Friday, February 26, 2010

War

Jack London (1876–1916)
From Jack London: Novels and Stories

John Griffith Chaney—or, to use the name by which he was known after his mother’s marriage, Jack London—is primarily remembered as the author of adventure tales set in the Klondike (Call of the Wild, “To Build a Fire”) and of proletarian fiction (Martin Eden, The Iron Heel). But the nearly two hundred stories he published during his lifetime are impossible to pigeonhole into such tidy categories; London often blended genres from naturalism to science fiction to create unprecedented hybrids for an international readership.

Set during an unspecified conflict in an unspecified land, “War” (1911) uses deceptively quiet, sparse prose to describe a young, voiceless man who suddenly confronts an enemy soldier “with several weeks’ growth of ginger-colored beard.” The story is a masterpiece of brevity; in London's best work, H. L. Mencken noted, “are all the elements of sound fiction: clear thinking, a sense of character, the dramatic instinct, and, above all, the adept putting together of words.”

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He was a young man, not more than twenty-four or five, and he might have sat his horse with the careless grace of his youth had he not been so catlike and tense. His black eyes roved everywhere, catching the movements of twigs and branches where small birds hopped, questing ever onward through the changing vistas of trees and brush, and returning always to the clumps of undergrowth on either side. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Some Strange Experience:
The Reminiscences of a Ghost-Seer

Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904)
From Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings

A world traveler who lived in the United States for nearly two decades, Lafcadio Hearn earned a reputation in Cincinnati and New Orleans as a journalist who portrayed colorful local inhabitants and reported on sensational, violent crimes. Shortly after he was fired from the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer for marrying Alathea Foley, a black woman and former slave, he went to work for the Cincinnati Commercial , where he published his articles either anonymously or under the pseudonym Ozias Midwinter (after a character in the Wilkie Collins novel Armadale). The following is one of his early articles for the Commercial, an interview with a reluctant “medium” whose “gift of conversation” brings to life recollections of a lifetime of frightful experiences.

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“They do say the dead never come back again,” she observed half dreamingly; “but then I have seen such queer things!” . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Tolstoi Holds Lincoln World’s Greatest Hero

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910),
as told to Count S. Stakelberg
From The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now

The closing pages of Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin’s best-selling volume on Abraham Lincoln, assess the aftermath of his death and remark on the “scope of Lincoln’s legacy by the time the new century arrived,” having spread even to a “wild and remote area of the Caucasus.” A reporter for the New York World interviewed Leo Tolstoy for the Lincoln centennial in 1909; the Russian novelist’s response, which was closer to hagiography than analysis, includes a famous anecdote about Lincoln’s outsized reputation among the Circassian people of the Caucasus. The opinions attributed to Tolstoy here—that Lincoln was “Christ in miniature,” that “he overshadows all other national heroes,” that he “was bigger than his country”—contrast sharply with his statement in War and Peace: “In historical events great men—so-called—are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection with the event itself” (Constance Garrett translation). For Presidents Day—and in honor of Lincoln’s 201st birthday—we present Tolstoy’s commentary in full.

Visiting Leo Tolstoi in Yasnaya with the intention of getting him to write an article on Lincoln, I unfortunately found him not well enough to yield to my request. However, he was willing to give me his opinion of the great American statesman, and this is what he told me:

“Of all the great national heroes and statesmen of history Lincoln is the only real giant. Alexander, Frederick the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Gladstone and even Washington stand in greatness of character, in depth of feeling and in a certain moral power far behind Lincoln. Lincoln was a man of whom a nation has a right to be proud; he was a Christ in miniature, a saint of humanity, whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations. We are still too near to his greatness, and so can hardly appreciate his divine power; but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.” . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Sentimentality of William Tavener

Willa Cather (1873–1947)
From Willa Cather: Stories, Poems, and Other Writings

Willa Cather’s novels and stories often showcase the triumphs and trials of pioneers, farmers, and immigrants out West. “The Sentimentality of William Tavener” (1900), one of her earliest pieces, combines recollections from her childhood years in Virginia, where she was born, with the atmosphere of her family’s later home in Nebraska, and the story’s lead character is one of the strong-willed pioneers who would be so prevalent in her later, more famous fiction. James Woodress, in his 1987 biography of Cather, notes her “skillful use of what must have been a family story” to create what is “rare in Cather’s fiction—a tender moment of conjugal affection.”

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It takes a strong woman to make any sort of success of living in the West, and Hester undoubtedly was that. When people spoke of William Tavener as the most prosperous farmer in McPherson County, they usually added that his wife was a “good manager.” . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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