Sunday, February 24, 2013

Two Classics, and Another Classic

Stories Read:
"The Overcoat" (1842) by Nikolai Gogol
"The Necklace" (1884) by Guy de Maupassant
"The Halfling" (1943) by Leigh Brackett

I love the irreverent tone of Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat". Here's the first paragraph:
In the department of -- but it is better not to mention the department. There is nothing more irritable than departments, regiments, courts of justice, and, in a word, every branch of public service. Each individual attached to them nowadays thinks all society insulted in his person. Quite recently a complaint was received from a justice of the peace, in which he plainly demonstrated that all the imperial institutions were going to the dogs, and that the Czar's sacred name was being taken in vain; and in proof he appended to the complaint a romance in which the justice of the peace is made to appear about once every ten lines, and sometimes in a drunken condition. Therefore, in order to avoid all unpleasantness, it will be better to describe the department in question only as a certain department.

Reminds me of Dickens. What follows that is the story of a man who works in that certain department and who is paid so little that he has to scrimp and save for a coat. He buys it, thinks it's terrific (which it is), but then it's taken from him. Tragic!

42 years after Gogol (a Russian) published "The Overcoat", Guy de Maupassant (French) published "The Necklace". In his story, a poor young woman borrows a diamond necklace so that she'll feel comfortable around rich people at a party. Like the main character in "The Overcoat", just wearing it lifts her self-esteem. She was part of society, and this necklace was the key. But then, she loses it. Dropped in the mud, stolen, no one knows for certain, but it can't be found. She and her husband borrow enough money to pay for a new one, then spend the next 12 years working day and night to pay for it. There's a zinger, though, right at the end.

Both of these stories made me consider the importance of things, and the difference between necessities and desires.

"The Halfling" by Leigh Brackett is also a classic, but of a different era. It was originally published in Astonishing Stories, Feb 1943. Early on, the story read like something Bogart and Bacall would be perfect for. A taste:
It was that kind of voice - sweet, silky, guaranteed to make you forget your own name. I turned around.
That feel didn't stick with the story all the way through, but it was a fun piece of Golden Age science fiction. The main character is a carnival owner, and the beings on display are from all over the solar system. The lady with the silky voice is a dancer with incredible, off-world skill, but she's after a carnival job for reasons that are not obvious.

At this writing, I'm at 28 stories, and Jenny has sprinted ahead with 33... I may need to quit my job! Whatever it takes.

Next up: "Mazirian the Magician", a novelette by Jack Vance.

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