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from a review on Goodreads

Ahmed Osman’s thesis in Jesus in the House of the Pharaohs (2004) strikes me as preposterous. Yet it is such a daring performance that I am sort of in awe. The book delivers (figuratively) a blow to the brain, in a way reminiscent of Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) or something by Erich von Däniken — it is such a radical reinterpretation of history that I am left not believing but, instead, holding my hat over my chest as a salute.

And like Jaynes’s and von Däniken’s work, and especially like Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism (1939), this book revolutionizes the past, in this case upending not only Jewish origin stories but Christian ones as well.

The sliver of plausibility for what Osman does lies in an interpretive difficulty: real history in the Bible before Ezra and Nehemiah is . . . problematic. Before the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem the matching of story to archaeology proves iffy at best.

So one is tempted to dismiss much of the early Biblical “historical” matter as fiction, as myth, or as radically messed-up fact at the very least. The Jews, just back from Babylon — or while in it — constructed a mythology based on dim memory and oral tradition. And out of the need to tell good stories. The strange connection to Egypt sticks out in all this. Take, as just one oddity to be accounted for, the ancient Egyptian practice of circumcision — how did the Israelites’ adoption of it make them “separate”? Well, it made them different from the Mesopotamians. That it did. 

Osman makes the connection with Egypt stronger than ever.

And what a whopper he expounds. In his first book, 1987’s  Stranger in the Valley of Kings, he advanced the idea that Yuya, Master of the Horse under Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, was actually the Biblical Joseph. In subsequent books, especially this one, he reinterprets everything in terms of 18th and 19th Dynasty Pharaonic history.

Osman proposes that . . .

1. Thutmose III was the Biblical King David, ruler of lands between the Nile and Euphrates (which Thutmose was, but no Israelite ever was).
2. Abraham and Sarai went down to Egypt, with Abraham notoriously passing off his wife as his sister, allowing Thutmose (David) to take Sarai unto himself and sire a son, Isaac, whose birthright is as a prince in Egypt. But they are sent north by the disgusted pharaoh, because Abraham had lied to him.
3. Joseph, grandson of Isaac, is sold into slavery by his brothers and, in Egypt, rises from slavery to high position as Yuya, Father to Pharaohs, in the reign of Thutmose IV. He served on into the reign of the next pharaoh, Amenhotep III, “the Great,” 
4. who is the Biblical Solomon. This long-lived ruler revives an ancient religion, an intellectual and spiritual worship of one deity, represented in the Sun Disk — Atenism.
5. His second son, Amenhotep IV, inherits the throne. He becomes a big believer and priest of Atenism, and redubs himself Akhenaten. And — get this — he is Moses!!!
6. Alhenaten/Moses is kicked out and flees with his most devoted followers to the Sinai. His son Tutankhaten becomes pharaoh at a young age. Tutankhaten is a peacelover and not as big of a fanatic as his father, and accepts Amenism back into the mainstream of Egyptian life, changes his name to Tutankhamen and then travels to Sinai to convince his father to come back to Egypt and accept his co-pharaonic position — all a big happy family — but is killed by an Atenist priest. This is the death on Sinai that Freud wrote about and attributed to the death of “the first Moses” — but it was young King Tut. Tut’s body was sent back to Egypt for a rather bizarre burial.
7. Now, Tut also believed in an afterlife, a resurrection. He was both Moses’ colleague Joshua and . . . drum roll . . . Jesus — of Christianity! This is the stone the builders rejected. The builders of Judaism. Amazing thesis.
8. He is buried and succeeded by his uncle, Pharaoh Ay, the son of Yuya/Joseph, the Biblical Ephraim, and the New Testament Joseph of Arimathea, all three!
9. The next pharaoh, Horemheb, is the persecutor of the Jews in Goshen.
10. After Horemheb croaks, back comes old Akhenaten/Moses, to reclaim the rest of his people. Though the 19th Dynasty pharaoh that Moses encounters does indeed recognize Akhenaten’s royal staff, he is none too impressed with Moses’ entreaties: conflict ensues, Moses sneaks his people out. etc., etc.

Now, that is a story. 

