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Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday Paperback – October 27, 1998
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
During a night of carnival, bedecked in his domino cloak, velvet mask, satin beard, silk stockings and dancing shoes, our 1st person narrator watches two long white candles burn in his bachelor apartment as he awaits the arrival of his friend, De Jacquels. No sooner does De Jacquels arrive, similarly dressed, then both men are off, traveling through the dark streets of Paris in a horse-drawn carriage. The two friends arrive at a strange high ceilinged hall with a well-stocked wine and liquor bar and De Jacquels tells him to remain silent, since to speak would reveal their identities, which would mean trouble.
The hall is filled with men and women dressed in bizarre costumes and wearing masks, some of the masks truly ghastly. De Jacquels drags him back to a door closed off by a red curtain. `Entrance to the Dance' is written above the door and a policeman stands guard, a policeman, the narrator realizes with horror and disgust when he touches one of his hand, made of wax. Once inside, the narrator finds more strangeness: this room is really an abandoned church and none of the maskers are dancing nor is there an orchestra.
After hours of roaming the hall, the narrator sees even more strangeness as he scrutinizes the maskers. We read, "There they remained, mute, motionless, as if withdrawn into mystery under long monk's cowls . . . Now there were no more dominoes, no silk blouses, no Columbines, no Pierrots, no grotesque disguises. But all those masked people were alike, swathed in the same green suit, a discolored green rather like gold sulfite, with capacious black sleeves, and all in dark green hoods with two holes for their eyes in their silver cowls in the hollow of the cape."
Feeling himself enveloped by the supernatural, at the point where he can no longer endure their silence, the narrator flings back the cloth covering the face of one of the maskers - and horror of horrors - there is nothing under the cloth! He uncovers another masker's head - again nothing. Then he sees all hoods removed --- all are shadow and nothingness! He stands in front of a mirror and, seized with terror, removes his own mask. He lets out a loud shriek -- nothing is underneath -- he is dead. At this point in the story the narrator hears the voice of De Jacquel grumbling at him for drinking ether again. Indeed he has. For he is lying on the floor of his apartment underneath his two white candles.
I don't know about you, but for me this is one gripping, fascinating, unforgettable story. Again, here is my take on how this tale relates to several decadent themes:
The masked ball of this tale shares the same psychic and literary space as the sculptor's studio, opera house, artist's salon, theater, opium den and other interior and urban spaces used as setting for decadent tales. These fin-de-siècle decadent French authors had none of all that greenery and freshness of the great outdoors we find in such writers as Wordsworth or Thoreau.
Decay, the Bizarre and the Grotesque
Rotting corpses, aging flesh, serving meals with food exclusively the color black, encrusting the shell of a live tortoise with rare stones, focusing on degradation and torture - all contained within the pages of the decadents. Thus, in the same wicked spirit, we have Lorrain's tale featuring velvet masks, satin beards, a wax manikin and ghastly, grotesque maskers beyond a red curtain.
Death and the experience of terror
The rationalist philosopher Rene Descartes famously stated, "I think, therefore I am." By way of this and many other tales and novels, Jean Lorrain counters with, "I'm terrified, therefore I am.", which is very much in keeping with the Lorrain epigram at the beginning of this story, "The charm of horror only tempts the strong." Indeed, terror is an ongoing theme for not only Jean Lorrain but other decadent writers, such as Octave Mirbeau, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Gabriel de Lautrec.
Altered states of consciousness
Similar to the tale's narrator, Jean Lorrain was openly a drinker of ether, which was very much in keeping with the decadent's experimenting with hashish and opium. If you want to experience `unnatural states' and distance yourself as far as possible from social positivism, scientific rationalism , historic `progress' and respectable bourgeois society (what today we call the middle-class), what better way to do so than powerful drugs and stimulants? Or, if that doesn't work, then defy society's conventional morals by being openly gay, as was Jean Lorrain.
Perhaps of even greater importance, for those of us who are Calvino fans, we can see what stories the Italian fabulist cherished most, what he read and what influenced him. He places each book in a historical and literary context, and the opening essay is truly key to understanding Calvino's theories of the fantastic, which in themselves make this book worth buying!