So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Translated From The Original French By DANIEL DELEON

The Infant's Skull is the 11th book of Eugene Sue's 21 volume series The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age. The series was created to be a European history that depicts 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 as each generation of Joel's family writes the story of their lives and adds it to the collective story gathered so far.

In this book Joel's descendant is Yvon, the son of a forester, who disguises himself as an idiot called "The Calf" to avoid being oppressed into serfdom. When the book opens in 987, Yvon lives in the castle of Louis V, the last Carolingian King of France who was called Louis the Do-Nothing. Yvon uses his wits to craft a miracle cure that gets him his father's job as forester.

There are historic topics that are touched on but not developed related regicide and the Millennial hysteria of Christians believing the world is to end. The rich give their wealth and lands to a greedy church to obtain heavenly peace. The poor stop working the land thinking the end of their misery is at hand. After orgiastic revelry sweeps the land on New Year's Eve 999, the poor wake up to just another day worse than those before, with famine sweeping the land. Yvon and his family are driven by hunger and misery to leave for Anjou, where his son is at last forced into the serfdom that Yvon spent his life avoiding.

This is the shortest book in the series, and it has great dramatic moments. Sue's moralizing was designed to make this a proletarian statement, but there is no silver lining to the dark cloud he has created. Serfdom has taken its hold on France and there is no escape for the poor.

Translator's Preface
Among the historic phenomena of what may be called "modern antiquity," there is none comparable to that which was witnessed on the first day of the year 1000, together with its second or adjourned catastrophe thirty-two years later. The end of the world, at first daily expected by the Apostles, then postponed— upon the authority of Judaic apocalyptic writings, together with the Eevelations of St. John the Divine,—to the year 1000, and then again to thirty-two years later, until it was finally adjourned sine die, was one of those beliefs, called "theologic," that have had vast and disastrous mundane effect. The Infant's Skull; or, The End of the World, figures at that period. It is one of that series of charming stories by Eugene Sue in which historic personages and events are so artistically grouped that, without the fiction losing by the otherwise solid facts, and without the solid facts suffering by the fiction, both are enhanced, and combinedly act as a flash-light upon the past — and no less so upon the future.
As with all the stories of this series by the talented Sue, The Infant's Skull; or, The End of the World, although one of the shortest, rescues invaluable historic facts from the dark and dusty recesses where only the privileged few can otherwise reach them. Thus its educational value is equal to its entertaining merit. It is a gem in the necklace of gems that the distinguished author has felicitously named The Mysteries of the People; or The History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages.
DANIEL DE LEON. New York, April 30,1904.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage

Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage

I am currently re-reading in PDF downloaded from Google Books Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage on a tablet computer.

Matilda Joslyn Gage was raised in an Abolitionist home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. A mother of four, she was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her life's work was the struggle for the complete liberation of women. Carved on her gravestone are the words she lived by: "There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty."

Originally published in 1893, this book is a major feminist work of the Nineteenth Century that identifies the sources of women's oppression as the church and its offspring, the state. Alarmed by the conservative religious movement of the time that tried to amend the Constitution to declare the U.S. a Christian state, Gage wrote this book to articulate her views that christianity was the oppressor of women.

In the first chapter called The Matriarchate, the author tells of the rights women had in pagan pre-christian times. She talks of the Mother-rule, that preceded Patriarchy. She then shows that christianity from its beginning has worked to undermine women's rights.

The following seven chapters outline the oppression of women in the west and its sources in first the church, and later in the state that developed its ruling principles from canon law. These chapters deal with Celibacy, Canon Law, Marquette (a term that Gage uses for jus primae noctis, the right of lords to the sexual favors of their peasant women), Witchcraft, Wives, Polygamy, and Work. These chapters are filled with examples from history as well as the contemporary 19th century. The documented examples of women's oppression at the hands of ministers of the church and the law in this section are an impressive collection that makes this book a valuable source for feminist herstory.

In the last two chapters, Gage looks at the church of her day and shows that it is still bogged down in the same dogma of women's oppression. She predicts a great revolution which will liberate women and give them equal rights with men in both religion and society. I am sure the women's movement of the 1970s with its emphasis on women's spirituality and the Equal Rights Amendment would have convinced her that she was right.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Iron Arrow Head: or The Buckler Maiden, A Tale of the Northman Invasion

The Iron Arrow Head: Or, The Buckler Maiden, a Tale of the Northman Invasion, Volume 10 of The Mysteries of the People, by Eugene Sue

The Iron Arrow-Head by Eugene Sue is the 10th volume of a history of France in novel form. The series tells the story of two groups: the original Gauls and the conquering Franks who invade from the northern lands of Germany and become a ruling class.
The setting of this volume is the year 911 in the city of Paris. France is controlled by Frankish lords and Catholic bishops, while the native Gauls are conquered people in their own land. Count Rothbert rules Paris, but fears invasion from Norse vikings who plunder in fleets of swift ships. He can control the Gallic people with his own troops, but fears they will join the vikings rather than fight them off.
The viking invaders, sensing that the Frankish rulers are divided and weak, have started making land claims as well as taking plunder and settling in parts of France. In The Iron Arrow Head, the viking leader Rolf (also known in history as Rollo or Robert I) attacks with over 1,000 ships and wants, in addition to plunder, the land now known as Normandy, and to wed Ghisele, the daughter of the French King, Charles the Simple. What makes this interesting to the modern reader is that Rollo's descendants were the Dukes of Normandy, and following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, kings of England.
The invasion of the Normans, or Northmen, or Norsemen—called throughout this brilliant story the Northmans—bears characteristics that distinguish it markedly from all the other European invasions. With all the others the migrations were brought on by home changes of soil and waterways that drove the invaders westward. War was only a means, the goal was bread. With the Northman invasion it was otherwise. The goal was war and adventure. This simple circumstance places a wholly different stamp upon the Northman invaders. It explains the impulse they gave to oratory, poetry, music and the fine arts. Their rush from the frozen north through Europe—conquering and transforming England; carving for themselves large domains out of the French territory, then held in the imbecile hands of the imbecile successors of Charlemagne; startling the populations of southern Italy and Sicily—acted like a leaven through all the territories that they traversed. And they traversed none without raising its tone with their poetic-barbarian spirit.
This story, the tenth of the Eugene Sue series "The Mysteries of the People; or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages," is a matchless sketch of the Northman. It reproduces his uncouthness illumined with his brilliant latent qualities. The characteristics of the Northman invader have for their setting the physical and intellectual dullness of the Frankish conquerors of Gaul. The clash of the two reproduces a historic picture, or a page of history, that is unique.
The fears entertained by Charlemagne and expressed in the preceding story—"The Carlovingian Coins; or, The Daughters of Charlemagne"—are verified in this. A race of bold and adventurous invaders steps upon the scene of France, shocking the ruling class, arousing the ruled, and introducing a fresh breath into the land.
The Northman invasion of France reads, even in the driest work of history, like a rollicking Norse tale. That spirit is preserved in this charming historic novel, which is as instructive as it is entertaining, and in which again a descendant of the conquered race of Joel witnesses the degradation of the second royal house of France preparatorily to the witnessing, a few generations later, by another descendant of Joel, of the downfall of that second dynasty and the rise of the third, narrated in the following story, "The Infant's Skull; or, The End of the World."
New York, July, 1908.