The Essene connection is not clear to me (perhaps I read it too hastily, or too long ago, having stretched out my reading over too long a period) but then the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Teacher of Righteousness is himself pretty obscure. Osman identifies him with Jesus, and, as I said above, Tut. This stretching back of the messianic tradition is that notion taken to its extreme. In The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (1999), Michael O. Wise only pushed it back a century or so, and, with scholarly caution, did not identify the first “Messiah” with Jesus of Nazareth.

The Akhenaten-as-Moses theory is daring enough. But Osman’s no piker: he makes Christianity an underground movement in Judaism from the beginning.

Is this at all plausible? Well, I have long regarded Freud’s book as a “nut book,” more nutty than Velikovsky’s Oedipus and Akhenaten (1960). So how should I regard this?

Identifying the “historical Jesus” is an old game, for both scholars and nuts. Richard Carrier, in On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt (2014), does the best job advancing the thesis that there was no actual, historical Jesus. (Carrier cites Michael O. Wise, for example, but not Osman.) There is no good historical evidence for Jesus’s existence in Judea c. 30 A.D. — the gospels providing no evidence at all, really — so it is not nutty to say there was no such person. I know it sounds weirder than a walnut, but the literary nature of the gospels provides a huge hint: we are talking about religious fiction here, and there was a major strain of Christianity that did not assert the physical reality of the Messiah at all. I refer, of course, to Gnosticism. And Carrier rightly makes much of the “spiritual Jesus” tradition to be discerned in what remains of that bizarre non-canonical text, The Ascension of Isaiah.

But the real problem with the historical Jesus subject matter is not the paucity of candidates for the man, but the surfeit. Jesus is Yeshua is Joshua, and that was a common name among the Hebrews. Carrier wades into the most startling example, taking note of a “Jesus When” problem, discussing the Nazoreans’ messiah with that name, c. 100 B.C. (pp. 281-285). Indeed, this “Ben Stada” (son of the Unfaithful) or “Ben Pandera” (son of a man named Pandera who had sex with a woman named Mary) was the only executed Jesus the Babylonian Talmudic writers knew of.

That this tradition lived on in the propagandistic Toldoth Jesu is hard to miss. I had an argument with an incredibly smart Jew once about these stories. He refused to take this tradition seriously, though, even countenance it at all, apparently because he thought that it would raise the ire of today’s Christians, conjuring up Christian anti-semitism.

Today’s evangelical Christians (whom I know best) will not likely be budged, in no small part because they tend not to read the historical matter of the Nazoreans or Gnostics or much of anything else that might challenge their faith. They are told by Josh MacDowell and Bill O’Reilly that the evidence for the Son of God living and dying and resurrecting in Judea in the days of Herod and Pontius Pilate is clear. It is not. But that is OK. Harmless fictions? I hope so.

One problem Christians will not properly confront is the problem of pious fraud. Bart Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) makes the standard case clearly. But without getting into the thicket of the canon, note what we find in Josephus, a historian quite extra-canonical:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, § 3

This is an obvious interpolation into the historian’s text. Almost all scholars are agreed upon this. It would be most out of character for the turncoat Jew to parade Christian piety in one passage and nowhere else. It makes no sense other than as a forgery.

But what follows is instructive. Well, what follows immediately are two brief tales of scandal, and then a new chapter, which begins like this:

But the nation of the Samaritans did not escape without tumults. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived every thing so that the multitude might be pleased; so he bid them to get together upon Mount Gerizzim, which is by them looked upon as the most holy of all mountains, and assured them, that when they were come thither, he would show them those sacred vessels which were laid under that place, because Moses put them there. So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain.

Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 4, § 1

This rout of a peaceful Samaritan religious figure, we learn, so upset the Samaritans that they petitioned the emperor, who called back Pontius Pilate to Rome. Pilate was removed from “service” in the area because of his execution of Samaritan pilgrims. This is interesting because it links Pilate to a religious execution. Of an unnamed Samaritan.

