Wednesday, November 6, 2019

18th-century literature: I have seen mostly England

Six days ago, Tom over at Wuthering Expections blogged about French literature of the 18th century. This got me thinking about my own reading of 18th-century literature. I don't have a good memory for when things were written, and because I read with no particular end in mind, in my imagination all books are pretty much contemporary, and Cervantes, Moses, Nabokov, Shakespeare, and sadly Jonathan Franzen are all even now hunched over their typewriters, pecking away at new works.

Anyway, casting my eye over a variety of lists more-or-less readily available on the internets, I discover to nobody's surprise that most of my reading of 18th-century works is centered around English-speaking writers. There were a lot of them, but even so they are by and large only nodding acquaintances of mine. I have neither the time nor the space to list all the works I haven't read. For example, I have not read any DeFoe, but I did read a surprising amount of Johnathan Swift in school. Fielding? Not yet, but I have Tom Jones on the shelf. Lawrence Sterne, yes to both Tristram Shandy and Sentimental Journey. A good number of Samuel Johnson's essays (mostly from the Rambler, I think), and Boswell's hagiography of Johnson. Rousseau's Social Contract, but none of his fiction. Oh, wait: Rousseau was French. What am I thinking? Some Pope, most recently "The Rape of the Lock." No Samuel Richardson. No Walpole. Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer," yes. Some Robert Burns. Some Wordsworth. Some Coleridge, most notably "Kubla Khan," of course, I guess. The sonnets and other poems of Charlotte Smith.

I can't keep everyone's nationalities in tidy order, so I'll confess to having read Voltaire, but naturally only Candide. Several times, though. Some Goethe essays have made their way to me, and also a chunk of the Italienische Reise, mostly from the first half if I remember correctly from those long-ago school days. Did I read Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist in school? I can't be sure. No Smollett. No Radcliffe. No Montesquieu. Hume, though. Clearly lots of English works. Molière yes; Racine no. I haven't read Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, but something about Zola's criticism of the work makes we want to read it. I can't remember if Zola praised or condemned the novel, but he mentioned it often enough.

Some Schiller, but not much, because Schiller. Lyndon LaRouche was a big Schiller fan. I can't help holding that against Schiller, which I know is unfair. To continue: I've long wanted to read Moritz's Journeys of a German in England in 1782. Some day. I've read a bit of Leibniz, after I learned that he was Voltaire's model for Dr Pangloss. Some Kant, primarily the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Fun stuff. A good deal of that book influenced the character of a fictional detective in two novels I wrote years ago. Oh, and let's not forget Rudolf Erich Raspe's book Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. So that's German literature in a blinkered nutshell, then. To the best of my knowledge I've neither read nor can I name any 18th-century Italian writers. That's a lie: I've heard of Casanova, of course, but he's never heard of me. Nothing from Spain, either. Across the pond, a lot of folks in the New World were writing about politics. When I was a political science major, I read a bunch of this stuff. I also read Johnathan Edward's sermons. I pause to shiver. I read some Colonial-era diaries when I was researching a novel set in 1749. I have not read any fiction or poetry from Colonial America. I am aware that such stuff did exist, though.

Broadening my search, I report nothing from the Arab world. Nor any Sephardic authors. There is a five-volume novel by Cao Xueqin called The Story of the Stone that is supposed to be a masterpiece, "China's greatest novel," etc. I will keep an eye out for it. "Dizzying," I'm told. That sounds good, to be made dizzy by a novel. Looping back to England, I remind myself that I have all six volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, which I plan to begin reading sometime in December, or maybe January.

It's said that the 18th century was "artless" but there is a considerable amount of good stuff there. My own reading has barely scratched the surface, as we can all see. If you look past literature to music, you will find a golden age in European art music, an incredibly fertile period of activity that to this day remains the focus of "serious" music. I put "serious" in quotes because I don't know what else to call the stuff, not because Captain Beefheart is frivolous. The 18th century produced what remains the core repertoire of Western Art Music(tm).

Monday, November 4, 2019

there is a season, etc.

It's fall in Seattle, which means that the leaves are turning all shades of shades, making sidewalks and choked gutters quite pretty. The weather has been remarkably rain-free for the last week or so, though that's all supposed to come to an end in a few days, and I assume the city will then enter The Long Dark.

So pretty. But don't get used to seeing the sky, Seattle.

Fall in Seattle also means it's time to vote again. I swear, we have some sort of election or other every six months. But we are, generally speaking, an informed electorate and don't mind doing our duty as citizens. Though I confess myself relieved that our mailbox will now no longer be choked with political advertisements. A word to the wise for creators of political ads: hire an editor and a graphic designer! Your ads are too ugly and ungrammatical to look at and/or read!

Democracy in action.