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The Dwarf
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The Dwarf discussion

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 498 comments The BBoys referred to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Wise Blood having font size and margins like a kid trying to stretch his three-page paper to five. Ditto this 1995 edition of The Dwarf by Hill and Wang, a division of FS&G: 228 pages with maybe 180-200 words per page.

Check the cover's title font: top half large, bottom half small. Distorted, like the title character Piccoline, a misanthropic freak in the court of the Prince of an Italian city-state. He believes dwarves are the original race, supplanted by current humans. Chillingly,
I believe that the others' faces are absolutely expressionless.
Piccoline is our narrator; it seems to be a contemporaneous telling of events, with descriptions written in the present tense, and with past events interspersed.
Reliable narrator? Looks like he will portray others' actions in the worst possible light.

He despises everyone save his Prince, whom he describes as "very treacherous;" so I guess this is a good thing? (view spoiler)

The dwarf is the Prince writ small: identical clothes, miniature sword. I suppose the dwarf's "evil nature" will reflect on the Prince as the story progresses, as telegraphed on page three:
I follow him constantly, like a shadow.
He's the devil on the Prince's shoulder?


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 498 comments You've probably heard the expression "No man is a hero to his valet."
Piccoline's version: "Nobody is great to his dwarf."

The dwarf hates the philandering Princess, though he inexplicably says that he would never betray her, even under torture.

Favorite (and maybe most telling) passage so far:
I understand the Princess better than I do [the Prince,] and that is not so remarkable, for after all I hate her. It is difficult to understand those whom one does not hate, for then one is unarmed, one has nothing with which to penetrate into their being.

Because I had to look it up: A condotierre is the leader-warlord of a band of mercenary soldiers, specifically in Italian city-states in the 14th to 16th centuries.

I leave it to Dave -- and maybe Jeppe? -- to provide biographical info for the author and details of the approximate time and place in which the book is set. But I don't wanna get in any trouble with the Union by doing Dave's job.
Plus, he's really good at it.


message 3: by Dave Alluisi, Evolution of the Arm (last edited Jun 03, 2012 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Alluisi | 1047 comments Mod
I had my suspicions early, but I knew for certain that the Dwarf was an unreliable narrator when he described his own voice as "rich and deep." Being only 26 inches tall--quite short even for a dwarf--this is, of course, physically impossible. I think it speaks to the narrator's desire to separate (or perhaps "distinguish" is the better word) himself from other dwarfs.

Jim wrote: "I leave it to Dave -- and maybe Jeppe? -- to provide biographical info for the author and details of the approximate time and place in which the book is set."

I'm only about 50 pages in, but I place the story in about the late 15th century or early 16th century. The nameless Prince recalls, of course, Machiavelli's Il Principe, thought to be based on Cesare Borgia who ruled from 1498-1507. Also, a character introduced around page 30 named Bernardo is pretty clearly a fictionalized version of Leonardo da Vinci (he's even painting The Last Supper, which was produced in the 1490s). And, as you noted, condotierre were especially common during the Renaissance, and were a particular fondness of Borgia's.

Italy at that time was a fairly fractured collection of city-states that were often at war with one another in a constant vie for control of the country. There was no strong central government presence... imagine the chaos we'd have if every state in the US was an autonomous entity. The Dwarf mentions Santa Croce, which is in Venice (Northern Italy), a close neighbor to Milan (where da Vinci was living when he created The Last Supper).

Finally, to zoom in a bit more, here's a brief passage from Borgia's Wiki page that seems to describe to the letter the Prince's and Bernardo's relationship:

"Cesare Borgia briefly employed Leonardo da Vinci as military architect and engineer between 1502 and 1503. Cesare and Leonardo became intimate instantaneously — Cesare provided Leonardo with an unlimited pass to inspect and direct all ongoing and planned construction in his domain. Before meeting Cesare, Leonardo had worked at the Milanese court of Ludovico Sforza for many years, until Charles VIII of France drove Sforza out of Italy. After Cesare, Leonardo was unsuccessful in finding another patron in Italy. François I of France was able to convince Leonardo to enter his service, and the last three years of da Vinci's life were spent working in France."

Jim wrote: "Plus, he's really good at it."

Thanks! I do my best. :)


message 4: by Jason, Walking Allergen (last edited Jun 03, 2012 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason | 1166 comments Mod
Meanwhile, I learned everything I know about the Borgias and this period of Italian history from Assassin's Creed.


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 498 comments Dave wrote: "I'm only about 50 pages in, but I place the story in about the late 15th century or early 16th century. The nameless Prince recalls, of course, Machiavelli's Il Principe, thought to be based on Cesare Borgia who ruled from 1498-1507...."
Toldja he was good.

Jason wrote: "Meanwhile, I learned everything I know about the Borgia's and this period of Italian history from Assassin's Creed."
"Heather, I have to play Brotherhood again. It's for the book club!"


Jeppe (jmulich) | 315 comments I just started reading the book today, and it's good stuff so far. Dave covered the historical setting well in his excellent post above!

In part because of the allegorical nature of the story, and in part because of some slightly confusing overlapping chronologies and geographies in the novel so far, I think the backdrop is supposed to be more of a diffuse North Italian city-state sometime at the turn of the century, rather than a specific city at a specific moment (it seems to be an amalgamation of Florence and Milan). The Bernardo character is interesting here.

Machiavelli's The Prince is definitely a good companion piece to the novel. So far I'm a little surprised at the seemingly pure evil of Piccoline. As Jim pointed out above, he seems to be driven by hate, which stands in some contrast to the pragmatic approach to power and control depicted in Machiavelli's work.

Looking forward to talking about this one!


message 7: by Dave Alluisi, Evolution of the Arm (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Alluisi | 1047 comments Mod
Jeppe wrote: "Machiavelli's The Prince is definitely a good companion piece to the novel. So far I'm a little surprised at the seemingly pure evil of Piccoline. As Jim pointed out above, he seems to be driven by hate, which stands in some contrast to the pragmatic approach to power and control depicted in Machiavelli's work."

One of the things I've keyed onto early with Piccoline is the number of times he says he doesn't understand things, usually the intricacies of human behavior and relationships. He claims repeatedly that he understands people as individuals better than anyone, yet he contradicts this over and over either by being, well, wrong in what he thought, or just not really getting the behavior he's observing. For instance, following Bernardo's gloomy comparison of life to a tamed falcon, the Dwarf says explicitly: "I do not understand him. I understand nothing."

I'm not sure yet whether this is stupidity on Piccoline's part or simply a massive disconnect from what it means to be human. He openly regards humans as a separate race, an alien species. Though he makes surface attempts to make himself a miniature version of the Prince, he admits to finding the Prince consistently baffling and surprising. I think that fundamental lack of understanding may be at the root of the differences in his attitude.


message 8: by Dave Alluisi, Evolution of the Arm (last edited Jun 04, 2012 11:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Alluisi | 1047 comments Mod
Another quick point... we spent a lot of time going over the significance of names in our discussion of Wise Blood last month, so it's probably a good idea to do a quick dissection of Piccoline's name. In Italian, "piccolo" means small, even tiny; "piccoline" is sort of a cutesy variation on that that I think is meant to mean extremely, even adorably tiny. So, essentially, the Dwarf has been walking around being called "Shorty" his whole life. The contrast between the way he's treated like a pet (as with (view spoiler)) and his own, very serious view of himself is I think behind the root of his anger and hatred.


message 9: by Jason, Walking Allergen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason | 1166 comments Mod
Matt, do you have any insight into where I can pick up a copy of this locally? I'm not coming up with anything. I can order it online, but I'll have to pay extra for faster shipping if I do that, and I'd rather not.


message 10: by Matt, I am the Great Went. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matt | 1517 comments Mod
Just finished this (yes, I slack). Since it was read in the 11th hour, I'll reserve all my comments for the show. :)


Jeppe (jmulich) | 315 comments To get into the mood of things, here's a portrait by Diego Velázquez entitled The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra, from ca. 1645.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...


message 12: by Jason, Walking Allergen (last edited Jun 26, 2012 10:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason | 1166 comments Mod
Here's the episode:

"The Dwarf: Tall People Got No Reason to Live"

When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you. Join us and our guest Jeppe Mulich as we try to resist evil's call in our discussion of The Dwarf, by Par Lagerkvist.


OUTRO: "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin" by The Magnetic Fields

Jeppe Mulich's review blog (that he should totally update when he's not so busy): http://filthandfabulations.wordpress....

Correction: The charity that "Can't Stop the Serenity" benefits is called Equality Now.

Link: http://bookhouseboyspodcast.podomatic...


message 13: by Matt, I am the Great Went. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matt | 1517 comments Mod
I don't have my copy of the book with me, but feel we missed a big hunk of connective tissue in our discussion. Early in the novel, the dwarf says something about how people are upset by his appearance because it makes them think of their inner selves...and that he has no inner self. It's the section where he describes people of regular height as having ape-like appearances.
Anyway, that section tied together a lot of the different aspects we discussed, but we didn't mention it. End transmission.


message 14: by Robert (new)

Robert (vernson) | 592 comments As always, I appreciate the topic of discussion.

Sadly I didn't read this particular selection, however I eventually plan on rectifying this, but I certainly enjoyed the discussion shared between all participants.