Why the lack of a name? Well, Josephus does not name every last one the people he writes about. But Charles Kos, a YouTuber and historian, suggests another reason. The name was elided. Because the name was Jesus. This man, a proverbial Good Samaritan — and the Samaritans were, after all, a people practicing an alternate form of Judaism — was, Kos speculates, the Jesus who spurred the creation of crucial historical elements of the gospels. The Pilate story, for one.

It seems to me not at all implausible that this Samaritan’s passion tale was united with the Nazoreans’ account and the Gnostics’ mythos to create the gospels as we know them.

But Ahmed Osman goes much further. He brings King Tut into the mix, and creates a re-interpretation almost as radically implausible as the standard Christian theological account of the Word and the crucifixion and the bizarre, ghostly Resurrection.

Osman’s story is impressive, I will not deny it. But does it convince?

He had me at Yuya. The idea of Alhenaten as Moses is not altogether too bizarre a leap. But Tut as Jesus?

I will let the question hang there. As if on an Ankh cross.

twv

My reading stack just gets bigger and bigger.
Here is some spillover.


echo of a Goodreads review (2/14/2019)

Originally publishd as Lady Killer.

It seems apt to have finished reading this novel as Valentine’s Day begins in the wee hours. For this is not romantic comedy, it is romantic noir.

I am not really an avid reader of “pulp fiction,” though I did recently read an early Jack Vance crime novel — The Flesh Mask, originally published under the pseudonymous signal “Peter Held.” Oh, and I am a Charles Willeford enthusiast, favorite novels including his tough guy/Stirnerite spins on Ayn Rand themes, Burnt Orange Heresy, Cockfighter, and The Woman Chaser. I would not be surprised to learn that Willeford studied not only Woodford’s writing manuals, but also pulp novels such as this one, originally called Lady Killer and published under a pseudonym (Howard Kennedy) in the 1930s, the decade in which he produced his largest fictional output.

This book is less a novel of ideas than the author’s Illegitimate and Unmoral, which I have reviewed here; it is much more like Willeford’s work. It is less talky, and does not elaborate Woodford’s “selfism”; it is more along the lines of a standard love triangle — except that Woodford’s method is more aptly termed a “love tangle.” Here we have a revenge scenario worked out. The plan fails, and, after a few twists and a murder, we have a happy ending. As usually with Woodford, the opening chapter is brilliant, while the happy ending will probably please today’s readers least.

I have a theory about the value of this author’s fiction. Woodford considered his work in this field — which he called “sex novels” — to be junk. He thought of himself a manipulator of readers for whom he had little respect. (But he showed much more disrespect for publishers. I recommend his Loud Literary Lamas of New York as a fun book-length rant against his bêtes noir. Woodford made his living as a self-publisher, and recommended to would-be authors that very publishing method — though he had to give it up in his final decade.) The nature of his “sex writing” method was the ramping-up of sexual excitement. It worked back in his day, when there were multiple taboos against “prurience” in speech and in literature. And Woodford found the perfect way to navigate through the Comstockian minefield: by never mentioning a sex organ, in either technical or vulgar wording, euphemistic or dysphemistic. This book is no exception. But nowadays all that sexual frustration has dissipated. Vanished. Nothing sexual is hidden from us, free on the Internet — even Network TV is far, far more explicit than Woodford was. So we are left with the strength of his prose, the ingenuity of his characterization and plots, and the charm of his cynicism.

It is rather like Greek statuary: their true greatness was revealed eons later, and in no small part because the original gaudy painting had worn off. The sexual repression and titillation constitute the ancient Greeks’ paint.

This is one of his better efforts. I am pretty sure he despised it, or at least pretended to. But I don’t. I think it has merit. I enjoyed it, and studied how it was constructed. Many a literary “masterpiece” of his era is no longer worth reading. This “trash” is.

Here is an oddity, though. Twice in the novel he used the word “strengthy.” I had never encountered that word before. Why not, simply, “strong”? I am pretty sure Woodford did not choose the word lightly. And I was almost taken aback at discovering that it was a once-common word. I am a bit surprised I had not noticed it before. Checking Google’s Ngram viewer, I see it has dropped out of the language. The word’s heyday was the 1840s, a century before this paperback hit the racks.

