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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Gothic Soul

Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic

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To purchase A Gothic Soul

Title: A Gothic Soul
Author: Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic
Genre: Novel
Written: 1900 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: A Gothic Soul - US
A Gothic Soul - UK
A Gothic Soul - Canada
  • Czech title: Gotická duše
  • With a Preface by the Author
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Kirsten Lodge

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Our Assessment:

B : fine little decadent wallow

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jiří Karásek begins his Preface by noting that: "A Gothic Soul is not a novel in the usual sense of the word". He admits: "It has almost no plot" -- it is: "the painting of a soul, he suggests. He acknowledges that it: "originated in the diary of a twenty-year-old" but emphasizes that it isn't a work of realism; indeed, he insists:

     To say that art should represent the world as it really is would be to assert that the purpose of art is to imitate those things that do not interest us even in reality.
       A Gothic Soul is, indeed, an intense decadent wallow, but it is also fairly reassuringly novel-like, its story-arc one of life-summary, of decline and fall. The protagonist is left unnamed, but a recognizable type, "the last scion of a venerable chivalric family" that, over the generations, had frayed under the "hereditary degeneration" that he worries afflicts him too.
       Already on the novel's first page an example of what becomes his life-long personal struggle is vividly described, from his insistence on confronting it head-on (or having the constant reminder staring back at him) to the rather dramatic affirmation of his concerns:
     The gaze of one particular relative frightened him terribly.
     He had died of religious mania, quite young.
     He had hung his cousin's portrait over his desk.
     The older he grew, the more convinced he became that they resembled one another. But he thought his senses might be deceiving him -- until a relative he hadn't seen for some time shrieked at their resemblance and plunged him back into doubt.
       In appearance, he's your typical Gothic-decadent specimen:
     He grew up anemically pallid, wasted rather than thin, and he looked lifeless.
       His parents die when he is young and he's raised in a very religious household, and the pull of religion (and mysticism) is always a strong one. A solitary soul, always looking inwards, he is influenced by what he encounters, even if his engagement remains passive, withdrawn, and introspective. He's your typical overheated, tormented young soul, and there's little that can shake him out of this near-stupor.
       He struggles:
     To conquer bodily desires ... To immerse yourself in melancholy over your own inner self ... To find a continuous but delicate trembling in the agitation of the nerves.
       The atmospheric Prague setting contributes nicely to the overall feel: as Karásek sums up:
     The Gothic still lived in Prague ... And then again everything was dead ...
       Karásek's protagonist is very much Czech, and in part his journey -- of the soul and mind -- are colored by that, too. So, for example, at one point:
He sought the explanation of his impotence in his being Czech.
       Religion plays a significant part in his life, but he can not embrace and follow in the traditional form; his heated soul finds a great deal in religious imagery and Church-myths -- notably the Christ-figure -- but unsurprisingly it is warped in his own tormented perspective.
       There is, of course, little hope for a happy ending here. A Gothic Soul is a novel of the decadence, through and through, a variation with less concern for the eternal-feminine than many others (Karásek was homosexual) and more directly influenced by (and reactive to) religion. Much of the writing is splendid -- if very much of the feverish-decadent school -- and though its arguably just another variation of a familiar take, it's still a fine exemplar. Beyond that, the book can be recommended for the Author's Preface alone, a wonderful summary of Karásek's endeavor and personal philosophies.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 May 2015

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A Gothic Soul: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic lived 1871 to 1951.

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