Tuesday, December 30, 2008
27. Henry Fielding - Joseph Andrews (1742)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francisco: I must warn you that this is one of those stupid mistakes on the book list, this book comes on the list before Samuel Richardson's Pamela, seeing as this is not the first, but the second spoof of Pamela by Fielding, Pamela should really come first. Fortunately you don't need to have read Pamela to appreciate the book. I am reading Pamela now and it throws some light on Andrews, but nothing major. Shamela, Fielding's first spoof of Pamela does require previous knowledge of the book, in case you are interested or have the Penguin edition with Shamela and Joseph Andrews.
Well, as you can see in the frontispiece above this is a novel done in the imitation of Cervantes. As in most imitations it isn't nearly as good as the original. It starts off as a male version of Pamela, but it soon becomes an adventure story in the style of Don Quixote, where Andrews is the Quixote to Parson Adams' Sancho. It is an interesting book in the way that it attempt to transpose the ideas in Quixote to English reality.
I found that it took me a few dozen pages to get used to Fielding's writing, as soon as I did it became a quite enjoyable book. There are some particular speeches, about Good Works versus Faith for example which are very interesting and well worth the price of admition. The humour is never as sharp as that of Cervantes or even Swift however and the book loses points for that.
Vanda: Unlike my husband up there, I loathed this book. Dull, dullstown, dullsville, dullscontinent. Dear god, was it dull, uninteresting, unwitty, not funny at all, while trying desperately to amuse. I tried and tried to read it fast, to skim over some bits, and not even that was possible, with Fielding's confounded writing style that makes this absolutely impossible. It took me a while to finish it, because I simply was not interested at all in the characters, and the desperatly-trying-to-be-satirical-and-failing-miserably writing just got consistently on my nerves.
Seriously, you have better things to do with your time. It's a short book, but it takes too long to read to justify a tick in the list of books you've read. The plot is all rather pointless, and the writer's attempt at emulating Cervantes is nothing if not laughable. Why it was kept in the new list is absolutely beyond me. There have been books I haven't liked, but have usually understand their inclusion. With this one, I'm just plain baffled.
The impetus for the novel, as Fielding claims in the preface, is the establishment of a genre of writing ‘which I do not remember to have been hitherto attempted in our language’, defined as the ‘comic epic-poem in prose’: a work of prose fiction, epic in length and variety of incident and character, in the hypothetical spirit of Homer’s lost (and possibly apocryphal) comic poem. As becomes apparent from the first few chapters of the novel in which Richardson and Cibber are parodied mercilessly, the real germ of Joseph Andrews is Fielding’s objection to the moral and technical limitations of the popular literature of his day. But while Shamela started and finished as a sustained subversion of a rival work, in Joseph Andrews Fielding merely uses the depravation of popular literature as a springboard to conceive more fully his own philosophy of prose fiction.
26. Jonathan Swift - A Modest Proposal (1729)
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Francisco: A Modest Proposal is not a novel of any kind, if anything it is a satirical political essay. But don't let stop you, firstly it is only 8 pages long and secondly it is great. There are very few thinks written in the 1700's that manage to shock you today, but this is definitely one of them.
Swifts satire is rabid here and terribly shocking, he facetiously argues for eating Irish children as a way to make them profitable to the United Kingdom. His tongue-in-cheek must have been terribly hard to spot in the 18th century and you only get that it is a satire by how shocking the whole argument is. You eventually reach the inevitable conclusion that the man is defending the opposite that the writes and this is definitely the birth of modern satire.
Really a brilliant essay for all those that think that all was clean fun in olden days.
Vanda: Ok, damn it, first, WHY IS THIS INCLUDED? These list makers are starting to get on my nerves. How is this a novel? Seriously!
Second, it's brilliant and you should most definetely read it. I think this sort of satire would not go down well today, nevermind in the 18th century. I really must admire Mr. Swift's pair of jewels for writing this, even if his previous efforts left me cold and somewhat unimpressed.
Go on, it'll take you like five minutes and you'll have something interesting to share next time you're sitting in the café (or dreaming of it if you're sad and don't have a café culture).
The full original title is: A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick
The satirical intent of A Modest Proposal was misunderstood by many of Swift’s peers, and he was harshly criticized for writing prose in such exceptionally “bad taste.” He came close to losing his patronage because of this essay. Swift’s audience confused the essay’s subject—indifference to the suffering of the Irish poor—with the essay’s topic of cannibalism. This effect was accentuated because nothing in the unrelentingly sincere tone of the narrative voice hints that the proposal is unpalatable.
25. Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels (1726)
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Francisco: This is a brilliant book, it can be read in so many different levels, that make it all that much better. If you don't know much about 18th century Europe or are a bit dimwitted or a kid it's a great fantastical adventure story. IF you do care about the history it is a pretty funny and quite smart criticism of the state of affairs.
It is funny, not to say that I agree with most or even all of the points that Swift attempts to make in his satire. I also disagreed with the contents of Tale Of A Tub, and it's Swift's merit that he manages to be funny and elicit laughter wven when you strongly disagree with him, it's a mark of genius.
The race of horses, the Houyhnhnms, in the last book is a good example of some of the ideas I really dislike. The horses are supposedly the paragon of justice and perfectness, but there is at a time a meeting which seems out of a WWII movie, where the horses are deciding if they should exterminate the humans because they are dirty and useless, the horses are asexual, all their weddings are arranged and are an all around boring yet fanatical people who Swift seems to admire so.
Also the only people in Europe that Swift praises, other than the occasional Englishmen are the Portuguese... which is all right with me!
Vanda: I don't know, I don't think I was really in the mood to read this book. It seemed to me that Swift, as per usual, was trying to be very clever and not quite getting there. I think he writes quite well, but I don't think the book is all that could have been, as most of the satire and social commentary is just too visible, and heavy-handed.
I just didn't find it funny as Mr. Cisco did. It had touches of Rabelais once in a while, and you all know how much I loved that. Ahem.
Everybody will know this book from their childhood, and yes, you should probably read it again now if you're a bit older, since revisiting books with several layers is always interesting, but, honestly, I really wouldn't make it a priority.
Gulliver's Travels has been called a lot of things from Menippean satire to a children's story, from proto-Science Fiction to a forerunner of the modern novel. Possibly one of the reasons for the book's classic status is that it can be seen as many things to many people. Broadly, the book has three themes:
* a satirical view of the state of European government, and of petty differences between religions.
* an inquiry into whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted.
* a restatement of the older "ancients v. moderns" controversy previously addressed by Swift in the Battle of the Books.
In terms of storytelling and construction the parts follow a pattern:
* The causes of Gulliver's misadventures become more malignant as time goes on - he is first shipwrecked, then abandoned, then attacked by strangers, then attacked by his own crew.
* Gulliver's attitude hardens as the book progresses — he is genuinely surprised by the viciousness and politicking of the Lilliputians but finds the behavior of the Yahoos in the fourth part reflective of the behavior of people
* Each part is the reverse of the preceding part — Gulliver is big/small/sensible/ignorant, the countries are sophisticated/simple/scientific/natural, forms of Government are worse/better/worse/better than England's.
* Gulliver's view between parts contrasts with its other coinciding part — Gulliver sees the tiny Lilliputians as being vicious and unscrupulous, and then the king of Brobdingnag sees Europe in exactly the same light. Gulliver sees the Laputians as unreasonable, and Gulliver's houyhnhm master sees humanity (well, Yahoos) equally so.
* No form of government is ideal — the simplistic Brobdingnagians enjoy public executions and have streets infested with beggars, the honest and upright Houyhnhnms who have no word for lying are happy to suppress the true nature of Gulliver as a Yahoo and equally unconcerned about his reaction to being expelled
* Specific individuals may be good even where the race is bad — Gulliver finds a friend in each of his travels and, despite Gulliver's rejection of and horror toward all Yahoos, is treated very well by the Portuguese captain, Don Pedro, who returns him to England at the novel's end.
Of equal interest is the character of Gulliver himself — he progresses from a cheery optimist at the start of the first part to the pompous misanthrope of the book's conclusion and we may well have to filter our understanding of the work if we are to believe the final misanthrope wrote the whole work. In this sense Gulliver's Travels is a very modern and complex novel. There are subtle shifts throughout the book, such as when Gulliver begins to see all humans, not just those in Houyhnhnm-land, as Yahoos.
Despite the depth and subtlety of the book, it is often derided as a children's story because of the popularity of the Lilliput section (frequently bowdlerised) as a book for children. It is still possible to buy books entitled Gulliver's Travels which contain only parts of the Lilliput voyage.
