Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

Today was an inactive week for me. I only did one post and neglected both Teaser Tuesday and Wordless Wednesday.

Do you ever have weeks like this?

I started Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto last night. It's a short book - a little over 100 pages - but I couldn't finish it. In the Preface to the Second Edition, Walpole himself admits that:
The book we have mentioned is excellent in the two last points, but has a redundancy in the first; the opening excites the attention very strongly; the conduct of the story is artful and judicious; the characters are admirably drawn and supported; the diction polished and elegant; yet, with all these brilliant advantages, it palls upon the mind (though it does not upon the ear); and the reason is obvious, the machinery is so violent, that it destroys the effect it is intended to excite. Had the story been kept within the utmost verge of probability, the effect had been preserved, without losing the least circumstance that excites or detains the attention.

For instance, we can conceive, and allow of, the appearance of a ghost; we can even dispense with an enchanted sword and helmet; but then they must keep within certain limits of credibility: a sword so large as to require an hundred men to lift it; a helmet that by its own weight forces a passage through a court- yard into an arched vault, big enough for a man to go through; a picture that walks out of its frame; a skeleton ghost in a hermit's cowl:--When your expectation is wound up to the highest pitch, these circumstances take it down with a witness, destroy the work of imagination, and, instead of attention, excite laughter. I was both surprised and vexed to find the enchantment dissolved, which I wished might continue to the end of the book; and several of its readers have confessed the same disappointment to me: The beauties are so numerous, that we cannot bear the defects, but want it to be perfect in all respects.

In other words: yeah, it's a bit much. I 'fess up.

Like many bookworms I usually feel guilty when I abandon a book, especially one as short and fast-moving as The Castle of Otranto. "There is no bombast, no similes, flowers, digressions, or unnecessary descriptions," Walpole observes. He goes on:
Everything tends directly to the catastrophe. Never is the reader’s attention relaxed. The rules of the drama are almost observed throughout the conduct of the piece. . .Terror, the author’s principal engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept up in a constant vicissitude of interesting passions.
I agree with my copy's introduction that the Otranto definitely has a surreal edge to it but . . . it's a farce that doesn't realize it's a farce. Walpole has been credited with creating the Gothic genre; I think he also unintentionally created its long tradition of self-parody (i.e. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey).

I've started Michelle de Kretser's The Lost Dog, which I won in a giveaway on Claire's blog kiss a cloud. I'm also expecting two books in the mail this week, so I'll be reviewing those as well.

So that's this coming week for me. I promise to be more active!


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