Monday, April 18, 2016

Count Stenbock's Contemporary Reviews

This well-dressed chap is Eric Stanislaus Count Stenbock. Many of the readers of this blog will, of course, know him as one of the exotic flowers of the decadent movement in art and literature at the end of the 19th century. He even had the good grace, as any decedent poet and author should, to die young and tragically. His few slim volumes are now exceedingly scarce and even the 20th century reprints often sell for a pretty penny or three. Of his sad and lilting life you may read more at his Wikipedia page.

Of Stenbock's four books, the last two had similar titles, The Shadow of Death: Poems, Songs and Sonnets (The Leadenhall Press: 1893) and Studies of Death: Romantic Tales (David Nutt: 1894). A little digging recently lead me to two contemporary reviews which I thought I would share here. The first is perhaps one of the snidest and more excoriating reviews I have ever seen, but for that reason it becomes almost as amusing a parody as it suggests of the book it reviews! It is from The Pall Mall Gazette of 1894

'The Shadow of Death by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock, is so very subtle a little book that we venture to think the author made a mistake in not adding a preface to give some hint of its real character. For want of some such explanation, there is every risk of the ordinary reader taking it seriously and throwing it forthwith behind the fire as a parcel of silly doggerel. Whereas really, of course, as becomes obvious after a little reflection it must be a parody - an elaborate and screaming parody of that latterday literary abortion, the youthful decadent. The slipshod versification, the maudlin sentiment, the affected preciousness, the sham mysticism and sham aestheticism, the ridiculous medley of Neo-Paganism and Neo-Catholicism, Verlaine and the Vulgate - all the nauseating characteristics of the type, in short, are here reproduced in lively burlesque, and the result is in its way quite one of the most amusing books we have ever seen. In his parodies of Sappho and Goethe it must be admitted Count Stenbock is not quite so happy; and is it not carrying mystification too far to describe them, as he does, as "paraphrases" and "translations"?'

The second, rather more measured review is from the Glasgow Herald in 1895:

'Studies of Death. Romantic Tales by Eric Count Stenbock (London: David Nutt, 1894). - On the quaint cover of this little volume we have presented to us, inter alia, an avenue of funereal cypresses, a couple of black cranes, a couple of owls (back and front view), a serpent and (we rather think, but we are not quite sure) a gravestone. Yes Studies of Death is not quite so depressing as it looks. It is true that in most of the little stories it contains people die; but, then, heroes and heroines die in novels, whatever may be printed on the title-page, and even without black crows, cypresses, and serpents on the cover. Count Stenbock's style, if it is really that of a foreigner, is remarkably good; an injudicious appreciation of the most objectionable feature of Kipling's writing - viz., oaths, is probably responsible for the language which soils the otherwise pretty tale of "The Egg of the Albatross." "Narcissus" perhaps shows the truest fancy. Amid much that is merely "precious" in this fantastic volume, we think we discern a writer of ability; at all events, the book is "curious"'

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