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Figures of Earth : A Comedy of Appearances…

Figures of Earth : A Comedy of Appearances (1921)

by James Branch Cabell

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Cabell's major work, being the basis of all further references to the career of Dom Manuel the Redeemer, of Poictesme, the former herder of swine. There is also found some matter referring to his three major loves. The tale is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always cleverly phrased. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 3, 2019 |
Who influences the influencers - according to many fantasy and satirists alike it was Cabell who's fantasy and wit is wry and dryer than the Mojave. I can definitely see where many of the greats appreciated his craft at the time from Twin, Heinlein, Leiber, Gaiman and Pratchett, but those masters took the craft to another dimension entirely. Read at the risk of curing your insomnia. ( )
  revslick | Aug 20, 2013 |
*note to self. Copy from A.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Cabell apparently intended the Biography of Manuel as "one single, one continuous, and one undivisible Book" -- which description may prove initially confusing at the realisation the 18 novels do not treat of the same character, nor a chronological order. After completing this, my third novel from the Biography, I do begin to see some of the themes and motifs. Clearest is that the Biography is a comedy in the classic sense; and essentially tells the same story in different guises with each manifestation. That said, each novel is not merely that same story, though that would be achievement enough given the very different plots, characters, and settings used each time. Like any myth, though, there is a fundamental story at root.

WR Parker in his 1932 essay, 'A Key to Cabell' [434]:
"Cabell writes of it again in Straws and Prayer-Books: 'It is perhaps the main point of the Biography that it -- and human life -- present for all practical purposes the same comedy over and over again with each new generation.' An understanding of this perennial comedy constitutes the true key to Cabell. Briefly and simply stated, the comedy is this: Man becomes dissatisfied with reality, grows weary of futile routine and foolish conventions and ugliness. He seeks escape by creating in his own mind an ideal world, a utopia, in which his thoughts can dwell pleasantly. Most of the Cabellian characters literally move into the dream-world, where they go in quest of some particular perfection. Then man becomes aware of the fact that he is desiring the unattainable, and so, thoroughly disenchanted, he returns to reality and makes the best of things as they are."

Manuel here seeks explicitly the perfection of a mate, most particularly does not find satisfaction with three candidates, and indeed "makes do" with the girl he meets at the very beginning, whom he fell for as a lad and returns to after much chivalry and dishevel, eyes wide open. Apparently Figures of Earth explores the "literal" biography of Manuel, echoed and alluded to in other tales, and itself echoing and alluding to Horvendile (Cream of the Jest) and to various others in Silver Stallion, at least. Another Cabellian irony that this was not the first volume, but the 13th in publication order and the 2nd in Cabell's revised sequence.

Cabell's prose is gossamer, but in effect not aesthetically: I find it difficult to attend to the writing and track the plot, helpless unless I pick one or the other. And yet, the tale is plainly told. For some reason I can't summarise the story arc unless I focus explicitly, which then results in lost appreciation for the prose itself (as wordcraft, as literary and mythopoeic writing). All of Cabell's prose is like this for me. Partly a result, I think, of Cabell's choice to use myth and romance and fantasy as a means of structuring a tale, and then commenting upon modern life rather than focusing specifically on the realm he's imagined. His ironic distance, again, though in no way does this detract from his care in world building. Poictesme is fitted with a fully-realised culture, history, and people. Layers and layers.

Cabell is cynical, ironic, romantic, realist -- and somehow fuses that into a knowing idealism. I do love his perspective, it is matched only by his stylings and erudition. Never hesitate to purchase or re-read anything by Cabell: a working thesis to be tested from here on. ( )
3 vote elenchus | Jul 17, 2011 |
  mcolpitts | Aug 1, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Branch Cabellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carter, LinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foreman, MikeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koslow, HowardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oakes, TerryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pape, Frank C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Love, as I think, is an instant's fusing of shadow and substance. They that aspire to possess love utterly fall into folly. This is forbidden: you cannot. The lover, beholding that fusing move as a golden-hued goddess, accessible, kindly and priceless, wooes and ill-fatedly wins all the substance. The golden-hued shadow dims in the dawn of his married life, dulled with content, and the shadow vanishes. So there remains, for the puzzled husband's embracing, flesh which is fair and dear, no doubt, yet is flesh such as his; and talking and talking and talking; and kisses in all ways desirable. Love, of a sort, too remains, but hardly the love that was yesterday's." [Miramon: 26-27]
[T]he secret of a contented marriage, after all, is to pay particular attention to the wives of everybody else. [Miramon: 39]
[W]ith the achieving of each desire you will perceive its worth. [Horvendile: 49]
"Are words, then, so important and enduring?"
"Why, Manuel, I am surprised at you! In what else, pray, does man differ from the other animals except in that he is used by words?"
"Now I would have said that words are used by men."
"There is give and take, of course, but in the main man is more subservient to words than they to him. Why, do you but think of such terrible words as religion and duty and love, and patriotism and art, and honor and common-sense, and of what these tyrannizing words do to and make of people!" [Freydis: 154]
There is no hour in my life but I go armored in reserve and in small lies, and in my armor I am lonely. [Manuel: 157]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345281705, Mass Market Paperback)

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Published in 1921, this novel may be considered the first in the Poictesme series, for it is here that Cabell introduces his great hero, or anti-hero, Manuel the Redeemer. A rogue who begins in the mud but through sharp dealings rises to become the wealthy and illustrious Count of Poictesme, Manuel's journey makes him a legend.… (more)

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