Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fortnightly Book, June 21

As some of you may know, a portion of the Fortnightly Book series consists of reading through the books I inherited from my grandparents; I do read others, as occasion suggests them, but the series was started so that I could read through the inherited books, and about half of them have tended to come from that group. There are a few multi-volume works in the batch, however, that I've not really known how to do in this kind of series. I did do Les Miserables, which was pretty intensive reading. But the most obviously problematic example is Richard Burton's edition of The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, three thick volumes totaling somewhere around 4000 pages. I do read a lot, and I read quickly, but I also do many other things, including some rather time-consuming research, and I am also always reading more than one book at a time. I do not think I can manage that much in two weeks, or even in one of the stretched three-week 'fortnights' I take when I am especially busy.

So what I've decided to do is simply break it up. After all it's an endless series of tales, and seems quite suited to being taken partwise. (I also don't think I will go straight through; I will intersperse other books, and I just intend to get all three done by the end of the year.) Thus the next fortnightly book is the first of the three volumes in the Heritage Press edition, which is in its turn the equivalent of a Volumes I and II of the Limited Editions edition of which the Heritage Press edition is essentially the cheaper version. (The full Richard Burton edition was originally published in ten volumes; I don't know how far this Heritage Press volume takes us in the original ten volume series, nor in the later but more widely read sixteen volume edition.) This volume is 1334 pages long and takes us up to the 271st night of Shahrázád's ingenious use of cliffhangers and stories withing stories to prevent her husband from actually going through with his plan of killing her the next morning.

There is no one version of the One Thousand and One Nights; we have the frame story about Shahrázád (more often spelled 'Scheherazade') in quite a few manuscripts, but the actual stories told are not all the same. And, somewhat ironically, the single most famous tale, that of Aladdin and his lamp, is not one of Shahrézéd's tales in any manuscript at all: it first becomes associated with the Nights in the first European edition, because Antoine Galland published his version of the Nights together with several other tales he had discovered. Likewise, the ending is not exactly the same in all of them, although in all of them it is a happy ending. Thus there are lots of different versions of the Nights. Burton's, if I understand correctly, draws from one of the relatively late Egyptian versions (the one sometimes known as the Macnaghten version), which bulked up the tales to guarantee that there would actually be at least 1001 nights; the original title seems to have been a figure of speech, and a lot of the manuscripts have less than three hundred distinct stories.

The Heritage Press volume I will be reading is one of the handsomer books in my possession, with an ivory-colored linen spine stamped in gold leaf and a tangerine cover-papers printed in gold and black. It has a thousand and one drawings by Valenti Angelo.

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