Friday, January 3, 2014

Denmark, Sweden, Norway - more Scandinavian books - I can't read all this

More Scandinavian literature, this time from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.  I won’t read it all, I am no kind of expert, I am stuck with English, etc.  But it is easy to get me excited about literature, so suggestions are most welcome.  And if anything looks appealing, perhaps we can read it together.


At the forefront are Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard.  The former I read in some quantity just before I started Wuthering Expectations, which was a while ago, I admit, but close enough that I doubt I will revisit him now.  The latter is, I fear, a philosopher, and thus spinach.  In real life, I like spinach, so that is just a metaphor.

More to the point are two short books by Jens Peter Jacobsen, the 1880 novel Niels Lyhne and the 1882 collection Mogens and Other Stories.  Jacobsen has had a strange career in English, kept alive by the glowing testimony of Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, where Rilke seems to rank Jacobsen with the Bible.  I should see for myself.

Another novel, Pelle the Conqueror (1910) by Martin Andersen Nexø, I have meant to read for twenty-five years since I saw the magnificent 1987 Bille August film adaptation.  The novel will unfortunately not feature Max von Sydow, but it likely has other virtues.  It is long – the film only covered a fraction of the book – and grim.  I have no idea how it is written.

Isak Dinesen’s work is from the 1930s and later, but so many of her stories are set in Denmark’s past that she would fit well with the older writers.   I am thinking of Seven Gothic Tales (1934) and Winter’s Tales (1942) in particular.

By chance, unconnected to this project, I began reading the contemporary conceptual poet Inger Christensen, and I would like to continue my study of her work.  And I mean study – anyone want to help me work on her cosmic long 1969 poem it?  It (it) features elaborate mathematical patterns – tempting, yes?


Even poking around, I still know nothing about Swedish literature.  August Strindberg obviously tops the list, and I hope to read a number of his plays, ranging from the 1888 Miss Julie to the strange 1907 Ghost Sonata.  But there are also novels, stories, essays, some freshly translated.  Please, I beg you, recommendations, guidance.

The Queen’s Diadem (1834) by Carl Jonas Love Almqvist is a novel I encountered a year ago in this post by seraillon.  It is either deeply original, or a knockoff of E. T. A. Hoffmann, or something in between.  The Hoffmann connection by itself would give me something to write about.

Hjalmar Söderberg is another novelist I met through book blogs.  I have read a number of convincing posts about his short, intense 1905 novel Doctor Glas.  If I like it, there are a couple of other Söderberg books in English.


Henrik Ibsen, of course.  I have read six Ibsen plays, I realize, yet I still feel at sea.  I want to read or re-read a good chunk of them, although I will likely follow conventional opinion and ignore his early phase.  Critics are always dividing Ibsen’s work into phases.  Expect lots of Ibsen.

Knut Hamsun had a long, complicated career, but I know him from his early novels Hunger (1890) and Pan (1894).  Talk about intense.  I would like to revisit those and also read another from the same run, Mysteries (1892).  Then – then I don’t know.  Hunger would likely make my Top 50 Novels of the 19th Century list, if I were to make such a thing.

Off the track – far, far off – is Farthest North (1897) by Fridtjof Nansen, a favorite of min kone, the account of his insane attempt to reach the North Pole by freezing his ship in the winter ice.  Eventually, he just decided to walk.  Utterly nuts.  Sounds wonderful.

Now, some trouble.  Henrik Pontoppidan, Karl Gjellerup, Selma Lagerlöf, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Verner von Heidenstam, Frans Eemil Sillanpää – the early Scandinavian Nobelists, the ones who, unlike Hamsun or Sigrid Undset lost their place in English, or never had one.  I gaze upon these names in ignorant awe.

I have often thought that it would be a great book blog project to sort through these and other old prize winners.  I do not believe it is my project.  Yet already comments in the previous post have me warily eying a long, recently translated Pontoppidan novel, the 1904 Lucky Per, which sounds either like a standard attempt to move Naturalism into Danish, or else something much stranger.  Hmm hmm hmm.

