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Books and Characters French & English (English Edition) Format Kindle
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As far as I can tell, there is only an ampersand's difference between this (fre)e-book, and the one I reviewed two years ago:
Books and Characters French and English, but I didn't mind downloading it again, re-reading it, and re-reviewing it. Simply put, this is a great book. One of the best collections of literary essays ever.
Strachey is particularly good at making the case for French authors unappreciated by the British. Why is Racine a classic?
"... Every art is based upon a selection, and the art of Racine selected the things of the spirit for the material of its work. The things of sense—physical objects and details, and all the necessary but insignificant facts that go to make up the machinery of existence—these must be kept out of the picture at all hazards. To have called a spade a spade would have ruined the whole effect; spades must never be mentioned, or, at the worst, they must be dimly referred to as agricultural implements, so that the entire attention may be fixed upon the central and dominating features of the composition—the spiritual states of the characters—which, laid bare with uncompromising force and supreme precision, may thus indelibly imprint themselves upon the mind."
Later, he makes the case for Stendhal:
A statement of law can have no place for irrelevant beauties, or the vagueness of personal feeling; by its very nature, it must resemble a sheet of plate glass through which every object may be seen with absolute distinctness, in its true shape. Beyle declared that he was in the habit of reading several paragraphs of the Code every morning after breakfast 'pour prendre le ton.' This again was for long supposed to be one of his little jokes; but quite lately the searchers among the MSS. at Grenoble have discovered page after page copied out from the Code in Beyle's handwriting. No doubt, for that wayward lover of paradoxes, the real joke lay in everybody taking for a joke what he took quite seriously.
(Strachey has passages in French throughout the book which he seldom translates. It was just enough French for me- like a quiz)
The sequence of essays on Voltaire amount to a mini-biography, including a devastating look at one of Voltaire's tragedies:
... For us, as we take down the dustiest volume in our bookshelf, as we open it vaguely at some intolerable tirade, as we make an effort to labour through the procession of pompous commonplaces which meets our eyes, as we abandon the task in despair, and hastily return the book to its forgotten corner—to us it is well-nigh impossible to imagine the scene of charming brilliance which, five generations since, the same words must have conjured up. The splendid gaiety, the refined excitement, the pathos, the wit, the passion—all these things have vanished as completely from our perceptions as the candles, the powder, the looking-glasses, and the brocades, among which they moved and had their being.
For me, Virginia Woolf's celebrated essays are pale imitations of these.
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