Men will the laws of nature (From Stanley Elkin’s novel The Franchiser)

They drove up to the Broadmoor, a pink Monaco castle at the foot of the Rockies, and he showed her the hotel in a proprietary way, taking her through the nifty Regency public rooms with their beautiful sofas, the striped, silken upholstery like tasteful flags. He showed her huge tiaras of chandelier, soft plush carpets. “Yes,” she said, “carpets were our first floors, our first highways.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“We call the rug in the hall a ‘runner.’ It’s where the runners or messengers waited in the days of kings and emperors.”

“I never made the connection.”

“It’s an insight. Chandeliers must have come in with the development of lens astronomy at the beginning of the seventeenth century. I should think it was an attempt to mimic rather than parody the order of the heavens, to bring the solar system indoors.”

“Really?”

“Well, where, to simple people, would the universe seem to go during the daylight hours, Ben?”

“But chandeliers give light.”

“Not during the daytime. The chandelier is a complex invention—a sculpture of the invisible stars by day, a pragmatic mechanism by night. But a much less daring device finally than carpeting.”

“Why, Patty?”

“Because carpeting—think of Oriental rugs—was always primarily ornamental and decorative. It was a deliberate expression of what ground—our first flooring, remember, and incidentally we have to regard tile, too, as a type of carpeting—ought to be in a perfect world. Order, symmetry, design. And since rugs came in before lens telescopy, how could they know? Oh, carpeting’s much more daring. A leap of will.”

“Of will?”

“Men will the laws of nature.”

From Stanley Elkin’s 1976 novel The Franchiser.

 

From this darkness packs of mad dogs will emerge, vipers, scorpions, enormous sea serpents (From Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name)

I made the dark descent. Now the moon was visible amid scattered pale-edged clouds; the evening was very fragrant, and you could hear the hypnotic rhythm of the waves. On the beach I took off my shoes, the sand was cold, a gray-blue light extended as far as the sea and then spread over its tremulous expanse. I thought: yes, Lila is right, the beauty of things is a trick, the sky is the throne of fear; I’m alive, now, here, ten steps from the water, and it is not at all beautiful, it’s terrifying; along with this beach, the sea, the swarm of animal forms, I am part of the universal terror; at this moment I’m the infinitesimal particle through which the fear of every thing becomes conscious of itself; I; I who listen to the sound of the sea, who feel the dampness and the cold sand; I who imagine all Ischia, the entwined bodies of Nino and Lila, Stefano sleeping by himself in the new house that is increasingly not so new, the furies who indulge the happiness of today to feed the violence of tomorrow. Ah, it’s true, my fear is too great and so I hope that everything will end soon, that the figures of the nightmares will consume my soul. I hope that from this darkness packs of mad dogs will emerge, vipers, scorpions, enormous sea serpents. I hope that while I’m sitting here, on the edge of the sea, assassins will arrive out of the night and torture my body. Yes, yes, let me be punished for my insufficiency, let the worst happen, something so devastating that it will prevent me from facing tonight, tomorrow, the hours and days to come, reminding me with always more crushing evidence of my unsuitable constitution. Thoughts like that I had, the frenzied thoughts of girlish discouragement. I gave myself up to them, for I don’t know how long.

From Elena Ferrante’s 2012 novel The Story of a New Name. English translation by Ann Goldstein.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 11, 1848

