01 January 2010

After the Carnage

A single train engine ran through a flock of sheep leaving a bloody mess. Then,
Presley saw again, in his imagination, the galloping monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye, Cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path, the leviathan, with tentacles of steel clutching into the soil, the soulless Force, the iron-hearted Power, the monster, the Colossus, the Octopus.
Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)
My recollections of reading this novel nearly twenty years ago are vague. McTeague (1899) is far more memorable. Never far from my consciousness is the scene early on when McTeague gets a billiard ball stuck in his enormous jaws, and the panic that shows in his eyes until the ball flies across the room after a hard pat on the back. Likewise, Trina's bedding with her gold remains an unforgettable image. Somehow, The Octopus carried less weight in that graduate seminar so long ago. Norris's grand novel offered a strong metaphor at the center, but a less memorable story than his story of a dentist. Did we really read the book?

In any case, another effort to get through Frank Norris's tale was stimulated last night when I began anew my reading of the classic biography of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1898, there had been twenty multi-million-dollar industrial trusts; now, there were one hundred and eighty-five. The proliferation evoked an image, in many minds, of a constrictive organism stretching out to every extremity of American civilization. Hence the title of Frank Norris's new antitrust novel: The Octopus.
Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (2001)


Patriot Hustler said...

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Here's my blog:

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