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Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel
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Purple Cloud (original 1901; edition 1986)

by M.P. Shiel

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4911131,813 (3.21)32
Member:raak
Title:Purple Cloud
Authors:M.P. Shiel
Info:Allison & Busby (1986), Paperback
Collections:Your library
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Work details

The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel (1901)

  1. 00
    The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (hathaway_library)
    hathaway_library: This narrative hits its stride at sea, combining elements of the fantastic with a visit to a polar region.
  2. 00
    The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle (bertilak)
  3. 00
    The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle (bertilak)
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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I read this book and loved it, so I was a little disappointed when I taught it in the context of a seminar on British literature from 1890 to 1950, and my students pretty much bounced off it, finding it all a bit weird. I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed, too, as I remembered it being weirder. The notes to the Penguin Classics edition I assigned to my students indicate its copy text is the novel's original 1901 serialization, whereas the 2001 Bison Frontiers of the Imagination edition I'd read a few years prior was drawn from a 1929 revision, so maybe that accounts for the difference. (Editor John Sutherland's claim that Shiel was fortunate to not live long enough to see the 1959 film adaptation The World, the Flesh and the Devil is, however, total pish. The film is excellent.)
  Stevil2001 | Aug 26, 2016 |
Stories from this time period love having some sort of introductory framing device. This one has to be the most convoluted I've encountered: the author tells us that he has received a letter from a dying friend, a hypnotist. Accompanying the letter was a notebook, which the hypnotist says contains a transcription of the trances of one of his patients. While in trance, the patient psychically travels in time, but rather than directly observing events, reads manuscripts. This story is a manuscript she 'read' while her consciousness was cast into the future. The future manuscript is the account set down by a member of an expedition which hoped to be first to reach the Pole...

After the introductory bit...

The first quarter of the book is a Polar Expedition narrative. A significant award has been offered to the first man - and the first man only - to reach the Pole. For some reason, there's no discussion of the possibility of a team agreeing to share the reward. So - the conniving and backstabbing involved in positioning to be first is significant. Meanwhile, a preacher rails against the endeavor, saying that God does not intend Man to plumb these mysteries. And of course, once they set forth, there are the normal, but terrible, rigors of travelling through the polar regions. Only one man will survive...
I found this first part of the book to be quite entertaining... and also historically illuminating into the attitudes of the time, when the North Pole had not yet been attained, and the popular consciousness was filled with the ongoing efforts.

When the sole survivor makes his lone way back from the Pole, it is only to discover that while he was alone in the arctic regions, some terrible disaster has struck. First he discovers the odd corpses of animals... and smells a strange odor. Gradually, the reality sets in: nothing alive is to be found.
This middle half of the book is EXTREMELY similar to Mary Shelley's 'The Last Man,' (https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/966835), which was published in 1826. ('The Purple Cloud' came out in 1901.) I freely admit that I found 'The Last Man' to be overly lengthy, overly detailed, and ultimately tedious, as it recounted the solitary wanderings of the titular character. This section of 'The Purple Cloud' is similarly lengthy, detailed and tedious, and shares the 'travelogue'-like quality of the narrative with the earlier work - but with the addition of repeated assumptions of Western cultural superiority. In addition, the main character - never a 'good' person to start with, goes mad. While insanity brought on by solitude is believable, the character's state of mind isn't really all that well drawn, and rather than being drawn into his madness, I ended up just finding his courses of action peculiar and baffling. From a technical/logistical standpoint, the events are preposterous to the point of being absurd. Still, while flawed, this part of the book was interesting.

The last quarter of the book brings it down to one star.
(Possible Spoilers Ahead... if you don't want to know where the book goes from here, don't read on...)

This is where our 'last man' discovers another survivor - a young woman who was born shortly after the disaster, and has somehow survived on her own for 20 years in an air-tight dungeon, nourished solely by a store of dates and white wine. She is innocent, beautiful and childlike (and thoroughly, thoroughly awful as a character). Naturally, the obvious plot development would be for these two to repopulate the Earth as Adam and Eve (yes, the main character's name is Adam). However, our narrator is reluctant &unwilling to do so, and resolves to control his urges, as he considers his own personal flaws, and all of the evils that were embodied by humanity. From here, the whole thing devolves not only into one of the most sexist depictions ever, but into a preachy, moralizing Christian screed.


And that's it... it never comes back around to the framing device or makes any commentary on it.