There is an advertisement for his line of books from “The Woodford Press” — including two of the novels I mentioned above — and was undoubtedly a provision Woodford insisted upon adding to The Hard-Boiled Virgin’s publishing contract.

The title of this novel is, of course, classic — and was cribbed from Frances Newman’s modernist monstrosity made infamous in the Twenties.

twv

My copy has seen better days.
New English Review Press, 2018

as reviewed on Goodreads

This is a peculiar book. It is also a delightful book. The subtitle suggests a scholarly treatment of the subject, but the title adequately scuttles that expectation, and we get a memoir of ideological development and conflict, with a sketch of the bizarre noösphere that is postmodernist social justice.

Michael Rectenwald hails from the left. The far left. We read of his apprenticeship with American poet Allen Ginsburg, his introduction into the world of postmodern philosophy and literary theory, his travails as a teacher and husband and divorcé and suitor, his work as an academic consultant on TV news as well as his work in writing scholarly articles and books, and, most importantly, his meteoric transit at his college and in the general culture as Twitter’s “Deplorable NYU Prof.” 

For many, that may be the sole delight this book provides, darting through the Twitterstorm and the following academic scandal that he initiated by daring to criticize the social justice cult. It is the first book I have read with an appendix of Tweets.

But I most enjoyed his concise explanations of the differences between Marxism, cultural Marxism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, Deconstruction and, yes, that strange cult, “social justice.” And his conclusion is interesting, too: he says we must treat social justice as a religion, and dethrone it from setting any policy — drive it from university administrations, where it now dominates — but not from its intellectual place in the Academy. Probably reasonable. But disappointingly modest. For social justice and the postmodernism it hails from are worse than mere cults, they constitute an insurrectionist cadre that demands more than the just a Cultural Revolution of virtue signalling and callouts (and doxxing). As far as I can tell, the crazed cult really does want to do what Barack Hussein Obama said he wanted to do: radically transform America.

I want freedom, not totalitarianism, whether mob-based or statist. So if we rush towards any form of radicalism, I suggest another direction.

But this book might be helpful in changing course. For, after all, the author himself has changed hos whole persoective — he was almost forced to, he explains, by the betrayals of nearly all of his colleagues and friends . . . and comrades. He is no longer a communist or socialist or advocate of that mirage, social justice. He wants freedom and individual rights, now, too.

If a one-time Marxist/postmodernist can undergo such a metamorphosis, may not a whole culture, as well? 

twv

To Sail the Century Sea (Time Stream, #2)To Sail the Century Sea by G.C. Edmondson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book serves as a sequel to The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, but is, alas, nowhere near as good. Both books move about in history — in the “time stream” — but the first one seems less scattershot. This second novel needed another draft. The action got confusing in Byzantium. The goings-on there — with the Council of Nicea, of all things —were not described well. There is cleverness towards the very end, but it seemed rushed, ill thought-out. Some elements were not properly prepared.

I cannot recommend the book. The first one, however, made a satisfying back-to-the-past pairing with Poul Anderson’s The Dancer from Atlantis, which I read just a few weeks before.

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The Night FaceThe Night Face by Poul Anderson

This is the third Poul Anderson novella that I have read. The author is learned and clever, and the story is not bad. A good ending, if a bit too abrupt. My caveats are two:

1. It would have worked better had it been fleshed out as a full novel, with more attention to character and the passage of moments, of scenes. As it is, it seemed a bit rushed at the end. The longer story, Dancer from Atlantis that I read a month or so ago, was better in this regard, though it seemed a bit rushed, too, towards the end.

2. I have in hand (as I finished the work under discussion) a paperback of The Worlds of Jack Vance, and, dipping in to a slightly shorter story than this Poul Anderson effort, the novelette “The Brains of Earth” — which can only be judged third-tier Vance — I immediately note the contrast: Vance is the far better writer. His style is so much more individual, and so much more sure, more masterly. Unfair comparison, really, but the plot of The Night Face is something that Vance could have thought of. But would have made better.

