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Is there a thesis somewhere out there on The Influence of Giono on McCarthy? I chanced to read Giono’s The Horseman on the Roof (Le Hussard sur le toit) right after McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and found so much likeness between them that the latter began to seem a reworking of the former. I wonder if it is. Let me note some of the similarities.

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The part I like best—I don’t say it’s the best thing in the book absolutely, I don’t have an argument to establish that—is in Chapter 28, when Jane Eyre finds herself “face to face with Necessity” at what she will call “the sordid village” (and why sordid, exactly? because corrupt and mean in more than one sense). “Amongst the romantic hills … a hamlet and a spire” seem to promise well, situated by a green valley with a stream running through it, even if the scene summons the hitherto superior traveler to “strive to live and bend to toil like the rest.”

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In Whose Body?, the first of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels, the hero sees the solution all at once:

       And then it happened—the thing he had been half-unconsciously expecting. It happened suddenly, surely, as unmistakably, as sunrise. He remembered—not one thing, nor another thing, nor a logical succession of things, but everything—the whole thing, perfect, complete, in all its dimensions as it were and instantaneously; as if he stood outside the world and saw it suspended in infinitely dimensional space. He no longer needed to reason about it, or even to think about it. He knew it.

       There is a game in which one is presented with a jumble of letters and is required to make a word out of them, as thus:

C O S S S S R I

       The slow way of solving the problem is to try out all the permutations and combinations in turn, throwing away impossible conjunctions of letters, as:

S S S I R C

or

S C S R S O

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The terrible little peasant who haunts the dreams and visions of Anna Karenina receives full attention in Nabokov’s loving account of her story (see his Lectures on Russian Literature), which everyone should read—after the novel itself, of course: even the greatest commentators should hold their peace until a work has spoken. Then it goes without saying that this brief post is for those who know both of the books indicated by the title.

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The name “stream of consciousness” was devised by William James; the thing itself is no doubt as old as the conscious brain. How and when did it achieve literary representation? Vladimir Nabokov claims that this “method of expression … a kind of record of a character’s mind running on and on, switching from one image or idea to another without any comment or explanation on the part of the author,” was invented by Tolstoy for the occasion of Anna Karenina’s last afternoon. There the device is in “rudimentary form,” whereas James Joyce will advance it “to an extreme stage of objective record” (Lectures on Russian Literature). But do we regard it as essential that the artist present the stream as inward? There seems no good reason to, since however disorderly the phenomenon inadequately called a “stream” may be, its presentation has in any case the linearity of speech. Abandoning this requirement, we can easily discover the “record of a mind” before Tolstoy. Dickens has it in Nicholas Nickleby.