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Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith [Paperback]

By William T. Vollmann (Author)
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Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes (Paperback) - Full Series Preview
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Item description for Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith by William T. Vollmann...

In the newest novel in his Seven Dreams series, Vollmann alternates between extravagant Elizabethan language and gritty realism in an attempt to dig beneath the legend surrounding Pocahontas, John Smith, and the founding of the Jamestown colony in Virginia--as well as the betrayals, disappointments, and atrocities behind it. Illustrations.

Publishers Description
In "Argall," the newest novel in his Seven Dreams series, William T. Vollmann alternates between extravagant Elizabethan language and gritty realism in an attempt to dig beneath the legend surrounding Pocahontas, John Smith, and the founding of the Jamestown colony in Virginia-as well as the betrayals, disappointments, and atrocities behind it. With the same panoramic vision, mythic sensibility, and stylistic daring that he brought to the previous novels in the Seven Dreams series-hailed upon its inception as "the most important literary project of the '90s" ("The Washington Post")-Vollmann continues his hugely original fictional history of the clash of Native Americans and Europeans in the New World. In reconstructing America's past as tragedy, nightmare, and bloody spectacle, Vollmann does nothing less than reinvent the American novel.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Penguin (Non-Classics)
Pages   112
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.75" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   1.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 26, 2002
Publisher   Penguin (Non-Classics)
Age  18
ISBN  0142001503  
ISBN13  9780142001509  

Availability  3 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 24, 2016 07:53.
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More About William T. Vollmann

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William T. Vollmann has written nine novels, four collections of stories, six works of nonfiction, and a memoir. He has won the National Book Award for "Europe Central," the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

William T. Vollmann currently resides in Sacramento, in the state of California. William T. Vollmann was born in 1959.

William T. Vollmann has published or released items in the following series...
  1. P.S.
  2. Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes (Paperback)

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Fiction & Poetry > Fiction > Historical

Reviews - What do customers think about Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith?

"About Our Continent in the Days of OKEUS, from whom . . .  May 19, 2005
We Stole Puccoons; and whose Snake-Erring'd Nation the ***POWHATANS*** Lost, By the Scheming of our Counsell-Men, Princesse Poka-huntas (a country lass) to TOBACCO (but gained Discount cigarettes); Lost Kingdoms to *ARGALL* . . ."

In the Seven Dreams series one may begin with any volume, but of the four currently published volumes, Argall would be the most "American". Here we have a post-modern retelling of English colonization. As with volumes one and two, Vollmann adapts his writing style and language to the flavor and times in which he dwells. His research is deep and impeccable, and one of the most interesting things to me in reading the Seven Dreams is his unique style and method of mixing ". . . colors not only from the palate of times, but also from the palate of places" (The Rifles, 377). Did I really read of a bullet or bullets laying on the frozen ground in one foreshadowed scene from The Ice Shirt (which took place in the 10th Century)? There are a few such strange instances in Fathers & Crows. Less so in Argall, though, which mostly sticks close to the life and times of Captain John Smith (1580-1631). Smith is a similar "yeoman" type character to Poutrincourt & Champlain in Fathers & Crows, and perhaps Eirik the Red in The Ice Shirt. Vollmann utilizes these men as launching points into their time-periods, reassessing their trials and tribulations, conquests and failures. Likewise, in each of the first three volumes we find historically forgotten, but important women. They include Freydis Eiriksdottir & Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir in The Ice Shirt, Born Swimming & Tekakwitha in Fathers & Crows, and in Argall, Pocahontas. As of yet, I have not read Vollmann's so-called prostitute novels/trilogy, but am familiar enough with his research into and use of prostitutes in his various stories. Having now read the first three volumes of the Seven Dreams in order (and looking forward to #6, The Rifles), it's not surprising to find this recurrent theme of a male "glory seeking adventurer doomed to failure meets and interacts with his depraved and deprived female counterpart" (note also, interactions between Pere Brebeuf & Born Underwater in Fathers & Crows). What's fascinating about all this is that through Vollmann's modern day lenses (and those are some thick lenses!), "historie" and "histoickall facts" come across as more than the "Symbolic History" he is creating. What happens is exactly what he wants to happen, and that is to ". . . further a deeper sense of truth". The phantom-like, piratical title-character Argall, as is the town of Gravesend which John Smith hales to & from (in "several compass circles") are good examples of the blending of truths and untruths in order to create "an account of origins and metamorphoses". In reading Argall you are not reading history, exactly. It is based on history, but is closer to poetry than a novel, because poetry transcends the strictures of a traditional novel. Its genius lays not only in its concept as part of a larger North American landscape puzzle, but in its execution. While The Ice Shirt contains a captivating dis-harmony of time & place, myth, legend, history, and modern travelogue; Fathers & Crows a more refined and fine-tuned sense of direction & story-telling; Argall is a magnificent culmination of language & character. It felt very enlightening, especially to one who grew up with very idealistic and naïve notions of adventurous Pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower, trading and sharing Thanksgiving feasts with blissful, welcoming Indians. And Pocahontas seemed some romantic "Indian princess" who delighted those bold and faithful colonists. Of course, most of us become less naïve and more enlightened as we grow older and expand our horizons. As with any deep poetry or "meditation", Argall (and The Ice Shirt, & Fathers & Crows) is an enlightening experience for those able and willing to venture forth. Admittedly, as less enthusiastic reviewers have pointed out here and elsewhere, Vollmann can seem long-winded, wanting of an editor, and somewhat superficial in terms of character morality, etc. Personally, I take my time with books, and enjoy the lengthy narratives, twists and turns, use of chronologies, maps, lengthy source notes, whimsical drawings, so on and so forth. I feel like I've got my money's worth. (As one should for a $40 coverprice!). In terms of morality, I think Vollmann (as a post-modern writer) comes across as dry and lacking "wisdom" in any deep moral sense, as compared to say the Victorian-era writers such as Tolstoy and Dickens not because he can't feel or provide insight into his characters, but because: 1. it would be disingenuous given the subject & overall plan of the Seven Dreams, and 2. it frees up YOU, the reader to interact with the text using your own values and judgments without the author getting in the way. It's up to you to find your way (but there are plenty of notes to guide you in whichever direction you so choose).

That said, I hope you take some time to read Argall, and the Seven Dreams, as I think you'll learn more about our (the North American) continent than you thought you knew, including the exploits of various peripheral characters you may never have heard of, but who certainly existed - especially one Captaine Samuel Argall.

Postmodern Pocahontas (or Pockahuntiss)  Jun 12, 2002
It helps if you're a little bit compulsive about reading Vollmann. Oh, he doesn't need the help, but as a reader, you do.

It's easy to compare him with Pynchon, since they both attempt a similar feat of matching subject with style in an expansive format that contains much humor peppered within the story. But Vollmann isn't a humorist at heart, he's part historian and part seer. He brings you the characters that you'd love to believe really are; he worms his insistent way into their hopes and imaginings so that he can present you with their characters.

You learn a lot of history reading the Seven Dreams series, of which "Argall" is a part. You learn more about how Vollmann regards history. But what makes the author so necessary and integral to my reading is that way of making me see how his characters regard themselves.

So throw your reading schedule out the window. Pick up "The Ice Shirt" and start in on this yet-to-be completed chronicle of how the Europeans came to the Americas and what that meant for both the Europeans and the people who were already here. Catch up soon, because you'll want to starting wishing for the next book in the series to appear... compulsively so.

Vollmann's Career = Revenge of the Nerd  Apr 7, 2002
William Vollmann is like the nerdiest person you knew in college or high school. He grew up to become a novelist who gained notoriety by writing in great detail about his experiences with prostitutes and having the audacity to claim that it took some sort of moral heroism for him to smoke crack with them in roach-infested transient hotels. Of course, it wouldn't do to be slumming all the time -- otherwise he'd just be another John Rechy or Bruce Benderson. So he adds Ivy League intellectual patina to these books by positioning them as meditations on the history of North America, or as reflections on how "all loving relationships are really forms of prostitution." He writes long, long books hoping that you'll be very, very impressed with him.

Folks, read this book or any other book by William Vollmann and keep in mind that this is an author with a profoundly stunted emotional growth. There's nothing cute about celebrating prostitution as the "most honest form of love" -- it's sickening writing, the babbling of a man still stuck in the fantasies of adolescence who will never understand that real love transcends economic exchange into a pure giving of oneself to another. He pats himself on the back for his "ferocity," when in fact he's never really outgrown being a journal-scribbling teenager who thinks every word he scribbles needs to be published and admired. His writing amounts to one big infantile gesture of lashing out at his Mommy and Daddy -- he admits as much in his interviews -- but at the same time hoping all these books he writes will make his parents love him. It's sad.

The fact that Vollmann has a big crowd of admirers says a lot about the sheep-like mentality and the moral vacancy of too many people who like cutting-edge literature. Read the bombastic praise Vollmann receives that is printed on the dustjackets of his books, and reviewers envious of his lifestyle just look like fools with the pumped-up praise that lavish on Vollmann. Go to a Vollmann reading and look around -- the people there are the sort who are hip, cynical, wear funky glasses and hate their parents, and whose main worry is keeping up with the latest slick novels and edgy CD's to hit the shelves. They have no ability to think for themselves and they are bored with life -- so they are profoundly impressed by this guy who writes about his experience with prostitutes. If you recognize yourself in this description, you need to get a life.