Apparently, there is more than one version of this novel. From the wiki:

"The novel exists in three distinct texts. It was first published as a serial, with illustrations by J. J. Cameron, in The Royal Magazine, Vol V, #27-#30, Vol VI, #31-32, January - June, 1901. This is the shortest version, and was photo-offset in Volume I of A. Reynolds Morse's monumental series, The Works of M. P. Shiel (1979–1983).[3]

The original book text was published in London by Chatto & Windus in September 1901. This is the longest version, and is considered by many to be the preferred text.[4][5] The 1901 text was reprinted in London by Tartarus Press in 2004 in a superb edition with all the Cameron illustrations from the serial and a new Introduction by Brian Stableford.[6] Hippocampus Press included the 1901 text, but without the illustrations, in an omnibus volume, The House of Sounds and Others, edited by S. T. Joshi (2005).[7][8][9] The 1901 text was also used in the edition published in 2012 in the Penguin Classics series with a new Introduction by John Sutherland.[10]

Shiel revised the novel in the 1920s, by tightening the language, rather than changing the plot. This version was first published in London by Victor Gollancz Ltd. (1929), and in New York by Vanguard Press (1930).[11] This, the final version, was the text most commonly reprinted in numerous subsequent editions."

I'm not sure which version I read (the free-on-Amazon one: https://www.amazon.com/Purple-Cloud-Matthew-Phipps-Shiel-ebook/dp/B0082V6ABM), but it was very long, and non-illustrated.

Read for Post-Apocalyptic Book Club. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Aug 4, 2016 |
Stories from this time period love having some sort of introductory framing device. This one has to be the most convoluted I've encountered: the author tells us that he has received a letter from a dying friend, a hypnotist. Accompanying the letter was a notebook, which the hypnotist says contains a transcription of the trances of one of his patients. While in trance, the patient psychically travels in time, but rather than directly observing events, reads manuscripts. This story is a manuscript she 'read' while her consciousness was cast into the future. The future manuscript is the account set down by a member of an expedition which hoped to be first to reach the Pole...

After the introductory bit...

The first quarter of the book is a Polar Expedition narrative. A significant award has been offered to the first man - and the first man only - to reach the Pole. For some reason, there's no discussion of the possibility of a team agreeing to share the reward. So - the conniving and backstabbing involved in positioning to be first is significant. Meanwhile, a preacher rails against the endeavor, saying that God does not intend Man to plumb these mysteries. And of course, once they set forth, there are the normal, but terrible, rigors of travelling through the polar regions. Only one man will survive...
I found this first part of the book to be quite entertaining... and also historically illuminating into the attitudes of the time, when the North Pole had not yet been attained, and the popular consciousness was filled with the ongoing efforts.

When the sole survivor makes his lone way back from the Pole, it is only to discover that while he was alone in the arctic regions, some terrible disaster has struck. First he discovers the odd corpses of animals... and smells a strange odor. Gradually, the reality sets in: nothing alive is to be found.
This middle half of the book is EXTREMELY similar to Mary Shelley's 'The Last Man,' (https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/966835), which was published in 1826. ('The Purple Cloud' came out in 1901.) I freely admit that I found 'The Last Man' to be overly lengthy, overly detailed, and ultimately tedious, as it recounted the solitary wanderings of the titular character. This section of 'The Purple Cloud' is similarly lengthy, detailed and tedious, and shares the 'travelogue'-like quality of the narrative with the earlier work - but with the addition of repeated assumptions of Western cultural superiority. In addition, the main character - never a 'good' person to start with, goes mad. While insanity brought on by solitude is believable, the character's state of mind isn't really all that well drawn, and rather than being drawn into his madness, I ended up just finding his courses of action peculiar and baffling. From a technical/logistical standpoint, the events are preposterous to the point of being absurd. Still, while flawed, this part of the book was interesting.

The last quarter of the book brings it down to one star.
(Possible Spoilers Ahead... if you don't want to know where the book goes from here, don't read on...)

This is where our 'last man' discovers another survivor - a young woman who was born shortly after the disaster, and has somehow survived on her own for 20 years in an air-tight dungeon, nourished solely by a store of dates and white wine. She is innocent, beautiful and childlike (and thoroughly, thoroughly awful as a character). Naturally, the obvious plot development would be for these two to repopulate the Earth as Adam and Eve (yes, the main character's name is Adam). However, our narrator is reluctant &unwilling to do so, and resolves to control his urges, as he considers his own personal flaws, and all of the evils that were embodied by humanity. From here, the whole thing devolves not only into one of the most sexist depictions ever, but into a preachy, moralizing Christian screed.


