Review 1666: The Winged Horse

It’s going to be hard to describe this novel without either giving too much away or being too vague. The description on the Virago back cover focuses too much on the role of business tycoon J. G. Baron, when really he is more the catalyst of the action.

Harry Levitt is an American on his way to England for a job with J. G. Baron. He and Baron’s entourage are on shipboard along with Baron’s oldest daughter, Celia, who has been living in the States but is now separated from her husband and moving home.

J. G. is an unlikable person. He surrounds himself with yes men and is hypocritical and self-deceptive. He dislikes two of his three children and terrifies the third. Celia is the only one who doesn’t try to please him, as she dislikes him back.

When we meet Harry, he is a practiced dissembler who feels insecure about his Midwest background so has invented Californian origins. Despite a bad start with Celia, while living in England, Harry develops a close relationship with her siblings Tobias and Liz and with their friend Anthony Carey, a mediocre sculptor known to the family as Thank-God-for-Anthony. Anthony seems perfectly assured and the only person who is not afraid of J. G. The Barons consider him the epitome of probity.

Harry, as he grows to love England and feel accepted, becomes calmer and more assured. However, there is a family tragedy, and subsequent events allow Frankau to explore themes of power, truth, and dishonesty.

At first I had trouble being interested in these characters, but eventually I became involved in this story. I did find irritating the way Frankau handled the characters’ inner thoughts, just as if they were dialogue, which seemed artificial. But this is a minor criticism.

I read this book for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1618: The Prince

I put The Prince on my Classics Club list mostly out of curiosity. Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I can well understand some of the controversy surrounding it.

Machiavelli wrote the book for the newly arisen Medici family, and the last chapter is basically a plea for Lorenzo di Medici to rise up and conquer Italy. The Prince is a treatise on power: how to get it, how to keep it, what to do with it. It is utilitarian rather than moral. For example, it advises princes that they need not honor their promises once they are in a position of power if the promises are not in their best interests.

Although Cesare Borgia was considered ruthless and cruel even in his own time, Machiavelli several times holds him up as a model and clearly venerates him. But then, his ideas are not ours, for he tells a story of a principality being won. The principality needed good government, so the prince put in charge a man known for his ruthlessness and rapacity. Once the area was settled, the prince “wiped out” his lieutenant. Good work!

The book is regarded as a realistic analysis of the pursuit of power. This is why it is still widely studied. It is written in a straightforward style, assertion followed by example.

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