Thursday, 26 July 2012

BOOK REVIEW

The Continental Classics, Volume XIV, and 
The Vampire by Jan Neruda

These two literary works are my contribution to this Friday’s Forgotten Books edition over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. Don’t forget to read the fine mix of reviews of forgotten books by other bloggers over there.

“There is but one vast treasure-house of Eastern lore, and from its miraculous riches every bard and rhymer, every recounter of things marvelous and glad and sad, has drawn to his heart's content since the days of Babylon. No one can say how old these stories are. They are primeval. Some of them are as old as man. Some of them go back to those days when kindly spirits walked the earth among mortals, wondering gently at the new creature, with his fancies and his whims, and now and then touching man's work to unravel some knot of fate or to bring an unexpected blessing to some simple, good person. Of these tales of fairyland and its ministering visitants there is a web all round the world, and every wise child should believe them until he grows old and hard and incredulous.”
— Charles Johnston in his introduction to the section on Oriental Mystery Stories in The Continental Classics, Volume XIV.

Some of the world's best-known, and untold, stories are found in literary compendiums such as the twenty-volume The Continental Classics and the ten-volume The Best of the World's Classics. Written and translated in lucid prose, the stories cut across peoples and countries and races and continents, and cover nearly every literary category there is — from mystery and adventure, fantasy and horror, romance and satire to tragedy and philosophy.

Many of these folktales and fairytales are undated and have been passed down the centuries for readers like you and me to savour and want more.

One example of the wide and varied reach of literary anthologies is The Continental Classics, Volume XIV, Spanish, Italian and Oriental Tales, a 370-page assorted collection of early mystery stories from Europe and Asia.


These are divided into three parts: Italian and Spanish Mystery Stories, Oriental Mystery Stories, and Ancient Latin and Greek Mystery Stories.

The Spanish and Italian section includes stories by Italo Mario Palmarini, Camillo Boito, Antonio Fogazzaro, and Pedro de Alarcón among others. I have been reading about these unheard-of writers on the internet.

For instance, Camillo Boito (1836-1914) was an Italian architect and engineer, first and foremost. He was also an art critic and historian, and a novelist. He wrote many short stories that included a psychological thriller titled A Christmas Eve, “a tale of incestuous obsession and necrophilia” which is apparently similar to Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe. In 1882, he came out with his most famous work, Senso, a short novel about 
sexual decadence. A few of his tales have been shot into film. 

Spanish novelist Pedro de Alarcón (1833-1891) was the author of El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat, 1874) which tells the story of village life in his native region of Andalusia, in southern Spain. Apart from another short novel, El capitán Veneno (Captain Poison, 1881), Alarcón also wrote four full-length novels, three travel books, and short stories.
 

An illustration with the Arabic story
The Craft of the Three Sharpers

Coming back to The Continental Classics, Volume XIV, I was delighted to discover five traditional Sanskrit tales that included ‘The Brahman Who Lost His Treasure’ from a book called the Ocean of the Rivers of Stories, written some eight centuries ago. It tells the story of King Prasenajit of Sravasti who helps a miser recover his stolen wealth. The rich merchants of the place bestow all kinds of presents on the man they think is a virtuous Brahman (belonging to the highest of the four social classes of India). He hides his treasure at the foot of the medicinal nagabala tree till one day he finds that it has been stolen. Distraught over losing his wealth, the man decides to commit suicide. The king comes to his rescue by nailing the culprit who had used the roots of the tree to cure his headaches. 

Most Indian stories of old times are philosophical in nature. When the merchants learn that the miser is going to starve himself to death, one of them says, “Brahman, why do you long to die for the loss of your wealth? Wealth, like an unseasonable cloud, suddenly comes and goes.”

I am reproducing below the table of contents to give you a fair idea of the kind of stories you can expect in The Continental Classics, Volume XIV. You’ll find this and most of the other volumes at Project Gutenberg.

Part I: Italian and Spanish Mystery Stories

J.M. Palmarini — Shadows
Camillo Boito — The Gray Spot
Giovanni Verga — The Stories of the Castle of Trezza
Antonio Fogazzaro — The Imp in the Mirror
Luigi Capuana — The Deposition
Pedro de Alarcón — The Nail
Alfredo Oriani — The Moscow Theater Plot

Part II: Oriental Mystery Stories (with an introduction by Charles Johnston)

The Power of Eloquence (Japanese)
The Dishonest Goldsmith and the Ingenious Painter (Turkish)
The Craft of the Three Sharpers (Arabic)
The Cheerful Workman (Arabic)
The Robber and the Woman (Arabic)
The Wonderful Stone (Chinese)
The Weaver Who Became a Leach (Arabic)
Visakha (Tibetan)
Told by the Constable (Arabic)
The Unjust Sentence (Chinese)
The Scar on the Throat (Arabic)
Devasmita (Sanskrit)
The Sharpers and the Money-lender (Arabic)
The Withered Hand (Turkish)
The Melancholist and the Sharper (Arabic)
Lakshadatta and Labdhadatta (Sanskrit)
The Cunning Crone (Arabic)
Judgment of a Solomon (Chinese)
The Sultan and His Three Sons (Arabic)
Tale of a Demon (Sanskrit)
The Jar of Olives and the Boy Kazi (Arabic)
Another Solomon (Chinese)
Calamity Ahmad and Habzalom Bazazah (Arabic)
A Man-Hating Maiden (Sanskrit)
Told by the Constable (Arabic)
The Clever Thief (Tibetan)
The King Who Made Mats (Persian)
The Brahman Who Lost His Treasure (Sanskrit)
The Duel of the Two Sharpers (Arabic)
The Lady and the Kazi (Persian)
Mahaushadha (Tibetan)
Avicenna and the Observant Young Man (Turkish)

Part III: Ancient Latin and Greek Mystery Stories

Herodotus —
The Thief Versus King Rhampsinitus
The Oracle Its Test by Croesus
The Oracle Its Repulse of the Persians
The Oracle Behind the Scenes

Lucius Apuleius —
The Adventure of the Three Robbers

Pliny, the Younger —
Letter to Sura

Scroll down for The Vampire by Jan Neruda or click here.

6 comments:

  1. I've read some of this material but should read more of it.

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    1. Charles, there is no end to stories like these. I've read only a few from this volume and they're well written and interesting. I learn a lot about other cultures too.

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  2. Wow, Prashant! You've found the obscure volume alluded to in Carolyn Well's unintentionally hilarious detective novel The Deep Lake Mystery. That book includes a murder method entirely lifted from the story "The Nail" found in Part 1 of the Continental Classics volume. For more about de Alarcon's story and Well's fascination with it read my review here.

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    1. John, I have been digging up the "obscure" for a while now only to discover, quite often, that they're not as obscure as I thought at first. Many of us will recall reading these books and collections a long time ago. I picked this particular volume at random. I have not read Carolyn Well's novel and it's rather unusual that she should lift the "murder method" from the short story 'The Nail" by Pedro de Alarcón. Thanks for the link to your review which I'll certainly read.

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  3. Looks like a labor of love. When was this published and who were the editors?

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    1. Ron, I couldn't find the name of the editor(s) or the year of publication but a little more research following your comment revealed that it was edited by the Review and the Reviews Company in 1909 and published by Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York and London.

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