May 11, 1838.–At Boston last week. Items:–A young man, with a small mustache, dyed brown, reddish from its original light color. He walks with an affected gait, his arms crooked outwards, treading much on his toes. His conversation is about the theatre, where he has a season ticket,–about an amateur who lately appeared there, and about actresses, with other theatrical scandal.–In the smoking-room, two checker and backgammon boards; the landlord a great player, seemingly a stupid man, but with considerable shrewdness and knowledge of the world.– F—-, the comedian, a stout, heavy-looking Englishman, of grave deportment, with no signs of wit or humor, yet aiming at both in conversation, in order to support his character. Very steady and regular in his life, and parsimonious in his disposition,–worth $50,000, made by his profession.–A clergyman, elderly, with a white neck-cloth, very unbecoming, an unworldly manner, unacquaintance with the customs of the house, and learning them in a childlike way. A ruffle to his shirt, crimped.–A gentleman, young, handsome, and sea-flushed, belonging to Oswego, New York, but just arrived in port from the Mediterranean: he inquires of me about the troubles in Canada, which were first beginning to make a noise when he left the country,–whether they are all over. I tell him all is finished, except the hanging of the prisoners. Then we talk over the matter, and I tell him the fates of the principal men,–some banished to New South Wales, one hanged, others in prison, others, conspicuous at first, now almost forgotten.–Apartments of private families in the hotel,–what sort of domesticity there may be in them; eating in public, with no board of their own. The gas that lights the rest of the house lights them also, in the chandelier from the ceiling.–A shabby-looking man, quiet, with spectacles, at first wearing an old, coarse brown frock, then appearing in a suit of elderly black, saying nothing unless spoken to, but talking intelligently when addressed. He is an editor, and I suppose printer, of a country paper. Among the guests, he holds intercourse with gentlemen of much more respectable appearance than himself, from the same part of the country.–Bill of fare; wines printed on the back, but nobody calls for a bottle. Chairs turned down for expected guests. Three-pronged steel forks. Cold supper from nine to eleven P.M. Great, round, mahogany table, in the sitting-room, covered with papers. In the morning, before and soon after breakfast, gentlemen reading the morning papers, while others wait for their chance, or try to pick out something from the papers of yesterday or longer ago. In the forenoon, the Southern papers are brought in, and thrown damp and folded on the table. The eagerness with which those who happen to be in the room start up and make prize of them. Play-bills, printed on yellow paper, laid upon the table. Towards evening comes the “Transcript.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 11, 1848. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

The body of the bride Lila appeared cruelly shredded (From Elena Ferrante’s novel The Story of a New Name)

It was a beautiful warm evening; the brilliant lights of the shop’s interior spread their glow into the square. The gigantic image of Lila in her wedding dress could be seen at a distance, leaning against the center wall. Stefano parked, we went in, making our way among the boxes of shoes, piled up haphazardly, cans of paint, ladders. Marcello, Rino, Gigliola, and Pinuccia were visibly irritated: for varying reasons they had no wish to submit yet again to Lila’s caprices. The only one who greeted us cordially was Michele, who turned to my friend with a mocking laugh. “Lovely signora, will you let us know, at last, what you have in mind or do you just want to ruin the evening?”

Lila looked at the panel leaning against the wall, asked them to lay it on the floor. Marcello said cautiously, with the dark timidity that he always showed toward Lila, “What for?”

“I’ll show you.”

Rino interrupted: “Don’t be an idiot, Lina. You know how much this thing cost? If you ruin it, you’re in trouble.”

The Solaras laid the image on the floor. Lila looked around, with her brow furrowed, her eyes narrowed. She was looking for something that she knew was there, that perhaps she had bought herself. In a corner she spied a roll of black paper, and she took a pair of big scissors and a box of drawing pins from a shelf. Then, with that expression of extreme concentration which enabled her to isolate herself from everything around her, she went back to the panel. Before our astonished and, in the cases of some, openly hostile eyes, she cut strips of black paper, with the manual precision she had always possessed, and pinned them here and there to the photograph, asking for my help with slight gestures or quick glances.

I joined in with the devotion that I had felt ever since we were children. Those moments were thrilling, it was a pleasure to be beside her, slipping inside her intentions, to the point of anticipating her. I felt that she was seeing something that wasn’t there, and that she was struggling to make us see it, too. I was suddenly happy, feeling the intensity that invested her, that flowed through her fingers as they grasped the scissors, as they pinned the black paper.

Finally, she tried to lift the canvas, as if she were alone in that space, but she couldn’t. Marcello readily intervened, I intervened, we leaned it against the wall. Then we all backed up toward the door, some sneering, some grim, some appalled. The body of the bride Lila appeared cruelly shredded. Much of the head had disappeared, as had the stomach. There remained an eye, the hand on which the chin rested, the brilliant stain of the mouth, the diagonal stripe of the bust, the line of the crossed legs, the shoes.

