Stone, Irving: The Agony and the Ecstasy
(researched by Lauren Collogan)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961. (released March 17) First Edition.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
Cloth (a paper version came out later in 1961)
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
[22] (unnumbered), 12-664 337 leaves 44 lines of text per page
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is not edited, nor is it formally introduced. However, on the sixth page of the book (it is unnumbered), there are several quotations from Michaelangelo (the subject of the biographical novel) concerning the roles of the artist and beauty in life.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The first edition of this book is not illustrated. Illustrations were added to later editions of the book.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book appears to be fairly well-made. The text is well-printed in black ink, using approximately 11-point font. It is clear and readable. There is approximately a one-inch margin at the bottom of each page, save those pages at the end of each book. There is approximately a æ inch margin around the sides and top of the text. The novel is divided into eleven books, each of which has several chapters. At the top of each page, there is printed the name of the book that page is in, in capital letters, centered. The page numbers are at the top of each page, toward the left edge for the pages on the left side, and toward the right edge for pages on the right side. The first two words of each new book are in capitals and feature a dropped first capital. New chapters within each book are represented by the chapter number surrounded by 2-3 blank lines. New chapters begin on the same page as the preceding chapter. New books begin on the page opposite the preceding book.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is printed on fairly thick white paper. The outermost page of the book is thicker than the rest of the pages, almost like thin cardboard. The rest of the pages are thinner and unevenly cut, and the paper itself is rough. The paper has yellowed since printing. However, there does not appear to be any other physical decaying of the paper due to age.
11 Description of binding(s)
The book is bound in a light beige-green cloth. The spine reads in gold guilt printed on two navy blue rectangles: THE-AGONY-AND THE-ECSTASY-IRVING-STONE. Printed at the bottom of the spine is: DOUBLEDAY. Each of the navy background rectangles is edged with gold gilt, and there are three rows of gold gilt diamonds/stars with 23 diamonds/stars per row. One of these rows separates the navy rectangles. On the front cover, printed in black letters is the Latin(?) version of Michaelangelo's name: MICHAELAGELVS * BONAROTVS. The font differs from the classical typeset used for the rest of the cover and dust jacket printing.
The binding of the pages is done with stitching and glue.
12 Transcription of title page
THE AGONY-AND THE ECSTASY-A NOVEL OF MICHAELANGELO-BY- IRVING STONE-DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK, 1961.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The manuscript for this book was acquired by and is now located at the University of California, Los Angeles.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The first edition of the novel came with a dust jacket. The d/j examined was ragged and torn at the edges. It was printed on glossy paper. There are no images on the cover. Rather, the background is a red, brown, vanilla, and orange painted marbling design, done by Jack Keats. On the front is printed THE-AGONY-AND THE-ECSTASY-THE BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF-MICHAELANGELO-IRVING STONE. The back cover of the d/j has a white background, yellowed with age, and shows a photograph of Irving Stone, taken by George Cserna. Beneath the picture is a brief biography of the author and his previous works. The inside flaps of the d/j contain a description of the novel. The jacket design was done by Sydney Butchkes.
The d/j lists the price of the book as $5.95.
Unnumbered pages:
Page 4: list of works also by Irving Stone
Page 5: a second title page, with the name of the work printed on one line
Page 6: three quoted passages from the writing/poetry of Michaelangelo, concerning the artist and life
Page 7: actual title page (described above)
Page 8: Copyright acknowledgements of lines cited in the text from Ovid's Metamorphosis and Dante's Divine Comedy
Page 9: dedication of the book by the author to his wife
Page 10: blank
Page 11: a table of contents for the eleven books within the novel
Page 12: a short description of the bibliographical information contained in the back of the book
Page 13: a third title page, with the name of the work printed on one line
Page 14: blank
Page 15: title page for Book One
Following the text, there are several extra sections of the book:
Pages 649-650: a note from the author with acknowledgements
Pages 651-658: author's bibliography listing books used specifically in the writing of the text, listed by subject matter
Pages 659-661: glossary of Italians words and phrases used in the book
Page 662: blank
Page 663-664: a listing of the locations of Michaelangelo's works
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
other editions by original publisher Doubleday: ∑ Contemporary Classics version, Garden City, NY, 1961 ∑ Reprint, Toronto, 1961 ∑ Illustrated Edition, Garden City, NY, 1963 ∑ "The City" (condensed version) in The Irving Stone Reader, Garden City, NY, 1963 ∑ The Great Adventure of Michaelangelo (abridged edition for young readers), Garden City, NY, 1965 ∑ The Great Adventure of Michaelangelo, Toronto, 1965 ∑ The Doubleday 100th Birthday Reader: 1897-1997, New York, 1997* ∑ Illustrated Edition, Garden City, NY, 1983
I was not able to find any of these editions with their original covers. The typography of one first edition reprint was exactly the same as the original first edition printing.
