Searching for: "Martin Geeson"

  • Martin Geeson

    "He had faith in his good fortune, in that power of attraction which he felt within him - a power so irresistible that all women yielded to it." Though firmly set in 1880s Paris, Maupassant's gripping story of an amoral journalist on the make could, with only slight modifications of detail, be updated to the 1960s, to the Reagan-Thatcher years, or maybe to the present day. Anti-hero Georges Duroy is a down-at-heel ex-soldier of no particular talent. Good-looking but somewhat lacking in self-confidence, he discovers an ability to control and exploit women - whereupon his career in journalism takes off, fuelled by the corruption of colleagues and government arrivistes. He may be a provincial...read more

  • Oscar Wilde

    “(T)he past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.” Published originally as “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” this is not so much a work of sober political analysis; rather it can be summed up as a rhapsodic manifesto on behalf of the Individual. Socialism having deployed technology to liberate the whole of humanity from soul-destroying labour, the State obligingly withers away to allow the free development of a joyful, anarchic hedonism... “Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always...read more

  • Robert Louis Stevenson

    “Extreme busyness…is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.” What comforting words for the idle among us! Like many of the best essayists, Stevenson is very much the genial fireside companion: opinionated, but never malicious; a marvellous practitioner of the inclusive monologue. In this collection of nine pieces he discusses the art of appreciating unattractive scenery, traces the complex social life of dogs, and meditates in several essays upon the experience of reading literature and writing it. Perhaps his most personal passages concern death and mortality. Here we meet him at his most...read more

  • Joris Karl Huysmans

    “THE BOOK THAT DORIAN GRAY LOVED AND THAT INSPIRED OSCAR WILDE”. Such is the enticing epigraph of one early translation of Huysmans’ cult novel of 1884, which is also routinely called the Bible of Decadence. Accurate descriptions, both, of this bizarre masterpiece which has reverberated ever since through high and popular culture. “Against Nature” (or in this version “Against The Grain”) explores to the furthest limit the life of the world-rejecting aesthete living a reclusive existence devoted entirely to artificial paradises of his own devising. This is no solemn tract, however: the book’s anti-hero Duc Jean Floressas Des Esseintes spectacularly fails to achieve his...read more

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau

    "She was more to me than a sister, a mother, a friend, or even than a mistress, and for this very reason she was not a mistress; in a word, I loved her too much to desire her..." More of the amours of the twentysomething Jean-Jacques: here initiated into a strangely compromised manhood by his "maman" and perennial comforter - "Was I happy? No: I felt I know-not-what invincible sadness which empoisoned my happiness, it seemed that I had committed an incest, and two or three times, pressing her eagerly in my arms, I deluged her bosom with my tears. On her part, as she had never sought pleasure, she had not the stings of remorse..." (Introduction by Martin...read more

  • Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson

    “With the Greek civilisation beauty perished from the world. Never again has it been possible for man to believe that harmony is in fact the truth of all existence.” This elegantly-written work provides a splendid introduction to the Greeks of the classic period: how they thought, wrote, and organised their lives and loves. Although it dates from the 1890s, there is very little about it that has dated. To its author’s credit, the subject of “Greek love” is dealt with in a sane and factual context - despite the judicial assassination of Oscar Wilde going on in the background. A Cambridge don much admired by his students (including E. M. Forster), Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson...read more

  • Oscar Wilde

    "(T)he past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are." Published originally as "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," this is not so much a work of sober political analysis; rather it can be summed up as a rhapsodic manifesto on behalf of the Individual. Socialism having deployed technology to liberate the whole of humanity from soul-destroying labour, the State obligingly withers away to allow the free development of a joyful, anarchic hedonism... "Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing." Far from...read more

  • Laurence Sterne

    After the bizarre textual antics of "Tristram Shandy", this book would seem to require a literary health warning. Sure enough, it opens in mid-conversation upon a subject never explained; meanders after a fashion through a hundred pages, then fizzles out in mid-sentence - so, a plotless novel lacking a beginning, a middle or an end. Let us say: an exercise in the infinitely comic. "There is not a secret so aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this short hand, and to be quick in rendering the several turns of looks and limbs with all their inflections and delineations, into plain words." Sterne calls his fine sensitivity to body language (as we now term it)...read more

  • Alexander Pope

    Pope's Essay on Man, a masterpiece of concise summary in itself, can fairly be summed up as an optimistic enquiry into mankind's place in the vast Chain of Being. Each of the poem's four Epistles takes a different perspective, presenting Man in relation to the universe, as individual, in society and, finally, tracing his prospects for achieving the goal of happiness. In choosing stately rhyming couplets to explore his theme, Pope sometimes becomes obscure through compressing his language overmuch. By and large, the work is a triumphant exercise in philosophical poetry, communicating its broad and commonplace truths in superbly balanced phrases which remind us that Pope, alas, is one of the...read more

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau

    "The smallest, the most trifling pleasure that is conveniently within my reach, tempts me more than all the joys of paradise." Here again is the youthful, hero-worshipping Jean-Jacques - displaying an emotional immaturity that leads him into picaresque escapades in the company of transients and misfits, always ending in reunion with mother-surrogate Madame de Warens. In a literally unprecedented gesture of self-revelation, Rousseau opens Volume 3 exposing himself indecently in dark alleyways. This 1903 edition fails to appreciate the humorous strangeness of the passage and removes it to protect the reader. (Summary by Martin...read more

  • Plato

    "For there is no light of justice or temperance, or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls, in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass, dimly..." Socrates and his earnest friend Phaedrus, enjoying the Athenian equivalent of a lunchtime stroll in the park, exchange views on love and on the power of words, spoken and written. Phaedrus is the most enchanting of Plato's Erotic dialogues (capitalised in honour of the god). The barefoot philosopher urges an eager young acquaintance - who has allowed his lover's oratorical skills to impress him overmuch - to re-examine the text of Lysias's speech in the light of his own exalted (and Platonic) vision of Love. Not...read more

