Friday, 19 June 2015

Tragedy or Comedy?

“Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or shed tears. But in real life it is different.” – Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime
Tragedy and Comedy masks
Tragedy and Comedy

This week’s set of books read by Henry Wilkinson whilst in the POW camp at Stralsund are a varied lot, from historical to racy yet tragic romance by way of Oscar Wilde. 

Under the Red Robe, Stanley J Weyman, published 1894, read 25 June 1918
A historical romance novel set during the 17th Century rise of Cardinal Richelieu.  It covers the events in which Richelieu’s enemies mistakenly thought they had convinced King Louis XIII to dismiss him from power (known as the Day of Dupes).  It was made into a silent film in 1923, and remade in 1937.  (Summarised from Wikipedia)

Half a Hero, Anthony Hope, published 1893, read 26 June 1918
It has proven difficult to find anything specifically about the plot of this book.  It is written by the same author as The Prisoner of Zenda.  An Amazon review mentions that it features the same sort of damaged hero as Hope’s other books. 

In 1918, Anthony Hope was knighted for his contribution to propaganda during the First World War.

De Profundis, Oscar Wilde, written 1897, read 26 June 1918
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde, published 1897, read 27 June 1918
Written across January and March 1897, De Profundis [out of the depths] is a 50000 word letter from Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas.  Douglas was Oscar Wilde's lover and the letter was written while Wilde was in prison for gross indecency because of their relationship.  The letter covers the time they were together and Wilde’s time in prison with reflection on his own life and work.  It goes on to talk about other’s work and has a great focus on Christ and religion.  Wilde was not allowed to send the letter whilst still a prisoner but was able to take it with him upon his release.  He went to France and there wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.  It tells of the execution that occurred during his incarceration, of a 30 year old trooper with the Royal Horse Guards who had been convicted of killing his wife.  (Summarised from Wikipedia and the originals found on Project Gutenberg)

Cover of the Penguin Little Black Classics edition of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (2015)
Cover of the Penguin Little Black Classics edition of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (2015)
Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde, published 1887 (literary magazine), 1891 (as a book with other short stories), read 28 June 1918
I have recently read this one myself.  I had already bought Penguin’s 80th anniversary Little Black Classics edition when I realised it was on Wilkinson’s list, so I bumped it to the top of my list.  It tells the story of Lord Arthur Savile, a high society man whose mind is cast into turmoil after an encounter with a chiromantist (palm reader) at a party.  Savile is told that he is destined to commit a murder.  After recovering from the initial shock, instead of endeavouring to lead a good and virtuous life as one might expect, Savile decides to take a more practical approach.  Soon to be married, Lord Savile resolves to get the murder out of the way so that he can live the rest of his life without wondering when it will happen.  The rest of the story recounts his attempt to do so.

Three Weeks, Elinor Glyn, published 1907, read 29 June 1918
A change of genre from the previous reads, Three Weeks was scandalous in its release.  It sees a young English nobleman, Paul Verdayne, sent to France, then Switzerland, after he is caught with the parson’s daughter.  He enters into a three week physical affair with someone referred to only as ‘The Lady’.  Verdayne returns to England upset after The Lady leaves.  He endeavours to uncover her identity and finds out that she has given birth to their son.  He also discovers that she is the Queen of a Russian dependency and her husband, the King, is abusive towards her.  Before he can see her again, she has been killed by her husband.  The book continues as Verdayne decides to try and meet his son.  (Summarised from Wikipiedia)

The book was made into a film in 1914, and again in 1924, the latter being directed by the same person as the 1923 film of Under the Red Robe.

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