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(The Biography of Manuel #7)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  737 ratings  ·  96 reviews
One of the most-talked-about works of the 1920s, this compelling fantasy recounts the odyssey of a middle-aged pawnbroker who regains his youth for a year of amorous adventures. Jurgen's allegorical journey leads through a supernatural dreamscape to romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. This edition of Cabell's witty an ...more
Paperback, 346 pages
Published June 1st 1977 by Dover Publications (first published January 1st 1919)
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Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I was curious to find out what was it about this author that was admired by such contemporaries as Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis, and influenced writers like Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Charles G Finney or Neil Gaiman.
King Thragnar and Guinevere
After reading Jurgen, such praise and consideration doesn't seem far fetched, in fact I am baffled he is not more widely discussed in the context of fantasy literature. To give a more easily accesible reference to his particular style of mixing irreverent sex
i've got a new crush, and it's on jurgen. i read it four times in a row. i took a break after the fourth and read a few different things while staying with friends, but now i'm back to longing for jurgen. i'm having trouble thinking of anything or anyone else. the book works on so many levels: there's crude yet witty comedy, satirical allegory, romantical fiction, philosophical musings and kernels of wisdom that make up the.. archaic? anachronistic? fantasy laced with intertextuality unfolding i ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brilliant
It is not easy for the perceptive critic to doubt [the literary permanence of James Branch Cabell]. One might as sensibly deny a future to Ecclesiastes, The Golden Ass, Gulliver’s Travels, and the works of Rabelais as to predict oblivion for such a thesaurus of ironic wit and fine fantasy, mellow wisdom and strange beauty, as Jurgen.
– Burton Rascoe, Literary Editor at the New York Herald Tribune, 1921

Well, I’ve run into a bit of a problem with this review. The thing is… it’s a bit too long.

So I’
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-ebooks
3,5 stars, the extra half star because I spent half the time on Wikipedia brooding over the gaps in my classical education and it's no fault of the book. The story is witty, cynical, irreverent, full of double entendres, bittersweet and totally fun.

A veritable tale of Faith, Desire and Visions (uh, and Cocaigne "(yes, that cocaine)"). I read the Dover edition and the introduction is quite apt.

Recommended to young people who are mature in life and above. Behold Jurgen, from elderly pawnbroker to
Kat  Hooper
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Jurgen, an aging pawnbroker who considers himself a poet and a “monstrous clever fellow,” sets off to find his missing loquacious wife — not because he likes her, but rather because his family and friends say it’s the manly thing to do. While searching for Lisa, he enters a strange land and charms Mother Sereda into temporarily giving him back his youth and good looks. Then he uses his renewed vigor to lie and philander his way across a magical landscape,
Greg Bates
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, favorites
An utterly engrossing and hilarious satire of religion, politics and the mid-life crisis, James Cabell's "Jurgen" is like the unholy fusion of Jack Vance's witticism-filled adventure style and Kurt Vonnegut's black comedy social critiques, only written decades before either of the two started writing. A pawnbroker and "monstrous clever fellow," Jurgen is sent on a fantastic adventure as a reward for being the first person in history to speak well of the Devil (in one of the novel's most amusing ...more
Like our eponymous hero, James Cabell is also 'a monstrously clever fellow'.
Kinda like a meta-fictional 'High Fidelity'. A mid-life crisis questioning the meaning of existence and the disappointment of maturity versus the hopes of youth; via an insane journey through time, space and myth.
This really is a very complete story, it has a really good symmetry to it and great use of language. Its quite lyrical and makes good use of repetition.
There are a lot of references in this from greek myth and
Joshua Buhs
Did not age well.

JBC's Jurgen was wildly popular when it came out, and has proven very influential. It is a high fantasy picaresque tale, combining elements of Cervantes' Don Quixote and Dante's Divine Comedy with (more) modern forms of the 19th century's so-called "New Romantics," such as H. Rider Haggard and Bulwer-Lytton. JBC, though, eschews portentousness and opts for opera buffa.

