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.

4 ♦ The Golden Fleece

And my first story for the Deal Me In challenge comes from Tanglewood Tales.  How appropriate!

Constantine Volanakis Argo

“The Golden Fleece” is the last story in Tanglewood Tales, a sequel to A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.  Through the frame plot of a young student, Eustace Bright, retelling Greek myths to his little cousins, Nathaniel Hawthorne takes us through the highlights of these sanguinary dramas in a quaint, cosy, and child-friendly format.  “The Golden Fleece” recounts the epic quest of Jason and the Argonauts, as they embark in a fifty-oar ship to find the mythical ram’s fleece and reclaim the kingdom that was stolen from Jason’s father.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit.  It was entertaining and often funny, a nice balance to the darkness of Gatsby to start off this year’s reading.  The abrupt ending – and a few loose threads – were the main things I wished had been tidied up.  However, those are more or less due to the myths themselves and not Hawthorne’s rendition, necessarily.  4.5 stars.

A side note – many critics would take issue with his bowdlerization of the original plots.  It doesn’t bother me, especially since he approaches it almost like a spin-off rather than censorship.  Growing up, I read another small collection (for children) of the Greek myths, and it was perhaps slightly less “adapted,” but also more dreary.  The point is, I do think this is a good adaptation to give kids the gist of the myths.  This, and Wishbone (oops – dating myself here!).