Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely ‘unreadable’ retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. Colin Dickey explores how it was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert’s strangest work finally came to life.
The gold tree.
With initials designed by Austin O. Spare and cut in wood by W. Quick. Published 1917
The Gold Tree is a short story written by Sir John Collings Squire, in which he describes in detail an imagined bookshop that appears frequently in his dreams. It can be viewed and read here: https://archive.org/stream/goldtreewithinit00squiuoft#page/n5/mode/2up
From 1919 to 1934, Squire was the editor of the monthly periodical, the London Mercury. It showcased the work of the Georgian poets and was an important outlet for new writers.
Squire was not exactly a popular character..
Virginia Woolf wrote that Squire was “more repulsive than words can express, and malignant into the bargain”. […] Eliot attacked Squire repeatedly, at one point describing him as a critic “whose solemn trifling fascinates multitudes”. […] Eliot also acknowledged that Squire wielded a lot of power; because of Squire’s skill as a journalist, his success would be modernism’s disaster. Eliot wrote: “If he succeeds, it will be impossible to get anything good published”.
Squire is in any case generally credited with the one-liner “I am not so think as you drunk I am”.
Austin O Spare provided the design for the Illustrations, which were then cut by W. Quick.
” Specialism consists in seeing the things of the material world as well as those of the spiritual world in their original and consequential ramifications. The highest human genius is that which starts from the shadows of abstraction to advance into the light of specialism. (Specialism, species, sight, speculation, seeing all, and that at one glance; speculum, the mirror or means of estimating a thing by seeing it in its entirety)” ~ Honore de Balzac
Balzac was standing before the fireplace of that dear room where I have seen so many remarkable men and women come and go. He was not tall, though the light on his face and the mobility of his figure prevented me from noticing his stature. His body swayed with his thought; there seemed at times to be a space between him and the floor; occasionally he stooped as though to gather an idea at his feet, and then he rose on them to follow the flight of his thought above him. At the moment of my entrance he was carried away by the subject of a conversation then going on with Monsieur and Madame de Girardin, and only interrupted himself for a moment to give me a keen, rapid, gracious look of extreme kindness.
He was stout, solid, square at the base and across the shoulders. The neck, chest, body and thighs were powerful, with something of Mirabeau’s amplitude, but without heaviness. His soul was apparent, and seemed to carry everything lightly, gaily, like a supple covering, not in the least like a burden. His size seemed to give him power, not to deprive him of it. His short arms gesticulated easily; he talked as an orator speaks. His voice resounded with the somewhat vehement energy of his lungs, but it had neither roughness nor sarcasm nor anger in it; his legs, on which he rather swayed himself, bore the torso easily; his hands, which were large and plump, expressed his thought as he waved them. Such was the outward man in that robust frame. But in presence of the face it was difficult to think of the structure. That speaking face, from which it was not easy to remove one’s eye, charmed and fascinated you; his hair was worn in thick masses; his black eyes pierced you like darts dipped in kindliness; they entered confidingly into yours like friends. His cheeks were full and ruddy; the nose well modeled, though rather long; the lips finely outlined, but full and raised at the corners; the teeth irregular and notched. His head was apt to lean to one side, and then, when the talk excited him, it was lifted quickly with an heroic sort of pride.
But the dominant expression of his face, greater than even that of intellect, was the manifestation of goodness and kindheartedness. He won your mind when he spoke, but he won your heart when he was silent. No feeling of envy or hatred could have been expressed by that face; it was impossible that it should seem otherwise than kind. But the kindness was not that of indifference; it was loving kindness, conscious of its meaning and conscious of others; it inspired gratitude and frankness, and defied all those who knew him not to love him. A childlike merriment was in his aspect; here was a soul at play; he had dropped his pen to be happy among friends, and it was impossible not to be joyous where he was . ~ Alphonse de Lamartine
From Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com Chapter 12 Honoré de Balzac.
For those who read French, you can read Lamartine’s work “Balzac et ses ouevres online at https://archive.org/details/balzacetsesoeuvr00lama
and Honore de Balzac, by Albert Keim and Louis Lumet at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3625/3625-h/3625-h.htm
“The animated human created by Victor Frankenstein in 20-year-old Mary Shelley’s anonymously published Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus was a far more intelligent being than was ever portrayed in the many movies that made the novel famous in the 20th century. “Frankenstein” refers to Dr. Victor, not the creation, who refers to himself as the Adam of his maker’s labors (and then later as Victor’s Fallen Angel), while elsewhere in the book he is called “it”, as well as “being”, “creature”, “daemon”, “Fiend, “monster”, “vile insect” and “wretch”, among other adjectival variants.
“Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
Mostly the creation is referred to as a “monster”–the word being used 35 times, mostly in reference to Victor’s animated man.
In chapter 15, we are given a great insight into this man, as he is about to understand these agonies via a discovery of three books in a portmanteau. These included The Sorrows of Werter by Goethe, a section of Plutarch, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The reading appears to elevate his state of understanding and of his misery, particularly with the Goethe.
