Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can a novel from 1919 be picaresque?

Sadly, I had to spend most of the day writing recommendations for colleagues (4 are up for interim or promotion in the department this year). Lots of reading.

On the bright side, I've been reading James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, an odd little novel from 1919 that is apparently hailed as a early work of fantasy fiction. It's definitely picaresque, a little sinister, and sometimes obscene. It seems to me that most modern fantasy, by contrast, has been ruined by Tolkien's ponderous and humorless epic. These days fantasy seems to rely on huge elaborate depictions of alternate (but always medieval) worlds, and the bizarreness of folk-narrative and "fairy tale" has faded from view. Here's a fragment. A ghost king is referring to the ghost of his ninth wife, Sylvia:
"And I regret, I bitterly regret, to confess that, in a moment of extreme yet not quite unprovoked excitement, I assassinated the lady whom you now behold."
"And I am sure, through no fault of mine," says Sylvia Tereu.
"Certainly, my dear, you resisted with all your might. I only wish that you had been a larger and brawnier woman."

1 comment:

  1. So you're not a fan of the Tolkien eh? What about C.S.Lewis who is just too much about the "good'n'evil for me...

    A quick look you-know-where informs me that the German for picaresque novel is "Schelmenroman". A "Schelm" is a rogue or rascal or imp, and it seems that the German definition is a bit narrower.

    The English page tells us that: "In the English-speaking world, the term "picaresque" has referred more to a literary technique or model than to the precise genre that the Spanish call picaresco. The English-language term can simply refer to an episodic recounting of the adventures of an anti-hero on the road."

    Which means that whole lot of lit can be considered picaresque including perhaps things like Slaughterhouse Five, no?

    Jurgen sounds fun and interesting. And definitely picaresque! Is any explanation as to his German sounding name given?

    IS there any sense it could also be considered a "Bildungsroman" a la Jane Eyre or David Copperfield? DONT even bother with the english wikipedia for that term--it "has multiple issues" that we hope the wikipedians get to one day.... (It's a mess).

    Bill is, of course, is a devoted wikipedian, but only for (boring?) things like U.S./Michigan history and senators and the like....oh well.

    Ever since someone has kindly agreed to read "the pig", the editing is going faster and more productively - it's still not quite ready but we're getting closer! Yeah!