It is almost impossible to overstate the book's influence. Aleister Crowley loved it, though it mocked his pagan
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Cabell's most notorious novel because of its obscenity association. Beyond that an exposition of accepting things just because that's the way they are. The story involves Jurgen, the last person in Poictesme to see Dom Manuel (with the grim reaper), or did he? Anyway, he has gotten on in age to eight and forty years and wishes he could do it all over again, this time rightly. He gets his wish, but does it all the same again and settles in the end content for the way things are. Along the way we ...more
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After learning that this book was the inspiration for at least two of Robert Heinlein's classics, I was curious to read it. I started the Kindle version but could not get into it, abandoning it less than a chapter in. One of my quirks (I have many) is my inability to leave a book unfinished after I start it, so I decided to purchase the audiobook and force my way through it during my daily commute. The audiobook was narrated by Robert Blumenfeld, who sounds like Sideshow Bob's brother, Niles fro ...more
Erik Graff
Mar 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Rick Strong
Shelves: literature
James Branch Cabell, a geneologist by trade, was one of the more risque "mainstream" writers of my grandmother's generation. Because of his level of notoriety in the twenties and thirties, copies of his books often appear in used bookstores--sometimes as volumes in more than one collection of his works. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, most of his work is unread nowadays.

Jurgen is the great exception and, fortunately, it is all right as a start. being representative of much of his work. It rea
May 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
Perhaps of my readings of Goodreads of 2017 "Jurgen" was the borest of my readings. "Jurgen" is the 7th novel of the cycle The Life of Manuel. The reason because i read this novel is that i would want to investigate one thing, and this novel was not "The Golden Compass" was written by Philip Pullman. This novel is very influenced of the european literature of the 17th century, and the 18th century. I thought in the german novel "The adventurer Simplex Simpliccissimus" was written by Grimelhausen ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantasy classic from 1919. It's the tale of Jurgen, a pawnbroker of medieval France and a "monstrous clever fellow", who inadvertently converses with a supernatural being and thus enters into a strange personal odyssey. The novel became notorious for its suggestive passages, as the old guard tried to suppress it and the young crowd snatched it up. So Jurgen was famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons, but it's nevertheless great, and one of my very favorites.

Behind the magical metaphors
Aug 26, 2011 added it
I'm rereading this - since I'm on a fantasy kick, I need something reliable on my shelf. This is a different sort of a read, where the book is a bag to hold amusing sentences and passages. Here is Jurgen eating lunch at the shore:

"'This is indeed an inspiring spectacle,' Jurgen reflected. 'How puny seems the race of man, in contrast with this mighty sea, which now spreads before me like, as So-and-so has very strikingly observed, a something or other under such and such conditions!' Then Jurgen
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jurgen es una sátira cargada de picaresca, humor y descaro ambientada en una época medieval muy sugerente y con un elenco de personajes muy especiales, liderado por un protagonista atípico pero brillante. Un libro de fantasía muy diferente por el uso de metáforas y su estilo tan peculiar. Recomendado para los amantes de la literatura de fantasía épica y satírica fuera de lo habitual. Reseña completa:
Charles Crain
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The writing was a little dated, but the prose well versed. The overall message showed the timelessness of man's search for meaning during a midlife crisis, knowing that it is closer than ever thought. I would highly recommend everyone read this book, just for the innuendo and double entrandres.
Jun 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the funniest serious books about American culture I've ever read. Of course it takes place in a fantasy realm where Jurgen is rewarded by the devil and must try to get out of his reward through his own understanding of the universe. This one I even got on tape.
Oct 22, 2009 marked it as to-read

"And is the road to this garden roundabout?"
"...inasmuch as it circumvents both destiny and common-sense."
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Myth-breaking fantasy mixed with bawdy Restoration wit and pure picaresque folly!
Robert Read
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book. Of all time.

If you read the other reviews, you can understand what it is at the first level: the story of a man's middle age seen through a prism of fantasy.

It is also poignant to the point of pain, deeply funny, a satire of America, a satire of the Judeo-Christian Universe, a mockery of the devil, an apology for evil, an attack on mankind's overweening pride, the story of a lost love, and regained loves, and lost youth, and regained youth, and foolishness, and truth. T
Stephen Brooke
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, humor
I read, and enjoyed, a few of Cabell’s fantasies when younger but missed out on the most famous (and infamous) of them, ‘Jurgen.’ That’s because it wasn’t reissued as an inexpensive paperback in the 70s, as were so many of his other books.

The story teeters somewhere between high fantasy and avant-garde literary fiction, reflecting both a surrealistic modernism and a very learned, rather old-fashioned, and frequently quite funny sort of symbolism. It’s obviously not everyone’s cup of literature a
Ivan Stoner
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is a work of great brilliance. Cabell is fascinating (apparently he was Mark Twain's favorite author towards the end of his life). Widely praised in his time, but mostly forgotten now.