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On page 78 Poul Anderson uses the word “geas” but in the plural: “geases.” When I come across the word I immediately assume the author has read and is a fan of James Branch Cabell and The Figures of Earth, which in a few days will go into the public domain. Can there be another explanation?


Ranson's FollyRanson’s Folly by Richard Harding Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Of the stories in this volume, the last one is the best. It is called “In the Fog,” and it was first published in 1901 in a handsome single volume illustrated by two artists, both quite good, though rather dissimilar. I just finished reading this story. It is a mystery told in three tales in a gentlemen’s club, and in that frame story itself. It looks like it served as the inspiration for a 1911 silent film (under a different title) by the Edison Company. How it could possibly be told without spoken dialogue I do not know. I need to see it. But, be that as it may, I highly recommend this story as a prose work, suggesting, in addition, that you may wish to buy a copy of the first edition, which is a fine specimen of the book printer’s art.

“In the Fog” is a novella, really, a little under 100 pages. The first story in this collection, “Ranson’s Folly,” is also a mystery, but set in the Old West. It was filmed twice as a silent film. It is a few pages longer than “In the Fog.”

The somewhat shorter story “The Bar Sinister,” is a tale narrated by a dog. It is fun, if not great. It was filmed in 1955 as “It’s a Dog’s Life.” Again, I have not seen it.

There are two other stories in the book, both shorter. I skipped over “A Derelict,” but may some day go back to it. And the final story, about a love letter, is excellent. Really quite good.

Richard Harding Davis was not a great writer, but he was an able storyteller. This old book is worth checking out, if for no other reason than wholesome entertainment along with a dose of the culture of a century ago. It was a very different time.

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Review of Townsend of Lichfield on LibraryThing:

The final volume of the Storisende edition of James Branch Cabell’s The Biography of the Life of Manuel is as peculiar and as brilliant a conclusion as one could hope for, or fear. This “Dizain des Adieux,” as the subtitle puts it, is sort of a glorious catch-all for the author’s literary obsessions up till the late 1920s. It contains

* ruminations upon his career (the 30-odd pages of “Townsend of Lichfield”) and his books and stories (the last several sections);
* poetry (“Sonnets from Antan”);
* two book-length fantasy novellas, ([The Way of Ecben] and [The White Robe]); and
* an excellent short story (“Concerning David Jogram”).

For my part, as I thumb on my iPad to contribute this short bookchat review, I confess to having read the stories and rumination in this book out of order, tackling the second item, the werewolf story, The White Robe, last.

This final reading was a long time coming. I own the first printing of the story, and have owned it, also, in its last incarnation to hit printing press during the author’s life, in The Witch-Woman: A Trilogy About Her. It is a droll story, and perhaps provides deep insight into Cabell’s own gallantry. And yes, it is about gallantry, just as [The Way of Ecben] and [The Music From Behind the Moon: An Epitome], were about the chivalric and poetic attitudes towards life, respectively.

Which is not to say that Cabell did not himself sport chivalry as well as poetry — of course he would, for this trinity attitudes is what binds his 18-volume Biography together, and he undoubtedly gave his creature Manuel (see Figures of Earth) all three traits, just as he found them in himself.

So, can I recommend this book over The Witch-Woman?

No.

Sure, my judgment of Townsend of Lichfield is positive; I greatly enjoyed the book. Indeed, I go further: it is excellent; but I cannot recommend it.

Why the seeming contradiction?

The book reeks of Cabell’s trademark self-indulgence. So, only those immune to this alleged defect, or enchanted by it against counsel of both criticism and common sense, need bother reading it. While for those of us who catch the whiff of the charm here, the enchantment, and might even hazard that it does not get much better, not one of us admirers of Cabell’s art is so besotted that we cannot see the narrow confines of its appeal and of our ranks.

Lin-Carter-Down-to-a-Sunless-Sea

Down to a Sunless Sea by Lin Carter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lin Carter was important to my early literary education, such as it was. Were it not for his books Tolkien: A Look Behind ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy I may have never found some of my favorite writers, such as Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, Peter S. Beagle, and the great James Branch Cabell.

But Carter’s own fiction did not beckon my attention. The books of his I saw looked like hackwork, rehashes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett. And, what with their garish covers, I avoided them as if they were the Gor books by John Norman.