Please feel free to correct my errors and recommend more books. 


  1. It's a pity, to me, that the childen in my class come without knowledge of Hans Christian Anderson these days. I always read his stories to them at some point in the year, but more and more I find the literature that I grew up with nonexistent in their minds today.

  2. You should definitely read J. P. Jacobsen and Almqvist! I did read Pelle the Conqueror years ago, but now it's mixed up in my head with My Life as a Dog by Jönsson, so I am no help there. There are several other modern classics I want to read, like the one that features Janteloven--I've forgotten the title at the moment...

    1. A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. That's it.

      Also I have loved everything by Selma Lagerlöf that I've read.

  3. As for Ibsen, a playwright I always included in my various literature and drama classes, I do not warm up to the first half of his career (mostly poetic drama) but could spend all of my play-reading time on the second half (the realistic drama). Well, I would also have to include Shakespeare. In fact, if I were to tell drama students how to budget their limited play-reading time, I would tell them to concentrate on Shakespeare and Ibsen. In a bit of hyperbole, for which I hope you will excuse me, I would go on to say that all other playwrights since the beginning of the 17th century are merely imitators of William and Henrik.

    1. I think the Roman and Greek playwrights are missing there, if you want to read only seminal writers. (And Molière deserves attention)


  4. Aw, c'mon, R.T., give Molière some credit! Otherwise, your hyperbole is not so far off.

    We will see about that realism. Peer Gynt is superb. I am going to reread Peer Gynt, that is for sure. I can see this whole exercise turning into a troll hunt.

    Jean's comment reminds me that I should give her some credit for this little burst of enthusiasm of mine. "[L]oved everything by" - those are strong words. Encouraging words.

    Bellezza, that is sad! I mean, actually sad. They should know about that little toy soldier, at least, and the mermaid, and the match girl. But when I think about it, even the Disney mermaid is almost 25 years old. An antique.

    1. Children *should* know HCA, even if, in my 13yo's words, the stories are always tragic tales of inanimate objects and their loneliness (not always, but very often if you read them all).

      Don't take me too seriously on Lagerlöf--I'm no authority! And it's a long time, but she is a memorable writer.

  5. Your stress on Ibsen and Hamsun makes good sense; I really like a few of the less performed Ibsen plays, though, such as little Eyolf, or even Rosmersholm. You don't mention any of the three best known novelists of the 19th century, though, Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, and Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson. The first should be included if at all possible. His "Garman" family business sagas are said to presage Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, and are good reads to boot. If your Kielland enthusiasm is limited to thinner books, Little Marius has a lot to offer. The other two novelists I mentioned don't interest me as much. In fact, I dislike Bjoernson, whose works were too often a saccharine Norwegian version of Little House on the Prairie. Jonas Lie is more interesting, but often wrote tales of fishermen and their hardships, a genre less relevant today than in 1880. Pushing the boundary a bit, Sigrid Undset's early book Jenny from 1907 is still worth reading.

  6. All of my Swedish friends say, "Strindberg wrote the most beautiful Swedish every written." Swedish has a svelte vocabulary, cadences, lots of lilting, pausing, and ultimate emphasis in pronunciation. This is music to the ears of Swedes.

  7. Hunger and Doctor Glas are two of my favorites. I also highly recommend the Norwegian Tarjei Vesaas, and his novels The Birds and The Ice Palace, which brilliantly depict the northland's summer and winter extremes.

  8. I hope you read Pelle the Conqueror, given that you've also seen the brilliant movie; for me it's Max Von Sydow at his best; I'd like to know each compares with the other.

  9. I'm curious about Jens Peter Jacobsen. I'm intrigued that Rilke rated him so highly.

    Can you believe it, there's a Fridtjof Nansen Street in my hometown!

    I know nothing about Danish literature, except Karen Blixen and Andersen. Sorry.

    For Sweden, I have read The Red Room by Strindberg. The style has flaws (perhaps writing novels wasn't his thing) but it's a very interesting take on the Swedish society at the time. There's a post on my blog but also at Pechorin's Journal.

