Natsume Sōseki, The Miner (1908)

“Where Murakami’s introduction starts to go astray, however, is in his assumption that Sōseki’s chief ambition is to describe the mine as an entity in and of itself. Indeed Murakami believes Sōseki pretended to be uninterested in the young man’s personal experiences to avoid confronting ‘a major social problem head-on.’

“Murakami has the equation backward: Sōseki’s main objective was not to describe a mine but to present a modern-day vision of hell, and the mine was a convenient way of doing so. Sōseki is always interested in universal themes that transcend the here and now, and certainly the intensely personal, in order to work on a deeper level. In The Miner he digs deep down into human psychology itself.

“The descent into hell is a recurrent Sōseki theme. In his first piece of fiction, the 1905 story ‘Rondon To’ (‘The Tower of London’), his protagonist crosses the river Thames — recast as the River Styx — and passes under a portal, imagining he can find there Dante’s famous words from Inferno, as translated Henry Francis Cary, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’ Sōseki’s first vision of hell was achieved by summoning up the ghosts of those who had been murdered or executed in the Tower of London. Sōseki explicitly links The Miner with ‘The Tower of London’ in numerous subtle ways, describing the young protagonist of The Miner as undergoing ‘degeneration’ as he descends into the mine in reference to Max Nordau’s 1892 theory of degeneration, highlighted at the beginning of ‘The Tower of London.’”   –Damian Flanagan, “Natsume Sōseki goes back to hell in The Miner,” The Japan Times (October 24, 2015)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1912 novel The Wayfarer.

Contributed by Savannah Mikus (Florida State University BA ’20, MA ’22)

Inferno by Franz von Stuck (1908)

Inferno. Franz von Stuck (1908)
Oil on canvas.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY

“This painting’s title refers to Dante Alighieri’s medieval epic of a journey through hell. Although Stuck employed traditional symbols of the underworld—a snake, a demon, and a flaming pit—the dissonant colors and stylized, exaggerated poses are strikingly modern. He designed the complementary frame. Stuck’s imagery was likely inspired by Auguste Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, particularly the figure of The Thinker (see related works nearby). When Inferno debuted in an exhibition of contemporary German art at The Met in 1909, critics praised its ‘sovereign brutality.’ The picture bolstered Stuck’s reputation as a visionary artist unafraid to explore the dark side of the psyche.”    —The Met on Franz von Stuck’s Inferno.

To see the artwork that von Stuck was influenced by with this piece, check out The Met’s website.

Henri Barbusse, “L’Enfer” (1908)

henri-barbusse-lenfer-1908

“L‘Enfer has been more widely read and discussed in France than any other realistic study since the days of Zola. The French sales of the volume, in 1917 alone, exceeded a hundred thousand copies, a popularity all the more remarkable from the fact that its appeal is based as much on its philosophical substance as on the story which it tells. . .
Although the action of this story is spiritual as well as physical, and occupies less than a month of time, it is focused intensely upon reality. Everything that the author permits us to see and understand is seen through a single point of life–a hole pierced in the wall between two rooms of a grey Paris boarding house. The time is most often twilight, with its romantic penumbra, darkening into the obscurity of night by imperceptible degrees.
M. Barbusse has conceived the idea of making a man perceive the whole spiritual tragedy of life through a cranny in the wall, and there is a fine symbolism in this, as if he were vouchsafing us the opportunity to perceive eternal things through the tiny crack which is all that is revealed to us of infinity, so that the gates of Horn, darkened by our human blindness, scarcely swing open before they close again.” [. . .]    –Edward J. O’Brian, L’Enfer Introduction, 1918 (Gutenberg)