The brilliant Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) compiled Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday
, a historical overview of great fantastic literature of the 19th century. Many of his 26 selections are from well-known authors (Sir Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells), but Calvino largely avoided their best-known stories; the only inclusions likely to be familiar to many Americans are Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," and H.G. Wells's "The Country of the Blind." The remaining contributors range from moderately well-known to obscure. So the reader who purchases Fantastic Tales
gains not only an intelligently annotated anthology of superb fiction, but, in one pleasant sense, a collection of mostly new stories.
Interestingly, some of the finest stories are by authors least known in America. Théophile Gautier's beautifully written, wrenchingly ironic "The Beautiful Vampire" establishes the traditions for romantic vampire fiction. Mérimée's "The Venus of Ille," a tale of culture clashes (Parisian and rural, ancient classical, and contemporary Christian), is sharp, well-written, and uncommonly horrific. With the gorgeous "A Lasting Love," the sole woman contributor, Vernon Lee, paints the most vivid portrait of obsessive, transcendent, destructive love.
Caveat: Calvino's introductions sometimes reveal more of the plot than readers will like. --Cynthia Ward
From Library Journal
The famed Italian novelist and folk literature scholar Calvino (1923-85) assembled a rich and wide-ranging anthology of 26 fantastic tales from the 19th century, first published in Italian in 1983. The collection includes imaginative selections from the pen of famed writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nikolai Gogol, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Ivan Turgenev. The illuminating introduction traces the fantastic story from the beginning of 19th-century German Romanticism, with special attention to E.T.A. Hoffman (1766-1822), proclaimed the greatest author of the genre. Each of the stories, carefully selected, leaps immediately into intrigue and engages the reader with macabre descriptions and challenging juxtapositions. Concise, informative headnotes precede each story, identifying the author and the story's significance. These fascinating tales, along with Calvino's thoughtful comments, will be enjoyed by mature readers from the high school level and beyond.?Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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