Gigliola began, scarcely containing her rage: “I cannot put a thing like that in my shop.”

“I agree,” Pinuccia exploded. “We have to sell here, and with that grotesque thing people will run away. Rino, say something to your sister, please.”

Rino pretended to ignore her, but he turned to Stefano as if his brother-in-law were to blame for what was happening. “I told you, you can’t reason with her. You have to say yes, no, and that’s it, or you see what happens? It’s a waste of time.”

Stefano didn’t answer, he stared at the panel leaning against the wall and it was evident that he was looking for a way out. He asked me, “What do you think, Lenù?”

I said in Italian, “To me it seems very beautiful. Of course, I wouldn’t want it in the neighborhood, that’s not the right place for it. But here it’s something else, it will attract attention, it will please. In Confidenze just last week I saw that in Rossano Brazzi’s house there is a painting like this.”

Hearing that, Gigliola got even angrier. “What do you mean? That Rossano Brazzi knows what’s what, that you two know everything, and Pinuccia and I don’t?”

At that point I felt the danger. I had only to glance at Lila to realize that, if when we arrived at the shop she had really felt willing to give in should the attempt prove fruitless, now that the attempt had been made and had produced that image of disfigurement she wouldn’t yield an inch. Those minutes of work on the picture had broken ties: at that moment she was overwhelmed by an exaggerated sense of herself, and it would take time for her to retreat into the dimension of the grocer’s wife, she wouldn’t accept a sigh of dissent. In fact, while Gigliola was speaking, she was already muttering: Like this or not at all. And she wanted to quarrel, she wanted to break, shatter, she would have happily hurled herself at Gigliola with the scissors.

From Elena Ferrante’s 2012 novel The Story of a New Name. English translation by Ann Goldstein. I’m not sure how well the passage stands free of any context—I know there are a lot of characters here with backgrounds that won’t be clear to anyone who hasn’t read Ferrante’s novel (read it!)—but I love this passage, where brilliant friends Lila and Lenù collaborate to turn advertising into art, to artistically—and violently, perhaps—erase Lila’s body from the patriarchal order into which she has been inscribed.

William T. Vollmann talks sex and death; reads from Last Stories and Other Stories

Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom — Ilya Repin

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“In the reading room of Hell” — Roberto Bolaño

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Stanley Elkin and William Gass on the mythic mode, Faulkner, etc.

From Washington University’s marvelous Modern Literature Collection YouTube channel.

Illustration for Oscar Wilde’s “The Fisherman and His Soul” — James Hill

fisherman and his soul
James Hill’s illustration for “The Fisherman and His Soul” by Oscar Wilde. From The Short Stories of Oscar Wilde, Heritage Press, 1968. 

“The Fisherman and His Soul”

by

Oscar Wilde


Every evening the young Fisherman went out upon the sea, and threw his nets into the water.

When the wind blew from the land he caught nothing, or but little at best, for it was a bitter and black-winged wind, and rough waves rose up to meet it.  But when the wind blew to the shore, the fish came in from the deep, and swam into the meshes of his nets, and he took them to the market-place and sold them.

Every evening he went out upon the sea, and one evening the net was so heavy that hardly could he draw it into the boat.  And he laughed, and said to himself, ‘Surely I have caught all the fish that swim, or snared some dull monster that will be a marvel to men, or some thing of horror that the great Queen will desire,’ and putting forth all his strength, he tugged at the coarse ropes till, like lines of blue enamel round a vase of bronze, the long veins rose up on his arms.  He tugged at the thin ropes, and nearer and nearer came the circle of flat corks, and the net rose at last to the top of the water.

But no fish at all was in it, nor any monster or thing of horror, but only a little Mermaid lying fast asleep.

Her hair was as a wet fleece of gold, and each separate hair as a thread of fine gold in a cup of glass.  Her body was as white ivory, and her tail was of silver and pearl.  Silver and pearl was her tail, and the green weeds of the sea coiled round it; and like sea-shells were her ears, and her lips were like sea-coral.  The cold waves dashed over her cold breasts, and the salt glistened upon her eyelids.

