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Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 3, 1986
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About the Author
Born in 1838 into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, Henry Adams had the opportunity to pursue a wide-ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life. Functioning both in the world of practical men and afffairs (as a journalist and an assistant to his father, who was an American diplomat in Washinton and London), and in the world of ideas (as a prolific writer, the editor of the prestigious North American Review, and a professor of medieval, european, and American history at Harvard), Adams was one of the few men of his era who attempted to understand art, thought, culture, and history as one complex force field of interacting energies. His two masterworks in this dazzling effort are Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams, published one after the other in 1904 and 1907. Taken together they may be read as Adams' spiritual autobiography—two monumental volumes in which he attempts to bring together into a vast synthesis all of his knowledge of politics, economics, psychology, science, philosophy, art, and literature in order to attempt to understand the individual's place in history and society. They constitute one of the greatest historical and philosophical meditations on the human condition in all of literature.
Raymond Carney is well known for his writing on the relationships between American art, thought, and culture. He has been a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as an artistic consultant to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and written extensively on American and British poetry, ficiton, drama, dance, painting, and film. His two most recent books are American Dreaming (University of California Press) and Figures of Desire (Cambridge University Press). He teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Top customer reviews
Reminiscent of Melville’s long chapters on the anatomy of the whale, there are long detailed descriptions of the elements of the cathedral. Wading through that pays off. The stories told literally and figuratively in the massive stained glass paintings, in themselves and in their relation to other architectural features, represent the heart and soul of people’s faith, fears, allegiances, loves, hates, and pivotal events of the time.
So many fascinating stories and events converge in the 1100s and 1200s: the Golden Legend; the founding of Orders; the Chanson de Roland as metaphor for Mont-Saint-Michel, or vice versa; the intellectual romance of Abélard and Héloïse, Christian of Troyes retelling the age-old story of Tristan and Iseult (originating from a pre-Islamic Persian story); the famous invention and flowering of “Courteous Love” and how it is epitomized in the chantefable Aucassins et Nicolette; the real-life romances of Thibaut and Blanche of Castille; the backdrop of the Crusades; the touching familial closeness of Richard Cœur de Lion and Mary of Champagne; the Magna Charta and the Zodiac Window; the scholastic vs. mystic battles of theology between Abélard and Bernard of Clairvaux; inquiries into universals of geometry and syllogisms, and unity versus multiplicity; the controversy of the two Popes and its effects on people’s careers.
The book closes out the 1200s with Thomas Aquinas’ rise from “dumb ox” to Summa Theologica—building his Church Intellectual to complement the Church Architectural—a “gothic Cathedral to the Trinity” (329). As Adams puts it, “His sense of scale and proportion was that of the great architects of his age” (354, 355). For culture, science, and art, the equilibrium of the universe rested on the delicate balance of the flying buttresses.
To most people, the above references have little meaning, if any. But if you read this book, they will have a lot of meaning and enrich your experience. The broad brushstrokes across history, occasionally filled in with colorful detail, renewed my interest in the period. So after finishing the book, I searched on key people and events and found additional fascinating bits of historical intrigue. The book covers so much of the culture, arts, science, philosophy, politics, and social aspects of the period, it’s a great reference point for further investigation.
Author of Call of the Active Mind
Adams's marriage to Clover Hooper and her suicide which are not mentioned at all in the book. "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres" is personalized history. If you want a more objective history look elsewhere. Some people are put off by its subjectivity. But in my view that subjectivity is exactly what makes the book so great. It's about the tremulous, perilous striving of an age, of religion, of faith, and finally of one's personal life. It's about the stress between unity and multiplicity. The book is profound in its exploration of these themes. It's learned, it's funny, it's ironic, and, in the end, profoundly moving. Reading these two books will provide any reader wiling to put in the effort with some of the wisest and most trenchant observations in all literature all put forth in some of the most elegant prose ever written.