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Domnei; The Music From Behind the Moon: Two…

Domnei; The Music From Behind the Moon: Two Comedies of Woman Worship (1928)

by James Branch Cabell

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The wry vision of Cabell has served up another chapter in the High History of Manuel the redeemer. It is coupled with "The Music From Behind the Moon" a very short narrative. The tale is full of jokes stemming from the big hit "Jurgen" and still fun for those who had been on board this particular stream of whimsey. "Those who like this sort of thing, will," I am sure , "like this thing very much." Written by 1927, the author's Introduction may not be amusing, to a modern reader...but sustained irony is an acquired taste that in this instance may demand considerable research before it is clear. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Oct 22, 2017 |
In this edition are bound "two comedies of Woman-Worship": Domnei and The Music from Behind the Moon, the latter perhaps more novella than novel. Cabell notes in the afterword to the former (this afterward a Cabellian admixture of authorial commentary and an extended fiction, a pendant to the story) that domnei is chivalric love, a Weltanschauung which has as much to do with a man's code of conduct as it does with the woman the chevalier loves. This story, then, is another exploration of how our search after an unattainable ideal, how our belief in that ideal, nevertheless does make real change in our person, and brings us closer to the very ideal we seek. And that, after all, is Cabellian Romance: an Idealism tempered by Pragmatism, each compromising each, the end result something finer than either alone. A species of metaphysical Realism.

The characters and plot are simple but richly embroidered: the embroidery provides the heft not already given through Romance. I cannot hold on to it, though it is richly rewarding as I read it. The bare bones then as ably sketched by Lin Carter: "In Domnei we read of the passionate devotion of heroic young Perion for the lovely Melicent, and how she was carried into captivity by the villainous Demetrios." [vi] It quickly comes clear, though, that Melicent (Dom Manuel's eldest daughter) represents life's paragon to both Perion and Demetrios, that the adversaries respect and honour one another equally to Melicent herself, and there is the tenor of a love triangle, or perhaps of someone in love with both a sister and her brother, and they each with him. Domnei was previously published as "The Soul of Melicent".

"Music" is less embroidered, more fabulous, averaging a page per chapter, and treats of different characters but the same dynamic of chivalric love. Here it is Madoc pursuing another of Dom Manuel's daughters, the youngest, Ettarre. I thought I read somewhere, perhaps of another edition of "Music", that it represented not chivalry but poetry. Clearly here it stands in for another tale of domnei, but the hero is a poet, so perhaps they are not so far apart.


"It was a canon of domnei, it was the very essence of domnei, that the woman one loves is providentially set between her lover's apprehension and God, as the mobile and vital image and corporeal reminder of Heaven, as a quick symbol of beauty and holiness, of purity and perfection. In her the lover views -- embodied, apparent to human sense, and even accessible to human enterprise, -- all qualities of God which can be comprehended by our restricted human faculties." [161]

And Baalzebub complains: "A pest upon this domnei! ... For then [when driven by domnei] the idiot hungers after a life so high-pitched that his gross faculties may not so much as glimpse it; he is so rapt with impossible dreams that he becomes oblivious to the nudgings of his most petted vice; and he abhors his own innate and wholly natural inclination to cowardice, and filth, and self-deception. He, in fine, affords me and all other rational people no available handle; and, in consequence, he very often flounders beyond the reach of my whisperings." [162-63]


Keeping in mind that Cabell deliberately revived the Provencal poets, and set his stories in their milieu, we do well to avoid putting too much weight on the placement of personal pronouns. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Oct 5, 2015 |
Oh, I so love "Domnei" - it is my favorite of all that I've read by Cabell. There is passion, faith, cynicism, and incredible perserverence and determination. Melicent is one of the great female characters of high fantasy. The three main characters are brilliantly sketched, Melicent, Perion, Demetrios, and the supporting characters are also skillfully drawn. I must confess to a sneaking wish, when I read it, that Melicent could have fallen in love with Demetrios (the way I did), but then the ending wouldn't have been the same... ( )
1 vote Tirzah | Jan 23, 2009 |
To me, easily the best of Cabell's fantasies, because it is a perfectly straight (and lovely) chivalric romance, whereas most of his stories are told (to borrow a phrase from Laffety)
with the tongue so far into the cheek that it comes out the ass. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 18, 2008 |
"Domnei" is the revised version of "The Soul of Melicent," as Cabell's first publisher titled the first edition. It is an elegiac comedy, a medieval romance with an ironic aftertaste. I suppose it is possible to read it as simple fantasy, but it is not so simple. An early work of Cabell, it is, nevertheless, quite polished, and it contains that great Cabellian witticism, among many others: "The optimist proclaims that this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true."

With the long short story, or fable, "The Music from Behind the Moon," we come up to one of the greatest works in the Cabellian canon. It is funny, suggestive, beautiful, and sadly moving. It is an expression of the author's philosophy in briefest artistic form. Alas, this publication reprints the Kalki Edition, I believe, not the far superior Storisende Edition. Find the later edition. It is one of the greatest works of world literature. This volume's version is for the curious only, since the great work is in its earlier, unfinished form. ( )
2 vote wirkman | Mar 31, 2007 |
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This novel was first published in 1913 as The Soul of Melicent.
It was then reprinted in in 1920 in a slightly revised text under the author's preferred title, Domnei: A Comedy of Woman-Worship.
Then in 1928 for the collected (Storisende) edition of Cabell's works, The Music from Behind the Moon (a novella originally published separately) was added to Domnei and they were subtitled Two Comedies of Woman-Worship; this text was also used for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy reissue.
So, strictly, volumes that contain only The Soul of Melicent or the 1920 Kalki Domnei (or reprints derived from this such as the Wildside edition) should be kept separate from volumes that contain the two works Domnei and The Music from Behind the Moon (such as the Storisende and Ballantine). Unfortunately the double work is sometimes listed simply as Domnei, though when these display the Ballantine 0345- isbn prefix we can tell. The single work and the double work have been separated here as best as may be. When listing yours, please specify if The Music Behind the Moon is present; and do not combine the two separated works.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345281713, Mass Market Paperback)

This is a pre-1923 historical reproduction that was curated for quality. Quality assurance was conducted on each of these books in an attempt to remove books with imperfections introduced by the digitization process. Though we have made best efforts - the books may have occasional errors that do not impede the reading experience. We believe this work is culturally important and have elected to bring the book back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:30 -0400)

Cabell was an early 20th century author of fantasy fiction. Domnei is subtitled A Comedy of Woman-Worship. This is book four in the series The Biography of the Life of Manuel. The series follows Don Manuel the Count of Poictesme. Poictesme is a fantasy province in France. His physical and spiritual descendents are followed through several generations.… (more)

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