Friday, 23 December 2011

Top Ten All-Time Best-Selling Books, 5: 红楼梦 (1759-1791)


女娲炼石补天,剩一块石未用。这补天顽石(通灵宝玉)经过修炼已经有了灵性。一僧一道携它变幻为美玉带入尘世。适逢神瑛侍者对一株绛珠仙草有浇灌之恩,又动了凡心下凡游历人间。绛珠仙草后修炼成女体,闻讯亦随之下凡,打算把一生所有的眼泪还他。僧道二人欲了结这段公案,并将石头(通灵宝玉)夹带其中。元宵时节,霍启不慎丢失了英莲。葫芦庙失火祸及甄家,落魄的甄士隐被一僧一道点化,解出《好了歌注》出家。穷困的贾雨村反而由贫入官。贾府是金陵四大家族之一,受有功勋,分为宁荣二府,族中最长者为贾母,最疼生来口中就含有一块通灵宝玉(补天顽石)的孙儿贾宝玉(神瑛侍者)。贾宝玉生来不喜读圣贤书,却爱与青春女性玩耍,为此与其父贾政关系紧张。林黛玉(绛珠仙草)此时入居贾府。刘姥姥为了生计,也一进荣府。学堂内发生一场大混战,贾府男子众人,丑态尽出。
宁府长孙媳秦可卿去世,托梦叮嘱王熙凤盛筵必散。王熙凤协理秦氏丧事,场面辉煌,展示理家才能。荣府贾元春获选为妃并省亲,荣府为元春省亲修建别墅大观园,极尽奢华。
宝玉在池边读《会真记》,宝黛第一次葬花。赵姨娘与其子贾环,最恨贾宝玉。贾环欲烫瞎宝玉其眼,幸而未伤到眼睛,王夫人不骂贾环,把赵姨娘一顿臭骂。赵姨娘遂又命马道婆扎纸人作法害凤姐和宝玉。凤姐有事求黛玉,被打断,拿宝玉和黛玉的婚事取笑。宝凤二人忽随即因道婆作法而发狂,一僧一道前来相救。宝黛在春季结束时第二次葬花,林黛玉作成葬花词一首。
忽闻与贾府素无往来的忠顺王府来人,要找宝玉问琪官下落,说出交换汗巾之事,贾政大怒。贾政本要拿贾环出气,贾环却趁机说出金钏跳井之事,谎称金钏是因宝玉意图强奸而自尽。贾政怒不可遏,亲自下重手打了数十板,方被王夫人哭止,贾母闻讯训斥贾政,贾政亦自后悔。宝玉想听《牡丹亭》,却被龄官冷落,待见得贾蔷与龄官的景况,方知情缘皆有分定。


清光绪刊本的《红楼梦》插图,图上人物为袭人。改琦绘。
探春写帖邀众人结诗社,众姐妹和宝玉以海棠为题作诗。宝玉想起湘云,邀来入社,湘云之作众人皆赞。刘姥姥二进荣国府,贾母设宴招待刘姥姥,刘姥姥闹出不少笑话;众人行酒令,所说词句颇有寓意,黛玉不经意说了几句《西厢记》中的句子,引起宝钗的注意,刘姥姥的令词又引发哄堂大笑。众人途经拢翠庵,妙玉请宝钗、黛玉到里间喝体己茶,宝玉也跟去。刘姥姥用了妙玉的一个成窑杯,妙玉嫌脏准备扔掉,宝玉做顺水人情送给了刘姥姥。刘姥姥出恭之后误打误撞到了怡红院,在宝玉的床上睡着,好在被袭人发现并掩饰过去。宝钗审问黛玉在行酒令时背出《西厢记》词句之事,以正言相劝,二人从此和好。黛玉于风雨夜作《秋窗风雨夕》词。
贾赦欲纳鸳鸯为妾,鸳鸯发誓不嫁贾赦。贾赦闻讯,疑心鸳鸯看上了宝玉。贾母闻讯大怒,认为贾赦有意要把她身边的人支开。香菱向黛玉学作诗,以月为题,苦吟多首之后终得佳作。邢岫烟进京,路遇李纹、李绮,加上宝琴一起住进大观园,湘云也被贾母留下,园中热闹许多,交织成大观园中最美丽的景色。众人争联即景诗。宝琴作了十首怀古诗。元宵当晚,贾母在荣国府设宴。贾母把陈腐旧套批驳一番。
凤姐操劳成疾,李纨、探春、宝钗代为主持内务,更为严谨。蕊官托春燕给芳官带去蔷薇硝擦脸。贾环也想要,芳官把茉莉粉给了贾环。赵姨娘借此进园大闹,夏婆子从中加油添醋。
柳家的想叫女儿去宝玉房中当差,托芳官给宝玉说,芳官要玫瑰露给柳五儿吃。并答应让五儿在宝玉房里当差。赵姨娘内侄却欲娶柳五儿,柳家父母同意,五儿不愿,父母未敢应允,钱槐气愧,偏与柳家相与。柳家欲回,其哥嫂送给柳五儿茯苓霜。迎春的丫头莲花儿为司棋到厨房要炖鸡蛋羹,柳家的不给,迎春的大丫头司棋便领人大闹厨房。柳五儿将茯苓霜分些赠芳官,回来被林之孝家的发现,王熙凤叫把柳家的打四十板,永不许进二门,把五儿打四十板,交给庄子,或卖或配人。宝玉替彩云瞒赃,平儿向偷太太玫瑰露给环儿的彩云说明情况,凤姐还要追究,经过平儿相劝,凤姐方罢。贾敬归天,尤氏理丧,尤老娘母女三人到宁府着家,贾蓉戏二姨。
刚烈的尤三姐因柳湘莲的拒绝娶配而引剑自尽;温柔的尤二姐因王熙凤的迫害吞金自杀。黛玉做的“桃花诗”。众人改海棠社为桃花社,推黛玉为社主。湘云填柳絮词,黛玉邀众填词。宝钗诗中有“任他随聚随分”之句。众人后放风筝。鸳鸯望候凤姐,说凤姐患的是“血山崩”。贾琏请求鸳鸯暂把老太太的金银家伙偷着运出一箱子,暂押千数两银子支腾过去。
王夫人带着众仆抄检大观园,王熙凤消极配合。睿智聪颖的三妹贾探春愤而说出:「百足之虫,死而不僵!必须先要从家里自杀自灭起来,才能一败涂地!」宁府夜宴,祖先灵位前竟听见了诡谲的叹息声,似乎是在指责贾府的不肖子孙,即将毁掉百年的簪缨望族。史湘云和林黛玉中秋夜联诗,句句似乎预言了贾府的命运,极为凄凉感伤:「寒塘渡鹤影,冷月葬花魂」。之后宝玉的贴身丫鬟晴雯因聪明灵巧被逐,病亡之后宝玉作《芙蓉女儿诔》。而薛宝钗愚蠢纵玩的哥哥薛蟠,娶了泼辣闹家的妻子;贾宝玉懦弱温和的二姊(堂姊)贾迎春,嫁给了残暴淫秽的丈夫。

13 comments:

Adam Roberts said...

No, alright, that’s not me: it’s control-V’d from the Chinese Wikipedia. Please don’t think me a plagiarist.

In fact, I have started but have not yet finished reading this novel. Since it is decanted into English at something in excess of 700,000 words—and since I only loaded it onto the Kindle app on my iPhone last Friday (from the priceless Project Gutenberg)—this may I hope be understood, if not forgiven. Cao Xueqin’s immense fantasy-cum-family saga Dream of the Red Chamber , written over the latter decades of the 18th-century, is, everyone agrees, one of the great masterpieces of Chinese literature. It’s not to be gulped down in the few days before Christmas. No, I haven’t finished it. But I have read a novel-sized chunk of the whole, by the diminutive Western metric of ‘novel-sized’ and it is exceptionally good.

Adam Roberts said...

Also, I was struck that the book’s opening section appears to have been written by Iain M. Banks, presumably after having previously travelled back in time, renamed himself Ban Ksi and finding himself moved to write a new Culture novel. Here’s Bowra’s translation:

WHEN Nu Wa-shi fused the rocks in order to repair the heavens, she took thirty-six thousand, five hundred and one stones of enormous size from the Wu Ji Peak among the Da Huang Hills. Thirty-six thousand, five hundred of these she used, and the one solitary stone which was rejected as useless, was thrown at the foot of the Qing Geng Peak. The fusion of this stone had, however, endowed it with spiritual perception, with power of motion and of self contraction and expansion. It was a Mind, and as such was tremendously powerful: capable of holding millions of simultaneous conversations with the citizens that live aboard its ship or habitat, or the individual into the roof of whose mouth they might be embedded. To allow itself to perform at such a high degree, it existed partially in hyperspace to get around such hindrances to computing power as the speed of light.


Well, not those last two sentences, obviously.

Perceiving that all its companion stones were used for repairing the heavens, and that it only was rejected as useless and shut out from the selected ones, the stone was vexed and grieved, and passed its days and nights in pining and lamentation. One day, while the stone was thus sighing and sorrowing, a Buddhist and a Taoist priest came unexpectedly within view. Arrived at the foot of the hill, they sat down to rest and talk. Seeing the stone lying there, fresh, glossy, bright and smooth, contracted to about the size of a fan handle, they were immensely pleased with it.

Taking it in his hand, the Buddhist priest said smiling, "One may see from the appearance of this stone that it is endowed with life and spiritual perception, but it is without any practical value; we must engrave a few characters on it, so that men may know that it is an extraordinary stone."


I mention Banks because I can’t, for the moment, think of any other contemporary SF authors who would think it a good idea to start a novel with characters talking to a stone. (The passage continues: "Dear stone, we shall take you to a brilliant and flourishing country, to a cultivated and courteous family employed in the service of the state, to a place of luxury and delight, -- where there are blossoming flowers and waving willows, where beauty and prosperity are supreme, we will take you there.")

Al R said...

I just LOL'd.

Bill from PA said...

Christine Brooke-Rose’s Xorandor is a novel about a brother and sister pair of computer nerds talking to a rock.

Adam Roberts said...

Bill: Bill: so there at least one SF novel that fits the bill -- good. I don't know Christine Brooke-Rose’s Xorandor ... I'll have to check it out.

Adam Roberts said...

Not sure why I addressed you twice, there, Bill. Sorry about that.

Miles said...

Glad I read the comments on this one. The view from my RSS reader was mighty confusing to a non-speaker of anything Chinese.

Bill from PA said...

Adam, I think you’ll enjoy Xorandor – its linguistic playfulness should appeal to a fan of Anthony Burgess.

Will C said...

I'm a bit embarrassed to say I hadn't heard of this work before now. Looking forward to hearing about it!

Brendan said...

Barry Hughart in his book "The Story of the Stone" suggested the stone was flawed instead of useless and then promptly fixed that problem

Farah Mendlesohn said...

You have convinced me. I have just downloaded it.

Nick Barnes said...

Hmm. SF about rocks. "Pebble in the Sky"?

Larry said...

I have the stack of Penguin Classics to finish, but because I'm easily amused, there seems to have been a Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson switch, as Cao Xueqin died sometime around the 80th chapter and apparently the remaining 40 chapters were finished from notes by a certain Gao E.

Still waiting for you to finish those final three WoT books before the Mayan apocalypse.