24. Daniel Defoe - Moll Flanders (1722)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francisco: Defoe writes the most powerful woman character in the list up until now. Moll is an independent woman who owns her own life, even though that life is full of problems which arise mainly from her own decisions, the simple fact that she is able to make those decisions make this a book apart.
Most female characters in previous books, even the ones written by women like the Princesse de Cleves or Love In Excess are victims to exterior forces or to their own weakness. Cleves is the strongest character who is able to separate her passion from her rational needs. Defoe takes it one step further and Moll becomes a character who will do many things for her own profit, in fact she fights for herself and her position in life.
Of course this isn't something to be admired in Moll, it should be showing us the error of her ways, particularly in terms of criminal activity. Defoe is not against women's independence however, just against the means, and when Moll achieves religious redemption she gets her fortune and even though married, is independently wealthy, and ends the book rich, happy and penitent.
One fault of this book is the fact that it reads like a fly on the wall documentary, even though Moll is the narrator she doesn't seem to express her feelings or her thought as much as I would wish, the book follows her actions around more than anything. Defoe proves, as he would later with Roxana, that he can write strong women like no other person at the time. Kudos.
Vanda: Oh, this was great. Truly great. Moll is a fantastic character, the story is well told, and Defoe comes across once again as a truly sensitive, non-judgemental writer, that is incredible at putting himself in the shoes of his main character, be it a man in a desert island, or a woman trying to fend off for herself after being born in a prison.
I really enjoyed the fact that although Moll does commit a series of crimes, marries several times for money (always in an incredible intelligent way, although usually not with very good outcomes), and even accidentally marries and has children with her own brother, Defoe never judges her actions. They are always presented in a point-blank manner, and although there are some mentionings of she being sorry and penitent, she pretty much gets away with it all, remaining strong and dusting herself off everytime tragedy occurs. How shocking must this have been.
Now, while I don't condone the whole stealing/marrying for money malarky, Moll's strenght appealed to me more than any other character's written by women so far. Isn't this strange? I'd rather have her as a role model, with all her resourcefullness, independence, intelligence, and sheer strenght. Huzzah for whores, I say. And huzzah for Defoe.
Defoe himself was a noted Puritan. His views are unambiguous, in that he believes and writes for hard work, devotion, and the work of providence as grace. There is some debate, however, as to whether Defoe intended Moll as an entirely sympathetic character. The novel, devoting many pages to crime and sin and very few to repentance or even remorse, leads the reader to question Moll's desire for forgiveness. She is therefore an ambivalent character. Some have even speculated that Defoe intended the book partially as a titillating moneymaker. These arguments often allude to Defoe's preface, in which he mentions "lewd ideas" and "immodest terms" that could lead the audience to read the work for scandalous entertainment instead of moral value.
The novel combines Defoe's interests in conversion narratives with his experience and interest in crime. Moll Flanders was a popular novel, and Defoe's reputation was aided by it. He had earlier written about criminals for various journals, and Moll Flanders increased his cachet as a writer of criminal lives. Soon after the publication of Moll Flanders, he wrote two different lives, of Jack Sheppard, the Cockney housebreaker, in 1724, and a novella length life of Jonathan Wild in 1725. Also in 1724, Defoe returned to the subject of fallen women with an even more salacious Roxana. The life of Moll Cutpurse, who is mentioned in the book, undoubtedly inspired Defoe although she is quite a different character to Moll Flanders.
From the point of view of historians, Moll Flanders is valuable for its information on the life, punishment, and habits of the criminal world. In addition to being one of the few detailed descriptions of life in The Mint, it is also one of the best narratives of life in Newgate prison, the punishments of prostitution (as well as a common prostitute's tale), and the way that America was viewed in the early 18th century. The novel is itself a bit of pro-immigration propaganda, in that it portrays America as a place of peace, religious tolerance (so long as it is dissenting Protestant), and opportunity. In contrast to later depictions (e.g. Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village), Defoe's Puritan depiction is naive. Although Defoe is a biased witness, Moll Flanders has a high value for cultural history.
23. Eliza Haywood - Love In Excess (1719- 20)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francisco: Yawn... I think that book lists which include female writers for the simple fact that they are female are doing a disservice both to feminists and the whole of womanhood. There is a reason why there were not many female writers, and that was the social inequality and the place in which women were put in society. This seems to be glossed over by trying to put some books written by women in the 17th and 18th century... the problem is that they are scraping a tiny barrel, and the stuff that comes out is pretty terrible, for the simple reason that there is very little to choose from, as women writers were very rare. This is not a slight on women or their capacity but on the society that didn't allow them to write. You had to get only the pampered elite women writing and while it was sometimes sucessful as in the case of the Princesse de Cleves, more often it wasn't.
