onsdag den 20. marts 2019

Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus - Alexander Pope (1741)

Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus
In the early years of the eighteen century a group of writers formed the Scriblerian club. Central to this group was Alexander Pope and Johnathan Swift, but another four or five writers and poets were members as well, some of them on-off. The purpose, it seemed, was to write satire for the fun of it, in the name of an invented comical character Martinus Scriblerus. Years later, in 1741, Alexander Pope published a selection of these writings as “Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus”.

Through this character the group satirized on every fad and absurdity they observed among their contemporaries, making Scriblerus an outrageous character. This covers anything from an obsession with ancient literature, over crazy principles on raising children to medicine and science. The book covers the life of Scriblerus from his birth to his eventual demise, not death, but simply disappearance, but the chronology is simply used to fit in age appropriate satire.

Most of the satire is so rooted in its era that to a modern reader it falls pretty flat, though I can certainly see a connection to conspiracy theorist of today and the many absurd fads going around, from aversion to vaccination to bizarre dietary principles. In any case, for the most part you probably should have been there to find it amusing. This changes however midway through the book through two stories that hit the nail for me. The first is how Scriblerus and his friend, Crambe’s, studies in anatomy came to an abrupt halt when they sneaked a corpse into a rented apartment, woke up the entire house when they dropped it down the stairs and got arrested for murder. The second one was even better. Scriblerus falls in love with one part of a pair of conjoined twins, springs her from the circus where she works only to be sued by her former owner who arranges the other twin to be married to “a black prince” also in his possession. The court case is absolutely hilarious and absurd, each lawyer claiming the other guilty of anything from trespassing to bigamy.

Worth a mention is also the list of discoveries they attribute to the worthy Martinus Scriblerus. While many of them are rather silly, the ones belong to physics are actually very modern and relevant questions today, such as the mass of the universe, a calculation on the lifespan of the sun, how to apply the force from the speed of light to mechanical purposes and so on. This just goes to show how these humanists were ridiculing the natural sciences of the day.

“Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus is not a long book. The antiquated writing was easily compensated by the absurdly large font used for the print I found, so I went quickly through it. Despite this I am not entirely sure I would recommend this book. A few interesting sections is not enough to make it worthwhile the read, but I have a feeling this book was included on the List more for its influence on contemporary writing than for its own qualities.


fredag den 8. marts 2019

Joseph Andrews - Henry Fielding (1742)

Joseph Andrews
In the early 1740’ies Samuel Richardson published his novel “Pamela” and sparked a controversy that resulted in Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews”. The weird thing is that the List has decided that “Joseph Andrews” predates “Pamela” and therefore I get to read this reaction novel before the book it is reacting to. That does feel a bit strange and especially the burlesque “Shamela” that introduces the novel is difficult to come to terms with in this context.

Anyway, “Joseph Andrews” follows two characters, the young man Joseph Andrew and the parson Abraham Adams on their journey home from London. Joseph was a footman to the widow Lady Booby, the aunt of Squire Booby in “Pamela”, but when he refused a pass she made on him, she kicked him out and he ventures home toward his home parish. On the way he soon encounters the parson and together they have an incredible number of adventures.

There is a lot of Don Quixote in this story. Most of the encounters has a counterpart in Don Quixote and at times I get the feeling that certain events are mostly there because they are so in Don Quixote. An objective is comical relief and the Parson is supposed to be a somewhat deluded clown that gets himself into all sorts of trouble because of his uncompromising adherence to Christian doctrine at the expense of any situational sense, thus being the Don Quixote of this story. That means that the underlying message is that fundamental Christianity is unpractical and laughable, but inherently good.

I am not sure how to read the “Pamela” response, because as mentioned, I have not read that book yet. What I can see is that Fielding is conservative in his position, but sneaks in a number of progressive ideas. It is as if in order to do a critique of, especially, the rich and the powerful he had to wrap it in a conservative framework. I believe “Pamela” is supposed to be refined in style and “Joseph Andrews” is in many ways crude and direct, as if honesty and simplicity are the virtues it supports as opposed to those of “Pamela”.

“Joseph Andrews” was intended as a comedy and that begs the question if it is funny. Sadly, it is not so, at least not to me. Comedy translates poorly over space and time and the attempts at comedy fell flat on the ground for me. That does not mean it is a complete fail, in many ways this is an interesting read, but frankly I would much rather read the real Don Quixote again.

I am not certain if I would recommend it unless you think that a parson who drinks and eat too much, forget where he is and what he is doing and preach fundamental Christianity to anybody who cares to listen as well as a lot who grows heartily sick of him, is your idea of a great time. To me the parson is a self-righteous ass and Joseph Andrews himself has as much character as a cardboard cut-out.

On to the next. 1742 looks to be a busy year.