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Jurgen : A Comedy of Justice by James Branch…
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8221716,139 (3.76)1 / 64
Title:Jurgen : A Comedy of Justice
Authors:James Branch Cabell
Info:New York: Dover Publications, 1977, c1946.
Collections:Your library
Tags:fantasy, humor, illustrated, TheBiography, Poictesme

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Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice by James Branch Cabell (1919)


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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This comic fantasy caused quite a stir in its day. But it's not all that interesting today. Episodic and doesn't hang together too well. ( )
  nog | Aug 14, 2018 |
" Now I do perceive, " said Jurgen, " that Hell is pretty much like any other place. " ( )
1 vote | Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Cabell is the fantasy writer of the road not taken: urbane, sophisticated, civilized -- which also means dependent on a web of allusions and on the reader's grounding in his predecessors.

Jurgen is the best-known of his novels and one of his best. It does not require (but is enriched by) prior knowledge of his Poictesme; it is assisted more by having the general background knowledge that an educated (and a classically-educated) reader would have had in the early 20th Century, though that is not absolutely required, either.

It helps in reading the story to keep in the back of one's mind things like Jean-Baptiste Pérès' demonstration that Napoleon was a solar myth, and keep an eye on the calendar.

The pawnbroker Jurgen goes in search of his wife, who has been taken away by Koschei, and manages to come up against various mythical, legendary, and generally non-earthly realms and their rulers. He also passes from lady friend to lady friend, some not entirely human, as he goes. He is clever, not averse to dissembling, and adaptable: Odysseus to Dom Manuel's Ajax, Cabell's pre-emeinent example of the gallant approach to life. He ends up returning to domesticity and to the erasure of his travels.

Cabell was resolutely non-heroic in attitude, and his type of fantasy, perhaps more reminiscent of the French prose tradition (Rabelais, Voltaire, Proust, Alain-Fournier) than of the English in its wit and structure, has had little impact on the writers of the later 20th Century. (Heinlein may make gestures towards Cabell in Job, also titled "A Comedy of Justice", but it's hard to imagine a writer less equipped to write Cabellian literature than Heinlein.) ( )
5 vote jsburbidge | Sep 26, 2016 |
I find him a bit of a chore to read and miss much of his humor. Another whacky ride, but the language is amazing. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Jurgen, an aging pawnbroker who considers himself a poet and a “monstrous clever fellow,” sets off to find his missing loquacious wife — not because he likes her, but rather because his family and friends say it’s the manly thing to do. While searching for Lisa, he enters a strange land and charms Mother Sereda into temporarily giving him back his youth and good looks. Then he uses his renewed vigor to lie and philander his way across a magical landscape, “dealing fairly” with all the women he meets, as he half-heartedly searches for his wife. Along the way he meets dozens of historical and mythical creatures and people (including Queen Guenevere, shown in the picture), first introducing himself as a duke, then promoting himself to prince, king, emperor, pope, and eventually, for a moment, even God.

Despite being a vain and hypocritical rogue, Jurgen has a sentimental heart (though he can’t seem to be faithful). But he is never content, even when he’s married to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, or even when he’s sitting on God’s throne. Thus, the story of Jurgen is about man’s quest for meaning, pleasure, and purpose. Jurgen is full of human insight and amusing social satire and, for a novel written in 1919, is oh so impolite. Much of the symbolism and metaphor is crude and puerile double entendre of the “big upright lance” and “remarkable powers of penetration” type.

Yet, James Branch Cabell (rhymes with “rabble”) writes in a sardonic voice which is beautiful and genuinely clever and funny, especially when Jurgen talks about women:

* I am looking for my wife, whom I suspect to have been carried off by a devil, poor fellow!
* Love’s sowing is more agreeable than love’s harvest.
* You talk and talk: no woman breathing equals you at mere volume and continuity of speech: but you say nothing that I have not heard seven hundred and eighty times if not oftener.
* “You have a wife, then!” says Jurgen, who was always interested in such matters. “Why, but to be sure! Either as a Christian or as a married man, I should have comprehended this was Satan’s due. And how do you get on with her?”
“Pretty well,” says Grandfather Satan: “but she does not understand me.”
“Et tu, Brute!” says Jurgen.
“And what does that mean?”
* For the devils, he found, esteemed polygamy, and ranked it above mere skill at torturing the damned, through a literal interpretation of the saying that it is better to marry than to burn.
* When Jurgen asks if it’s possible to get divorced in Hell, the devils say no because “we trafficked in them for a while, but we found that all persons who obtained divorces through our industry promptly thanked Heaven…”

I also found it amusing that Jurgen, a pawnbroker with a paunch, backs up his arguments with fake scholarly citations and uses the study of mathematics to seduce intelligent women.

Even a well-educated reader will miss most of the allusions in Jurgen unless armed with a source such as David Rolfe’s Notes on Jurgen. These notes also point out references to Cabell’s previous novels about his fabricated world of Poictesme. Fortunately, understanding of all of these allusions isn’t required for enjoyment of the story, but they elicit chuckles when discovered and could be a source of much diversion for those who like to spend time studying these kinds of things.

Back in its day, Jurgen was deemed offensive by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which tried to get it banned. This, of course, only increased Jurgen’s popularity. The Vice squad lost their case because, superficially, Jurgen seems harmless enough and, according to Cabell and his publisher, complaints about the recurrent references to Jurgen’s big staff, majestic scepter, upright lance, and amazing sword (which seem to meet a lot of veils, sheaths, clefts, and other dark places along the way) prove only that Cabell's detractors have dirty minds.

Perhaps the real issue behind the outcry against Jurgen, however, is its disrespect of Christianity and, in particular, the Roman Catholic Church. For, when Jurgen is sent to Hell, he meets Grandfather Satan and learns that Hell is merely a construct developed by men who think so highly of themselves that they feel that their bad deeds were so influential that they cannot be forgotten and must be punished for eternity. The devils that Jurgen meets are hard-pressed to keep up with people’s demands for torture, lament that Hell’s population is increasing, and look for ways to stop the influx. When Jurgen gets bored of Hell, he talks his way into Heaven and finds that it’s just a figment of his grandmother’s imagination. His discussions with St. Peter cast an ill light on Catholic bishops and popes.

Jurgen is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free at Project Gutenberg. I downloaded the mobipocket version and stuck it right on my Kindle. Besides being free, Jurgen is an interesting and thoughtful novel which is worth reading not just for entertainment, but as part of the history of fantasy literature. ( )
4 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Branch Cabellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blaisdell, BobIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blish, JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burnett, VirgilIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cover, James P.Annotatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coyle, Ray F.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foreman, MikeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Papé, Frank C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perez, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rubin, Louis D. Jr.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Titterton, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagenknecht, EdwardForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walpole, HughIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windom, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is a tale which they narrate in Poicteme, saying: In the old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486235076, Paperback)

A witty and irreverent landmark of modern fiction, this compelling fantasy recounts a time-traveler's adventures through a supernatural dreamscape in which he has romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. Unabridged republication of the definitive 1926 edition, with 13 full-page illustrations by Frank Papé.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:04 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A middle-aged pawnbroker is given an opportunity to relive his youth. In his travels he encounters, among others, Guenevere, the Master Philologist, the Philistines, his father's Hell, and his grandmother's Heaven.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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