A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

I was surprised by how this book touched me. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, Gustave Flaubert’s A Simple Heart  tells the story of Félicité , a lifelong servant, and her search for someone to love. Félicité lives a very limited life, only rarely leaving the home of Madame Aubain her employer for over fifty years.  In her youth, Félicité has one great love who abandons her … Continue reading A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

I see now that I was wrong about Leo Tolstoy lacking a sense of humor.  At Amatuer Reader’s suggestion I took another look at the opening chapter of The Death of Ivan Ilych–it’s pretty funny.  Funny in the same, slightly off-kilter, dark way that Gogol and Dostoevsky are funny. The Death of Ivan Ilych opens with the departed character’s friends arriving to provide comfort to his widow. … Continue reading The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

This is the first of Melville House’s “Duel” series to feature a serious duel.  The others were life or death situations, but they were part of an overall comic or satirical structure that made fun of dueling or at least critiqued it. In Heinrich Von Kleist’s novel, translated by Annie Janusch, the duel is taken seriously by all involved, author included. Set in the late … Continue reading The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

A well connected young man, a libertine from Venice, finds himself in trouble with the law.  So he flees to Poland where he finds a place in the royal court. I really want this story to be true. The inside flap of my edition says the novella is a “thinly veiled autobiography” and that it later appears, with a few small changes, in the author’s … Continue reading The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

I’m afraid this one works as a curiosity but not much more. According to the end notes, The Lifted Veil, written just after her first novel, Adam Bede, is Ms. Eliot’s only first person narrative and her only book to deal with supernatural elements.  It’s probably for the best that she gave both up as soon as possible. The Lifted Veil is an entertaining story, overall, about a man … Continue reading The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The Beach of Falesa by Robert Louis Stevenson

Who knew Robert Louis Stevenson was so funny. The Beach at Falesa  is funny, but funny in the same way that Nicolai Gogol is funny.  You have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the humor.  And you have to be willing to overlook, or at least look past,  some things that modern readers aren’t so willing to overlook so much anymore. … Continue reading The Beach of Falesa by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain

I’m till trying to decide just how mean this book is. Or does the little town of Hadleyburg get what it deserves? Hadleyburg, a small town in small town America, prides itself on its honesty.  So much so that the town’s residents have begun teaching children in the cradle that above all else, they must be honest. Until one day…. A strange package arrives at … Continue reading The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain

Carmen by Prosper Merimee

Notorious highwayman Don Jose Navarro is in prison, awaiting his execution.  He spends the final hours of his life telling a stranger the story of Carmen, the wild gypsy woman he met in Seville who led him into a life of crime before the fateful day when he shot her in a fit of jealousy. Prosper Merimee’s novella is probably the first time a gypsy … Continue reading Carmen by Prosper Merimee

How the Two Ivans Quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol

 Nikolai Gogol cracks me up.  Our senses of humor are so in-tuned that I think we’re kindred spirits.  Maybe we’re even related somehow.  It could be true. I’ve heard it argued that comedy once came from those on the lower rungs of the social ladder looking upwards at the antics of their social betters.  You can see this in Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, even … Continue reading How the Two Ivans Quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol

The Poor Clare by Elizabeth Gaskell

If you’re wondering whether or not Elizabeth Gaskell had the chops to pull of a truly Gothic novel, and I know you are, I am pleased to say, yes, she did. Ms. Gaskell dabbled in the Gothic for publication in Charles Dickens’ Household Words in 1856.  She was a regular contributor to Household Words where her masterpiece Cranford first appeared. I must admit, I had my doubts with The … Continue reading The Poor Clare by Elizabeth Gaskell

Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

I think Willa Cather gets men. During her life, and in the critical response to her work after her death, she took her fair share of heat for not writing often enough from a woman’s point of view.  Even when the book was about women, like My Antonia, her narrator had a male voice.  I think it’s fair to ask  why she made this choice, it may … Continue reading Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

The Duel by Alexander Kuprin Translated by Josh Billings

Russian writer Alexander Kuprin (1870-1938) based his 1905 novel The Duel on his experience in the Russian infantry where he spent four years in a provincial outpost in the Ukraine. I’m guessing he didn’t have a very good time. Kuprin was drummed out of the infantry after an altercation with a local police officer over an insult.  He then turned full-time to writing.  Living in Kiev … Continue reading The Duel by Alexander Kuprin Translated by Josh Billings