  • Stuart Mason

    "Who can help laughing when an ordinary journalist seriously proposes to limit the subject-matter at the disposal of the artist?" "We are dominated by journalism.... Journalism governs for ever and ever."[/i] One of the nastiest of the British tabloids was founded a year too late to join in the moral panic generated to accompany Oscar Wilde's court appearances in 1895. Yet there was no shortage of hypocritical journalists posing as moral arbiters to the nation, then as now. This compendium work - skilfully assembled by the editor, Stuart Mason - ends with transcript of Wilde's first appearance in the Old Bailey, when he was cross-examined on the alleged immorality of his novel The...read more

  • Samuel Johnson

    In this enchanting fable (subtitled The Choice of Life), Rasselas and his retinue burrow their way out of the totalitarian paradise of the Happy Valley in search of that triad of eighteenth-century aspiration - life, liberty and happiness. According to that quirky authority, James Boswell, Johnson penned his only work of prose fiction in a handful of days to cover the cost of his mother's funeral. The stylistic elegance of the book and its wide-ranging philosophical concerns give no hint of haste or superficiality. Among other still burning issues Johnson's characters pursue questions of education, colonialism, the nature of the soul and even climate alteration. Johnson's profoundest...read more

  • John Milton

    "The Sun to me is dark And silent as the Moon, When she deserts the night Hid in her vacant interlunar cave." Milton composes his last extended work as a tragedy according to the classical Unities of Time, Place and Action. Nevertheless it "never was intended for the stage" and is here declaimed by a single reader. Samson the blinded captive, in company with the Chorus of friends and countrymen, receives his visitors on their varying missions and through them his violent story is vividly recalled. Then he is summoned to give a final demonstration of God-given strength to entertain the Philistines, his captors. Famously - and of course, offstage - his performance brings the house down....read more

  • Ivan Turgenev

    Turgenev's shy hero, Tchulkaturin, is a representative example of a Russian archetype - the "superfluous man", a sort of Hamlet not necessarily dignified with the title Prince: an individual of comfortable means leading a dreary existence, without purpose and led on by events which may, as in this story, engulf him. The novella takes the form of a diary started by Tchulkaturin in the shock of being diagnosed as having a terminal illness. The journal entries cover a period of two weeks, leading to his death. Tchulkaturin quickly homes in on the only significant event in his life - an unreciprocated falling-in-love leading haphazardly to a non-fatal duel that leaves him desolated and fully...read more

  • Pierre Abélard

    Autobiographies from remote historical periods can be especially fascinating. Modes of self-presentation vary greatly across the centuries, as of course does the very concept of Self. Peter Abelard, the medieval philosopher and composer, here gives a concise but vivid survey of his notoriously calamitous life. The work is couched in the form of a letter to an afflicted friend. Abelard's abrasively competitive, often arrogant personality emerges at once in the brief Foreword, where he informs his correspondent: "(I)n comparing your sorrows with mine, you may discover that yours are in truth nought.. and so shall you come to bear them the more easily." (Summary by Martin...read more

  • Percy Bysshe Shelley

    "Would Julia of Strobazzo's heart was reeking on my dagger!" From the asthmatic urgency of its opening abduction scene to the Satanic defiance of the villain's departure "with a wild convulsive laugh of exulting revenge", this first of Shelley's Gothic novelettes recycles much sensational boyhood reading and also points to some of his more mature concerns. It is the ego-driven pursuit of passionate extremes, revenge included, which consigns figures like Zastrozzi and the murderous Matilda to an isolation which is socially destructive as well as self-annihilating. The story of their downfall is related in a relentlessly hysterical style - possibly more easily enjoyed when read aloud!...read more

  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    The extraordinary child-adult Prince Myshkin, confined for several years in a Swiss sanatorium suffering from severe epilepsy, returns to Russia to claim his inheritance and to find a place in healthy human society. The teeming St Petersburg community he enters is far from receptive to an innocent like himself, despite some early successes and relentless pursuit by grotesque fortune-hunters. His naive gaucheries give rise to extreme reactions among his new acquaintance, ranging from anguished protectiveness to mockery and contempt. But even before reaching the city, during the memorable train journey that opens the novel, he has encountered the demonic Rogozhin, the son of a wealthy...read more

  • Ivan Turgenev

    The title of the novella is almost an adequate summary in itself. The "boy-meets-girl-then-loses-her" story is universal but not, I think, banal - despite a surprise ending which notoriously turns out to be very little of a surprise. First Love is given its originality and poignancy by Turgenev's mastery of the piercing turning-point (akin to Joyce's "epiphanies") that transforms the character's whole being, making a tragic outcome inevitable. Even the nature symbolism is rescued from triteness by lovely poetic similes - e.g. "but at that point my attention was arrested by the appearance of a speckled woodpecker who busily climbed up the slender stem of a birch-tree and peeped out uneasily...read more

  • Honore de Balzac

    In his startling and tragic novella Farewell (‘Adieu’), Balzac adds to the 19th century’s literature of the hysterical woman: sequestered, confined in her madness; mute, or eerily chanting in her moated grange. The first Mrs Rochester lurks in the wings; the Lady of Shalott waits for the shadowy reflection of the world outside to shatter her illusion. Freud’s earliest patients will soon enter the waiting-room in their turn. Whilst out hunting two friends come across a strange waif-like woman shut up in a decaying chateau which one of them dubs “the Palace of the Sleeping Beauty”. Soon we are dragged back to the terrible masculine reality of the 1812 retreat of Napoleon’s...read more