Project Gutenberg: Queen of the Air


Since last August I have been volunteering with Project Gutenberg, transcribing texts that are in the public domain by typing them out. No, it’s not particularly efficient, but since I am choosing books I would also like to read, I can do that and type at the same time, and make the books available to anyone else at the same time.

So in August I started typing Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson. It is an epistolary novel, which means that the entire thing is written in the form of letters between the main and subordinate characters. The character development is consequently astounding, while the plot is very … very … very slowly built upon, to the tune of 3,000+ pages. If I was just reading this book for fun, which I would have considered doing, I would not have gotten half as much from the book, because I would feel compelled to skim through some of the expostulations. As it is, I spent 9 months typing this book (420 hours!) and getting to know every nuance of the story, even down to spellings, sentence structure, and the way Richardson subtly varies the writing style between characters. It is now online in nine volumes; the first volume is here.

The Queen of the Air

When I finished Clarissa in May, I expected to want a break from the typing, but instead I ended up plunging right back in, and have since been typing The Queen of the Air by John Ruskin. It is a short scholarly book from 1869 based on a university lecture he gave in London about Athena.

I knew Ruskin primarily for his books about drawing technique and art history, but I was also interested in this particular book because I have my bachelor’s in Classics and English. The book as a whole is not so much about Athena as it uses that goddess and her characteristics as a frame in which to expand upon subjects of interest to Ruskin. The first section, written as a lecture, was very well organized, and Ruskin masterfully entwines the various myths about clouds and mist and sky with observations about the real world, and how all of that bears on the Greek conception of Athena. The second section primarily uses Athena as an excuse to discuss the various properties of birds, snakes, and plants. The third section begins with a brief attempt to convey Athena as the goddess of war and heart-reasoning, but then degenerates into a melting pot of tirades about morals, modern economy, the nature of modesty, and sundry other notes that he could not publish individually, capped off with a lesson about good and bad art, focusing on Greek art and summing up with advice about how to go about becoming a good artist. He even includes a poem he wrote as a child in this section.

I suspect Ruskin was a compelling lecturer, and he was a good writer in general: he does at least apologize in the Preface for the state of the book. I was very impressed with the first section of the book. Ruskin was clearly a very intelligent scholar with a wide range of interests, from art and art history, to biology and the natural world, economics, morality, etc. He comes down strongly against the industrial revolution, emphasizing throughout the value and aesthetic charms of the natural world over the time- and labor-saving benefits of unsavory machinery.

“…it is always better for a man to work with his own hands to feed and clothe himself, than to stand idle while a machine works for him; and if he cannot by all the labor healthily possible to him feed and clothe himself, then it is better to use an inexpensive machine—as a windmill or watermill—than a costly one like a steam-engine, so long as we have natural force enough at our disposal.” (para. 130)

At any rate, I think The Queen of the Air was an interesting text, and one that might well be useful to scholars studying the character of Athena and the relationship of the Greek gods to the natural world. I am glad to have made it available to anyone who might find use for it. It is now online here.

Coming Soon: The White Devil

Next on the table is The White Devil by John Webster, a 16th-century playwright contemporary with Shakespeare. I am working on the fifth and final act now, but if I don’t finish it up by tomorrow, it will likely be a few weeks before it gets posted, due to crazy vacation schedules.

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