Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cardinal's Mistress

Wow, turns out The Cardinal's Mistress was written by Benito Mussolini.

And reviewed by Dorothy Parker in the September 15, 1928 issue of The New Yorker. An excerpt:
On the memorable day that "The Cardinal's Mistress" arrived in the office of this lucky magazine, I was the girl who pled, "Please, teacher, may I have it to take home with me? Honest, I don't want a cent of money for reviewing it. I'll do it free of charge; I'll even pay handsomely for the privilege." Well, of course, they wouldn't hear a word of that - or at least I hope to heaven they didn't - but I got the book. I had all sorts of happy plans about it. I was going to have a lot of fun. I was going to kid what you Americans call the tripe (les tripes) out of it. At last, I thought, had come my big chance to show up this guy Mussolini. A regular Roman holiday, that's what it was going to be.

Well the joke was on me. There will be little kidding out of me on the subject of the Mussolini masterpiece, for I am absolutely unable to read my way through it. I tried - the Lord knows I tried. I worked, to employ the most inept simile in the language, like a dog. I put on my oldest clothes (first carefully hanging my second oldest in the cupboard), denied myself to my bill-collectors, backed the bureau against the door, and set myself to my task. And I got just exactly nowhere with that book. From the time I cracked its covers to that whirling moment, much later, when I threw myself exhausted on my bed, it had me licked. I couldn't make head, tail, nor good red herring of the business.

In fairness to the author - and I would strip a gear any time in an effort to be square toward that boy - it is in my line of duty to admit that with any book on the general lines of "The Cardinal's Mistress," I start 'way back of scratch. When I am given a costume romance beginning "From the tiny churches hidden within the newly budding verdure of the valleys, the evensong of the Ave Maria floated gently forth and died upon the lake," my only wish is that I, too, might float gently forth and die, and I'm not particular whether it's upon the lake or on dry land. I go on to read of a lady whose "half-closed eyes understood the sorcery of poisonous passions," and my one longing is to close those eyes all the way for her. And then I get into a mess of characters named the Count di Castelnuovo and Don Benizio and Carl Emanuel Madruzzo, Cardinal and Archbishop of Trent, and secular prince of the Trentino, and Filiberta, and Madonna Claudia - and everything goes black before my eyes. I know that I am never going to understand who is who and what side they are on, and I might just as well give up the unequal struggle.

Well maybe I won't read "The Cardinal's Mistress" after all...

Fun fact about Dorothy Parker from Wikipedia:
She grew up on the Upper West Side, and attended Roman Catholic elementary school at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, despite having a Jewish father and Protestant stepmother. She was asked to leave following her characterization of the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion".

Here is another baffling New Yorker cartoon from the same issue:

I think the joke is that the President of the United States is on the radio.

And I even found a semi-inscrutable ad in the same issue...

I will guess that in this case the cigarette is supposed to be a substitute for a good stiff drink. Because she just discovered her fiance is gay.