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Palais-Royal

by Richard Sennett

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1811,014,132 (3.33)None
Ablaze with intellectual and social change, Paris in the 1830s and 1840s beckons to two English brothers--Frederick and Charles Courtland, an architect and a priest--each of whom is struggling for self-definition and social recognition. Of their lives and this world Sennett has made a remarkable work of fiction that transports the reader into nineteenth century Europe and into the nature and inconsistencies of culture and faith, and the way each is shaped by the passage of time.… (more)
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An epistolary vision of 19th century in Paris and London, Sennett's novel is dedicated, fittingly, to the memory of Michel Foucault. The book may seem pedantic to some but appealed to me due to its enormous appetite for intellectual synthesis and illustration. The story concerns a pair of English brothers, the Courtlands: Fredrick, an architect of daring vision yet true aesthetic tact; and Charles, once a country curate who, humbled by the avidity of faith of someone like John Henry Newman, finds his own vocation wavering and instead follows his brother to France, where he establishes himself as a journalist, a kind of English Goncourt. There are also the letters and journal entries of a young woman, Adele Mercure, whose family connections to the Courtlands (her mother is Fredrick's mistress) leave her all the more hungry for their heady intellectual integrities. But it's the social lists and names (Gautier, Liszt, Balzac), and the architectural/cultural implications of the Paris arcades (Fredrick's project, and that which so involved Walter Benjamin)--it's these and asides about theater and Cardinal Newman and scandalous journalism that make up the bulk of the novel. The author plays with time and the use of letters is sometimes difficult to follow. However, in spite of this the novel is impressive in its intellectual breadth. Certainly worth the journey for those interested in ideas. ( )
  jwhenderson | Oct 13, 2012 |
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Ablaze with intellectual and social change, Paris in the 1830s and 1840s beckons to two English brothers--Frederick and Charles Courtland, an architect and a priest--each of whom is struggling for self-definition and social recognition. Of their lives and this world Sennett has made a remarkable work of fiction that transports the reader into nineteenth century Europe and into the nature and inconsistencies of culture and faith, and the way each is shaped by the passage of time.

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