April 25, 2005

Plots, obsessions

By all means, let's begin well:


The lovely lady, of course, is Louise Brooks, a silent cinema star perhaps best known for the films she made in Germany with director G.W. Pabst, Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora's Box. Her German excursion more or less ended her U.S. film career for reasons that to me remain obscure; I imagine that the Louise Brooks Society might have a good explanation. I don't think Brooks was much of a star when she was in Hollywood -- certainly nowhere near as popular as Clara Bow, to cite one example -- but I digress.

I got to thinking of Louise Brooks because of a book I bought over the weekend -- The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.


Borges, whose prologue to the novel is collected in various anthologies of his works, described it this way:

To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.

...largely because Morel is a tightly plotted novel in the tradition of adventure authors -- Dumas, Gaston Leroux, Poe and of course the incomparable Robert Louis Stevenson. Interestingly, in drawing a distinction between the psychological novel and the adventure story, Borges cites Stevenson:

Around 1880 Stevenson noted that the adventure story was regarded as an object of scorn by the British reading public, who believed that the ability to write a novel without a plot, or with an infinitesimal, atrophied plot, was a mark of skill.

I say interestingly, because in that exceedlingly well plotted novella which I believe is Stevenson's most famous contribution to literature, the psychological is so predominant. The edition I linked is not entirely random; its wonderful editor, Robert Mighall, provides a trenchant essay on how The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde was perceived by Stevenson's contemporaries (Oscar Wilde, to quote one of Mighall's examples, had a character say that the work read is if it were an article from the Lancet).

I could point out that in the 1920 Paramount screen adaptation of Stevenson's novella, which starred John Barrymore, borrowed the Lord Henry character from Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray to act as the psychological catalyst for Jekyll's ill-fated experiment, but I'd rather consider for a moment the reason that the lovely Louise Brooks appears on the cover of Morel. Adolfo Bioy Casares was fascinated by her. Interestingly, he didn't care for her German films:

I was deeply in love with her. I didn't have any luck, because she disappeared quickly. She went to Europe, she made a film with Pabst, and then I didn't like her so much as when she was in Hollywood. And then, she vanished too early from the movies.

Obsession, on occasion, is sometimes the only plot required.

Posted by Ideofact at April 25, 2005 01:18 AM

I've always meant to get round to reading something by Bioy Casares, because I'm a big fan of Jorge Luis Borges. Definitely this year then.

I have read a few of the spoof detective stories he wrote with Borges under the pseudonym "Bustos Domecq", which was a bit of a struggle because I tried reading it in Spanish and the original is full of Buenos Aires high society slang and abstruse references to Argentinian events and fashions of the 1930s and 40s (most of the characters in the book are pseuds and poseurs). I'll have to track down an English translation.

Posted by: J.Cassian at April 25, 2005 11:31 AM