This is an example of that. Particularly after reading Dafoe, Haywood seems like a hack. The writing is clunky and hardgoing and while the first of the three parts is quite enjoyable and readable the same cannot be said of the other 2 thirds of the book, which came out in the coattails of the success of the first part, after a while you just don't care anymore. There is some depiction of female sexuality which is quite interesting, as is D'Elmont, the main character, but you soon lose interest.
The book went unread for a long time since when it was published until the 20th century, some claim that it was because Victorian Britain couldn't take the image of powerful women... I say that it's because it was shit, and feminist barrel scraping brought it back from it's well deserved oblivion.
Vanda: Dull, overwritten, with such pseudo-complex sentences that you loose interest in after about 5 words.
I'm having problems coming up with any good points about this book. I simply don't understand why this is included. Is it because it mentions female sexuality? Defoe does that in the two next books on the list and he does it better. Is it simply because she's a woman writer? If so, then it's a pretty bollocks reason (and I've talked about this already in the review of god-awful Oronooko.)
Haywood is also excessively fond of Deux Ex Machina endings. Is this character a nuisance to the plot? Kill her off. Is this other character impeding where she wants the story to go? Kill him off! This happens over and over. Seriously. It's like she doesn't have the commitment to stick with pre-designed plot lines, and so everything misteriously turns out fine because all the impediments die. How fantastically convenient, and how crappily written.
Honestly, I wouldn't bother. The books coming after this one are very much superior. Read those instead. I wish they'd stop including women writer's just because, you know, they're women. It's offensive.
Haywood’s first novel, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720) touches on themes of education and marriage. Termed an amatory bodice-ripper by some, this novel is also notable for its treatment of the fallen woman. D’Elmonte, the novel’s male protagonist, reassures one woman that she should not condemn herself: “There are times, madam,” he says “in which the wisest have not power over their own actions.” The fallen woman is given an unusually positive portrait.
22. Daniel Dafoe - Robinson Crusoe (1719)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francisco: This is the first true novel in the English language, and it does show. The leap is immense from something like Oronooko, which was the most novel-like book in the English language that I read before this.
Defoe has a great sense of pacing, and the story develops throughout the book, as a well contructed narrative. This is not to say, however, that the whole book is riveting. It isn't. And in the first 100 pages you start to despair with boredom, which is actually quite appropriate in terms of making you empathise with the main character - you go through the horrible affair of being stranded with nothing to do with him. And you start to get him. Only towards the end does stuff start happening, and some excitement comes along.
Defoe is a good writer, and although not an astonishing piece of work, Robinson Crusoe is quite entertaining, and much more so that whatever else had come before in the English language. For that only it really deserves a place here, as a work which achieves it's purpose: to entertain the reader. A thing did grate on my nerves however, Crusoe is a racist pig and a slaver... don't care much for that... he does however learn to appreciate Friday as a friend and not only a servant.
Something which I also found interesting while reading is the fact that the English language was not normalised, Defoe's spelling is all over the place, he writes the same words in different ways. We'd have to wait for Samuel Johnsson to fix it...
Vanda: I quite enjoyed this book! I'd read it before, as a child (as I think most people will have), in a translated version. I actually remember really trying to hunt it down for a while, although I'm at a loss to know why. There was a time when I was obsessed with desert islands, and had thouroghly enjoyed A Familia Robinson so maybe that was it. Anyway.
Dafoe writes in a deadpan style that almost reaches what Hemingway would do a couple of centuries later. He is not one for pointless embellishments, or reduntant metaphor, and yet he is terribly good at putting himself in the shoes of the characters he creates. Crusoe does have an affinity with wandering around pointlessly shooting at inedible animals, but he comes across as a very human, and, later, a very wise man. You feel his joys and his terrors, and his internal dialogs are the most interesting things I've read in a while, particularly his reasoning of wether he should kill all the cannibals, or not, and why.
If you haven't read this yet, you're missing out, and should really give it a go.
Why the fuck is Friday always portrayed as black? Crusoe is stranded near America! Friday is "olive skinned", as described in the book. It makes no sense, as Friday was not a slave but a native American. Probably too many years of stupid British people presuming all "natives" are black.
