Sunday, August 14, 2011

Five best: decadent writing of the 19th century

Nicholas Frankel is the editor of The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition (Harvard University Press, 2011). He is an Associate Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of decadent writing from the nineteenth century.

One title on his list:
The Wild Ass's Skin
by Honoré de Balzac (1831)

'Excess! I want to live to excess!" cries Balzac's hero, Raphael de Valentin, as he clutches the magic shagreen, or ass's skin, that will prolong his life of dissipation and pleasure, according to the antiquary who gives it to him. Raphael has been warned that the skin will shrink with every wish it grants and that his life will expire when it has shriveled to nothing. But he is willing to pay that price if it enables him to continue an existence given over to gambling and fruitless desire. At first he revels in the bargain he has struck. But as the skin shrinks, he grows terrified of the world and of the temptations—and wishes—it stirs. The novel is a remarkable meditation on man's capacity to exhaust himself in his quest for gratification.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue