Sunday, July 2, 2017


     The books are beginning to pile up on the ol' nightstand again.  At least I managed to finish a couple: The House of the Seven Gables and The Devil's Elixir.

     House had good moments and bad. Overall, it was charming slice of life of a New England town from 200-years ago sprinkled with a few nuggets of wisdom, insight and characterization that lift it above the common muck. Some of my favorite quotes:
 "It is a very genuine admiration, that with which persons too shy or too awkward to take a due part in the bustling world regard the real actors in life's stirring scenes..."     
"He had no burden of care upon him; there were none of those questions and contingencies with the future to be settled which wear away all other lives, and render them not worth having by the very process of providing for their support."
 "She was startled, however, and sometimes repelled, -- not by any doubt of his integrity to whatever law he acknowledged, but by a sense that his law differed from her own."
"The haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man's best directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the sole worker of realities."
     Not so good was the rushed and pat ending which made the whole thing seem more melodrama than serious work and would not seem out of place in a made-for-TV movie.
     But that did not mitigate the overall pleasure I took in reading this excellent book. It just doesn't rise to a favored status. It was very funny in parts, too.

     I downloaded E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixir in two parts, each of about 150 pages.
     Volume I is outstanding. Easy to read, and full of absolutely zany characters and a totally mind-blowing surrealistic plot, if slightly-to-very confusing. Everything is secondary to the characterizations, though. The plot really doesn't matter.
     This is from the main character's barber:
"When I arranged your excellency's hair, my mind was, as usual, lighted up by the sublimest ideas. I resigned myself up to the unbridled impulse of wild phantasy, and accordingly I not only forgot to bring the lock of anger on the topmost curls into a state of proper softness and roundness, but even left seven-and-twenty hairs of fear and horror upon the forehead."
      With perfect comedic timing, this was good for an honest belly-laugh.

"I feel deeply that it is not merely the fear of loss on which my present dislike to gaming is founded. Gain itself, which only brings us more and more under a state of slavery...which would one day lead us to destruction, is equally dangerous."
      Now those are words of wisdom. But you sure won't ingratiate yourself to a 21st-century audience uttering them! Probably not so much to a 19th-century one either, come to think of it.

"As for the Amtmann, he had always become more and more quiet; at last he tottered away into a corner of the room, where he took a chair and began to weep bitterly. I understood a signal of the innkeeper, and inquired of this dignitary the cause of his deep sorrow. "Alas! alas!" said he, "the Prince Eugene was a great, very great general, and yet even he, that heroic prince, was under the necessity to die!" Thereupon he wept more vehemently, so that the tears ran down his cheeks."
     The scene continues with no more mention of the Amtmann (Amtmann is a kind of civic official), until a few pages later:

  "The waiter took the doctor under one arm, and the Amtmann, still weeping for Prince Eugene, under the other; and thus they reeled along through the streets."
      The absurdity of it! Like something from a Tim Powers novel.
     The Estimated Time of Arrival of Hoffmann's punchlines is always just right! (Volume 2 is dull, however. I suggest you read Vol. 1 and skip the other -- unless you really care about the plot. I would be hard-pressed to recount what it was!)
      Until next time, good reading!


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