A Few Notes on Books Read

Simplicissimus, by Johann Grimmelshausen

Hooray, I’ve finished it! – This is one of those moral tales (of the picaresque variety) in which the author seems to take far greater delight in violence and vice, and merely tags the protagonist’s (re)conversion to Christian morals on at the end. In fact, the whole last 100 pages we’re reading waiting for his conversion and some tedious Christian platitudes, and Grimmelshausen seems to be toying with us – tantalising us with morality before plunging back into vice and violence. – For some reason, I mostly read this book on long train journeys – and in all probability would not have finished it without those journeys. (This book was read entirely coincidentally with German Literature Month).

Something of Myself, by Rudyard Kipling

In which Kipling, a largely secretive man (by which I mean he didn’t spend his career writing about himself), reveals a little of his life – though largely the bits we’re not interested in: i.e. the actual incidents of his life, rather than his thoughts about those incidents – though, to be fair, he did lead a fairly interesting life. I read it to see if I could get an idea of his political opinions: i.e. whether he thought he was a jingoist imperialist: – but rather like his fiction, I only come away with the conclusion that it’s rather hard to say. – He does defend the English use of concentration camps in South Africa, for instance (well, of course, he doesn’t call them concentration camps), but only by suggesting that it wasn’t part of the English strategy to starve a lot of people to death – it had just all been badly thought through; he was friends with Cecil Rhodes (not necessarily a great recommendation); he hated Liberals, for their ill-thought out policies; and I even sense a trace of anti-semitism in there, though I guess equally it might not have been. His only reference to his own Imperialist image is the following, about the writing of Rewards and Fairies:

since the tales had to be read by children, before people realized that they were meant for grown-ups; and since they had to be a sort of balance to, as well as a seal upon, some aspects of my “Imperialistic” output in the past, I worked the material in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth and experience.

Then further down the page, he is fairly dismissive of If – , saying it “contained counsels of perfection most easy to give” and mentioning his surprise, and perhaps a certain amount of discomfort, at its popularity.

Pylon, by William Faulkner

I was wondering before why this novel – one of my favourites of the year – was so little recognised or read. My conclusion is that it’s because it is about air racing. Air racing is a sport that doesn’t really exist any more (or not to my knowledge): – it is much like motor racing, but in the air. I imagine it’s not really any longer allowed because of the health and safety dangers, as amply exemplified by Faulkner’s text (though with the current government’s war on health and safety bureaucracy, perhaps we’ll see it back). This isn’t the only of Faulkner’s works about planes, the flying of them, the competition to be found by setting one against the other – he did, after all, train to be a pilot. (He also seems much interested in automobiles.) And there’s a great scene where everyone goes out and gets drunk, rivalling the scene in Sartoris when everyone goes out and gets drunk. Faulkner was interested in drink too.

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7 thoughts on “A Few Notes on Books Read

  1. Despite being a Faulkner fan, I have yet to read Pylon. Possibly because it’s not a Yoknapatawpha story, I had for some reason assumed that it wouldn’t be a true Faulknerian novel. I must put it on my to-be-read list now.

    And yes, the old boy loved his booze, didn’t he?

  2. Despite lack of Snopeses and Sartorises, one doesn’t really miss Yoknapatawpha County, or even notice much that it’s set anywhere else. It’s still familiar Faulkner Country.

  3. Pylon is a novel I do not remember at all, except that it is about airplanes – airplane races, you say? Maybe I should have left that comment in the other thread.

    The most interesting parts of Grimmelshausen are unfortunately not at the end. Or fortunately, for the reader who gives up early.

  4. Pylon’s a new one on me as well, to my shame: I’ve always thought I was a Faulkner fan. Sounds well worth a look.

    I know that, per Will Self, a liking for the Coen brothers is now considered the acme of middlebrowism, but I’ve always liked John Mahoney’s turn as a thinly disguised Faulkner in Barton Fink.

  5. AR: Grimmelshausen’s is one of those books I’m glad to have read, rather than still be reading. There are many bits of interest, in between bits which are a bit more boring. (Do you remember the strange underworld Sylph world at the centre of the Earth towards the end? What the hell was that about? An attack on current physics maybe?).

    LH: I remember nothing of Barton Fink. It is time to revisit. One of my books for next year’s TBR reading will likely be Budd Schulberg’s The Disenchanted (I know not listed, but I’ve had it maybe 15 years now), his depiction of his time writing Hollywood screenplays with F Scott Fitzgerald.

  6. Yes, that I do remember. No idea what it’s about. Not the part of the book that is emphasized in the literary history, is it? So-called realism, Thirty Years War, cross-dressing.

  7. No, maybe for the same reason that Descartes isn’t remembered for his scientific theories. Although I guess Grimmelshausen is intended as a parody.

    Actually, I forgot to say that the work Simplicissimus reminded me of most was, not Cervantes, but Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. It has that same notion of an individual whose world is thrown upside-down, who indulges in lewd picaresque adventures, and who is ultimately converted to some strange mystical religious sect. – And also, Melville’s Pierre: for the Christian idealist who discovers the rest of the world around him has not the slightest interest in Christian ideals.

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