4 ♠ The Mystery of Marie Rogêt … A ♥ The Old Manse

Mystery of Marie RogetThe Mystery of Marie Rogêt is from the trio of C. Augustus Dupin mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe.  It is closely based on the real-life murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers, except the setting is Paris instead of New York City.  Marie Rogêt leaves her home one Sunday evening, purportedly to visit a relative, and she is not seen again until her body is found floating in the Seine.  The newspapers are full of speculation regarding the mystery, but Dupin’s only concern is to reconcile the known facts with each other and, slightly different than his British counterpart, to eliminate the unlikely.

I remember when I first read this story, years ago, and found it to be pretty bland.  It is more of a commentary than a story.  The one thing that stood out to me this time was the brutality of the crime, much worse than the average Holmes story, but more true to life in that it was based on real life.  I think we tend to have a rose-colored perspective of the 19th century, but really it was profuse with some of the same issues, and the same barbarity of crimes, that exist today.

Despite the slow pace of the Dupin stories, I do wish Poe had written a full-blown detective series, just like I wish Melville had written more Royal Navy stories.  Then perhaps there would be more of these humorous random moments:

…the Prefect broke forth at once into explanations of his own views, interspersing them with long comments upon the evidence; of which latter we were not yet in possession. He discoursed much, and beyond doubt, learnedly; while I hazarded an occasional suggestion as the night wore drowsily away. Dupin, sitting steadily in his accustomed arm-chair, was the embodiment of respectful attention. He wore spectacles, during the whole interview; and an occasional signal glance beneath their green glasses, sufficed to convince me that he slept not the less soundly, because silently, throughout the seven or eight leaden-footed hours which immediately preceded the departure of the Prefect.

Detroit Photographic Company (0389)

It’s early days, but so far The Old Manse by Hawthorne is my favorite from the Deal Me In challenge.  I can’t really explain it, but I feel a very strong connection to Hawthorne’s writing.  Even when he is just writing about the old house he lived in, for a short time, there is something so personal and profound in the way he makes the whole place become real to you and impresses you with its quiet significance.

He talks about Emerson, whose family lived in the house for decades before Hawthorne.  He describes a vignette from the Revolutionary War which he supposes could have taken place within view of the Old Manse.  Hawthorne takes you down the river on a fishing excursion, and you walk with him through his bountiful orchard in the autumn, and watch his garden grow in the spring.

We were so free to-day that it was impossible to be slaves again to-morrow. When we crossed the threshold of the house or trod the thronged pavements of a city, still the leaves of the trees that overhang the Assabeth were whispering to us, “Be free! be free!”

Eventually, Hawthorne’s life took him him back to the city, away from the Old Manse, to earn his livelihood working at a customs house.  There is always this call in his stories to keep these beautiful places in your head, pure moments that live in your memory and which even time can’t undo.  A very Romantic notion…but something quite uplifting, even practical, for day-to-day life.

8 ♦ Ashputtle

Cinderella-Prinsep …also known as Cinderella!

I promise I shuffled the cards very, very well at the beginning of this challenge, and yet here we have another fairytale.   Not that I’m complaining.  (And besides, random selection is unlikely to be uniform.)  I already know my next card – and rest assured! it’s not a diamond.

The Grimm fairytales are an altogether different assortment than Andersen.  For one thing, the Grimm brothers were primarily collectors, scholars, and editors, not inventors of original tales.  There is decidedly less poetry in their stories.  The style is terse and upfront, making these plots fast-paced and very short.  “Ashputtle” is no exception.

Once again, I was unsettled by the violence – and, well, mutilation – found in an otherwise familiar setting.  There was no modern feeling of concern in Ashputtle’s marrying a stranger, since she could hardly do worse than her own family.  Even her father, alive in this version, appears to disown her; he is quick to marry again and also begins to think of her as a servant.  I don’t know…I guess it was a happy ending (?!).

It was interesting how logistics were handled in this story.  The narrator is so careful to explain how Ashputtle could have gone to the ball in her beautiful gown and come back in time to change back into her old dress.  Yet other facts (the origins of the family dysfunction, for one) are completely glossed over.  I suppose that is more characteristic of what a child’s questions would be, as opposed to an adult’s.

I’ve read a few other Grimm stories before this one, and I can say that the difference between the “dark” aspects of Grimm versus those of Andersen are the way they are presented.  Andersen takes his stories pretty seriously and wants the reader to do the same.  Grimms’ stories are almost tongue-in-cheek, self-consciously shocking, and effectively dark humor.  I’ll bet that was more for the storyteller’s benefit than the children’s…

3 stars.

Wait – I ought to mention Hawthorne, since his mythology came first.  He would certainly not have written something so dark as “Ashputtle,” and I think that – dare I say it – his distinctly American type of realism would not have come up with a moral as convoluted as the one in “The Little Mermaid.”  The trade-off is that while I can rate “The Golden Fleece” higher, these other two are vastly more memorable.

To a degree, it may be unfair to compare them exactly.  A mythology should be a bit grand, and a fairytale at least a little weird.  Still, these were all written for children, and I think there is something to get out of each of them, as different as they are.