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.


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