“In like a lion, out like a lamb” and somewhere in between, we have “MADNESS”. These are a few idioms and phrases commonly associated with the weather-confused month of March. If you are a college basketball fan, the phrase “March Madness” means one of the best times of the year. It can also be one of the most disappointing times of year, if say, your team is the one that went to the National Championship two years in a row, and lost both years. But I digress. Instead, I shall use this time to highlight the most “maddening” books from the Wilson Collection.
When I use the term “maddening,” I am using it in a broad sense. This means book endings with a twist, bizarre or complicated plots, or the actual word “mad” is used in the title. Sound good? Okay, let’s get started…
Of the many books included in the Wilson Collection, there are many classics, poems, fairy tales, plays (Shakespeare galore!), and plenty of duplicates. It is a book-lovers dream. Of these books, there are many stories that are rare and unheard of as well as bizarre beyond belief. A few of these “bizarre” stories are mentioned here, along with a few you might recognize.
Starting with a classic…
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Author: Lewis Carroll
Published by the LEC: 1932
Originally Published: 1865
What makes it “mad”: Well the mad-hatter, of course! Perhaps the craziest of all depictions of the Mad Hatter was arguably played by Johnny Depp. It was as if he was born to play that role. But Johnny Depp is not the only reason why this “literary nonsense” story is slightly crazy and quirky. Everyone knows the tale - it follows the story of a young girl, Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole while in the forest. This rabbit hole is unlike any other however, and sends her to another bizarre world full of anthropomorphic creatures and other interesting individuals. The story only gets “curiouser and curiouser” after Alice encounters many diverting characters, such as a caterpillar that is smoking a Hooka, a creepily-grinning cat, a queen obsessed with decapitation, and of course, an eternally-drinking-tea Hatter (what’s a hatter?). If this story doesn’t sound crazy to you, then maybe you should write a book; I’m sure you could tell a great story.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may be a story that stretches the imagination, but it was a popular story when it was first told and published (especially loved by children), and remains to be popular to this day.
Fun fact about the LEC copy: The illustrations are the original drawings by John Tenniel (from the original publication), re-engraved on wood by Bruno Rollitz. It is also signed by the original “Alice” who inspired the story.
“An American Tragedy”
Author: Theodore Dreiser
Published by the LEC: 1954
Originally Published: 1925
What makes it “mad”: “An American Tragedy” is a much different story compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, addressing a different sort of “madness.” The crime-fiction classic by American author, Theodore Dreiser, follows the life of Clyde Griffiths throughout his many jobs, relationships, short-comings, and his eventual unfortunate fate. This is merely a broad definition of a tragic and complicated story that is based on a real crime that occurred in 1906. Coming from a lower-class family, Griffiths is an ambitious but ill-educated and immature young man. He also lacks a strong will. This weakness lands him in several unfortunate situations. When he began working as a bellhop at a top-notch Kansas City hotel, the influence of his coworkers led him down an unhealthy path, including the use of drugs. This was only the beginning of Clyde’s tragic story; the end occurs as a result of the relationship he has with two very different women. A tragic and sad story, yes, but also a story that will drive you crazy.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray”
Author: Oscar Wilde
Published by the LEC: 1957
Originally Published: 1891
What makes it “mad”: A story addressing the consequences of vanity, Oscar Wilde’s only novel upset many people when it was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. The story of a man who sold his soul to keep his beauty presented a new definition of moral ambiguity to the readers. Prior to its publication in the magazine, the editors believed the story was too indecent and they deleted 500 words without Wilde’s knowledge. When it was published again in book form, Wilde edited it – revising and expanding upon the original. Despite which version is read, the story still follows an inevitable path of self-destruction. Immoral? Yes. Twisted? Definitely. Stretches the mind to another realm that humanity should not go? Yep. Then deranged? Yes, I’d say so.
“Far from the Madding Crowds”
Author: Thomas Hardy
Published by the LEC: 1958
Originally Published: 1874
What makes it “mad”: For starters and for obvious reasons, the word “mad” is in the title. But there’s so much more about this story that is both enjoyable and maddening at the same time. Different than any other complicated plot that is discussed here, the element that provides the twist in this story is love. The heroine of the tale, Bathsheba Everdene, encounters three men of differing circumstances, over a long period of time. The first is Gabriel Oak, a young shepherd that works for her (more than once), and is six years older than her. The second man, William Boldwood, is a wealthy farmer that is much older than her. And lastly, there is the soldier, Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy. Without giving away the ending to this intriguing story, I will say that it is similar to other classic love stories such as Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights. It is frustrating, heartbreaking, and beautiful (which explains the madness), but ends exactly as it should.
Fun Fact: There will be a movie adaption of this book coming out in May, starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, Michael Sheen as William Boldwood, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, and Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy.
“The Maltese Falcon”
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Published by Arion Press: 1983
Originally Published: 1930
What makes it “mad”: Everyone knows this story, right? Well if you don’t, you are about to. Does the name Sam Spade ring a bell? No, I am not referring to one of the detective’s names in the long-time running CBS show (no longer running), Without a Trace. Coincidence that she’s a detective, I don’t think so. The famous Sam Spade from Hammett’s story is a clever and somewhat cold-feeling private detective. At the beginning of the story, Spade has an associate by the name of Miles Archer. Both detectives are hired by a lady by the name of Wonderly to find her sister who seems to a have run off. This false story is only the beginning as Spade’s partner is soon killed, and he is left to solve the case alone. Nothing is as it seems in this story, but that does not stop Spade. Considered to be one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century, The Maltese Falcon has inspired many mystery stories since.
Wanna come check these books out? They are all housed in the Wilson Room (East Reading Room), on the 3rd floor of the Main Downtown Library (next to the Fine Arts area). The Wilson Room is open to all visitors during regular Library hours. If you are interested in viewing more books from the Wilson Collection personally, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next month’s post featuring some of the Wilson Collection’s best poetry!