And that's it... it never comes back around to the framing device or makes any commentary on it.

Apparently, there is more than one version of this novel. From the wiki:

"The novel exists in three distinct texts. It was first published as a serial, with illustrations by J. J. Cameron, in The Royal Magazine, Vol V, #27-#30, Vol VI, #31-32, January - June, 1901. This is the shortest version, and was photo-offset in Volume I of A. Reynolds Morse's monumental series, The Works of M. P. Shiel (1979–1983).[3]

The original book text was published in London by Chatto & Windus in September 1901. This is the longest version, and is considered by many to be the preferred text.[4][5] The 1901 text was reprinted in London by Tartarus Press in 2004 in a superb edition with all the Cameron illustrations from the serial and a new Introduction by Brian Stableford.[6] Hippocampus Press included the 1901 text, but without the illustrations, in an omnibus volume, The House of Sounds and Others, edited by S. T. Joshi (2005).[7][8][9] The 1901 text was also used in the edition published in 2012 in the Penguin Classics series with a new Introduction by John Sutherland.[10]

Shiel revised the novel in the 1920s, by tightening the language, rather than changing the plot. This version was first published in London by Victor Gollancz Ltd. (1929), and in New York by Vanguard Press (1930).[11] This, the final version, was the text most commonly reprinted in numerous subsequent editions."

I'm not sure which version I read (the free-on-Amazon one: https://www.amazon.com/Purple-Cloud-Matthew-Phipps-Shiel-ebook/dp/B0082V6ABM), but it was very long, and non-illustrated.

Read for Post-Apocalyptic Book Club. ( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Aug 4, 2016 |
(An 80) (A 110) year-old 'last man on earth' fable. I had trouble with the vocabulary, allusions and references, as not only is it old but it's British, and it has pretensions of being literary philosophy rather than just a good thoughtful story. If you get a kick out of sentences that are almost a page long maybe this would intrigue you. I just wished he'd get to the point - it took me much too long to read.

I do admit that it presented a different take on the protagonist's perspective - that it, this last man has a different attitude and strategy than others of whom I've read. So, I dunno, maybe 2.5 stars.

If you do read it, please tell me if the first section, the frame, serves any thematic perspective or is just pragmatic.
( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
The purple cloud 2/5

This book could have been so good. The concept was great and i appreciate the time period that it was written in but geeze its boring at times. It took a month, yes a whole month to read this book, if it took out half of the the repetitive words it would have been half the length! I know repetition is good for emphasis but this was over board. I found i was getting to a few really good pages then to be met by 20 odd boring ones which i couldnt of cared less about and it added nothing to the story, this author loves pointless padding! Its far to over descriptive in places and you find your self just willing the book to get shorter so its out of the way. The 2 star is mainly for the concept and i actually managed to finish it but i wouldn't recommend it as i would with other classics. ( )
  shelley.s | Jun 17, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
M. P. Shielprimary authorall editionscalculated
Clute, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shimizu, YukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilcock, J. RodolfoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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About three months ago-that is to say, towards the end of May of this year of 1900-the writer whose name appears on the title-page received as noteworthy a letter, and packet of papers, as it has been his lot to examine.
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estai kai Samos ammos, eseitai Dealos adaelos
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803292791, Paperback)

"If now a swell from the Deep has swept over this planetary ship of earth, and I, who alone chanced to find myself in the furthest stern, as the sole survivor of her crew . . . What then, my God, shall I do?"

The Purple Cloud is widely hailed as a masterpiece of science fiction and one of the best "last man" novels ever written. A deadly purple vapor passes over the world and annihilates all living creatures except one man, Adam Jeffson. He embarks on an epic journey across a silent and devastated planet, an apocalyptic Robinson Crusoe putting together the semblance of a normal life from the flotsam and jetsam of his former existence. As he descends into madness over the years, he becomes increasingly aware that his survival was no accident and that his destiny—and the fate of the human race—are part of a profound, cosmological plan.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:37 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Sheil's free-flowing and persuasive style of writing produces a convincing portrait of Adam Jefferson -- a man who, upon returning alone from an expedition to the North Pole, learns that a world-wide catastrophe has left him the last man on Earth.

(summary from another edition)

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