So beautiful was she that when the young Fisherman saw her he was filled with wonder, and he put out his hand and drew the net close to him, and leaning over the side he clasped her in his arms.  And when he touched her, she gave a cry like a startled sea-gull, and woke, and looked at him in terror with her mauve-amethyst eyes, and struggled that she might escape.  But he held her tightly to him, and would not suffer her to depart.

And when she saw that she could in no way escape from him, she began to weep, and said, ‘I pray thee let me go, for I am the only daughter of a King, and my father is aged and alone.’

But the young Fisherman answered, ‘I will not let thee go save thou makest me a promise that whenever I call thee, thou wilt come and sing to me, for the fish delight to listen to the song of the Sea-folk, and so shall my nets be full.’

‘Wilt thou in very truth let me go, if I promise thee this?’ cried the Mermaid.

‘In very truth I will let thee go,’ said the young Fisherman.

So she made him the promise he desired, and sware it by the oath of the Sea-folk.  And he loosened his arms from about her, and she sank down into the water, trembling with a strange fear.

Read the rest of Wilde’s “The Fisherman and His Soul” at Project Gutenberg.

The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it | “On the Return of the Dead,” Hilaire Belloc

“On the Return of the Dead”

by

Hilaire Belloc

from On Nothing and Kindred Subjects (1908)


 

The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it.

In the old time they would come casually, as suited them, without fuss and thinly, as it were, which is their nature; but when such visits were doubted even by those who received them and when new and false names were given them the Dead did not find it worth while. It was always a trouble; they did it really more for our sakes than for theirs and they would be recognised or stay where they were.

I am not certain that they might not have changed with the times and come frankly and positively, as some urged them to do, had it not been for Rabelais’ failure towards the end of the Boer war. Rabelais (it will be remembered) appeared in London at the very beginning of the season in 1902. Everybody knows one part of the story or another, but if I put down the gist of it here I shall be of service, for very few people have got it quite right all through, and yet that story alone can explain why one cannot get the dead to come back at all now even in the old doubtful way they did in the ’80’s and early ’90’s of the last century.

There is a place in heaven where a group of writers have put up a colonnade on a little hill looking south over the plains. There are thrones there with the names of the owners on them. It is a sort of Club.

Rabelais was quarrelling with some fool who had missed fire with a medium and was saying that the modern world wanted positive unmistakable appearances: he said he ought to know, because he had begun the modern world. Lucian said it would fail just as much as any other way; Rabelais hotly said it wouldn’t. He said he would come to London and lecture at the London School of Economics and establish a good solid objective relationship between the two worlds. Lucian said it would end badly. Rabelais, who had been drinking, lost his temper and did at once what he had only been boasting he would do. He materialised at some expense, and he announced his lecture. Then the trouble began, and I am honestly of opinion that if we had treated the experiment more decently we should not have this recent reluctance on the part of the Dead to pay us reasonable attention.

In the first place, when it was announced that Rabelais had returned to life and was about to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, Mrs. Whirtle, who was a learned woman, with a well-deserved reputation in the field of objective psychology, called it a rumour and discredited it (in a public lecture) on these three grounds:

(a) That Rabelais being dead so long ago would not come back to life now.

(b) That even if he did come back to life it was quite out of his habit to give lectures.

(c) That even if he had come back to life and did mean to lecture, he would never lecture at the London School of Economics, which was engaged upon matters principally formulated since Rabelais’ day and with which, moreover, Rabelais’ “essentially synthetical” mind would find a difficulty in grappling. Continue reading “The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it | “On the Return of the Dead,” Hilaire Belloc”

“Memoirs of a Madman” — Nikolai Gogol

Poprishchin, Ilya Repin (1882)

 

“Memoirs of a Madman”

by

Nikolai Gogol

English translation by Claud Field

from The Mantle and Other Stories


 

October 3rd. — A strange occurrence has taken place today. I got up fairly late, and when Mawra brought me my clean boots, I asked her how late it was. When I heard it had long struck ten, I dressed as quickly as possible.

To tell the truth, I would rather not have gone to the office at all today, for I know beforehand that our department-chief will look as sour as vinegar. For some time past he has been in the habit of saying to me, “Look here, my friend; there is something wrong with your head. You often rush about as though you were possessed. Then you make such confused abstracts of the documents that the devil himself cannot make them out; you write the title without any capital letters, and add neither the date nor the docket-number.” The long-legged scoundrel! He is certainly envious of me, because I sit in the director’s work-room, and mend His Excellency’s pens. In a word, I should not have gone to the office if I had not hoped to meet the accountant, and perhaps squeeze a little advance out of this skinflint.

A terrible man, this accountant! As for his advancing one’s salary once in a way — you might sooner expect the skies to fall. You may beg and beseech him, and be on the very verge of ruin — this grey devil won’t budge an inch. At the same time, his own cook at home, as all the world knows, boxes his ears.

I really don’t see what good one gets by serving in our department. There are no plums there. In the fiscal and judicial offices it is quite different. There some ungainly fellow sits in a corner and writes and writes; he has such a shabby coat and such an ugly mug that one would like to spit on both of them. But you should see what a splendid country-house he has rented. He would not condescend to accept a gilt porcelain cup as a present. “You can give that to your family doctor,” he would say. Nothing less than a pair of chestnut horses, a fine carriage, or a beaver-fur coat worth three hundred roubles would be good enough for him. And yet he seems so mild and quiet, and asks so amiably, “Please lend me your penknife; I wish to mend my pen.” Nevertheless, he knows how to scarify a petitioner till he has hardly a whole stitch left on his body. Continue reading ““Memoirs of a Madman” — Nikolai Gogol”

Scissors-and-paste man | William Gaddis’s notes toward composing J R

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William Gaddis’s cut-and-paste notes toward composing his novel J R. Check out more of Gaddis’s notes for J R at the Modern Literature Collection at Washington University. (They also have a really cool new YouTube channel).

Gaddis’s cut-and-paste technique evinces in J R, particularly in the authorial stand-in Jack Gibbs, who muddles about with scraps of ideas in his pockets—scraps that perhaps eventually become (a version of) Gaddis’s last novel Agapē Agape.

I wrote about Agapē Agape here and a recent rereading of J R here.

Read a 1970 microfiction by Thomas Bernhard, new in English translation by Douglas Robertson

Thomas Bernhard’s (short) short story “The Woman from the Foundry and the Man with the Rucksack” (“Die Frau aus dem Gusswerk und der Mann mit dem Rucksack”) is new in translation from Douglas Robertson.The story was first published (in Bernhard’s German, of course) in 1970. Robertson’s ongoing project to bring untranslated Bernhard into English is marvelous. Here are the first four (of fourteen) sentences—read the whole thing here.

THE WOMAN FROM THE FOUNDRY AND THE MAN WITH THE RUCKSACK

The woman, who is employed at the foundry, found her eye caught by a fairly old man who, with a fully-packed rucksack was pacing up and down the riverbank, a man who was wearing buckskin lederhosen tied up at the ankles, a pair of high-topped lace-up boots, a coat made of milled cloth, and a sturdy felt hat on his head.  She thought there was something terrifying about the face of the man, who seemed, like her, to be impatiently awaiting the arrival of the train, this man who now and then would quite unwarrantably shove another person out of the way in order to keep his own path clear.  She had already observed the man on her way to the stop and begun forming thoughts about him.  The man was a complete stranger to her.

“The Auction,” a very short story by Stephen Crane

“The Auction”

by

Stephen Crane


 

Some said that Ferguson gave up sailoring because he was tired of the sea. Some said that it was because he loved a woman. In truth it was because he was tired of the sea and because he loved a woman.

He saw the woman once, and immediately she became for him the symbol of all things unconnected with the sea. He did not trouble to look again at the grey old goddess, the muttering slave of the moon. Her splendours, her treacheries, her smiles, her rages, her vanities, were no longer on his mind. He took heels after a little human being, and the woman made his thought spin at all times like a top; whereas the ocean had only made him think when he was on watch.

