver marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just within the bar, the tug steaming right into the land became lost to my sight, hull and funnel and masts, as though the impassive earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a tremor.

The imagery there is so vivid and perceptive. It reminds me of the first time I read Woolf’s description of the sound of church bells chiming the hour as ‘rings of iron dissolving in the air’. Truly gifted authors have the ability to make one say, ‘Yes, that’s just what it’s like,’ about a turn of phrase not conceived of before.

Another quote that spoke to me was:

…I wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one’s own personality every man sets up for himself secretly

This brings me back to the Derrida quote about how every man has an inner statue of the person he longs to be, something that rang very true to me. How often we fail to be the person we most want to be for reasons of the past defining the future, but in every moment one can choose to be the person one wants to be, the monument inside oneself. This is a part of being an Existentialist, so it’s no surprise Conrad expressed this idea, as he is an Existentialist.

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