Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PotD: "... in a litter of pearl and purple..."

From The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891), and as appeared originally in Lippincott's in 1890:
Yet one had ancestors in literature as well as in one's own race, nearer perhaps in type and temperament, many of them, and certainly with an influence of which one was more absolutely conscious. There were times when it appeared to Dorian Gray that the whole of history was merely the record of his own life, not as he had lived it in act and circumstance, but as his imagination had created it for him, as it had been in his brain and in his passions. He felt that he had known them all, those strange terrible figures that had passed across the stage of the world and made sin so marvellous and evil so full of subtlety. It seemed to him that in some mysterious way their lives had been his own. 
The hero of the wonderful novel that had so influenced his life had himself known this curious fancy. In the seventh chapter he tells how, crowned with laurel, lest lightning might strike him, he had sat, as Tiberius, in a garden at Capri, reading the shameful books of Elephantis, while dwarfs and peacocks strutted round him and the flute-player mocked the swinger of the censer; and, as Caligula, had caroused with the green-shirted jockeys in their stables and supped in an ivory manger with a jewel-frontleted horse; and, as Domitian, had wandered through a corridor lined with marble mirrors, looking round with haggard eyes for the reflection of the dagger that was to end his days, and sick with that ennui, that terrible taedium vitae, that comes on those to whom life denies nothing; and had peered through a clear emerald at the red shambles of the circus and then, in a litter of pearl and purple drawn by silver-shod mules, been carried through the Street of Pomegranates to a House of Gold and heard men cry on Nero Caesar as he passed by; and, as Elagabalus, had painted his face with colours, and plied the distaff among the women, and brought the Moon from Carthage and given her in mystic marriage to the Sun. 
Over and over again Dorian used to read this fantastic chapter, and the two chapters immediately following, in which, as in some curious tapestries or cunningly wrought enamels, were pictured the awful and beautiful forms of those whom vice and blood and weariness had made monstrous or mad: Filippo, Duke of Milan, who slew his wife and painted her lips with a scarlet poison that her lover might suck death from the dead thing he fondled; Pietro Barbi, the Venetian, known as Paul the Second, who sought in his vanity to assume the title of Formosus, and whose tiara, valued at two hundred thousand florins, was bought at the price of a terrible sin; Gian Maria Visconti, who used hounds to chase living men and whose murdered body was covered with roses by a harlot who had loved him; the Borgia on his white horse, with Fratricide riding beside him and his mantle stained with the blood of Perotto; Pietro Riario, the young Cardinal Archbishop of Florence, child and minion of Sixtus IV, whose beauty was equalled only by his debauchery, and who received Leonora of Aragon in a pavilion of white and crimson silk, filled with nymphs and centaurs, and gilded a boy that he might serve at the feast as Ganymede or Hylas; Ezzelin, whose melancholy could be cured only by the spectacle of death, and who had a passion for red blood, as other men have for red wine -- the son of the Fiend, as was reported, and one who had cheated his father at dice when gambling with him for his own soul; Giambattista Cibo, who in mockery took the name of Innocent and into whose torpid veins the blood of three lads was infused by a Jewish doctor; Sigismondo Malatesta, the lover of Isotta and the lord of Rimini, whose effigy was burned at Rome as the enemy of God and man, who strangled Polyssena with a napkin, and gave poison to Ginevra d'Este in a cup of emerald, and in honour of a shameful passion built a pagan church for Christian worship; Charles VI, who had so wildly adored his brother's wife that a leper had warned him of the insanity that was coming on him, and who, when his brain had sickened and grown strange, could only be soothed by Saracen cards painted with the images of love and death and madness; and, in his trimmed jerkin and jewelled cap and acanthuslike curls, Grifonetto Baglioni, who slew Astorre with his bride, and Simonetto with his page, and whose comeliness was such that, as he lay dying in the yellow piazza of Perugia, those who had hated him could not choose but weep, and Atalanta, who had cursed him, blessed him. 
There was a horrible fascination in them all. He saw them at night, and they troubled his imagination in the day. The Renaissance knew of strange manners of poisoning--poisoning by a helmet and a lighted torch, by an embroidered glove and a jewelled fan, by a gilded pomander and by an amber chain. Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book. There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful.
NB: This extra-long excerpt could not have been further abridged, for the rich texture of Wilde's style corresponds, in a way which must be noted if we are to feel proper appreciation, to the extension over time and across the page of his piling-up phrases. 

The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to decameron@penandanvil.com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

PotD: "Rothschild's Fiddle"

From Rothschild’s Fiddle by Anton Chekhov, 1894:
The town was small, worse than a village, and in it lived almost none but old people, who died so rarely it was even annoying. And in the hospital and jail there was very little demand for coffins. In short, business was bad. If Yakov Ivanov had been a coffin-maker in the provincial capital, he would most likely have had a house of his own and been called Yakov Matveich; but in this wretched little town he was simply called Yakov, his street nickname for some reason was “Bronzy,” and he lived a poor life, like a simple peasant, in a little old cottage with only one room, and that room housed himself, Marfa, the stove, the double bed, the coffins, the workbench, and all his chattels. 
Yakov made good, sturdy coffins. For peasants and tradesmen he made them his own size and was never once mistaken, because no one anywhere, not even in the jail, was taller or stronger than he, though he was now seventy years old. For gentlefolk and women he worked to measure, and for that he used an iron ruler. He accepted orders for children’s coffins very reluctantly, and made them straight off without measurements, scornfully, and, taking the money for his work, would say each time: 
“I confess, I don’t like messing with trifles.” 
Besides his craft, he also earned a little money playing the fiddle.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to decameron@penandanvil.com.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

PotD: "As I was in no hurry"

From Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust, 1921:
As I was in no hurry to arrive at the Guermantes Reception to which I wasn’t certain I had been invited, I hung about outside; but the summer day seemed to be in no greater haste to stir. Although it was after nine o’clock, it was still the daylight that was giving the Luxor obelisk on the Place de la Concorde the appearance of pink nougat. Then it diluted the tint and changed the surface to a metallic substance, so that the obelisk not only became more precious but seemed more slender and almost flexible. One felt that one might have been able to twist this jewel, that one had perhaps already slightly bent it. The moon was now in the sky like a segment of an orange delicately peeled although nibbled at. But a few hours later it was to be fashioned of the most enduring gold. Nestling alone behind it, a poor little star was to serve as sole companion to the lonely moon, while the latter, keeping its friend protected but striding ahead more boldly, would brandish like an irresistible weapon, like an oriental symbol, its broad, magnificent golden crescent.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to decameron@penandanvil.com.

Reading recommendations for quite short fiction

In view of the long-awaited release of Decameron, our journal of "quite short" fiction, we would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that the world of micro-fiction is large and diverse (as well as, yes, small to the point of being micro-). We recommend the following peer publications and projects to our readers interested in the history and state-of-the-art of the short-short form:
  • NANO FICTION is a non-profit journal founded that seeks to cultivate the genre of flash fiction by creating opportunities for emerging writers to achieve national recognition through our website, print publication, and educational events.
  • 55 Word Stories is an online story series run by Rosemary Mosco, creator of Bird and Moon.
  • For more than a decade, Brevity has published well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form, along with craft essays and book reviews.
  • Booktrust has been promoting books, reading and writing for more than 90 years. On the Short Stories section of their website, readers can find an archive of free short stories from acclaimed and award-winning authors; a list of magazines and websites that accept short story submissions; a listing of short story competitions; and recent reviews of short story collections and anthologies.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Satris on Edouard Levé at Two Lines Press

NB: From time to time here on The Ampersand blog, we'll be sharing news of interest to readers of our special-interest journals and series: Pusteblume, translation; Sixty-Six, sonnets and sonnetry; Hawk & Whippoorwill, literature of "man and nature"; WTT, for World Theatre in Translation; Decameron, "quite short" fiction and other micro-genres; and so on. For this inaugural post, we'd like to draw attention to an item, over at the Two Lines Press blog, of interest to translators, to readers of French literature, and Oulipo enthusiasts. - ZB

In advance of an "all-Levé" event at The Lab this week, Marthine Satris writes about her experience with Levé’s fascinating Autoportrait, and connects the dots between Levé and Georges Perec:
When I read Levé’s Autoportrait [translated by Lorin Stein], I had a sense that his self-scrutiny was a project composed in response to the contemporary fascination with memoir and true stories. Then, Scott pointed out that the opening sentence of Levé’s book, “When I was young, I thought Life A User’s Manual would teach me how to live…,” referred to the Oulipan Georges Perec’s most famous novel. This made me think about the influence that the Oulipo had on him, particularly its charge to write within constraint.
Read more about Satris's delvings into Levé at the website of Two Lines Press.