Well, as if to break a long habit, I bought two Gor novels, not long age. I took a dip its pages. Not exactly my cup of tea, and I did not get very far. Which does not mean I found anything objectionable. They seemed somewhat like throwback fiction, good Burroughsian fun. But of course their reputation is harshly negative, especially along “political correctness” lines. That is, as Jack Woodford might have said, there is no Communism in them, and (I hear tell) Norman does not believe today’s accepted feminist fictions, er, norms. I do not either, so I may return to Gor some day.

Not long after I put down Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor a few months ago, I bought a few Lin Carter fantasy/science fiction paperback on a whim. And I then read the one that seemed to have the most promising beginning, Down to a Sunless Sea, one of his last books, written, I gather, while he was dying of cancer.

The romantic-sexual interest in the book is not too far from what I have heard to be John Norman’s. The hero is masculine, and the two women are distinct and familiar feminine types, though both Martian. There is no political correctness in it, just as there is no Communism. But there is frank sexual talk, and acceptance of the Sapphic practice. Not very far from Woodford territory, after all, though the focus is on the hero, not the heroine — which is where it almost always was with Woodford (who claimed to have written the same book over and over).

This retro-sexuality does not bother me. It seems pitiful and weak to even bring it up. Masculine and feminine are archetypes, and reflect a lot of biological and historical reality. To object to it now is merely to accept current ideological fashion as Eternal Truth, which is of course bilge water.

Carter combines, as he states in his afterword, Brackettian fantasy with a Merrittesque descent into a Lost World. The first half or more of the short novel is adventure; the second half introduces our ragtag band of outlaws to a fantastic underworld civilization that is mainly shown to us in a slightly dramatized utopian format. The point being: the utopia is too good for these depraved, uncivilized Terran and Martian adventurers.

I cannot say that this seems in any way exceptionable — or very exceptional. Except — yes, there is an “except”: the writing, on the sentence level, is superior to popular No Style style writing of current popular fiction.

So, there is more than one way that Down to a Sunless Sea is throwback fiction. And more than one way that this is not at all a bad thing.

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The Loud Literary Lamas of New YorkThe Loud Literary Lamas of New York by Jack Woodford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitter fun, Woodford at peak invective. The target? The book publishing industry at mid-century.

His main advice? Ignore publishers; self-publish.

Whether this advice be good or ill, the contempt and wit and contrarianism sparkle on every page.

If you are interested in writing, in literary culture, or, more generally, in American character, this book by an authentic American character is almost required reading.

Besides, the book is short.

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The Certain Hour: Dizain des Poëtes (Biography of the Life of Manuel, #12)The Certain Hour: Dizain des Poëtes by James Branch Cabell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first tale in The Certain Hour (1916), “Belhs Cavaliers,” is set in the England of 1210 A.D., and features a love triangle of

1. the hero, Raimbaut de Vaquiras,

2. the open antagonist, Guillaume de Baut (Prince of Orange), and

3. Dona Biatritz, with a fourth figure added to form a sort of love rhombus, Raimbaut’s servant,

4. the converted Saracen, Makrisi.

“Love prefers to take rather than to give; against a single happy hour he balances a hundred miseries, and he appraises one pleasure to be worth a thousand pangs.” The musings of the hero, at the outset.

The tale appears to be heading for tragedy, but romantic melodrama concludes the foray into doomed love — the doom being a happy ending.

First published in Lippincott’s Magazine, June 1915.

The second tale in the book is “Balthazar’s Daughter.” It is the only tale I had read before the present reading of all the book’s stories. It is quite good. Like all of the tales, it is what in the movies we would call a costume drama. But here we witness an early example of the sly sexual innuendo that would land the author in court and on the bestseller list: methinks the “jewels” that the heroine would like to see at court — and especially of which her interlocutor says the eminent men of the court would be delighted in showing her — might refer not merely to “the four kinds of sapphires, the twelve kinds of emeralds, the three kinds of rubies” etc. mentioned by the tale’s antagonist, Duke Alessandro.