There's a certain sort of bourgeois person who believes their life can be redeemed by writing a novel in which they'll "show 'em all" -- the 'em being Mommy and Daddy, the cool kids who rejected them in high school, the jocks who called them nerds, etc. Vollmann is the "patron saint" of this sort of misfit. I read an interview in which Vollmann stated confidently that he is as important as Shakespeare or Faulkner. He doesn't seem to understand that the self-absorbed navel-gazing of a well-read prostitute's john doesn't quite cut it as great literature, no matter how many big words and descriptive phrases he tries to pack into his sentences. Vollmann's delusions are as bloated as his books, and his vision lacks even a hint of the universality or breadth or understanding that literary importance requires. Nobody but a few misfit loners and antiquarians will be reading Vollmann fifty years from now. Vollmann is a Montherlant in the making -- that is, an irrelevant curiosity that even most highly educated people will not have heard of.

Please think for yourself and don't buy this book just because you think it's kind of neat and edgy that this guy writes about his experiences with prostitutes. Don't engage in the sad spectacle of living vicariously through William Vollmann's sad, warped world. You'll just put yourself one step closer to moral oblivion.

Like Trying to Find the Northwest Passage  Jan 20, 2002
Ok, Vollmann is brilliant, a genius. One has to give it to him with this and his other huge tomes in which he goes full-tilt in an attempt at literary greatness, and his passages are often riveting.

The book tries to out-do ULYSSES. It does. But finally, around the 400th page, who cares?

William is blind to his own failings.  Nov 29, 2001

Vollmann's books are a shotgun wedding of Kerouac keyboard improv and finicky, ultra-thorough research that would shame the most hardcore library mole. His unique voice is the result of the collision between his modern sensibility -- which he's endlessly amused by instead of, like too many contemporary authors, uncritically in love with -- and his passion for exhausted and outmoded forms of thinking and of writing. For Vollmann, "modernity" is sometimes a sort of limbo, the temporal version of the Greenland in his book The Ice-Shirt, where everything that can happen has already happened and the former sites of great battles, couplings, and doomed utopian experiments are now bare swatches of anonymous turf -- witness the last few pages of Argall, where "William the Blind," as Vollmann calls himself, drives through Pocahontas' former haunts and finds an endless cortege of theme parks and strip bars -- and sometimes an ongoing process to be participated in. As is well known, Vollmann is something of an adventurer, doing his Geraldo Rivera guerilla-journalist bit with the Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan long before they were the flavor of the month. What fascination his books have comes from this contradiction. Are we living history, or is everything over?

Sadly, I must report, his books are not yet as fascinating on their own merits. Argall is admirable in almost every way -- Vollmann is obviously stoked with the passion to rescue marginalized figures from the rubble of history, and he even works up genuine anger about wrongs committed centuries ago, whereas most people these days conform more to William Hazlitt's dictum: "The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow beings." On top of this, his prose is impossibly energetic and rich, like that of a postmodern Fielding. But as industrious as he is in terms of researching and writing, that's how lazy he is in terms of his conceptions and grand designs. His graphomania works against him, in short -- he fills seven hundred pages here without stopping to think, as most people will before half the book is over, that Blood Meridian has already been written and was done quite well already. There is literally zero distance between Vollmann's title character and McCarthy's The Judge -- both are seen as omnipotent spectres representing the depredations of America's colonial thrust, and both even talk in the same Shakespearean-Melvillean patois. And though the unquestioned verbal virtuosity of Argall ( the book ) is more than enough to carry you through to the end, it ultimately turns out to have very little staying power, being essentially a linear, straightforward account of the events contained in John Smith's autobiography, leavened with a peculiar brand of political correctness also swiped from McCarthy ( he admits the Indians are savage and unknowable, but still treats them as sacred for that very reason. )

Vollmann makes me think of what DeSade's doctor says to him in the movie Quills: "You produce more pages than you consume -- the mark of a true amateur." Let's face it, no one who writes as much as Vollmann has a well-honed sense of self-criticism. Part of me thinks that he would be better off laying aside the latest 900-page opus, reupholstering his crude if touching Weltanschauung, and then returning a decade later with a compressed and fully mature work of genius... But then he wouldn't be William Vollmann, he'd be Russell Hoban. For that reason, I doubt he'll ever write anything that attains a status above "James Clavell for eggheads," but nevertheless, there's a place in the cosmos for his brand of blunt, belated justice. Just don't call him The Judge.


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