On the surface, this is a picaresque, wryly funny tale about a man with a very high opinion of himself whose wife is carried away by a devil, and who goes on a long, rambling journey through fantastic and mythical realms to find her, populated by figures from his own past, ancient greece, arthurian legen
Brian Cubbage
This book has the honor of being one of the strangest and impossible to summarize that I have ever read. Jurgen, a dissatisfied, middle-aged pawnbroker in the land of Poictesme with a rather difficult wife, loses his wife one day. She doesn't die; she is just lost. He goes in search of her, but in the process is granted a year in which to relive his youth. He wanders the mythological realms, taking up with Guenevere, the Lady of the Lake, a wood dryad in the realm of Queen Helen, and with severa ...more
Betty Cross
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't remember exactly where I read this book, but I remember the decade, so I put the default date of January 31, 1975. I read this book on my father's recommendation. He said Cabell's books were a big hit for a brief period in the 1920s, but he's forgotten today.

The conversation was prompted by my desire to write fantasy fiction, inspired by my reading of Tolkien's great trilogy. He suggested I read Jurgen, and then said if I wrote a successful book in the same genre it would probably be for
Richard Scott
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Published in the 1920s, this is a book I come back to time and time again. I have recently picked it up for the fourth or fifth time. It is not an easy book to find, and some copies--even paperback--are showing up for more than $50 each. You can find cheaper copies (I paid less than $10 for this well-kept used copy).

There is something about the writing style that speaks to me. While the form of Cabell's writing is not simple, it reads as though it is. His use of language, story, and especially
Nathan Dehoff
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
A humorous novel set at least partially in the land of Poictesme, location of many of Cabell’s stories. It’s officially located within France, but is frequently used as a satire of Cabell’s native United States. I guess I had mixed feelings about the book; I’m not entirely sure I got the majority of the comedy, but it was mostly entertaining. Jurgen is a pawnbroker and poet who regains his lost youth and sets out on a quest for romance and justice, entering into worlds of Arthurian legend and tr ...more
Jonathan Brown
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
I can just imagine Jurgens gravestone eulogy:

Here lies Pawnbroker/Duke/Prince/King/Emperor/Pope Jurgen, a monstrously clever fellow who would try any drink once, and wants you to remember that nobody noes what goes on in the dark.

Notable Quotables:
You may be right in all matters, and certainly, I cannot presume to say you are wrong, but still, at the same time…NO.

Hell was hilarious, with it being run by a (demo)cracy and all. Funny that all the younger demons wanted Satan to surrender and be bo
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose to read this book because I've been seeking out early examples of Science Fiction and Fantasy. "I'll try any drink once." Apparently Cabell and this book has been an influence on many authors including Neil Gaimon. I believe it was a huge hit back when it was published. The book was singled out for obscenity and there was a two year court battle which I'm sure helped sales. The double entendre regarding Jurgen's "sword" and "lance" is pretty obvious. I felt the book was a mix of Dante's ...more
Norman Cook
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
It took me a while to understand the humor style of this book, but once I let go of a need for a coherent plot, I was quite entertained by this satire. I can see where authors such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams were probably influenced by Cabell's use of wordplay, puns, and double entendres to make fun of the political, religious, and sexual mores of the time. Although I probably missed many of the jokes, I found this book to be a delightful and funny romp. Much of the satire is as applic ...more
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Had to read this to see the inspiration for Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice".
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James Branch Cabell was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when they were most popular. For Cabell, veracity was "the one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, but against human welfare."

Other books in the series

The Biography of Manuel (1 - 10 of 23 books)
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  • Figures of Earth
  • The Silver Stallion
  • The Witch-Woman
  • Domnei
  • Chivalry
  • The Line of Love: Dizain des Mariages
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“Why, it seemed to me I had lost the most of myself; and there was left only a brain which played with ideas, and a body that went delicately down pleasant ways. And I could not believe as my fellows believed, nor could I love them, nor could I detect anything in aught they said or did save their exceeding folly: for I had lost their cordial common faith of what use they made of half-hours and months and years... I had lost faith in the importance of my own actions, too. There was a little time of which the passing might be made endurable; beyond gaped unpredictable darkness: and that was all there was of certainty anywhere.” 5 likes
“There is, moreover, a sign by which you may distinguish Thragnar. For if you deny what he says, he will promptly concede you are in the right. This was the curse put upon him by Miramon Lluagor, for a detection and a hindrance.” “By that unhuman trait,” says Jurgen, “ Thragnar ought to be very easy to distinguish.” 1 likes
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