I subtitled this book "an epic narrative" for it does not belong, in style and in the approach to the characters it portrays, to what is usually called a novel. The term, novel, has been applied, it is true, to a variety of literary productions, and now avant-garde writers are presenting us with "anti-novels"; but RANIA does not belong either to this "new wave." It was written long ago, but at a time of thought-fermentation when some American authors, perhaps stimulated by the German "Expressionism" of the twenties, felt urged to venture into new fields.
The men who won fame in the thirties were content, however, to write characteristically in the novel form, mostly in terms of a realistic approach seeking ever more lurid or dark layers of our chaotic modern society as fields for their psychological and social analysis. I never was attracted by this approach, for I do not believe that it is the creative artist's main function to simply picture in a realistic and detailed manner what he observes around him. I believe that we are living through an age which has much in it that belongs to the "Primitive," a period which represents the closing of a historical cycle. I have often spoken of it as a "seed period." In the seed the essential characteristics of the plant are contained, but in a condensed, hard, stolid manner, haunted, as it were, by futurity. The life of the seed falling on the autumnal soil is a "heroic" life, and ends in the supreme ritual of germination — the gift of self so that future vegetation might be born.
This twentieth century is in various ways a heroic period; not only because of the wars being waged and the crucial social and racial conflicts on the national as well as the international stage, but because the modern individual is confronted in his life — whether he likes it or not — with decisions of a truly epic character. It is true that crucial decisions have had to be made by men and women in any period of history, but in most periods the human being acted within well-defined areas of belief and behavior, and in terms of unquestioned basic loyalties. Not so today. Everything must be questioned. There is no really safe solution, at least spiritually and psychologically — even for the youth born to wealth. After having conquered and at times enslaved most of the rest of mankind, Western people are now being faced with the "karma" of their actions, and often their crimes. Western minds are being torn away from all moorings by a spiritual as well as social crisis, the potential fury of which may destroy our society.
I wrote RANIA during the winter of 1930 in Chicago, just after leaving California where I had passed most of ten years in Hollywood and occasionally in Carmel-by-the-Sea where I was giving lectures and had devoted friends. RANIA is the story of a strong and unusual woman's life filled with extremes of light and darkness, of beauty and tragedy. I conceived this work as a kind of symphonic narrative in three movements. I emphasized the poetic-musical form by writing at first short stanza-like paragraphs, then, as the action became less tense and precipitated, increasing the length of these stanzas. In the second part of the symphonic-narrative the action slows down, and the stanza-form is no longer needed. It reappears in the third part which ends with a recall of the initial heroic theme of the sacrifice of the seed. In RANIA the action is condensed, often stark, moving from high-point to high-point — today one would probably speak of "peak experiences." The characters are projected on the background of social or natural landscapes which are broadly drawn and essentialized.
Though a number of friends and writers — like Will Levington Comfort — were enthusiastic after reading the manuscript, the publishers who read it felt that this work was too much ahead of its time to reach the broad public which alone interested them. I decided to wait for a more opportune period.
Last year several young friends of mine who read the manuscript insisted it should be published and one of them, Jim Shere, read it in 16 installments over the KPFA Pacifica radio in Berkeley. The response of many who heard the broadcast was extremely warm. Unity Press then offered to publish it and it is felt that the time has come for RANIA to reach the public heart.
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