    You may want to read Ylajali by Jon Fosse: it's the theatre version of Hunger. I've seen the play, I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the book.

    For Norway, I've tried two long short-stories by Sigrid Undset. They were good. (early 20thC though)

    I know it's not from your beloved 19thC, but Dinas Bok by Herbjørg Wassmo is worth a try. At least, it is set is the 19thC

    I'll follow your adventures with interest.


  10. To tom and emma . . . My hyperbolic comment about Shakespeare and Ibsen as the only playwrights we need to read was, of course, said with tongue in cheek -- well, sort of tongue in cheek. As for Moliere and the Greeks (and Romans), they must also be included in any non-hyperbolic list. If you want to think more about which playwrights matter most, just for the provocative nature of the lists, you might take a look at which playwrights Harold Bloom includes in his lists of authors and titles in his book, The Western Canon. All lists are dangerous territory, but his is certainly a conversation starter. Now, back to Scandinavia . . . Strindberg deserves notice, and one of the more entertaining approaches to Strindberg is also to consider the Ibsen-Strindberg feud. However, were I setting production schedules at either an academic or regional theater, I would be hard pressed to ever choose Strindberg over Ibsen. Perhaps, though, my personal biases are involved. Now, as I continue to ramble, Tom, if you want to give your reading of Ibsen a bit of a focus, never lose sight of Ibsen's fascination with trolls (male and female varieties) -- they appear everywhere (either openly or hidden within characters) in Ibsen's plays. In fact, the titular character Hedda Gabler and the young girl in The Master Builder might be two of the most terrifying troll-figures in Ibsen. Well, I've rambled long enough. Enjoy your excursion in Scandinavian literature. Were I more energetic, I would read along with you, but demands upon my time keep me otherwise occupied. Nevertheless, I will follow you closely. And you never know when I might chime in with more superfluous chatter.

  11. I'm looking to read a whole bunch of Ibsen and Strindberg as well this year. You could read too Amalie Skram: proponent of women's rights, was locked up in an asylum (which she also wrote about).

  12. Since you mentioned him yesterday, I’ll admit that as a Norwegian, I really should know Garborg, but I haven't even read his poem Haugtussa. I do believe there are trolls there as well.

    Going back a bit, you might want to look into Ludvig Holberg. The plays _Jeppe of the Hill, or The Transformed Peasant_ and _Erasmus Montanus_ are still highly alluded to in our general culture. The latter is about a farming fellow who goes off to get some book-larnin' and comes back as something of a philosophical nitwit, making himself popular by speaking Latin and waxing philosophical. "A rock cannot fly. Mother cannot fly. Ergo, mother is a rock!"
    He also did a novel about a fellow (Niels Klim) who falls into a mountain in Bergen and finds himself in some satireland full of tree-people who are all topsy-turvy like! Up is down! Fast is slow! Gosh!

    Jeffry mentioned Jonas Lie —one of “the four greats” of Norwegian literature — who I’ve barely read. His two “Trolls” short story collections of supernatural stories are quite entertaining. I know at least one is available in English, in some collection edited by Roald Dahl.

    I'm surprised to find that the poem _Nordland's Trompet_ by Petter Dass does not seem to exist in English. Well, OK, it's a long 18th century poem about the people and nature of Nordland; it might not be the most alluring thing in the world to a foreigner.

    A curiosity might be Steffen Kverneland’s recent graphic novel about Munch. It seems at least part of it is available in English, through the anthology _Angst, volume 3_. Since I cannot find information about the anthology on the publisher’s website, this might not be the easiest thing in the world to get hold of. If nothing else, it’s worth doing a google image search and glancing at a few of the images. It was, incidentally, originally serialized in a series of books by Kverneland and Lars Fiske, called “Canon”. It had the Munch story, a bunch of shorter biographical stories, and Fiske’s long comic about Kurt Schwitters (that too is worth googling. Fiske is probably Norway’s most recognizable comic book artists.)
    On the graphic tip, you should of course not forget Theodor Kittelsen. All those great trolls! Not to mention the war of frogs and mice! And the do animals have souls ones! And those cheery ones of the black plague as a crone wandering the country.

