Saturday, 12 August 2017

Cloud-Pictures (1872) by Francis Henry Underwood

I've decided to ressurect this blog, chiefly for my own personal interest, as I see no reason to confine my ratings solely to goodreads anymore.

Franics Henry Underwood (1825-1894) somewhat dissapointingly does not provide much juicy material to start us off. A magazine editor from the US, abolitionist advocate and later US Consul in Scotland, his literary output seems to also be rather un-appreciated at present, with none of his novels being selected for literary discussions. Though in The Atlantic Monthly he butted shoulders with luminaries of his time like Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell and Holmes, his own output seems far less stellar, though according to John Wilson Townsend in his Kentucky in American Letters, 1784-1912, his Lord of Himself, a novel of life in Kentucky in 1844, was very well received in Kentucky, a state he had quit many years prior due to his distaste for slavery. A further oddity is his having penned in 1890, as a US Consul at Glasgow, Cookery for working-men's wives, a guidebook to frugal cooking.

Cloud-Pictures (1872) seems to be his first work of fiction. It contains four stories, with half of the book taken up by the novella The Exile of von Adelstein's Soul, which deals with a baron who runs over the deformed son of a witch and whose soul is cursed every night into the body of the dead youth in order to serve the witch and suffer horrible abuse. It is a very chilling idea and were it treated in a longer and more detailed fashion, it could well suffice for a whole novel. Unfortunately the author, though he has the props in place, including a philosopher dabbling in sorcery who'se beloved was destroyed by the witch and a helpfull priest set on helping the Baron, he fails to use them for long, and indeed the story concludes all too briefly, never taking full advantage of the potential nastiness provided by the premise. The climax of the witch simply dying on her own is not exactly what one would hope for either.

The next story, Topankalon, is mostly a simplistic story with seemingly didactic leanings, where a harmonious and peace loving people are overwhelmed by a barbaric and bloodthirsty people from the land of Malaccordia. This name makes one suspect satirical leanings to the story, but those aren't there. Instead there is a rather quick reformation of the barbaric prince due to his love for the princess of Topankalon, and it is a bit too brief, again, to really take advantage of the set up. Even the conspiracy to kill the Prince, and later his father, lead by his scheming brother fails to supply much of interest beyond one skirmish where the would-be usurper gets defeated and exiled.

What follows is pure drudgery. Herr Regenbogen's Concert is not a story, though apparently published by Putnam at one point. It is a dready slog, where several pages before the "story" propper begins are taken up with empty, hollow, pretentious babblings about the eatheric propperties and qualities of music, a load of bold faced drivel that could only impress a suitably underdeveloped intellect, and that purely through the sheer awe at all the unfamiliar words and turns of phrase and wide, sweeping comparisons employed, without understanding any. The narrative itself deals with a concert conducted by the legendary conductor, Herr Regenbogen, which is devoid of any real incident. At one point it seems the music brings out to view the true character of the people listening, but despite that being a low tactic worthy of a moralist novel for children, it has no real significance and is over before you know it. And after the concert is over the narrator simply leaves.

A Great-Organ Prelude, the final story of this collection is a little less tedious to sit through, but does not offer a whole lot. A bunch of Grand Organ decorations argue among themselves, and with Bach, about how no one but mathematicians even really like Bach to begin with, and that turns out to be a dream.

Heaven forbid something mildly interesting happens.

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