21. Aphra Behn - Oroonoko (1688)
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Francisco: Ok I disliked this book, in fact I profoundly disliked it. Not that there aren't any redeeming factors to it, it is the first English novel set in the Americas and the hero is actually a black slave. This would be a good thing if the book was in any way against slavery which it isn't. The book is basically a apology of class division, it is wrong for Oroonoko to be a slave because he is a king, not because he is a human being.
Aphra Behn was a commited royalist and defended an existence of an innefable quality of nobility which was shared by all those of noble blood and therefore Oroonoko. It is in fact an inherently racist book. Behn's description of Oroonoko shows a woman debating between her racism and her sexual attraction more than anything. She reaches the conclusion that Oroonoko is beautiful because all his features are those of a white man, his hair is straight and it is unfortunate but alluring that he is black.
And don't talk to me about plot, the events that lead to the tragic end of the story only start about 10 pages from the end! The rest of the book is spent with platitudes and fawning over Oroonoko and his lover. Really would be better off doing something else.
Vanda: I don't understand how this book is upheld so much as a paragon of anti-racism, or woman's writing, for that matter. It manages to fail spectacularly at both, and be dull and irritating at the same time.
Now, I don't say that Behn was particularly racist - she didn't really go out of her way to write racist prose; I just think that she didn't object at all to the status quo of her time, which, if we stop being post-modern about this, we can accept and move along to examine the book as a whole. She was as racist as most of her comtemporaries, I would say, though there certainly were people at the time who would deserve her status of aforementioned paragon I had mentioned before. Moving along.
I also feel a bit embarassed when this is sold and applauded as an example of female prose. I understand the overcompensating that comes with equal opportunities, but for God's sake, this is a terrible book. I just read Princesse de Cléves! That was a good example! Oh, is it because it's not British? Is that it?
Behn as a narrator is self-centered, dull and annoying. It's all about her, her experiences, and how charming she is. This book might be important, but if you read it, read it only because of that.
The colony of Surinam began importing slaves in the 1650s, since there were not enough indentured servants coming from England for the labor-intensive sugar cane production. In 1662, the Duke of York got a commission to supply 3,000 slaves to the Caribbean, and Lord Willoughby was also a slave trader. For the most part, English slavers dealt with slave-takers in Africa and rarely captured slaves themselves. The story of Oroonoko's abduction is plausible, for such raids did take place, but English slave traders avoided them where possible for fear of accidentally capturing a person who would anger the friendly groups on the coast. Most of the slaves came from the Gold Coast, and in particular from modern-day Ghana.
According to biographer Janet Todd, Behn did not oppose slavery per se. She accepted the idea that powerful groups would enslave the powerless, and she would have grown up with Oriental tales of "The Turk" taking European slaves. The most likely candidate for Aphra Behn's husband is Johan Behn, who sailed on The King David from the German imperial free city of Hamburg. This Johan Behn was a slaver whose residence in London later was probably a result of acting as a mercantile cover for Dutch trade with the English colonies under a false flag. Had Aphra Behn been opposed to slavery as an institution, it is not very likely that she would have married a slave trader. At the same time, it is fairly clear that she was not happy in marriage, and Oroonoko, written twenty years after the death of her husband, has, among its cast of characters, no one more evil than the slave ship captain who tricks and captures Oroonoko.
Todd is probably correct in saying that Aphra Behn did not set out to protest slavery, but however tepid her feelings about slavery, there is no doubt about her feelings on the subject of natural kingship. The final words of the novel are a slight expiation of the narrator's guilt, but it is for the individual man she mourns and for the individual that she writes a tribute, and she lodges no protest over slavery itself. A natural king could not be enslaved, and, as in the play Behn wrote while in Surinam, The Young King, no land could prosper without a king. Her fictional Surinam is a headless body. Without a true and natural leader, a king, the feeble and corrupt men of position abuse their power. What was missing was Lord Willoughby, or the narrator's father: a true lord. In the absence of such leadership, a true king, Oroonoko, is misjudged, mistreated, and killed.