Sources: Virgo WorldCat ("The Agony and the Ecstasy" Irving Stone: A Bibliography. Compiled by Lewis F. Steig. 1973. pp. 35-38 Irving Stone. The Agony and the Ecstasy. First edition reprint. 1961.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There is almost no information available concerning number of books originally printed, or number of first edition printings actually issued. Furthermore, it is impossible discern this information from books sold in 1961 because several different editions were released in that year. However, the book was on its third first edition printing by June 26, 1961, just three months after its original publication, indicating the popularity of the book and the likelihood of many printings.
Source: Publisher's Weekly. July 3, 1961.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
∑ Collins, 1961 ∑ Fontana Books (Collins), 1963 ∑ Fontana Books, 1963 ∑ Signet Books (New American Library), 1963 ∑ New American Library of Canada, 1963 ∑ New American Library of Canada, 1965 ∑ Michael Aeglvs Bonartovs, 1965. ∑ No place/publisher/date (probably a pirated edition; printed in Taiwan) ∑ Ulverscroft, 1976 1961 ∑ NAL/Dutton, 1976 ∑ Franklin Library, 1977 1961 ∑ Avenel Books (Crown Publishers), 1981 ∑ Methuen, 1987 1961 ∑ NAL/Dutton, 1987* ∑ NAL/Dutton (mass-market edition), 1987* ∑ Mandarin, 1989 1961 ∑ Penguin Books, 1990-1994 (?)* ∑ Reader's Digest Fund for the Blind (large-type), 1993 ∑ Buccaneer Books, 1994* ∑ Demco Media (Turtleback Books), 1995* ∑ Mass Market Paperbacks reissue, 1996 ∑ Amereon, Limited, [date not set]
(condensations, excerpts, and adaptations) ∑ Reader's Digest Association, 1961 ∑ Reader's Digest Condensed Book Club, 1961 ∑ Reader's Digest Association, 1963 ∑ Phillip Dunne (screenplay), 1965 ∑ Collins (adaptation), 1966. ∑ Ulverscroft, 1976 1961
Sources: Virgo WorldCat ("The Agony and the Ecstasy") Irving Stone: A Bibliography. Compiled by Lewis F. Steig. 1973. pp. 35-38 InfoTrac: Books in Print with Book Reviews Feb. 1999-- http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session/733/999/463381w7 Amazon.com ("The Agony and the Ecstasy")
6 Last date in print?
There are at least six editions currently in print. (see astericks in questions 1 and 5.
Source: InfoTrac: Books in Print with Book Reviews Feb. 1999-- http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session/733/999/463381w7
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
The information found was not up to date, and due to the multitude of various publishers both in English and in other languages, such a total is most likely impossible to obtain. However, as of 1975, the book had sold 2,866,718 copies, cloth and paper combined. The immense popularity of this book should also be noted. It remained on the New York Times Bestselling Fiction List for 83 weeks, coming in number one for 27 of those weeks. The book remained on the Publisher's Weekly Bestseller List for 78 weeks, coming in number one for 28 of those weeks. Considering this popularity, as well as the many editions and translations currently in print, 2,866,718 is probably a gross underestimate for total copies sold.
Sources: Hackett and Burke. 80 Years of Bestsellers: 1895-1975. Bestseller Index: All Books, Publisher's Weekly, and New York Times through 1990. Compiled by Keith Justice.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Again, this information is not readily available, especially considering the lack of a total number of copies sold. However, during its first year of publication, the book sold 237,009 copies. By the end of 1962, a year and eight months after publication, that number was up 287,525 copies. During those first two years, the book averaged 4,000 copies per month.
Sources: Publisher's Weekly. October 2, 1961 Publisher's Weekly. March 26, 1962. Hackett and Burke. 80 Years of Bestsellers: 1895-1975.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Cover of Publisher's Weekly, January 2, 1961:
"In fact (and in fiction), it's Doubleday all year long!"
in March and April it's Irving Stone Daphne du Maurier Mitchell Wilson
Ad placed on page 2 of Publisher's Weekly, January 2, 1961:
"Latest developments on Irving Stone's newest and greatest novel!"
"A passionate biographical novel about Michaelangelo" "Book-of-the-Month Club chooses The Agony and the Ecstasy as it's April selection!" New pubdate is Mar. 17. "$25,000 initial ad campaign starts with a New York Times Book Review full-page ad on Mar. 19." Ad is illustrated with a picture of the first edition in its dust jacket, as well as a minature of the ad that appeared in the New York Times.
Ad placed in New York Times Book Review, March 19, 1961:
"Irving Stone, author of Lust for Life, has written his masterpiece." "A passionate biographical novel of Michaelangelo" "Like Lust for Life, this is the story of a geniusÖa man who could release the beauty trapped in marble but who could not free himself from his own inner torments. Michaelangelo-the man and the artist-has never before been portrayed with such insight, nor has the Golden Renaissance era ever been brought to life with such fullness and drama. Created by the undisputed master of the biographical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy is destined to become Irving Stone's greatest bestseller and a modern classic." "A Book-of-the-Month Club Selection"
Full-page ad on page 11; features picture of Irving Stone
Sources: The New York Times Book Review. March 19, 1961. Publisher's Weekly. January 2, 1961.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
This novel was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Accordingly, the title and a miniature picture of the book were used in Book-of-the-Month Club ads, which ran in various publications. An example of one such ad ran in The New York Times Book Review.
Source: The New York Times Book Review. March 19, 1961.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The Agony and the Ecstasy was filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and was released in 1965. The movie starred Rex Harrison and Charleton Heston, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards.
Audio Cassette Recordings (Publisher and year):
∑ Books on Tape, 1976 ∑ Books on Tape, 1977
Video Cassette Recordings:
∑ Twentieth Century Fox, Mar. 15, 1995 release
Sources: Amazon.com ("The Agony and the Ecstasy") Virgo WorldCat www.imdb.com ("the Agony and the Ecstasy")
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
∑ Bulgarian: Stradanie i vaztorg; biogr. roman za Mikelangelo. Nar Kultura, 1966. ∑ Burmese: Muin'kay'Ain'gyay'Lui. Ca Pe Biman', 1974. ∑ Chinese: T'ung ch'u yu k'uang his: Mi-k'ai-lang-chi-lo ch'uan chi hsiao shuo. Jen min mei shy ch'u pan she, 1983. ∑ Croatian: Agonija i ekstaza: roman o Michelangelu. Naprijed, 1965. ∑ Czech: Agonia a extaza. Slovensky Spisovatel, 1963 and 1966. (2 editions) ∑ Czech: Agonia a extaza: roman o Michelangelovi. Spolocnost Priatel'ov Krasnych Knih. 1963. ∑ Danish: Michelangelo. Berlingske Forlag, 1961. ∑ Dutch: De roman van het leven van Michelangelo. Hollandia, 1961-66. ∑ Finnish: Michaelangelo; elamakertaromaani. W. Soderstrom Osakeyhtio, 1963. ∑ French: Puissant et solitaire; la vie ardente de Michel-Ange. Presses de la Cite, 1962. ∑ German: Michelangelo; ein Leben in Grosse und Leid; biographischer Roman. Universitas Verlag, 1961, 1963, 1965. (3 editions) ∑ German: Michelangelo; Inferno und Ekstase, biographischer Roman. Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft, 1964. ∑ German: Michelangelo. Buchgemeinschaft Donauland, 1966. ∑ German: Michelangelo; Inferno und Ekstase, biographischer Roman. Deutscher Bucherbund, 1966. ∑ German: Michelangelo; Inferno und Ekstase, biographischer Roman. Schweizer Verlagshaus, 1966. ∑ German: Michelangelo; Roman. Droemer Knaur, 1969. ∑ Greek: Agonia kai ekstase: to mythiistorema tou Michael Angelou. Ikaros, 1972. ∑ Hebrew: Hayye Mikel'angelo. Am Oved, 1965. ∑ Hungarian: Michelangelo, regenyes eletrajz. Gondolat Kiado, 1967 and 1973. (2 editions) ∑ Italian: Il tormento e l'estasi; il romanzo di Michelangelo. dall'Oglio, 1962 and 1965. (2 editions) ∑ Italian: Il tormento e l'estasi; il romanzo di Michelangelo. Euroclub, 1980. ∑ Japanese: Kuno to kanki; Mikeranjiro seitan hyaku-nen kinen. Futami Shobo, 1966. ∑ Japanese: Kuno to kanki; Mikeranjiro no shogai. Futami Shobo, 1966. ∑ Japanese: Kuno to kanki. Futami Shobo. ∑ Persian: Ranj was sarmasty; dastan zandegany Mikal Anj. Muassess chap was antasharat Amir Kabir, 1964. ∑ Persian: Ranj was sarmasty. Asatir, 1993. ∑ Polish: Udreka i ekstaza. Czytelnik, 1965 and 1990. (2 editions) ∑ Romanian: Agonie si extaz. Pentru Literatura Universala, 1966. ∑ Romanian: Agonie si extaz. Bucuresti, 1971. ∑ Russian: Muki i radosti: roman o Mikelandzhelo. Khudozhestvennaia, 1985. ∑ Russian: Muki i radosti. Pravada, 1991. ∑ Russian: Muki i radosti. "Severo-zapad," 1993. ∑ Solvene: V zanosu in obupu. Drzavna Zalozba Slovenjie, 1964 and 1966. (2 editions) ∑ Spanish: Miguel Angel; agonia y extasis del genio de Florencia. Ediciones Selectas, 1961 and 1967. (2 editions) ∑ Spanish: La agonia ye el extasis. Emece, 1993. ∑ Swedish: Ham som skapade en varld; roman om Michelangelo. Forum, 1961. ∑ Turkish: Ilahi istirap. Hakan Yayinevi, 1965.
Condensations, Excerpts, and Adaptations
∑ Braille: The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo (condensation). American Printing House for the Blind, 1965. ∑ Danish: Han skabte en verden; roman om Michelangelo, in Det Bedstes boger. Reader's Digest, 1964. ∑ Dutch: De roman van het leven van Michelangelo, in Het Beste boek. Reader's Digest, 1965. ∑ French: Michel-Ange, in Selection du Reader's digest. Reader's Digest Association, 1963. ∑ German: Michelangelo; Inferno und Ekstase, in Reader's digest Auswahlbucher. Das Beste, 1964. ∑ Italian: Il tormento e l'estasi, in Selezione del libro; i grandi successi condesati. Selezione dal Reader's Digest, 1962. ∑ Italian: La grande avventura di Michaelangelo. dall'Oglio, 1965. ∑ Japanese: Karei naru gekijo, in Ridazu daijisuto meicho senshu. Nihon Ridazu daijisuto sha, 1967. ∑ Norwegian: Han skapte en verden; en roman om Michelangelo, in Det Bestes boker. Det Beste, 1963. ∑ Polish: Wielka przygoda Michala Aniola. Instytut Wydawniczy Nasza Ksiegarnia, 1969. ∑ Russian: V mukakh i radostiakh, in Literaturnaya gazeta. 1964. ∑ Spanish: La agonia ye el extasis; biografia novelada de Miguel Angel, in Biblioteca de selecciones; las obras contemporaneas de mayor exito. Selecciones del Reader's Digest, 1962. ∑ Swedish: Ham som skapade en varld, in Det Bastas bokval. Reader's Digest, 1963.
Sources: Virgo WorldCat ("The Agony and the Ecstasy" Irving Stone: A Bibliography. Compiled by Lewis F. Steig. 1973. pp. 35-38
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
This book was never serialized in English. However, in 1964, a condensed version of it was serialized in the Russian publication Literaturnaya gazeta.
Sources: Irving Stone: A Bibliography. Compiled by Lewis F. Steig. 1973. pp. 35-38
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
No information indicates that this novel had an sequels or prequels.
Sources: Amazon.com Virgo Virgo WorldCat
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Irving Stone was born Irving Tennenbaum on July 14, 1903, in San Francisco, CA. His parents divorced when he was 7-years-old, and he lived with his grandmother until his mother remarried. It was her second husband's name that Irving Stone took. Stone knew from early on that he wanted to be a writer. When he was 10-years-old, he read Martin Eden, by Jack London, and decided that biographical were what he wanted to write. When he was in high school, his talent was recognized by one of his English teachers, who encouraged him to write during class instead of completing assignments. From high school, he went on to major in political science at the University of California at Berkeley. He then achieved a teaching fellowship in economics at the University of Southern California. There he gained his Masters degree and studied for his doctorate. However, before receiving his doctorate, he dropped out of school and moved to Paris to write plays. Of the 17 he wrote, none were successful, though one went to Broadway, only to close its second night. Stone then moved to New York, where he worked as an usher and a pulp writer to support himself. In 1933, Stone met and fell in love with Jean Factor. It was at this time that he completed his first major novel, Lust for Life. However, the book was rejected by numerous publishers. Stone gave the book to Factor and asked her to edit it. She did, and it was published in January 1934, when Stone was 30-years-old. Stone and Factor married a month later. Factor remained his editor for the rest of his career. They traveled with their two children while Stone did research for his novels, but they built their permanent home in Beverly Hills, CA. Stone died in Los Angeles on August 26, 1989, at the age of 86. Stone's works have sold over 100 million copies in original and condensed form. There are translations in over 40 different languages. His most popular works are historical biographies. He often spent several years on each novel, many times traveling to other countries and doing meticulous background research. He wrote over 20 novels, edited and contributed to over a dozen books, as well as wrote a film screenplay, Magnificent Doll. Among his many works are: Lust for Life (1934), the story of Vincent van Gogh; Sailor on Horseback (1937), about Jack London; Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941); They Also Ran (1943), about nineteen defeated presidential candidates; President's Lady (1951), about Rachel Jackson; Love is Eternal (1954), a fictionalized story of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln; The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), the story of Michaelangelo; The Passions of the Mind (1971), about Sigmund Freud, and The Origin (1980), about the life of Charles Darwin. Many of Stone's papers are housed at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of California at Berkeley. The University of Virginia has a small Stone collection, as well.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Though Irving Stone had achieved modest fame with the publication of his first novel, Lust for Life, the thirteen books he wrote between that work and The Agony and the Ecstasy were not hugely successful. However, due to intense pre-publication publicity by Doubleday, The Agony and the Ecstasy was reviewed in numerous journals, including The New York Times Book Review, Time, and Newsweek, and was chosen as a Book-of-the Month-Club Selection prior to its release. The popular reception of the novel was tremendous, with sales totaling almost 7 million copies within two years of its publication. It became a staple selection for book clubs, and it was translated into numerous languages. Contemporary critical reception of A&E was not as positive as the sales figures might indicate. Reviewers were divided into two camps: those who took the work as a serious biographical attempt, and those who read it as a work of fiction. Almost all reviewers admired Stone's "boundless determination" (1) and "enormous work." (2) Most reviews also commented on the tremendous amount of research Stone put into the work. As one reviewer put it, "Mr. Stone was so industrious that he qualified himself to write a genuine biography." (3) However, many critics were disappointed with the "wheelbarrow-weight" (8) result, which one reviewer found to be "dry as marble dust all the way." (4) Another critic commented, "I prefer my historical novels unfettered by all this scholarship." (5) This type of criticism was countered by those who saw Stone's work as a poor attempt at scholarly biography. These reviews contain a lambasting of Stone's fictitious "inserts", which critics found to be everything from "exaggerated" (1) to entirely "inaccurate." (6) Reviews also focused on the romanticized description of the book's subject, Michaelangelo, especially the historically unsubstantiated love relationships included in the work. One writer felt the book to be "more romantic than scholarly," (1), and another that "the novel?scarcely rises above the level of those romances which old-time servant-girls keep hidden in the kitchen knife drawer." (7) Almost all reviews reject Stone's work as an accurate, erudite study of Michaelangelo. Those critics who read the work as a fictional attempt were more satisfied with Stone's writing, but even they not completely content with the book. Many reviews mention the brilliant characterization and "seductive charms" (11) of the work, as well as the laudable job Stone does in "clarifying" the "complex" Renaissance period. (2) However, many of these critics were disappointed with the length of the novel and its dialogue, which was described as "puerile" (1), "cheap" (9), and "interminable." (10) Overall, critical reception of the book can be most accurately described as average. "This biographical novel is at its best as biography, at its worst as fiction. In its portraits of contemporary artists, in historical setting, in art criticism?there is a great deal about this book that is highly commendable." (9)
"What then must be the final verdict on this solid and ambitious work? Mr. Stone certainly deserves an A for effort. But, since most of "The Agony and the Ecstasy" plods along in pedestrian prose and is dull, achingly dull, as a work of fictional art it can only be judged a massive mediocrity." (3) Quoted reviews:
· Library Journal. Review by Bill Katz. April 1, 1961 (1) · Kirkus. January 16, 1961 (2) · The New York Times. Review by Orville Prescott. March 17, 1961 (3) · Atlantic Monthly. Review by Phoebe Adams. May 1961 (4) · Guardian. Review by Norman Shrapnel. July 21, 1961 (5) · Catholic World. Review by Joseph Tusiani. August 1961 (6) · Spectator. Review by Olivia Manning. July 21, 1961 (7) · Newsweek. March 20, 1961 (8) · The New York Herald Tribune Lively Arts. Review by Richard Winston. March 19, 1961 (9) · The San Francisco Chronicle. Review by William Hogan. March 17, 1961 (10) · The Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books. Review by Aaron Bohrod. March 26, 1961 (11)
**FOR A LISTING OF ALL CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS, SEE SUPP. INFO**
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Though Irving Stone had achieved modest fame with the publication of his first novel, Lust for Life, the thirteen books he wrote between that work and The Agony and the Ecstasy were not hugely successful. However, due to intense pre-publication publicity by Doubleday, The Agony and the Ecstasy was reviewed in numerous journals, including The New York Times Book Review, Time, and Newsweek, and was chosen as a Book-of-the Month-Club Selection prior to its release. The popular reception of the novel was tremendous, with sales totaling almost 7 million copies within two years of its publication. It became a staple selection for book clubs, and it was translated into numerous languages. Contemporary critical reception of A&E was not as positive as the sales figures might indicate. Reviewers were divided into two camps: those who took the work as a serious biographical attempt, and those who read it as a work of fiction. Almost all reviewers admired Stone's "boundless determination" (1) and "enormous work." (2) Most reviews also commented on the tremendous amount of research Stone put into the work. As one reviewer put it, "Mr. Stone was so industrious that he qualified himself to write a genuine biography." (3) However, many critics were disappointed with the "wheelbarrow-weight" (8) result, which one reviewer found to be "dry as marble dust all the way." (4) Another critic commented, "I prefer my historical novels unfettered by all this scholarship." (5) This type of criticism was countered by those who saw Stone's work as a poor attempt at scholarly biography. These reviews contain a lambasting of Stone's fictitious "inserts", which critics found to be everything from "exaggerated" (1) to entirely "inaccurate." (6) Reviews also focused on the romanticized description of the book's subject, Michaelangelo, especially the historically unsubstantiated love relationships included in the work. One writer felt the book to be "more romantic than scholarly," (1), and another that "the novel?scarcely rises above the level of those romances which old-time servant-girls keep hidden in the kitchen knife drawer." (7) Almost all reviews reject Stone's work as an accurate, erudite study of Michaelangelo. Those critics who read the work as a fictional attempt were more satisfied with Stone's writing, but even they not completely content with the book. Many reviews mention the brilliant characterization and "seductive charms" (11) of the work, as well as the laudable job Stone does in "clarifying" the "complex" Renaissance period. (2) However, many of these critics were disappointed with the length of the novel and its dialogue, which was described as "puerile" (1), "cheap" (9), and "interminable." (10) Overall, critical reception of the book can be most accurately described as average. "This biographical novel is at its best as biography, at its worst as fiction. In its portraits of contemporary artists, in historical setting, in art criticism?there is a great deal about this book that is highly commendable." (9)
"What then must be the final verdict on this solid and ambitious work? Mr. Stone certainly deserves an A for effort. But, since most of "The Agony and the Ecstasy" plods along in pedestrian prose and is dull, achingly dull, as a work of fictional art it can only be judged a massive mediocrity." (3) Quoted reviews:
· Library Journal. Review by Bill Katz. April 1, 1961 (1) · Kirkus. January 16, 1961 (2) · The New York Times. Review by Orville Prescott. March 17, 1961 (3) · Atlantic Monthly. Review by Phoebe Adams. May 1961 (4) · Guardian. Review by Norman Shrapnel. July 21, 1961 (5) · Catholic World. Review by Joseph Tusiani. August 1961 (6) · Spectator. Review by Olivia Manning. July 21, 1961 (7) · Newsweek. March 20, 1961 (8) · The New York Herald Tribune Lively Arts. Review by Richard Winston. March 19, 1961 (9) · The San Francisco Chronicle. Review by William Hogan. March 17, 1961 (10) · The Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books. Review by Aaron Bohrod. March 26, 1961 (11)
**FOR A LISTING OF ALL CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS, SEE SUPP. INFO**
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
After examining ten American bestsellers over the course of a semester and analyzing which characteristics the typical "bestseller" possesses, The Agony and the Ecstasy seems an unlikely candidate for one of the most popular books of this century. Irving Stone's fictional biography is a 664-page epic with the convoluted social and political history of Florence and Rome some 500 years ago as its backdrop. Its subject is the famed artist Michaelangelo, a man whose work is so prevalent in today's world as to render him mythic. The work is full of historical detail and religious discussion, but it contains very little romance. Its main character, a man who conversed with Popes and created some of the most famous artistic works in the world, is hardly identifiable with the average reader. It is repetitive, complicated, and at times difficult to read. Its critical reception was mediocre at best. And yet the novel sold 7 million copies within two years of its publication, ranking it among the top ten bestsellers in America both in 1961 and 1962 (Pearson, Hackett). Indeed, its popularity is initially puzzling. What about this book, a work whose focus seems so foreign and scholarly, made it sell? The answer to this question may be found in the way in which Stone handled his subject matter. Indeed, his writing reflects years of historical research and analysis. But beyond this, the book contains insights and fictional creations that take it out of the realm of scholarly biography and into the realm of historical fiction. Stone allowed himself to leave his research at times and delve into those aspects of Michaelangelo that were not historically documented, namely his personality and motivations. In doing this, Stone takes the complicated, legendary figure and renders him human. He gives him traits with which an average person is able to identify, and thus puts a seemingly distant world into a familiar context. It is this fictional characterization of Michaelangelo that made him an understandable, sympathetic hero, and thus made Stone's work a popular success.
The fictional aspects of Stone's writing are almost as predominant as the factual elements. Michaelangelo left a great many papers, sonnets, and works of art for biographers to examine and from which to extract parts of his life. However, these sources only illuminate so much about the artist. As one critic put it,
"A lot of known about him, but not what people most want to know: What was he really like? What did he think while erecting immortal masterpieces? How did he feel when frustrated by Popes and slandered by enemies? Biographers can only speculate about such questions." (1)
Stone's response to this lack of information was to create his own answers to these questions. Using the works of former Michaelangelo Vasari as a background, as well as the artist's letters and sonnets, he invents a personality for Michaelangelo (Bohrod). He provides the artist's opinions of other artists, the thought processes leading to his masterpieces, the motivations for his actions. In this respect, Stone dissects the genius of Michaelangelo and makes him understandable to readers. Beyond this, he gives the artist weaknesses. Stone's Michaelangelo is solitary, has a quick temper, and is often jealous of some of his famous contemporaries. Michaelangelo becomes less mythic and more graspable as these very human traits become apparent in the book. Much of the novel also focuses on the physical aspects of the artist and his work. Stone recounts in detail the fatigue and pain Michaelangelo experienced while sculpting and painting, as well as the near-starvation conditions he endured for much of his life. Descriptions of the freezing weather in which the artist often worked are commonplace throughout the novel. Michaelangelo is no longer superhuman, but very much an average man with physical wants and needs (Stone). In this respect, the modern reader is able to relate to Stone's subject.
Stone also devotes a portion of his novel to the love life of Michaelangelo. Described in the work are three romances Michaelangelo may or may not have had with women. Actual information about this area of Michaelangelo's life is rare, and much of these portions of The Agony and the Ecstasy are inferred from the artist's sonnets. This is particularly true of the second romance in the book, the sexual relationship between Michaelangelo and a character named Clarissa (Winston). Stone draws her entire character from a sonnet written to an unnamed love of Michaelangelo. Stone even goes as far to include some of the sexual interludes between the woman and the artist, thus making certain parts of the book seem like old-time "romances" with "titillations?offered on a note of exalted protest." (2) Obviously, these "private" moments in Michaelangelo's life are not explicitly stated in the historical documents Stone examined during his research. However, their inclusion in the novel serves to add one more element of humanity to Michaelangelo. Again, the legend becomes mortal, and the average reader is able to connect with his character.
Critics were the first people to link the popularity of Stone's portrait of Michaelangelo with his creative inferences and fictitious incidents. They were also the first people to condemn Stone for including those aspects in his book. As one writer put it, "The very methods that insured his success and illustrated his talents infuriated some critics." (3) Essentially, critics denounced Stone's writing because in spite of all the research he had done, he still included fictional incidents and characterizations in the novel. One critic questioned this technique, asking, "?Does Mr. Stone feel that the verifiable biographical and romantic elements here are inadequate in themselves for a 'biographical romance?'" (4) Furthermore, many felt that non-experts would misinterpret these fictional incidents as real. One obituary described Stone's critics as saying that "in his very best work it was difficult to tell what the subject had actually said and what Mr. Stone had him say. And the better his work, the more difficult it was." (3) And yet, this seamless transition between the intricate descriptions of Michaelangelo's and the thoughts and feelings of the artist were instrumental in making the subject interesting and approachable for Stone's readers. By including the ordinary with the extraordinary, Stone made his years of scholarly research and examination palatable for the popular masses.
Stone's mixture of fact and fiction is not found only in The Agony and the Ecstasy. He wrote over twenty "fictional biographies," a genre he claimed to have invented (Gill). Each combined years of research by Stone on a certain famous subject and his own personal insights into that character (Krebs). He defended the technique, saying, "Even if there is endless documentation, it would be impossible to know what a man thought inside his own mind?this is where the novelist's creative imagination has to take over." (3) Stone explained that he wanted his readers not just to learn about the life of his subjects, but to become them. He said in an interview,
"I, the author, spend two to five years becoming the main character. I do that so by the time you get to the bottom of page 2 or 3, you forget your name, where you live, your profession and the year it is. You become the main character of the book. You live the book." (5)
By Stone's reasoning, including the thoughts and motivations of his subjects made them all that much more human. He did so with the intention of creating characters with whom his audience could easily relate (Gill). Stone also wanted his subject matter to withstand the test of time. He wanted to tell stories that were "true for all time?the story of man, against obstacles, for man." (6) Here again, Stone realized by bringing legendary figures down to the status of the underdog, back to the status of being ordinary men and women toiling against great odds, he could capture a larger audience. It did not matter if Michaelangelo had lived 500 years before in an entirely different world, both socially and politically, from any of his readers. What mattered to Stone, and thus to his audience, was that the artist was human, a mere man, albeit with an extraordinary gift. By bringing those human characteristics out, Stone attempted to make Michaelangelo, like his work, timeless.
Stone accomplished his goal of creating popular "fictional biographies." There are some 100 million copies of his works in print, and not just in the original English. Stones books have been translated into over 40 different languages, a testament to his writing's universality (Gill). The Agony and the Ecstasy was probably his most successful work. It sold more copies than did any of his other books, and did so in a shorter amount of time (Pearson). It inspired a film in 1965, a well-received production that garnered five Academy Award nominations (Amazon). Stone and his works were incredibly popular throughout the 1960s. An interview/article in written in 1969 described him as "the most widely read historical novelist alive." (6) However, after 1970, Stone's popularity abated. After the 1965 release of the film version of The Agony and the Ecstasy, sales of the work rapidly dropped off. There was almost no subsequent critical reception of the novel (CLC). This ephemeral popularity was probably due to the less-than-favorable critical reviews of the book upon its publication. The work, though popular in the mass market, was not ever critically studied or used educationally (CLC). Though reviewers praised Stone's extensive research and remarkable detail, they found aspects of his writing style to be slow and somewhat "unconvincing." (7) Many were also highly critical of the fictitious parts of the novel, as mentioned above. In particular, the dialogue of the characters, almost all of which was invented by Stone and served to elucidate aspects of Michaelangelo's relationships, was brutally attacked by reviewers as "puerile" and "artificial." (9,10) In this respect, the very qualities that at first made the book such an incredible popular success most likely led to its ultimate decline and disappearance.
The environment into which The Agony and the Ecstasy may also have played a role in the novel's popularity. Stone was a well-established writer at the time of the book's release, having already written several bestselling fictional biographies. Doubleday launched a tremendous publicity campaign, and the book was selected before its release as a Book-of-the-Month novel. The book was set up from its inception to be a big seller. However, other than the publicity it received, there is very little about the early 1960s that would make this work more popular or applicable to society than in the decades that followed. The time period of the novel was already so far removed from the 20th century that it does not seem likely that the novel's declining popularity was due to a its lack of suitability in the 1970s and 1980s compared to the 1960s. What seems more probable is that the publicity campaign served to create a large audience upon the book's release, but that the writing was not original or innovative enough to retain that audience over the decades. This idea also lends credence to the theory that the writing appealed to basic human sentiments, such as romance and the triumph of the underdog, but lacked original literary merit. Many books appeal to those popular feelings, and The Agony and the Ecstasy was just one more, albeit one that was incredibly popular.
Though The Agony and the Ecstasy was not taken seriously by critics as a scholarly biography, Stone's goal to create a work which would be lived by its readers was almost certainly reached. Indeed, any work achieving sales numbers as massive as those of this novel can most certainly be said to have succeeded, at least on some non-critical levels. Furthermore, it might also be inferred that reaching this "popular" level was the only goal Stone really had in creating his fictional biographies. Stone wanted a novel "for man," one that would allow the average reader to "become Michaelangelo." (6,5) Had he focused all of his work solely on the over 5,000 pages of notes he took during his four years of research and left out his own fictional interpretations, he would have gained more critical and scholarly acclaim (Gill). However, it is doubtful that such a work would have been popular among the general public, or that it would have allowed readers the personal insights into the character of Michaelangelo that they desired. Stone sacrificed completely historical accuracy for the sake of gaining a larger audience. In the end, this sacrifice allowed Stone to achieve a book that was accepted by his intended audience, "man," if not by critics. As one reviewer put it,
"Novelist Stone did four years of research on the brilliant surface of the Italian Renaissance?and?he is totally successful in conveying the sense of pain and high drama inherent in the process of sculpture. Though readers may tire of climbing Stone's mountain of historical detail, they almost certainly will never stand before carved marble again without that sense of excitement for the art that Stone has given them." (10)
Quoted Sources:
(1) The New York Times March 17, 1961 (2) Spectator July 21, 1961 (3) The Washington Post August 28, 1989 (4) The Saturday Review March 18, 1961 (5) The Baltimore Sun August 28, 1989 (6) Pace Magazine February 1969 ("The Twenty Lives of Irving Stone") (7) Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books March 26, 1961 (8) Library Journal April 1, 1961 (9) The New York Herald Tribune Lively Arts March 19, 1961 (10) Newsweek Magazine March 20, 1961 page 104
Supplemental Material
LIST OF REVIEWS (contemporary) · Atlantic Monthly May 1961 page 104 · Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books March 26, 1961 page 1 · The New York Times March 17, 1961 page 29 · The Saturday Review March 18, 1961 page 18 · America April 1, 1961 page 22 · National Review July 1, 1961 page 427 · Book-of-the-Month-Club March 1961 page 1 · Library Journal April 1, 1961 page 1480 · Art News September 1961 page 29 · Spectator July 21, 1961 page 99 · Extension June 1961 page 8 · Esquire June 1961 page 38 · The New York Times Book Review March 19, 1961 page 6 · American Book Collector May 1961 page 2 · Catholic World August 1961 page 328 · The New York Herald Tribune Lively Arts March 19, 1961 page 32 · Newsweek Magazine March 20, 1961 page 104 · Time Magazine March 24, 1961 page 90 · Times Literary Supplement (London) August 4, 1961 page 477 · Bookmark March 1961 page 131 · Booklist March 1961 · Christian Science Monitor March 26, 1961 page 26 · Guardian July 21, 1961 page 6 · Kirkus January 1961 page 67 · San Francisco Chronicle March 17, 1961 page 33 · Springfield Republican April 9, 1961 page 5D · Wisconsin Library Bulletin Spring 1961 page 308 Sources · An Index to Book Reviews in the Humanities 1961 · Book Review Digest 1961 (57)
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