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Randall Jarrell's Book of Stories (1958)

de Randall Jarrell (Editor)

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1201176,804 (4.06)1
Storytelling as a fundamental human impulse, one that announces itself at the moment, hidden in infancy, that dreams begin--this is what the poet and critic Randall Jarrell set out to illuminate in this extraordinary book. Here Jarrell presents ballads, parables, anecdotes, and legends along with some of the finest work of Chekhov, Babel, Elizabeth Bowen, Isak Dinesen, Kafka, Peter Taylor, and Katherine Anne Porter. This wonderful anthology, with its celebrated introductory essay, enlarges and deepens our perception of the storyteller's art and its central place in the world of our feelings. Contents RANDALL JARRELL: Introduction FRANZ KAFKA: A Country Doctor ANTON CHEKHOV: Gusev RAINER MARIA RILKE: The Wrecked Houses; The Big Thing ROBERT FROST: The Witch of Coös GIOVANNI VERGA: La Lupa NIKOLAI GOGOL: The Nose ELIZABETH BOWEN: Her Table Spread LUDWIG TIECK: Fair Eckbert BERTOLT BRECHT: Concerning the Infanticide, Marie Farrar LEO TOLSTOY: The Three Hermits PETER TAYLOR: What You Hear from 'Em? HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: The Fir Tree KATHERINE ANNE PORTER: He ANONYMOUS: The Red King and the Witch ANTON CHEKHOV: Rothschild's Fiddle THE BROTHERS GRIMM: Cat and Mouse in Partnership E. M. FORSTER: The Story of the Siren THE BOOK OF JONAH FRANZ KAFKA: The Bucket-Rider SAINT-SIMON: The Death of Monseigneur ISAAC BABEL: Awakening CHUANG T'ZU: Five Anecdotes HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL: A Tale of the Cavalry WILLIAM BLAKE: The Mental Traveller D. H. LAWRENCE: Samson and Delilah LEO TOLSTOY: The Porcelain Doll IVAN TURGENEV: Byezhin Prairie WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: The Ruined Cottage FRANK O'CONNOR: Peasants ISAK DINESEN: Sorrow-Acre… (mais)
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Randall Jarrell was my literature spirit animal. Borrowed, later owned the collection A Sad Heart at the Supermarket in high school. One of the essays in the collection was the introduction to the Anchor Book of Stories, and it became my touchstone literary essay: base the selection of quotations from an omnivorous life of reading, let the stories do the talking, but let the juxtaposition and order of the quotations make the essay’s points but also tell the critic-compiler’s story, express the critic’s unique personality. Walter Benjamin was another such.

Searched for the Anchor collection but couldn’t find it in hometown bookstores, libraries, second hand sales. Off to college. Across 116th St. from the Columbia University campus, a big bookstore that sold course books and second hand. Wouldn’t hurt to ask – and they had an old copy! Had it ever since, 1969-2017. But over the years I don’t recall reading All of the selections. So the collection is reissued as an NYRB book under the title Randall Jarrell’s Book of Stories, and, retired, I finally read it all through.

It’s a complex collection. For example, the last, longest story, Isak Dinesen’s Sorrow Acre, is preceded by Frank O’Connor’s Peasants. The latter is a funny conflict between the unbending parish priest and the village council that wants to be more flexible over a youth’s transgression (embezzling) – his poor widowed mother, the good name of the village, etc. In Sorrow Acre, we have a widowed mother begging for mercy for her son to the lord of a Danish manor. The lord – who is a really old school feudal character – tells her the son can go free if she can mow an acre of rye in one summer’s day. As she struggles to complete the task, the lord’s worldly nephew begs the lord to show flexibility and forgive the son even if the widow can’t complete the task by sundown. The lord refuses to “compromise.” The widow completes the task and dies in her son’s arms. In Peasants, the inflexible priest gets the son sent to prison. The son comes out of prison a changed man, marries a wealthy young woman – the lord’s marriage to a wealthy young girl assures that his line will control the estate by the way – and lends money to peasants but, with the same, well, er, integrity of the priest refuses to forgive the loans during hard times.

The stories are as follows:

A Country Doctor (Franz Kafka) – Gusev (Chekov, with a delirium dream not frightening and surrealistic like Kafka, but realistic and affective, signature Chekov) – Wrecked Houses, The Big Thing (Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigg – waking dream ending in a vision of death) – The Witch of Coos (Robert Frost, a touchstone poet for Jarrell, a Browning-like dramatic monolog where death comes out of the cellar – of the unconscious?) – La Lupe (Giovanni Verga – La Lupe coming after Nanni like the bones in Coos; the living woman scarier than death) – The Nose (Nikolai Gogol, foreshadowing Kafka’s Metamorphosis but more farcical) – Her Table Spread (Elizabeth Bown – Miss Cuffe living in her own delusions) – Fair Eckbert (Ludwig Tieck – one could write an essay on how the story logic breaks down; witch as unkillable force) – Concerning the Infanticide Marie Farrar (Bertolt Brecht. Like Frost a poem, about a woman treated like a witch; the mother in Sorrow Acre was rumored to be an infanticide) – The Three Hermits (Leo Tolstoy. One of two religious stories, both “miracles.” It seems the hermits are so close to God that they don’t need (Bible) stories) -- What You Hear From ‘Em? (Peter Taylor, a fellow Tennessean of Jarrell’s. Aunt Munsie and the Fir Tree compare and contrast. In The Help, if Skeeter’s mother treated Constantine – Skeeter’s nanny -- like the Doctor in the Taylor story – a tad patronizing – would there have been a similar conclusion? Skeeter moves to New York, visits Constantine once a year and buys her a shack) – The Fir Tree (Hans Christian Andersen) – He (Katherine Anne Porter, another mother-son story. Another Southern writer, you may be reminded of the Sound and the Fury, but I was reminded of Augie’s brother in The Adventures of Augie March) – The Red King and the Witch (Anonymous. The inadequate copyright page doesn’t give any source and the story is so stylistically literary I’ve sometimes wondered if Jarrell himself wrote it. Anyway, the story has haunted me ever since I read it nearly fifty years ago in the original Anchor collection. Jarrell seems to have had mortality and witches on his mind) – Rothschild’s Fiddle (Chekov, one of his greatest stories about mortality) – Cat and Mouse in Partnership (The Brothers Grimm; a literary tale almost as cynical as Saint-Simon’s memoirs) – The Story of the Siren (E.M. Forster. “Every living thing made him unhappy because he knew it would die.” Jarrell suffered from depression; he must have seen the Siren; the only story where “story” is in the title. The Siren is another witch, right?) – The Book of Jonah (the other religious miracle story) – The Death of Monseigneur (Saint-Simon, who appears to be the Larry David of the Sun King’s reign; another story about death, dispassionately observing the theatrics of mourning for a prince no one seems to have liked.) – Awakening (Isaac Babel – how a storyteller got his start. Like Chekov’s Rothschild story but a perspective on Jews in Russia from inside the Jewish community) – Five Anecdotes (Chuang T’zu; philosophical tales) – A Tale of the Cavalry (Hugo von Hoffmanstahl wrote the libretto of Der Rosenkavalier, perhaps Jarrell’s favorite opera, but this isn’t Baron Ochs hijinks but a glimpse of professional killers of the Hapsburg Empire at work – The Mental Traveller (William Blake; story as verse allegory, like a Western Chuang T’zu) – Samson and Delilah (D.H. Lawrence. Sexuality as force, not unlike La Lupe) – Byezhin Prairie (Ivan Turgenev, campfire stories. Death drops in unexpectedly, like a Larry McMurtry novel. Jarrell led me to A Sportsman’s Sketches, for which I am grateful.) – The Ruined Cottage (William Wordsworth. In the introduction Jarrell talks about the two poles of stories – boundless energy and events and, on the other side, capturing the stillness, the uneventfulness of life. I was so lulled with the skill the poet handles metre, it was hard to keep track of the events) – Peasants – Sorrow Acre.

By the way, note that only two stories are American and the majority of the stories are translations. And the stories cover many literary genres; this is not a short story collection. Even if stories aren’t your thing, read Jarrell’s introduction. ( )
  featherbear | Nov 6, 2017 |
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Storytelling as a fundamental human impulse, one that announces itself at the moment, hidden in infancy, that dreams begin--this is what the poet and critic Randall Jarrell set out to illuminate in this extraordinary book. Here Jarrell presents ballads, parables, anecdotes, and legends along with some of the finest work of Chekhov, Babel, Elizabeth Bowen, Isak Dinesen, Kafka, Peter Taylor, and Katherine Anne Porter. This wonderful anthology, with its celebrated introductory essay, enlarges and deepens our perception of the storyteller's art and its central place in the world of our feelings. Contents RANDALL JARRELL: Introduction FRANZ KAFKA: A Country Doctor ANTON CHEKHOV: Gusev RAINER MARIA RILKE: The Wrecked Houses; The Big Thing ROBERT FROST: The Witch of Coös GIOVANNI VERGA: La Lupa NIKOLAI GOGOL: The Nose ELIZABETH BOWEN: Her Table Spread LUDWIG TIECK: Fair Eckbert BERTOLT BRECHT: Concerning the Infanticide, Marie Farrar LEO TOLSTOY: The Three Hermits PETER TAYLOR: What You Hear from 'Em? HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: The Fir Tree KATHERINE ANNE PORTER: He ANONYMOUS: The Red King and the Witch ANTON CHEKHOV: Rothschild's Fiddle THE BROTHERS GRIMM: Cat and Mouse in Partnership E. M. FORSTER: The Story of the Siren THE BOOK OF JONAH FRANZ KAFKA: The Bucket-Rider SAINT-SIMON: The Death of Monseigneur ISAAC BABEL: Awakening CHUANG T'ZU: Five Anecdotes HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL: A Tale of the Cavalry WILLIAM BLAKE: The Mental Traveller D. H. LAWRENCE: Samson and Delilah LEO TOLSTOY: The Porcelain Doll IVAN TURGENEV: Byezhin Prairie WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: The Ruined Cottage FRANK O'CONNOR: Peasants ISAK DINESEN: Sorrow-Acre

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