Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five best novels featuring revolutionaries

Joseph Epstein is the author, most recently, of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of novels featuring revolutionaries, including:
The Princess Casamassima
by Henry James (1886)

This is sometimes thought to be Henry James's political novel, but it is more his antipolitical novel. Hyacinth Robinson is an orphan, the child of an aristocratic father and a working-class mother who dies in childbirth. A natural candidate for a life in radical politics, he joins a revolutionary group, promising to sacrifice himself for a greater cause. On a trip to Venice, he becomes disillusioned. He realizes, as James puts it, that something greater than politics explains the world: "The figures on the chessboard were still the passions and jealousies and superstitions and stupidities of man, and thus positioned with regard to each other, at any given moment, could be of interest only to the grim invisible fates who played the game—who sat, through the ages, bow-backed over the table." As for the people, Madame Grandoni, another character in the novel, says: "An honorable nature, of any class, I always respect; but I won't pretend to a passion for the ignorant masses, for I have it not." Neither did James; nor should you or I.
Read about another book on the list.

The Princess Casamassima is one of Arch Puddington's five best books on labor.

--Marshal Zeringue