    Of contemporary literature, you might be interested in Jon Fosse’s novel _Melancholy_, about the painter Lars Hertervig who died in 1902. We don't like to export our cheery authors, I guess. We have a glum reputation to keep up, so no one gets envious of all our black gold.

    One Danish book I’m curious about myself, but cannot tell you much about is Herman Bang’s _Tine_ (or _Tina_ in English)
    Going past your limit, Tom Kristensen’s 1930s novel _Havoc_ is excellent.

  13. Sorry, that was a lot longer than strictly necessary.

  14. Not that much longer than necessary, Øystein. I obviously cannot get to all of this, but perhaps someone else will be inspired. The Kittelsen stuff is wonderful - I'd never heard of him.

    I will have to sort through some of these ideas - see what is easily available and looks most interesting. Kielland, Skram, Lie, and on. Vesaas and Fosse if I keep wandering forward. Now Holberg, I am mad I forgot him. I actually own an anthology of plays with Jeppe on the Hill.

    So many good ideas and interesting writers for anyone willing to pursue the subject.

    I knew I had read at least a couple of reviews of Strindberg's Red Room, but I had forgotten where - thanks, Emma.

    That video Fixed Carbon links is - well, it is odd - but the expressiveness of the Swedish actors is undeniable. I remember this as a great pleasure of some of Bergman's films, too.

    Miguel - I would peg Max von Sydow as the Greatest Living Actor, and in Pelle he is a phenomenon.

    Jeffry - Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson is there among the Nobelists - didn't mention him, pshaw. I think maybe you do not realize that you have paid him a high compliment, since Little House on the Prairie is a great American masterpiece. Perhaps, though, you are referring to the TV series.

    I was wondering if I should just read all 12 of the final set of Ibsen plays, not just the most famous ones - I mean, they are just plays, right - and you are making me think I should.

    What have I forgotten? What useful comments. Except for R.T.'s suggestion that I look at Bloom's list. I practically have that list memorized already.

  15. Miguel - I would peg Max von Sydow as the Greatest Living Actor, and in Pelle he is a phenomenon.

    That's incredible, I think just the same! Have you seen Vittorio Zurlini's The Desert of the Tartars? He has a small but heartbreaking role in it. He brings so much emotion and charisma to every character he plays.

  16. If you're trying any early Ibsen in English, Brand has been adapted/translated by Geoffrey Hill, who, although - or because - he's as bonkers as Brand is one of the best poets around today. It's in Penguin Classics, so easily and inexpensively accessible.

  17. Tom, I was in fact disparaging Bjoernson, though I am aware that some, for example min kone, do consider the Wilder books masterpieces. I was searching for a label for uninventive rural pastiche, feel-good books without depth. I skipped Holberg because he is more Danish than Norwegian, but if you read him, try Erasmus Montanus instead of Jeppe. I do think reading the last ten or twelve Ibsen plays is a great idea; certainly from Pillars of Society onwards, each succeeding play shows new facets of the ideas set out and worked on in the previous one.

  18. Never even heard of Zurlini. Here is the trailer - look at those French actors, also prime. Too bad that the film is Italian, and therefore dubbed, and therefore without von Sydow's voice. I'd love to see it - it's Dino Buzzatti!

    Geoffrey Hill's Brand - yes! See here and here.

    Jeffry - you need a different label! Otherwise, let's see, "Erasmus Montanus" along with "Jeppe," and the whole set of late Ibsen. I figured.

    1. He speaks Italian, but I can't tell if it's dubbed or not, his voice always sounds different to me when he's not speaking in Swedish. Anyway, it's a beautiful movie. A great companion to the novel, which should be read first, as I did.

    2. Italian movies from that period are almost always dubbed. All of the actors are dubbed, even the Italians! They, at least, dubbed themselves.

