So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Gold Sickle


The Gold Sickle, or Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of Sen: A Tale of Druid Gaul by Eugene Sue

The Gold Sickle is the 1st volume in a series called The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages that was written from 1849-1857. The author, once called "the king of the popular novel," created this series to be a European history that depicted the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typifies the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted in a series of stories that culminate in the European Revolutions of 1848.

Considered classics of Marxist/Socialist thought, these books are mostly forgotten today, and the English-language editions published at the beginning of the 20th Century have only recently become available through large-scale digitization projects of Public Domain books. Daniel DeLeon, leader of the Socialist Labor Party of America and translator of this series into English, writes in his Preface to The Gold Sickle that it was owning class influence that kept English translations of this series from being available for over 50 years. A 2004 article entitled "Eugene Sue : Champion of the Oppressed" in The People, written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the English translations, says the following about the series:
"It is by far the best work ever written for giving the working class reader an intimate picture of society as it evolved in France from the days of Gaul, before the Roman conquest, to the middle of the 19th century. It is especially valuable for the picture that it provides of the various phases of feudal society, and the growth of infant capitalism within the feudal womb."

While Sue's anti-Catholic works The Wandering Jew and The Mysteries of Paris are still known, this Socialist series of 19 novels in 21 volumes has suffered, and I only find one listing of them on the Internet in the Eugène Sue entry of Books And Writers

The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age series
1. The Gold Sickle or Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of Sen: A Tale of Druid Gaul
2. The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death: A Tale of Caesar's Gallic Invasion
3. The Iron Collar; Or, Faustina and Syomara: A Tale of Slavery Under the Romans
4. The Silver Cross; or, The Carpenter of Nazareth: A Tale of Jerusalem
5. The Casque's Lark; or, Victoria, The Mother Of The Camps: A Tale Of The Frankish Invasion Of Gaul
6. The Poniard’s Hilt; or, Karadeucq and Ronan: A Tale of Bagauders and Vagres
7. The Branding Needle; or, The Monastery of Charolles: A Tale of the First Communal Charter
8. The Abbatial Crosier; or, Bonaik and Septimine: A Tale of a Medieval Abbess
9. The Carlovingian Coins; or, The Daughters of Charlemagne: A Tale of the Ninth Century
10. The Iron Arrow Head; or, The Buckler Maiden: A Tale of the Northman Invasion
11. The Infant's Skull; or, The End of the World: A Tale of the Millennium
12. The Pilgrim's Shell; or, Fergan the Quarryman: A Tale from the Feudal Times
13. The Iron Pincers; or, Mylio and Karvel: A Tale of the Albigensian Crusades
14. The Iron Trevet; or, Jocelyn the Champion: A Tale of the Jacquerie
15. The Executioner’s Knife; or, Joan of Arc: A Tale of the Inquisition
16. The Pocket Bible; or, Christian the Printer: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (2 volumes)
17. The Blacksmith’s Hammer; or, The Peasant Code: A Tale of the Grand Monarch
18:1. The Sword of Honor; or, The Foundation of the French Republic: A Tale of the French Revolution
18:2. The Sword of Honor: Part II - The Bourgeois Revolution: A Tale of the French Revolution
19. The Galley Slave’s Ring; or, The Family of Lebrenn: A Tale of the French Revolution of 1848

Having already enjoyed Sue's The Wandering Jew, I looked forward to starting a work which will unite my interest in serial novels, historic fiction, and Class Warfare. Fortunately, the whole series seems to be available free to anyone who has Kindle or epub software on their reading device.

This first volume is a prelude, setting the scene for the grand drama the author planned. Set in 58 BC, we are at the home of Joel on the coast of Brittany as he and his large extended family are preparing to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Hena. While returning home the night before the party, Joel meets a stranger riding toward the sea whom he coerces into spending the night at his table. Hospitality to strangers is how isolated families like Joel's received news. In exchange for dinner and a warm bed, visitors were expected to tell stories of their travels and what is going on in other parts of the land. This traveller tells that the Romans, who have long occupied southern Gaul, are now, under Julius Caesar, beginning to move their armies north. His mission is to unite the families of the north to fight back and drive out the invaders.

The book is short and related from the point of view of Joel. In this manner we the readers get into the Gallic mindset, so different than that of the Roman invaders whose culture we know. We learn of their spiritual beliefs, customs and daily life as their routine is interrupted by the call to war.

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