He developed a grin for the power of the sea, and, in derision, he wanted to sell the red and green parrot which had sailed four voyages with him. The woman, however, had a sentiment concerning the bird’s plumage, and she commanded Ferguson to keep it in order, as it happened, that she might forget to put food in its cage.

The parrot did not attend the wedding. It stayed at home and blasphemed at a stock of furniture, bought on the installment plan, and arrayed for the reception of the bride and groom.

As a sailor, Ferguson had suffered the acute hankering for port; and being now always in port, he tried to force life to become an endless picnic. He was not an example of diligent and peaceful citizenship. Ablution became difficult in the little apartment, because Ferguson kept the wash-basin filled with ice and bottles of beer: and so, finally, the dealer in second-hand furniture agreed to auction the household goods on commission. Owing to an exceedingly liberal definition of a term, the parrot and cage were included. “On the level?” cried the parrot, “On the level? On the level? On the level?”

On the way to the sale, Ferguson’s wife spoke hopefully. “You can’t tell, Jim,” she said. “Perhaps some of ’em will get to biddin’, and we might get almost as much as we paid for the things.”

The auction room was in a cellar. It was crowded with people and with house furniture; so that as the auctioneer’s assistant moved from one piece to another he caused a great shuffling. There was an astounding number of old women in curious bonnets. The rickety stairway was thronged with men who wished to smoke and be free from the old women. Two lamps made all the faces appear yellow as parchment. Incidentally they could impart a lustre of value to very poor furniture.

The auctioneer was a fat, shrewd-looking individual, who seemed also to be a great bully. The assistant was the most imperturbable of beings, moving with the dignity of an image on rollers. As the Fergusons forced their way down the stair-way, the assistant roared: “Number twenty-one!”

“Number twenty-one!” cried the auctioneer. “Number twenty-one! A fine new handsome bureau! Two dollars? Two dollars is bid! Two and a half! Two and a half! Three? Three is bid. Four! Four dollars! A fine new handsome bureau at four dollars! Four dollars! Four dollars! F-o-u-r d-o-l-l-a-r-s! Sold at four dollars.”

“On the level?” cried the parrot, muffled somewhere among furniture and carpets. “On the level? On the level?” Every one tittered.

Mrs. Ferguson had turned pale, and gripped her husband’s arm. “Jim! Did you hear? The bureau—four dollars—”

Ferguson glowered at her with the swift brutality of a man afraid of a scene. “Shut up, can’t you!”

Mrs. Ferguson took a seat upon the steps; and hidden there by the thick ranks of men, she began to softly sob. Through her tears appeared the yellowish mist of the lamplight, streaming about the monstrous shadows of the spectators. From time to time these latter whispered eagerly: “See, that went cheap!” In fact when anything was bought at a particularly low price, a murmur of admiration arose for the successful bidder.

The bedstead was sold for two dollars, the mattresses and springs for one dollar and sixty cents. This figure seemed to go through the woman’s heart. There was derision in the sound of it. She bowed her head in her hands. “Oh, God, a dollar-sixty! Oh, God, a dollar-sixty!”

The parrot was evidently under heaps of carpet, but the dauntless bird still raised the cry, “On the level?”

Some of the men near Mrs. Ferguson moved timidly away upon hearing her low sobs. They perfectly understood that a woman in tears is formidable.

The shrill voice went like a hammer, beat and beat, upon the woman’s heart. An odour of varnish, of the dust of old carpets, assailed her and seemed to possess a sinister meaning. The golden haze from the two lamps was an atmosphere of shame, sorrow, greed. But it was when the parrot called that a terror of the place and of the eyes of the people arose in her so strongly that she could not have lifted her head any more than if her neck had been of iron.

At last came the parrot’s turn. The assistant fumbled until he found the ring of the cage, and the bird was drawn into view. It adjusted its feathers calmly and cast a rolling wicked eye over the crowd.

“Oh, the good ship Sarah sailed the seas,And the wind it blew all day—”

This was the part of a ballad which Ferguson had tried to teach it. With a singular audacity and scorn, the parrot bawled these lines at the auctioneer as if it considered them to bear some particular insult.

