The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Monday, June 25, 2007


Of minor interest to me, and still less to anyone else, most likely. Came across this, which I know I've quoted before, in Anthony Burgess's introduction to Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year:
There are people who still find Defoe hard to take as a novelist, and this is because they have become accustomed to regarding the novel as a form almost aggressively 'literary', full of barely concealed machinery, self-conscious fine writing, the personality of the novelist himself peeping through as a show-off divine puppet-master, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Up to the time of the first dissenting writers (men like Defoe and Bunyan) which happened also to be a time of great literary artificiality, literature had been almost exclusively in the hands of men with a classical education. Elizabethans like Nashe and Dekker and Greene produced, as did Defoe, fictional works about a real, low, smelly London, but all in a language - for all its conversational vigour - highly contrived and often reeking of the lamp. And, after Defoe, the novel was again in the hands of the cultivated who could not resist showing off their cultivation [...]
[Never in Defoe do we find] the evocation of classical heroes or the sewing on of classical tags.
This intrigued me a little, but I haven't read widely enough to tell whether or not it's a fair judgement. I do know Herrick uses classical references and mimics classical forms, and in this he follows Ben Jonson. Marvell does too, I think.

Then came across the entry on euphuism in The Reader's Encyclopedia by accident. Apparently it's related to culteranismo in Spain, also known as Gongorism, which the encyclopedia describes as:
Designed to appeal to the cultivated (los cultos), it is characterised by an emphasis on Latin terms and syntax, by frequent allusions to classical mythology, and lavish use of tropes, metaphors, hyperbole and antitheses.

Gongora, after whom the style is named, apparently had an ongoing feud with Francisco de Quevedo, author of The Swindler. This is the second of the Two Spanish Picaresque Novels published by Penguin and would be worth the price of purchase alone, if it weren't preceded by the even better, truly wonderful Lazarillo de Tormes, which should be made available in an audio version read by Eli Wallach.

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