With that said, I was particularly intrigued by Jeppe's comment on when the Dwarf was written. Given the unsettling political climate that was brewing at the time, I imagine it added an additional dimension to the Dwarf that may not have consciously been included into the text. Intentional or not, with that historical context in mind, it's always intriguing to me as to how much influence this has upon the character creation and interaction within the given page of any story.

I compare it to fine art, especially painting.

When you look at a Manet, for instance, you can tell that photography, a "new" technology for the time, definitely has a distinct influence on his work. The flattening of the figures by the influence of the light source has progressed or changed from some of the Dutch masters prior to his work.

Or the Dadaists or Futurists who would try and capture the multiplicity of several images and their movements, concepts even, and freeze them into a single image. Again, an influence brought on not only by photography, but the printed page and technology in general.

So, there's that I suppose.


message 15: by Jim (last edited Jun 27, 2012 03:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 498 comments That was my favorite episode in a while, fellas. Jeppe did a fantastic job! I hope you'll have him on again sometime.

To one of Rob's points: I've read somewhere that Hitler had the same loathing for food and love/sex that the dwarf demonstrates. That I failed to make that connection to a book written by a European -- in 1944! -- just makes me shake my head in wonder. Whatta maroon.

So the dwarf represents the lust for war and violence, and all hell will break loose when he is inevitably sprung from the dungeon, huh? I thought of him as more malevolent and deceitful than truly violent, given his stated passion, versus his actual reluctance, to fight. But your analysis makes a lot of sense to me. Again, the novel was written in wartime.

Your discussion was really enlightening. A job very well done.

...

My copy of Suttree awaits me at the library. Time for me to further embarrass myself by admitting that this'll be my first Cormac McCarthy book. Please don't hurt me.


message 16: by Robert (new)

Robert (vernson) | 592 comments Dwarf? Hitler?

Too much of a coincidence?


message 17: by Jason, Walking Allergen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason | 1166 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "Dwarf? Hitler?

Too much of a coincidence?"


For a one to one comparison, I think so (the Dwarf being an equal opportunity misanthrope, for example), but that this work was heavily informed by Hitler and the war there can be no doubt.

Thanks very much, Jim. All of our guests, yourself included, have done a fantastic job. I'm sure I speak for all us when I say I'm honored that you guys have taken the time to talk with us.

I'll be very interested to see what you think of McCarthy's work. I'm not nearly as big a fan as Matt is, but he's a fascinating writer and the two books I've read so far have been vastly different. Both grim and depressing, sure, but in different ways. ;)


message 18: by Robert (new)

Robert (vernson) | 592 comments Jason wrote: "Robert wrote: "Dwarf? Hitler?

Too much of a coincidence?"

For a one to one comparison, I think so (the Dwarf being an equal opportunity misanthrope, for example), but that this work was heavil..."


Wrong thread, I know, but when describing McCarthy's work, I think Jason alluded to it as McCarthy's work is shades of grey in terms of depression.

I think "baby tree" should be the barometer for levels of depression in a McCarthy novel! :)


Jeppe (jmulich) | 315 comments Thanks again for having me on, guys, it was a lot of fun!

I still haven't had the guts to listen to the episode, though ...


message 20: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 498 comments Jeppe wrote: "I still haven't had the guts to listen to the episode, though ..."

Ha! I've never listened to "my" episode, either.
It's not gutlessness, Jeppe. It's, um.... modesty. Yeah, that's it. ;)


message 21: by Jason, Walking Allergen (last edited Jun 28, 2012 07:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason | 1166 comments Mod
But you both had such deep, sonorous tones, just like the dwarf...

An aside about something I thought was odd: a few days before this episode "aired" there was a spike in downloads from the New York area. I figured that was related to having Jeppe on, and him marshaling his legions of fans, friends and family. Since I actually posted the episode, though, there have been only a trickle. Me am confused by crazy world.


message 22: by Matt, I am the Great Went. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matt | 1517 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "I think "baby tree" should be the barometer for levels of depression in a McCarthy novel! :) "

Me: In conclusion, I give Outer Dark three-and-a-half baby trees for biblical-apocalyptic imagery, a general sense of dread, and Southern hopelessness.
Until next time, the hovel is closed and we'll see you at the squalor!


message 23: by Robert (new)

Robert (vernson) | 592 comments Matt wrote: "Robert wrote: "I think "baby tree" should be the barometer for levels of depression in a McCarthy novel! :) "

Me: In conclusion, I give Outer Dark three-and-a-half baby trees for biblical-apocalyp..."


Brilliant! I'd like/dread to see the graphic design silhouette of the baby-tree.

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