PHARAOH'S DREAM by Robert Harbison


The Secret Life of Stories
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 In a dizzying display of historical cultural literacy, Harbison (English/St. Martin's School of Art, London; Eccentric Spaces; 1989, etc.) traces through a series of narrative works two themes he considers related: the decline of magical thinking, of belief in the supernatural; and the rise of the autonomous individual. Isolating seemingly unrelated texts from the spiritual, cultural, and creative complexities that produced them, Harbison imposes a thematic relationship that he believes they conceal. Thus, from Gilgamesh, Genesis, Greek myths, and the Norse Beowulf, he traces the internalization of evil and the loss of the supernatural. His literary adventure--not very well defined and somewhat impulsive, full of wordplay, epigram, and unrelated insights--proceeds through ChrÇtien de Troyes, Thomas Malory, and the Romance of the Rose; Dante's La Vita Nuova (awakening a ``hunger for allegory, which it is careful not to satisfy''); Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Sidney's Arcadia, and Spenser's Faerie Queene; Shakespeare, Bunyan, Marivaux, and Richardson- -followed by a potpourri of Gothic tales by Walpole, Kleist, Hawthorne, and Kafka. The ironists Stendahl and James, who attempted to bring the magic of myth into realistic narratives, are succeeded by Proust--whose work Harbison finds to be ``a disordered flood of images or a delirium,'' reassembling ``the world out of order, attributing wrong causes, retaining vanished facts,'' and after whom ``fiction seems bereft and awash in used up possibility.'' Fascinating--but bewildering and not entirely trustworthy- -intellectual fun.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-87923-889-5
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Godine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993