    3. The Zurlini film is a minor miracle of location shooting - how he managed to find a landscape that so perfectly matches Buzzati's novel is beyond me (it's in Iran, of all places, or at least was, until it was destroyed by an earthquake some years later). Anyway, it's a fine adaptation of Buzzati's novel - something I could never have imagined.

    4. Italian movies from that period are almost always dubbed. All of the actors are dubbed, even the Italians! They, at least, dubbed themselves.

      Yes, I know that, it's an unfortunate tic of the Italians, alas. But my point is that Max Von Sydow is fluent in Italian, so in principle he could use his own voice in the movie; I'm just not sure if he does.

      Anyway, it's a fine adaptation of Buzzati's novel - something I could never have imagined.

      Indeed, it's such a static novel, just lots of waiting and waiting. But Zurlini turns it into a study of silence, stillness and boredom, even if the movie is anything but boring.

      And Ennio Morricone's score! It's his best score after The Mission, the sound of melancholy so finely captured:

  19. To Jacobsen's Mogens or Niels Lyhne, I'd add Maria Grubbe, a sort of historical novel set in the seventeenth century about a free minded woman who follows her inclination without prejudices and goes from richness to extreem poverty. No sentimentalism, just the study of a character.
    From Hamsun, I'd add to Pan and Mystery a third novel in the same dark spirit, Dreamers, written ten years later I think.
    And I see that several readers suggested Herman Bang. It's one of the greatest danish writers of the end of the 19th century, and I think that Rilke refers to him along with Jacobsen in some of his letters. You ought to read Tina (1889): it's about a simple young girl who lives with her old, crippled and nearly stupid parents (former school teachers) in a village in the region of Schlewig. She's trapped in the war between Denmark and Prussia and, in a way, trapped also in a violent passion with her best friend's husband. In The White House (1898) and The Grey House (1901), the same characters appear in a novel all about the memory of childhood. There is Tina again, and the children, their mother, beautiful, excentric, full of fantasy and despair, her mute husband, her rich in-laws, visits to Copenhagen and a remote house in the countryside.

  20. I don't know if you can find them in English, in French it only exists in old translations, Selma Lagerlöf's Ring trilogy, The Löwensköld Ring is beautiful, I prefer it to Gösta Berling. And Niels Hölgerson is great too.

    No doubt why Rilke rated Jacobsen so highly, so that large parts of Malte Laurid Brigge are in fact mere Jaconsen pastiches (the dead of the grand-father, Christina Brandt's ghost for example): he's a wonderful poet.

  21. I am going to be very disappointed and frankly angry with Rilke if Neils Lyhne is not as good as Genesis and Job.

    Oddly, the first volume of that Lagerlöf trilogy is easily available in English (via Norvik Press), but not the later volumes.

    Herman Bang seems rare in English, but Tina is possible. How is it written? Well, it is short. I find that "short" encourages experimentation.

    Thanks for these recommendations.

    1. Beautifully written of course. Short sentences, crude sentiments, surprising associations and images, poems or songs (maybe less than in The White House).
      You can't be angry with Rilke.

  22. What? No philosophy?? I can't speak for Kierkegaard, but will recommend Bertrand Russell's "Problems of Philosophy," so beautifully written it's like inhaling oxygen. And I'll also put in a word for Diderot, who is simply one of my favorite writers: spontaneous, lively, inventive, surprising, and, well, lovable. I don't know if they'll change your mind, but I'll mention them anyway. And I have nothing useful to say about Scandinavian literature.

  23. If Rameau's Nephew and Jacques the Fatalist are philosophy, then what in the devil are Kant and Hegel up to? I'm a-feared of philosophers, not philosophes.

    Rameau's Nephew really is stunning.

    I am just pulling a quotation at random from Russell:

    "The real table, if it exists, we will call a 'physical object'. Thus we have to consider the relation of sense-data to physical objects. The collection of all physical objects is called 'matter'. Thus our two questions may be re-stated as follows: (1) Is there any such thing as matter? (2) If so, what is its nature?"

