Bill Kerwin's Reviews > The Unfortunate Traveller; Or, the Life of Jack Wilton

The Unfortunate Traveller; Or, the Life of Jack Wilton by Thomas Nashe
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Sep 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 16th-17th-c-brit, proto-novels, picaresque
Read from September 26 to October 10, 2011 , read count: 1

This narrative published in 1594 is sometimes listed as the first English novel, but it is surely not a "novel" in any formal sense of the word. An odd book, extremely loose in construction, it begins as a collection of prankish anecdotes, shifts into a picaresque account of continental travel (studded with the occasional casual satire and stylistic parody), and ends as a grim Italianate narrative fraught with rape, murder and revenge.

But the style, oh the style! Nashe is a master of English prose--the sort of rambling, periodic prose, discursive and musical, that expired long before the beginning of the eighteenth century. The book is often difficult to read (the vocabulary is at time obscure and daunting), but the stylistic beauties of Nashe's prose make the journey worthwhile.

Speaking of revenge: if you read nothing else in this book, read the gallows speech toward the end in which Cutwolf tells us how he avenged the murder of his brother. Anyone who has even a vestigial belief in eternal damnation will find this account horrible indeed. (Cutwolf is everything Hamlet is not...and vice versa.)

Here's just a little taste of Nashe's unique prose, in which a gentleman poet speaks to his former servant about his love for lady-in-waiting Geraldine:
Ah quoth he, my little Page, full little canst thou perceiue howe farre Metamorphozed I am from my selfe, since I last saw thee. There is a little God called Loue, that will not bee worshipt of anie leaden braines, one that proclaimes himselfe sole King and Emperour of pearcing eyes, and cheefe Soueraigne of soft hearts, hee it is that exercising his Empire in my eyes, hath exorsized and cleane coniured me from my content.

Thou knowst statelie Geyaldine, too stately I feare for mee to doe homage to her statue or shrine, she it is that is come out of Italic to bewitch all the wise men of England, vppon Queene Katherine Dowager she waites, that hath a dowrie of beautie sufficient to make hir wooed of the greatest Kinges in Christendome. Her high exalted sunne beames haue set the Phenix neast of my breast on fire, and I my selfe haue brought Arabian spiceries of sweet passions and praises, to furnish out the f unerall flame of my follie. Those who were condemned to be smothered to death by shacking downe into the softe bottome of an high built bedde of Roses, neuer dide so sweet a death as I shoulde die, if hir Rose coloured disdaine were my deathes-man.
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06/06/2016 marked as: read

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Wreade1872 I don't remember too much about this except the torture scenes... those will stick with me ;) .


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