The story first appeared in The Smart Set, May 1913. Cabell turned the story into a one-act play, The Jewel Merchants (1921), which was used as a libretto for an opera, by Louis Cheslock (1941).

The book’s third story is “Judith’s Creed,” which first appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine, July 1915. Our protagonist is none other than William Shakespeare, confronting his Dark Lady. Here is a defense of his modus operandi by the Bard: “The man of letters, like the carpenter or the blacksmith, must live by the vending of his productions, not by the eating of them.” His former lover, his “dark lady,” expresses disapproval of the “paunchy, inconsiderable little man” he has become, and for his lifelong besetting sin, “money-grubbing.” Judith, mentioned in the title, is his daughter; her creed is her much more natural, humble view of the world than contemplated by literary people demanding greatness.

The fourth story was apparently written directly for the volume, and deals with the author of the famous lines “Gather Ye rosebuds while Ye may.” Yes, Robert Herrick is the subject of “Concerning Corrina,” which more than suggests that the poet was an adept of the dark arts. Though technically a mystery-horror story, it is best categorized as a philosophical comedy.

The next is “Olivia’s Pottage,” originally titled “The Second Chance,” published in Harper’s Magazine (October 1909). It is a story I could not properly read. Oh, I read it, every word, but had trouble following it, or caring. Could be my fault. Or it could be the author’s early and quite unsuccessful effort.

“Verse-making,” says the hunchback dwarf Alexander Pope in the sixth story, “A Brown Woman” (Lippincott’s Magazine, August 1915), “is at best only the affair of idle men who write in their closets and of idle men who read there.” The great poet has fallen in love. With a milkmaid. And yearns to be happy. “To write perfectly was much,” our narrator informs us, “but it was not everything.”

Standing in the way of any traditional arrangement for happiness, however, is his own physical construction: “My body is at most a flimsy abortion such as a night’s exposure would have made more tranquil than it is just now.” So he does the honorable thing. And then fate throws in a monkey wrench.

“It is deplorable how much easier it is to express any emotion than that of which one is actually conscious.”

Yes.

“Pro Honoria” saw the light of the reading public’s gaze in 1915, courtesy of McBride’s Magazine. That is all I will say for it. The next story, “The Irresistible Ogle,” is something else again.

Selah.

After many months with this volume misplaced in one of my cluttered rooms, sitting in a corner under a few other books nowhere near as well written or conceived, I finally got back to this story collection last night. It is two months more than a year after I first opened up the pages of the Kalki edition (1920) of this book, and high time that I plowed through to the end.

It is easy plowing.

“A Princess of Grub Street” is yet another story of a writer and his love life. Normally I get tired of this sort of thing — stories about writers and stories about love. But when Cabell is telling the tale, and wit and elegance are what is paraded before us, not ripped bodices or psychological confessions of an embarrassing sort. This is all very civilized.

But there is a touch of frivolity here, too, and I have to admit something that probably will not please the litterateurs: this story would make a fine “rom-com” for either the silver screen or Amazon Prime, or suchlike. Here we have a tale of Prince Hilary (nicknamed “Prince Fribble”), a young nobleman who, to escape a life of dreary service to the class of royalty and duties of state, fakes his death with the help of his heir and cousin, and flees Saxe-Kesselberg for England, to live a life of poetry, hack writing, and freedom. And of course finds love.

Taking the name of Paul Vanderhoffen, he eventually becomes a tutor to the young charge of Leamington Manor, Mildred Claridge:

Prince Fribble would have smiled, shrugged, drawled, “Eh, after all, the girl is handsome and deplorably cold-blooded!” Paul Vanderhoffen said, “I am not fit to live in the same world with her,” and wrote many verses in the prevailing Oriental style rich in allusions to roses, and bulbuls, and gazelles, and peris, and minarets — which he sold rather profitably.

But there are complications to Fribble’s plan to live a quiet life of literature and penury. A visitor from Saxe-Kesselberg demands his return to the life of ruling.