    And then a discussion of Berkeley follows. Are you using "beautifully" as a stand-in for "clearly"? Clicking around at that link, Russell does seem admirably clear. I can handle that level of philosophy. Russell is not building a system.

    1. Jacques The Fatalist is stunning. Not very Scandinavian of course, but a good interlude between two Ibsen and three Strinberg..

  24. I suppose philosophy is a broad category; some of Diderot's works are more explicitly philosophical than others: his marginal notes on Bacon more so, "The Talking Jewels" less so. But what a mind!

    Yes, in Russell's case, I find the clarity beautiful. And he was elegant, too. How could be so lucid about such murky topics?

    And no, no building of systems in either of them; they're up to something else.

  25. Do you limit yourself to nineteenth century ? Tarjei Vesaas is another great Norwegian. As a poet, I felt him rather too hermetic but he's a great novelist, telling stories from unusual point of view (a mentally limited boy watching people in The Birds ; two teenagers discovering an infanticide in a forest and dealing with adult stories in The Bridges). Very impressive.

  26. Why is everyone throwing "beautifully written" at me? Is it to taunt me?

    If you tell me a book's writing is beautiful, and it is not a book of lyric poems, I do not believe you. At least I do not know what the word means.

    Yes, Catherine, in some sense I limit myself to the 19th century, certainly with projects like this. The alternative is chaos. I am already detecting some chaos.

    And I can certainly be angry with Rilke. Just watch me, I'll do it, now that you have forbidden it.

    When I whine about philosophy, I really mean a narrow but prominent branch, the heavy duty metaphysicians Russell is summarizing, Kant and his followers and predecessors. Did you see the has I made of Schopenhauer last year? Another metaphor; in real life I love a well-made hash.

  27. How thrilling - I'll certainly join in for some Ibsen, Strindberg and Hamsun. I'm glad to see you bend the rules for Isak Dinesen; Seven Gothic Tales would probably be one of the books I'd try to rescue first if the library caught on fire. And Almqvist! Having dipped into Hoffman a bit this year after you pointed out his obvious influence in certain of the Almqvist scenes I'd noted, I emerge convinced that you'll still find The Queen's Tiara a great wild romp. I plan to read Almqvist's Sara Videbeck and the Chapel this year. Selma Lagerlöf - ouf! - I nearly picked up a novel by her I saw a second hand bookstore on the other side of the country just last week. Had I known about your project...

  28. Temper that thrill - the reading list has become unwieldy. Many of these books will fall off the pile. Although regardless I learn a lot from all of the recommendations. I have researched every one of them (who is this, is it in English, etc.)

    The Ibsen will likely be chronological, starting with Brand (1866), soon, I hope. Then Peer Gynt, a perhaps foolish attempt on Emperor and Galilean, then the last twelve plays in order. I guess. Anyway, it will be easy enough to see where I am and just jump in. They are just plays, right?

  29. Your Scandinavian reading project sounds marvelous. I have been intending to read Hamsun for ages perhaps you will inspire me to finally make it happen!

  30. Good. I barely know Hamsun, who had a long, varied career - parts of which I am pretty sure I would rather not know - but his run of novels at the end of the 19th century is impressive.

  31. From what I've read so far of Lucky Pierre, Henrik Pontoppidan has at least two registers: one is Anatole France-like, ironically sweet, disdainfully wise, introspective in the tradition of Montaigne; the other register is muscular, clear Tolstoi-like prose. An example of the first kind:

    Then one day we hear a voice which speaks from deep within us, a ghostly voice that asks: But I, who am I? Since that day we no longer ask anything else. From that day on our own true self becomes our great sphinx whose riddle we aspire to decipher. Was it my true self that man who was walking down the same street this morning, over and over again, under a heavy snowfall, crabby and bitter, completely fed up with this life and its difficulties? Or was my true self, my authentic self, the man who told this evening stories to children, happy and content? Or am I the man who now sits by the light of the lamp, neither sad nor happy, neither old nor young, with that quiet peace which only comes with solitude and night? Is that my true I, I myself, unalterable? Or is my innermost self all of those things simultaneously and equally? It's what we call our soul just a passing sensation, the result of sleep at night, of reading the newspaper, of the barometric pressure or market prices? Or is the case that we have as many souls as there are cards with figures in a game, in which whenever one card is drawn, a different figure is revealed: a clown, a warrior, an owl? That is my question.