Frankenstein’s creation reports what the books meant to him:
“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors and with the wants which were forever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sank deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.
“As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathized with and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. ‘The path of my departure was free,’ and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.
“The volume of Plutarch’s Lives which I possessed contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter’s imaginations despondency and gloom, but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections, to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature, but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.
“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature, but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.”
And so he continues in his life, or what is left of his secondary life, in a misery of understanding and questioning, much of which has been an affect of the books that he has taught himself to read. After being chased through Europe he ends up on an ice raft, waiting for his end in the frozen north. Or so he says—the plans were for a funeral pyre and a place to jump into it, but we see him heading off towards some destiny but never actually see it.
“But soon,” he cried with sad and solemn enthusiasm, “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace, or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.”
Illustrations by Lynd Ward
A story thought to be by Peter Longueville – writing under the pseudonym of Edward Dorrington – about Philip Quarll, a Crusoe-style castaway, who spends 50 years alone on an uninhabited island island of monkeys and pomegranate fields far off the coast of Mexico. When eventually he is eventually found in 1715 by the narrator Edward Dorrington – an 18th-century trader from Bristol, England – Quarll refuses to leave his island, carefully explaining to his would-be rescuer that he would not dream of leaving the place he now considered home. In the course of his 50 years Quarll had become the self-appointed king of “his country’, and at the time of Dorrington’s arrival, was accompanied everywhere he went by a loyal monkey as a sidekick. At his idyllic home with thatched roof the white-haired Quarll laid on a dinner for his unexpected guest – of soup, meat and fish – all served in shining plates of seashells. Later, Dorrington remarks that the meal surpassed anything he had ever eaten in his native England. Quarll explains to his somewhat bemused visitors: “I was shipwrecked, thanks to my Maker, and was cast away. Were I made emperor of the universe, I would not be concerned with the world again, nor would you require me, did you but know the happiness I enjoy out of it.” Quarll then handed Dorrington his “memorial” – a tidy bundle of rolled parchment diaries – from which this story is told.
I picked up a copy of this book some years back, in a charity shop. I wanted it for the content, but if I had found a copy of the 1969 edition that I came across online recently, with the cover design by Alfred Zalon, I would probably have bought it for the cover alone – alas, my copy has the rather more boring predominantly pastel blue cover.
“The left hand has traditionally represented the powers of intuition, feeling, and spontaneity. In this classic book, Jerome Bruner inquires into the part these qualities play in determining how we know what we do know; how we can help others to know-that is, to teach; and how our conception of reality affects our actions and is modified by them.
The striking and subtle discussions contained in On Knowing take on the core issues concerning man’s sense of self: creativity, the search for identity, the nature of aesthetic knowledge, myth, the learning process, and modem-day attitudes toward social controls, Freud, and fate. In this revised, expanded edition, Bruner comments on his personal efforts to maintain an intuitively and rationally balanced understanding of human nature, taking into account the odd historical circumstances which have hindered academic psychology’s attempts in the past to know man.
Writing with wit, imagination, and deep sympathy for the human condition, Jerome Bruner speaks here to the part of man’s mind that can never be completely satisfied by the right-handed virtues of order, rationality, and discipline.”
“At six years of age Ouspensky was reading on an adult level. Two books made a strong impression on him—Lermontov’s A Hero for Our Time and Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Notebook. Lermontov’s book is noteworthy since the ideas it expresses—the plasticity of time and questions of predestination, fate and recurrence—are those that would occupy Ouspensky throughout his life. As a young boy Ouspensky disliked school, finding the work dull. At sixteen he discovered Nietzsche, whose idea of eternal recurrence would remain a lifelong interest. He left school the same year. In 1905, at the age of seventeen, his mother died. That year he wrote his only novel (not published until 1915), The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.”
Strange Life of Ivan Osokin – Ivan-Osokin.pdf. old link didn’t work – updated to add working link
“Strange Life of Ivan Osokin is a novel by P. D. Ouspensky. It follows the unsuccessful struggle of Ivan Osokin to correct his mistakes when given a chance to relive his past. The novel serves as a narrative platform for Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. The conclusion fully anticipates the Fourth Way Philosophy which typified Ouspensky’s later works. In particular the final chapter’s description of the shocking realization of the mechanical nature of existence, its consequences, and the possibility/responsibility of working in an esoteric school.” – wiki
“I know of no such story” I told him at last
“You mean you’ve never heard of it?”
Ishmael nodded. “That’s because there’s no need to hear of it. There’s no need to name or discuss it. Every one of you knows it by heart by the time you’re six or seven. Black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, American and Russian, Norwegian and Chinese, you all hear it. And you hear it incessantly, because every medium of propaganda, every medium of education pours it out incessantly. And hearing it incessantly, you don’t listen to it. There’s no need to listen to it. It’s always there, humming away in the background, so there’s no need to attend to it at all. In fact you’ll find – at least initially – that it’s hard to attend to it. It’s like the humming of a distant motor that never stops; it becomes a sound that’s no longer heard at all.”