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Hassan by James Elroy Flecker

Hassan (original 1922; edition 1924)

by James Elroy Flecker (Author), Thomas MacKenzie (Illustrator)

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1064113,849 (3.61)2
Authors:James Elroy Flecker (Author)
Other authors:Thomas MacKenzie (Illustrator)
Info:[S.l.] : [s.n.], 1924.
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:already donated/sold/swapped, drama

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Hassan by James Elroy Flecker (1922)



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What a strange—and largely forgotten—work of literary Orientalism. Hassan strikes the usual traditional-Western notes of excess and cruelty in its portrayal of the legendary caliph Harun al-Rashid, so it has not aged well. But with its heady mix of rapid-fire witty wordplay, situational comedy, and near-farcical sadism and tragedy one can certainly understand how it impressed itself upon the consciousness of the young Robert Irwin, who pulled the title of his recent memoir For Lust of Knowing from a passage in this play. In the memoir Irwin relates his time spent on the road—between undergraduate terms at Oxford in the 60s—in North Africa and in an Algeria Sufi tariqa. He kept a copy of this Penguin edition close at hand during his travels. In no danger of being re-issued but worth seeking out for its outlier status in the Orientalist canon. ( )
  jrcovey | Jan 6, 2014 |
A once-popular piece of exotica, set in the Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid, who comes off here in rather poor light than in many other literay treatments. I suspect that most of those who've even heard of it know it either from association with the British theatrical giant Basil Dean or from Delius' music, used in a famous production of the piece. As orientalia it comes off rather oddly, despite Flecker's own knowledge of the world East of Suez. I have never seen it performed as a play, but read silently it comes cross as a most unlikely hybrid of high melodrama and SJ. J. Perelman. At one point a character is admonished not to "plunge the finger of Inquiry into the pudding of Impertinence". Strange, but come to think of it, not a bad Life-Principle. ( )
  HarryMacDonald | Jan 23, 2013 |
Normally I don't like reading plays because I don't hear the different voices, only my own droning on through all the parts. And I bought this just for the dark blue moiré silk binding, the flecked blue paper and the lovely illustrations (drawings of the stage costumes of the main characters). But the text here is so visually rich - like written embroidery - that reading it was a pleasure. It has poetry, wit, humour, intelligence, humanity and at the end, dreadful cruelty. I'm not sure I would like to see it on the stage. ( )
  overthemoon | Feb 24, 2011 |
On Saturday I went to the matinee of Flecker's Hassan done by the [Oxford University Dramatic Society]. It was not very well done, but well enough for me: indeed to see it really well acted would be too much for me. In reading it the cruelty is just about balanced by the extreme beauty of the lyrics and much of the dialogue, so that the total effect, tho' sinister, like a too-bright dream which is sure to turn into nightmare before the end, yet is bearable. On the stage, where one has less time to dwell on the cadence or suggestion of the individual words, the cruelty is unendurable...It has haunted me ever since.

On its merits as a work of art I am very undecided. The intense effect which it produces is not, in itself, proof of greatness, for it is easy to produce an effect by the suggestion of physical pain: and such an effect, reaching the spectator through his nerves rather than his imagination, is perhaps as much outside art in one direction, as pornography is another. On the other hand, the whole of the ending seems to me almost great. You remember how Ishak finds Hassan fainting after being compelled to witness the torture of the lovers, and how, when Hassan begins to stammer out some of the horrible details, Ishak says 'You are still full of devils. Wake up! STOP DREAMING!!' - and that, flashing one's mind back to what Pervaneh says in the Diwan scene about this world's being an illusion, and leading straight on to the caravan for Samarkand - the broad moonlit desert stretching away and swallowing up the nightmare city in its clean solitude - all that does give one the true tragic feeling of having been brought, thro horrors, right out of the ordinary illusion of life into some higher world. Another thing that is good is the scene in which all the adventures begin - where they are taken up in the basket into the house with no doors whence they heard the sound of dancing. This is the only place which strikes the note of the real Arabian nights - the midnight possibilities of an Eastern city full of magicians. it is a pity he didn't work it out on those lines. As it stands it is too morbid: and one sees Flecker in places not feeling it as tragic at all but licking his lips (you remember his horrible face - it is the frontispiece of the Poems - and gloating. Still, his powers were extraordinary and one is sorry that he didn't live to grow out of consumption and Parnassianism and decadence: he would have been a great writer in the end I believe.
- from a 23 February 1931 letter to Arthur Greeves, in The collected letters of C.S. Lewis, volume I ( )
  C.S._Lewis | Mar 29, 2009 |
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