    One last point, Lucky Pierre (or Happy Per) is one more of the many literary characters descended from Don Quixote. As a matter of fact, the great Hungarian literary critic and philosopher Georg Lukacs considered Don Quixote and Lucky Pierre as the highest achievements of the epic genre when it came to the representation of the mismatch between the human soul and reality.

  32. That is not much like the Anatole France I read, but those were all satires. Nor does it make me think of Montaigne. The Tolstoy-like parts are, how to ask this, better? I like that the character for some reason thinks he might have the soul of an owl. I hope an owl theme runs through the entire novel.

    Or is it eight novels? I now see that Lykke-Per was published as eight separate books. Maybe that just counts as serialization.

    Thanks for directing me to Lukács. I love that kind of surprising juxtaposition - the best whatever are Cervantes and Pontoppidan (or the Bible and Neils Lyhne). What, really, you're nuts, György! But it is almost always then worth checking for myself.

    I doubt I will be able to make much use of Lukács's idea of protagonists with "narrow souls" and "wide souls," though.

  33. Anatole France, being mockingly sweet:
    I, too, have reached the point where Dante stood when the old sun set upon the first year of the fourteenth century. I, too, am in the middle of life's journey if, indeed, that journey were the same for all, and if for all old age were its goal. Ah me ! I knew twenty years since that it would come to this. I knew it, yes, but I did not realize it. In those days I cared as little about the roads of life as about the way to Chicago. But now that I have mounted the hill and, gazing backward, survey at a glance all the distance that I have traversed so swiftly, the verse of the Florentine poet fills me so deeply with the spirit of reverie that I would fain sit through the night here at my fireside calling up the spirits of the past. Alas ! how light is the slumber of the dead!

    Sweet it is to summon up remembrance of things past. Darkness and silence lend their aid to the task. Night with its calm stills the fears of the ghosts, who are timid and shy by nature, and wait for the hours of darkness and solitude ere they come to whisper their secrets in the ears of the living whom they love.

    To-morrow ! Time was when the word awakened within me dreams of all that was fairest and most wonderful. As it fell from my lips, strange and lovely shapes seemed to beckon me onwards, whispering softly, " Come ! " Ah ! how sweet was life in those days. I had confidence in life, the joyous confidence of a young man in love. Not once did I think that she would ever come to deal harshly with me; now I know better, she has no mercy.

    Montaigne, being introspective:
    For my part, the puff of every accident not only carries me along with it according to its own proclivity, but moreover I discompose and trouble myself by the instability of my own posture; and whoever will look narrowly into his own bosom, will hardly find himself twice in the same condition. I give to my soul sometimes one face and sometimes another, according to the side I turn her to. If I speak variously of myself, it is because I consider myself variously; all the contrarieties are there to be found in one corner or another; after one fashion or another: bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal: I find all this in myself, more or less, according as I turn myself about.

  34. Sources, please! No wonder France has fallen out of fashion.

    But now I see that you are talking about content. I was talking about style. Thus the mismatch.

  35. Anatole France, My Friend's Book (the first page, taken from Archive dot org).
    Montaigne, Essays, Book 2, chapter 1, 'Of the inconstancy of our actions', (towards the middle, taken from Gutenberg dot org).

    And of course you're right, I was writing about subject matter. Writing style is tricky to judge in translation. For example, both France and Montaigne seem natural and fluid in the original, while the translations sound stodgy and/or slightly pretentious to me, they were done during the Victorian/Edwardian era, after all.

  36. Thanks - I did not know anything about that France book.