The throng in the cellar burst into laughter. The auctioneer attempted to start the bidding, and the parrot interrupted with a repetition of the lines. It swaggered to and fro on its perch, and gazed at the faces of the crowd, with so much rowdy understanding and derision that even the auctioneer could not confront it. The auction was brought to a halt; a wild hilarity developed, and every one gave jeering advice.

Ferguson looked down at his wife and groaned. She had cowered against the wall, hiding her face. He touched her shoulder and she arose. They sneaked softly up the stairs with heads bowed.

Out in the street, Ferguson gripped his fists and said: “Oh, but wouldn’t I like to strangle it!”

His wife cried in a voice of wild grief: “It—it m—made us a laughing-stock in—in front of all that crowd!”

For the auctioning of their household goods, the sale of their home—this financial calamity lost its power in the presence of the social shame contained in a crowd’s laughter.

“Shrove Tuesday,” a tale by Anton Chekhov

“Shrove Tuesday”

by

Anton Chekhov

English translation by

Constance Garnett

from ‘The Cook’s Wedding’ and Other Stories


 

“PAVEL VASSILITCH!” cries Pelageya Ivanovna, waking her husband. “Pavel Vassilitch! You might go and help Styopa with his lessons, he is sitting crying over his book. He can’t understand something again!”

Pavel Vassilitch gets up, makes the sign of the cross over his mouth as he yawns, and says softly: “In a minute, my love!”

The cat who has been asleep beside him gets up too, straightens out its tail, arches its spine, and half-shuts its eyes. There is stillness. . . . Mice can be heard scurrying behind the wall-paper. Putting on his boots and his dressing-gown, Pavel Vassilitch, crumpled and frowning from sleepiness, comes out of his bedroom into the dining-room; on his entrance another cat, engaged in sniffing a marinade of fish in the window, jumps down to the floor, and hides behind the cupboard.

“Who asked you to sniff that!” he says angrily, covering the fish with a sheet of newspaper. “You are a pig to do that, not a cat. . . .”

From the dining-room there is a door leading into the nursery. There, at a table covered with stains and deep scratches, sits Styopa, a high-school boy in the second class, with a peevish expression of face and tear-stained eyes. With his knees raised almost to his chin, and his hands clasped round them, he is swaying to and fro like a Chinese idol and looking crossly at a sum book. Continue reading ““Shrove Tuesday,” a tale by Anton Chekhov”

Read “Loka,” a short story by Kate Chopin

“Loka”

by

Kate Chopin

from Bayou Folk (1894)


 

She was a half-breed Indian girl, with hardly a rag to her back. To the ladies of the Band of United Endeavor who questioned her, she said her name was Loka, and she did not know where she belonged, unless it was on Bayou Choctaw.

She had appeared one day at the side door of Frobissaint’s “oyster saloon” in Natchitoches, asking for food. Frobissaint, a practical philanthropist, engaged her on the spot as tumbler-washer.

She was not successful at that; she broke too many tumblers. But, as Frobissaint charged her with the broken glasses, he did not mind, until she began to break them over the heads of his customers. Then he seized her by the wrist and dragged her before the Band of United Endeavor, then in session around the corner. This was considerate on Frobissaint’s part, for he could have dragged her just as well to the police station.

Loka was not beautiful, as she stood in her red calico rags before the scrutinizing band. Her coarse, black, unkempt hair framed a broad, swarthy face without a redeeming feature, except eyes that were not bad; slow in their movements, but frank eyes enough. She was big—boned and clumsy.

She did not know how old she was. The minister’s wife reckoned she might be sixteen. The judge’s wife thought that it made no difference. The doctor’s wife suggested that the girl have a bath and change before she be handled, even in discussion. The motion was not seconded. Loka’s ultimate disposal was an urgent and difficult consideration.

Some one mentioned a reformatory. Every one else objected.

Madame Laballière, the planter’s wife, knew a respectable family of ‘Cadians living some miles below, who, she thought, would give the girl a home, with benefit to all concerned. The ‘Cadian woman was a deserving one, with a large family of small children, who had all her own work to do. The husband cropped in a modest way. Loka would not only be taught to work at the Padues’, but would receive a good moral training beside.

