An enlightening exploration of the symbiotic relationship between art and literature.

THE PEN AND THE BRUSH

HOW PASSION FOR ART SHAPED NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRENCH NOVELS

How hundreds of stolen paintings affected 19th-century French writers.

Goncourt Prize–winning author Muhlstein approaches literature in a unique way. In Monsieur Proust’s Library (2012), she explored his lengthy novel via the books he read, while Balzac’s Omelette (2011) examined how food influenced his novels. Here, Muhlstein looks at French authors of the 19th century via art, starting with the French Revolution. Thanks to Napoleon’s victories and his “to the victor belong the spoils” approach, convoys laden with great art made their ways to France (especially the Louvre). The government then did something new, letting their citizens view the art for free. The public and writers went in droves. Thus, “two forms of art were entwined.” Muhlstein focuses on the writings of Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust to show how they were profoundly affected by these works of art, many of which they had never seen before. Each began creating more artist characters and, more importantly, “truly invented a visual style of writing.” Balzac came under the influence of Rembrandt, Raphael, and Delacroix. “Opening a Balzac novel,” writes Muhlstein, is like walking into a museum,” watching the artists and models “step out of their frames to come into the story.” Unlike Balzac, Zola always lived among painters, and the influence of art on his writing style was immense. Cézanne was a good friend, and Zola often modeled for his paintings. Under the influence of the impressionists and their attention to light, Muhlstein argues, Zola “became the first landscapist writer.” Huysmans’ “extravagant and fantastical” novel Against the Grain clearly shows the influence of the painter Gustave Moreau. Maupassant chose to make a painter his main character in Strong as Death: “his characters’ choice of art would inform readers about their personalities.” The “last great fictional painter” of the century, Proust, was deeply affected by the works of Monet and Turner.

An enlightening exploration of the symbiotic relationship between art and literature.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1590518052

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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