Missing Volumes and Roman Fleuves

Having not read a single book in 2009 much over 400 pages, I thought this year I’d concentrate my attention on reading some longer works (I have plenty of them, propping up the bottom of my book-piles, waiting for that endlessly distant era when I have some time). I’d also, I thought, read a roman fleuve a year.

Buying most of my books second-hand, I often seem to end up with incomplete sets of roman fleuves (and other volume based works), and am left tracking down the missing volumes. Of course, when you come across these volumes, there are themselves parts of complete sets, and one feels churlish splitting them up – so one buys the second set too and ends up with two copies of a few volumes.

Perhaps I find the collection more enjoyable than the reading. I have, say, complete editions of von Doderer’s The Demons; Andrea Giovene’s Sansavero; The Arabian Nights (twice); Henry Williamson’s The Flax of Dreams; and probably many others – but I’ve barely read any of them. They just seem too daunting.

The term roman fleuve (so I now read on Wiki) was coined by Romain Rolland – and fittingly it’s his Jean Christophe I’ll be endeavouring to read this year. I bought the first three volumes in an edition some time last year (I remember the day well: I also had a wisdom tooth ripped out, and was stopped and questioned over my terrorist activities); but then in another shop I discovered another set (different publisher), but only volumes 1, 2 and 4 (there are 4 volumes, though technically 10 volumes within 4 volumes). It would have cost about £9, which seem a lot to me with volume 3 missing. – But I went back last week, and they reduced them to £3. So I bought them:

John Christophe vols 1, 2 and 4

I imagined, by the time I got to volume 3, I might well have managed to track down a copy (though obviously you don’t see a lot of Romain Rolland around these days). – But luckily we have that marvellous invention the internet; and as it happened, it only took me a few minutes to track down a copy of volume 3, same edition, on Amazon, for not too large a price (I did check carefully that the particular seller wasn’t selling any other volumes, and that this was an orphan I could reunite). So now, as you see, I have my complete set.

John Christophe vols 1,2,3 and 4

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9 thoughts on “Missing Volumes and Roman Fleuves

  1. I love those old Calder covers. Well worth a read, too.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but did you sing the praises of Dylan Thomas’s fiction a long time ago. I only ask because Ive just launched into his Collected Stories, and am enjoying greatly.

  2. Yes, that was me: praising Dylan Thomas’ prose. – I think it falls into two categories though: the pieces he worked on painstakingly (his pieces for radio; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog), which are marvellous; and the pieces he wrote more or less automatically (i.e. Adventures in the Skin Trade), which frankly aren’t worth much.

    His Collected Stories are a strange thing, since I keep finding more. I have a version he did of RLS’ The Beach of Falesa. I keep meaning to read it back to back with the original, as a part of a series of Literary Deathmatches I’ve been imagining. One day, maybe I’ll get round to it.

  3. As a 16 year-old, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Dog was one of my touchstone books, along with Down and Out In Paris and London, Tropic of Cancer, Junkie, The Moon and Sixpence and A Movable Feast. A lovely book and not to be compared (as you say) with Adventures In The Skin Trade…

  4. Much like the poetry, then. It’s unfortunate that Thomas made his reputation on the “automatic writing” stuff when the well-crafter writing is so much better. Had he lived, I think he would have made a novelist and a much better poet. As it is, I’m struck by the discussion on the Graun Romantics thread, especially the notion that Keats is an English Thomas avant le lettre, as it were. Even at his most word-drung, DT is far less likely to commit crimes against English syntax just for the sake of a rhyme. That is, is ambiguities are meaningful, I suppose.

    A fine list for a 16-year-old, mishari. I’d have added The Waste Land for The Moon and Sixpence, but all the others were on my list, too. Sadly, I haven’t read any of DT’s fiction for 30 years or more, obooki’s comments brought it back to mind, for which much thanks.

  5. I was just listing prose, Bill. For poetry that I obsessed over in my teens, in addition to TWL, I’d add: Le Bateau ivre, The Duino Elegies, Villon’s Testaments and Ballades, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto (which has always struck me as more of a poem than a manifesto).

    For prose, I’d forgotten Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye To Berlin and Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet (late teens but I’ll include it anyway).

  6. I was reading Stephen King and Jane Austen (or some such combination).

    I tried reading Durrell’s The Dark Labyrinth the other day, but it seemed like it was written by a dull uninteresting middle-of-the-road type writer – i.e. someone other than Lawrence Durrell – so I gave up.

  7. And so a report card of sorts:

    The early stories I gave up on; onreadable twaddle.
    The Portrait was even better than I remembered. A writer discovering his voice, and what a voice it is.
    Adventures: easy to see why he gave up on it.
    Later stories for the radio: gems each one. Having found his voice, he was able to do some of the things he failed to do in the early stories (“the mystical”, if you will).
    Which sent me back to Under Milk Wood, which is just as good, if not better.

    A weekend well spent.

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