That settled it. Every one agreed with the planter’s wife that it was a chance in a thousand;-and Loka was sent to sit on the steps outside, while the band proceeded to the business next in order.

Loka was afraid of treading upon the little Padues when she first got amongst them,—there were so many of them,—and her feet were like leaden weights, encased in the strong brogans with which the band had equipped her.

Madame Padue, a small, black-eyed, aggressive woman, questioned her in a sharp, direct fashion peculiar to herself.

“How come you don’t talk French, you?” Loka shrugged her shoulders.

“I kin talk English good ‘s anybody; an’ lit’ bit Choctaw, too,” she offered, apologetically.

Ma foi, you kin fo’git yo’ Choctaw. Soona the betta for me. Now if you wil-lin’, an’ ent too lazy an’ sassy, we ‘ll git ‘long somehow. Vrai sauvage ça,” she muttered under her breath, as she turned to initiate Loka into some of her new duties.

She herself was a worker. A good deal more fussy one than her easy-going husband and children thought necessary or agreeable. Loka’s slow ways and heavy motions aggravated her. It was in vain Monsieur Padue expostulated:—

“She’s on’y a chile, rememba, Tontine.”

“She’s vrai sauvage, that’s w’at. It’s got to be work out of her,” was Tontine’s only reply to such remonstrance.

The girl was indeed so deliberate about her tasks that she had to be urged constantly to accomplish the amount of labor that Tontine required of her. Moreover, she carried to her work a stolid indifference that was exasperating. Whether at the wash-tub, scrubbing the floors, weeding the garden, or learning her lessons and catechism with the children on Sundays, it was the same.

It was only when intrusted with the care of little Bibine, the baby, that Loka crept somewhat out of her apathy. She grew very fond of him. No wonder; such a baby as he was! So good, so fat, and complaisant! He had such, a way of clasping Loka’s broad face between his pudgy fists and savagely biting her chin with his hard, toothless gums! Such a way of bouncing in her arms as if he were mounted upon springs! At his antics the girl would laugh a wholesome, ringing laugh that was good to hear. Continue reading “Read “Loka,” a short story by Kate Chopin”

I CHOSE ROTTEN GIN and other forthcoming titles from J R Corp (William Gaddis)

I CHOSE ROTTEN GIN The story of a disillusioned Communist, who had not the courage to go against the party.

. . . so ostentatiously aimed at writing a masterpiece that, in a less ambitious work, one would be happy to call promising, for such readers as he may be fortunate enough to have . . .

—Glandvil Hix

OI CHITTERING ONES A serious work which urges us to lay aside our fears and realize our true

. . . the outside world of American life is described so imperfectly and so superficially as to make us feel that the novelist himself has never known it . . .

—M Axswill Gummer

THE R I COONS IGNITE Violence in a small southern community, the racial question delicately and faithfully dealt with.

. . . nowhere in this whole disgusting book is there a trace of kindness or sincerity or simple decency . . .

—S T Erlingnorf

TEN ECHOES RIOTING A delicately evocative novel.

. . . a delicately evocative novel . . .

—B R Endengill

. . . a literary event, of sorts . . .

—Newsleak Magazine

THE ONION CREST G I A rousing war novel, adventure with a tough talking sergeant from Wisconsin (the onion state).

. . . does not persuade us that it is based on any but a narrow and jaundiced view, a projection of private discontent . . .

—Milton R Goth

. . . another long and rather dreary saga of modem man in search of a soul . . .

—Baltimore Sun

THOSE NIGER CONTI Lusty romance with the Godzzoli family in love and the Italian secret service in Egypt.

. . . a complete lack of discipline . . .

—Kricket Reviews

THE TIGER ON SONIC A killer in provincial New England trapped by the brilliant deductions of the author’s popular armchair detective, Mr Ethan Frome.

. . . a really yummy read . . .

—D O’Lobeer

From William Gaddis’s novel J R. (The titles, I’m sure I don’t have to point out to you, dear reader, are all anagrams of The Recognitions).