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The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  75 Ratings  ·  10 Reviews
Seven of Yourcenar's most important critical essays, on subjects ranging from the Historia Augusta to Piranesi's engravings. Essential to the understanding of the searching and remarkably informed spirit of this protean writer.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 1st 1985 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1962)
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Hadrian
It should be apparent from my assumed name and image on here that I hold Yourcenar's literary work in high esteem. At least, I consider the Memoirs of Hadrian a superb book. It is something austere, deeply tragic and forlorn. But Yourcenar did not write only one book.

The Dark Brain of Piranesi is a lot of seven essays which show a deep and probing intellect everywhere - Roman history to contemporary Greek poetry to Swedish novelists and Italian etchers. Yourcenar somehow manages to draw crisp ar
...more
Eric
I really did think Borges unique in a genius that allowed him, in his nonfictions, to select a tidbit from a superannuated encyclopedia, extract an incident from the most obscure chronicle—or, conversely, from the collective media memory of widely disseminated, easily recognizable historical caricatures—and, with a certain pace of retelling, a special pattern of emphasis, fashion a spare fable full of spectral images and unsettling suggestions. I was wrong. “Everything has been said: we shall ad ...more
AC
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Yourcenar is a genius. The essays that most captured me in this volume were the astounding meditation on cultural decay in the Historia Augusta (a key passage of which Hadrian cites in his review); and her studies of a medieval French castle ("Ah, mon beau château...), which is surprisingly rich, and of Selma Lagerlöf. The essay on Mann looks interesting, though I have not read Mann; likewise, on Cavafy --

At any rate, a worthy addition to her Memoirs of Hadrian (1954).
Sunny
Mar 01, 2016 rated it liked it
I have to admit that I totally loved memoirs of Hadrian by Yourcenar and for months was banging on about how I, Claudius was a copy of Yourcenar’s novel. I also have to totally admit that a lot of her essays in this short book were well beyond me. Maybe I need to mature a little before I can fully understand the points that she was making. It reminded me of the first time that I had an espresspo – it was such a rich drink and I couldn’t understand how people could drink something so concentrated ...more
Micha
So I can't remember how I heard about this book, only that it intrigued me a lot. I'd heard of Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, and I'm curious about it, but I still don't know what led me here, since I wasn't familiar with Piranesi by name. It might've been the Thomas Mann essay, or perhaps Cavafy, not that I've read any Cavafy, but he's a poet so deeply in line with my interests that I've got to now. The critical introduction to Cavafy was my favourite essay of the lot, though throughout this c ...more
Nigel Massey
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The best nuanced and unsentimental perspective on Cavafy I ever read. She seems to have a knack of looking beyond superficial atmosphere to get to the heart of things. The title essay is excellent too. What she sees in the Piranesi etchings enabled me to see inside myself. I've not read any of Yourcenar's novels yet, and this makes me very interested in exploring them.The Dark Brain of Piranesi
Marc
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A wide variaty of essays written in very diverse time periods (the years 1950 to 1980). Personally I found the essays about Piranesi and Thomas Mann the most succesfull; Yourcenar shows her erudition without becoming too pedantic.
Kelly
No time to give it the attention it deserves just at present. I will return.
Susannah
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
She takes erudition so far, it's genius. It has to be innate.
Mar
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The first woman to be elected to The French Academy, the multi talented personality of Marguerite Yourcenar was a novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, poet and translator. She was an artist at reconstructing historical eras in the form of her novels. Her novels, dealing with modern issues set in historical eras won her immense fame as a writer.

The inheritance Yourcenar received afte
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