“I repeat to you,” the tutor observed, “that no consideration will ever make a grand-duke of me excepting over my dead body. Why don’t you recommend some not quite obsolete vocation, such as making papyrus, or writing an interesting novel, or teaching people how to dance a saraband? For after all, what is a monarch nowadays — oh, even a monarch of the first class?” he argued, with what came near being a squeak of indignation. “The poor man is a rather pitiable and perfectly useless relic of barbarism, now that 1789 has opened our eyes; and his main business in life is to ride in open carriages and bow to an applauding public who are applauding at so much per head. He must expect to be aspersed with calumny, and once in a while with bullets. He may at the utmost aspire to introduce an innovation in evening dress,—the Prince Regent, for instance, has invented a really very creditable shoe-buckle. Tradition obligates him to devote his unofficial hours to sheer depravity——”

Fleshed out, as I say, this would make for great filmed comedy, especially with the final moments of his courtship of Mildren, which he had not been aware he was pursuing. And yes, I would keep in the long, droll, flowery speeches.

Which is why it will not get made. Not in the Ideal Form.

The story first appeared as “Prince Fribble’s Burial” in The Red Book (May 1911).

The final tale, “The Lady of All Our Dreams,” first found public view in The Argonaut (November 23, 1912), as “The Dream.” And here we meet one of Cabell’s recurring characters, the author John Charteris, who served as the fictional mouthpiece for Cabell’s first literary manifesto, Beyond Life: Dizain des Demiurges (1919). The tale begins, after the usual Cabellian prefatory verse and fake citations, this way:

“Our distinguished alumnus,” after being duly presented as such, had with vivacity delivered much the usual sort of Commencement Address. Yet John Charteris was in reality a trifle fagged.

And so the All Passion Spent motif serves as a contrast to the passion to come. Charteris characterizes his public speechifying as a “verbal syllabub of balderdash” when confronted by his lost love, Pauline. She expresses her disappointment at what he has become, and is becoming: comfortable.

“So I am going to develop into a pig,” he said, with relish,—“a lovable, contented, unambitious porcine, who is alike indifferent to the Tariff, the importance of Equal Suffrage and the market-price of hams, for all that he really cares about is to have his sty as comfortable as may be possible. That is exactly what I am going to develop into,—now, isn’t it?” And John Charteris, sitting, as was his habitual fashion, with one foot tucked under him, laughed cheerily. Oh, just to be alive (he thought) was ample cause for rejoicing! and how deliciously her eyes, alert with slumbering fires, were peering through the moon-made shadows of her brows!”

We have here Cabell’s recurrent theme: lost love, compromise, artistic egoism, and . . . many of the themes that bubble up on consideration of Cabell’s own twice-married life, ably narrated with enough veracity in As I Remember It (1945). And always there are dreams and regret, with Charteris (Cabell) saying:

Pauline, I haven’t been entirely not worth while. Oh, yes, I know! I know I haven’t written five-act tragedies which would be immortal, as you probably expected me to do. My books are not quite the books I was to write when you and I were young. But I have made at worst some neat, precise and joyous little tales which prevaricate tenderly about the universe and veil the pettiness of human nature with screens of verbal jewelwork. It is not the actual world they tell about, but a vastly superior place where the Dream is realized and everything which in youth we knew was possible comes true. It is a world we have all glimpsed, just once, and have not ever entered, and have not ever forgotten. So people like my little tales. . . . Do they induce delusions? Oh, well, you must give people what they want, and literature is a vast bazaar where customers come to purchase everything except mirrors.

And there is even a question of a past murder — ostensibly perpetrated by Pauline herself — as there was in the biography of young Cabell.

So, I suspect if you want to find about what this author, of the famous families Branch and Cabell, was all about, this tale might be a touchstone. Note, future biographers.

And though this ends with humor, the humor — liquid, you know — flows from the reader’s eyes.

The Certain Hour ends as it begins, in poetry — it is not for nothing that it is subtitled Dizain des Poëtes in the 1920 edition, and all subsequent printings. The prefatory poem, “The Ballad of the Double Soul,” is quite good. Excellent even. But this last one, “Ballad of Plagiary,” is not quite so easy to understand, or is not as profound — or is so profound that I cannot now understand it.

Explain it to me.

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