One potential motive for the novel, or at least one political inspiration, was Behn's view that Surinam was a fruitful and potentially wealthy settlement that needed only a true noble to lead it. Like others sent to investigate the colony, she felt that Charles was not properly informed of the place's potential. When Charles gave up Surinam in 1667 with the Treaty of Breda, Behn was dismayed. This dismay is enacted in the novel in a graphic fashion: if the English, with their aristocracy, mismanaged the colony and the slaves by having an insufficiently noble ruler there, then the democratic and mercantile Dutch would be far worse. Accordingly, the passionate misrule of Byam is replaced by the efficient and immoral management of the Dutch. Charles had a strategy for a united North American presence, however, and his gaining of New Amsterdam for Surinam was part of that larger vision. Neither Charles II nor Aphra Behn could have known how correct Charles's bargain was, but Oroonoko can be seen as a royalist's demurral.
20. Madame de La Fayette - Princesse de Cleves (1678)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francisco: Here's a book I really enjoyed, it's short and sweet, focuses on the main plot for the most part and is a pretty good reconstructive historical novel. The story is set 100 years in the past with the title character as the focus of the story. This book actually marks quite an evolution from previous novels as it is mainly a psychological novel, meaning that the events aren't nearly as important as the thoughts and feelings of the main characters.
This simple innovation is actually quite meaningful, and it is something that the English could not achieve until later on, and it has always remained a French speciality to write novels about feelings and not events. Not that events and setting are meaningless here, in fact the historical reconstruction of Henry II's court in France is quite a perfect one and La Fayette drew from a great number of sources to be able to achieve it.
I would definitely reccomend it, particularly to the English speaking audience who hasn't come across it. If you are stuck with Aphra Bhen's Oroonoko as an example of 17th century female writing, you are in the fucking stone-age when compared to this in terms of character development and emotional complexity.
Vanda: That was beautiful! Really, truly beautiful. I'm actually surprised to no end; after the books that came before, I was not expecting such emotional and intellectual complexity (sure, D. Quixote was fantastic, but a completly different kettle of fish).
Most of the fascinating passages here happen when characters reflect on their emotions, and believe me, it's more interesting than it sounds. The plot is very, very simple, but not simplistic. It's also beautifully written, with depth, excellent pacing, and thoughtfulness.
I have to admit to the urge of screaming at the Princess a bit towards the end, but the fact that Madame de La Fayette did not go for the obvious ending makes this a superior book. It's truly wonderful. Read it.
The novel was an enormous commercial success at the time of its publication, and would-be readers outside of Paris had to wait months to receive copies. The novel also sparked several public debates, including one about its authorship, and another about the sensibility of the Princess' decision to confess her adulterous feelings to her husband.
One of the earliest psychological novels which is also the first roman d'analyse (novel of analysis), La Princesse de Clèves marked a major turning point in the history of the novel, which to that point had largely been used to tell romances, implausible stories of heroes overcoming odds to find a happy marriage, with myriad subplots and running ten to twelve volumes. La Princesse de Clèves turned that on its head with a highly realistic plot, introspective language that explored the characters' inner thoughts and emotions, and no major subplots.
Monday, December 29, 2008
19. Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen - Simplicius Simplicissimus (Die Abentheuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch) (1668)
I am so behind on this blog it's not even funny, I read this a long time ago already, but I promise to try to update this more often in order to catch up to where I am right now. At the moment I am finishing A Sentimental Journey by Sterne, and that is over a century after this.
Simplicissimus is a delightful book however, and I can highly recommend it. The story is comparable to that of other picaresque novels of the time, particularly with Lazarillo de Tormes. It follows the life of an apparently simple-minded German boy who quickly reveals himself to be much smarter than anyone gives him credit for.
Parts of the novel are sheer delights, Simplicissimus' description of the house where he is born at the beginning of the book is one of these moments, but then the whole story develops in a great way, charting historical and political developments of the time. It often reminded me of Umberto Eco's Baudolino and that is high praise indeed.
Inspired by the events and horrors of the Thirty Years' War which had devastated Germany from 1618 to 1648, it is regarded as the first adventure novel in the German language. It contains autobiographic elements, inspired by Grimmelshausen's experience in the war. The historian Robert Ergang, however, draws upon Gustav Könnecke's Quellen und Forschungen zur Lebensgeschichte Grimmelshausens to convey the assertion that "the events related in the novel Simplicissimus could hardly have been autobiographical since [Grimmelshausen] lived a peaceful existence in quiet towns and villages on the fringe of the Black Forest and that the material he incorporated in his work was not taken from actual experience, but was either borrowed from the past, collected from hearsay, or created by a vivid imagination.
Trailer for the Operatic version of the book: