About this Recording
NA237512 - WALLACE, L.: Ben Hur (Abridged)

Lew Wallace
Ben Hur


Lew(is) Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana, on April 10 1827. During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of major-general. He practised law, was elected to the state senate and was appointed governor of New Mexico in 1878. He was minister to Turkey from 1881–1885, and also served as governor of Indiana.

But it is as a novelist that Lew Wallace is best remembered. As early as 1843 he had begun, under the influence of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico, to write a novel set in Mexico, which was finally published in 1873 as The Fair God. Later books included The Boyhood of Christ (1888); The Prince of India (1893) and The Wooing of Malkatoon (poem, 1898).

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ was published in 1880. It was an instant success and brought Wallace huge popularity, selling over two million copies—making it, perhaps, the first American blockbuster. It combines the sweep of an epic work with fast-moving, gripping scenes of action and subtle, totally convincing characterisations.

The descriptions of life as a galley slave and, of course, the famous chariot race, are as immediate today as when they were written. The struggle of the early Christians is mirrored by Ben Hur’s struggle for personal growth and fulfilment, but the book is above all an action story that shifts and moves swiftly, with drama and pathos. Who can forget the description of Ben Hur’s mother and sister being found, incarcerated in their leprous cell? The horrors of leprosy are described in graphic detail, at a time when there was as yet no cure.

Wallace’s authoritative and grandiose prose set the seal on this popular classic. This was the book that Anne of Green Gables was admonished for reading, under her desk at school.

Two spectacular motion pictures were made of Ben Hur: in 1925 and, perhaps most famously, in 1959 with Charlton Heston in the title role. It is also interesting to note that the chariot race was, for many years, a staple of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.

Notes by Lesley Young


The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue

LISZT Tasso/Les Preludes

Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra/Halász

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