November 17th, 2001

The Perfect Inferno

I've begun reading George Bernard Shaw's The Perfect Wagnerite, a book of commentary on Richard Wagner's famous Ring cycle. The book was published in 1899. In the preface to the third edition, however, Shaw writes of the knowledge necessary to understand the allegorical layers in the Ring:

... is an absolute blank to many persons who are highly susceptible to the musical qualities of Wagner's music and poetry, but have never reflected on human destiny at all, and have been brought up in polite ignorance of the infernal depths our human society descended to in the nineteenth century.

The preface was written in 1913. It could not have been written three years later.

How relative "infernal depths" are...
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    Wagner -- Das Rheingold; Georg Solti et al.

Circulation circa 1900

G.B. Shaw, in the second preface to the aforementioned The Perfect Wagnerite, reveals

...that exactly one person buys a copy on every day in the year, including Sundays; and so, in the process of the suns, a reprint has become necessary.

The second edition was published in 1901, so the first edition (1899) could not have consisted of more than one thousand copies. This in Victorian London of the close of the century! It's a surprise to me, so I thought I'd record it.

Oh, and the book opens with "Preliminary Encouragements". If there's a good way to begin a book on Wagner, this is it.
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