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... that no other publisher wanted, or dared, to publish, until now... (unless they did)
... that no other publisher wanted, or dared, to publish, until now... (unless they did)
The Misfortune of Monsieur Fraque by Paul Alexis (Lʼinfortune de Monsieur Fraque in French) is a short story, or novella, that was first published in 1880.
Paul Alexisʼ touch is fine, his style is deft. He is like an impressionist painter in words. This book is elegantly written, nostalgic, and masterful. If it werenʼt for the Naturalist moniker that often gets attached to him – by literary historians – one might almost call him Romantic. The last thing that comes to mind when reading him and The Misfortune of Monsieur Fraque in particular, because their styles are, although similar, so very different – is Émile Zola, who was his friend and mentor and the founder of Naturalism.
Not very well known in the English-speaking world, nor even in the French one, – when Paul Alexis is known, it is mostly as the official biographer of Zola. This story is similar in style to two other of his novellas, The End of Lucie Pellegrin and A Platonic Love.
Cull of April (Cueille dʼavril in French) is the first book of poetry written by Francis Vielé-Griffin (1864-1937). It was first published in 1885, when Griffin was 21 years old. Griffin was American by birth, born in Virginia. As a boy of seven or eight years old, he was sent to France to attend school; he remained.
Cull of April is said to show influences of the Decadent school of poetry, which was in vogue at the time.
Here is what Émile Goudeau says about the Decadents, in his whoʼs who of Belle Epoque poets and artists, Ten Years a Bohemian: “The newcomers rallied around master Verlaine, or chief Mallarmé, and from there come the Decadents (of which the Deliquescents are nothing but parodists), the Symbolists, and the Instrumentalists.... the word decadent implies, beyond affectation of style, a certain disorder fundamentally, hybrid blend of old religions and refined mores; that was also what the decadents strived for; a particular sadism where Catholic incense is detected in loathsome places, and where the sanctuary has foul smells of face powder or even washbasin water.”
Perhaps he was right, hereʼs a line from “Euphonies,” in Cull of April, which would seem to corroborate:
I ramble on return from vain lassitudes,
Have we not dreamt of other beatitudes?
Drowning (沉沦 in Chinese) by Yu Dafu (郁達夫), originally published in 1921, is a short story or novella about a young Chinese national who leaves his motherland, China, to study abroad in Japan. A loner by temperament, he soon finds himself “feeling pitifully lonely...” Intellectually superior, but emotionally insecure and immature, without any support of family or close friends to speak of, his megalomania begins to grow “in direct proportion to his hypochondria.” A self-styled poet, he recurs to nature, taking long walks in the countryside outside Nagoya. But dwelling frequently in nature and reading books all alone only go so far for a young man who regularly practices onanism in his room, immediately regrets it, fantasizes about his landlordʼs daughter, and is sexually attracted to just about every young girl he meets. “His usual emission involved imagining ʻEveʼ appearing completely naked in front of him, to seduce him.” Voyeurism ensues, which leads to more shame: “Youʼre going to hell... how can you sink so low!” It is only a matter of time before he finds himself, almost without knowing how or why, in a Japanese “tavern” where a young Geisha girl with bad breath serves him too much sake. You can imagine the rest, or you can read the story.
Itʼs very difficult to find stories written in Chinese that are decadent. This story, and Yu Dafu in general, is a refreshing, if not dark and sordid, exception.
Ourigan, Oregon is a collection of poems, divided into two distinct groups, distinct in terms of time and temperament, but also wildly different in style, influence, and purpose. They were written by two different authors over two hundred years apart: William Clark of the Corps of Discovery, in 1804-1806, and an anonymous author, possibly posthumous, and seemingly from Portland, Oregon, in the years 2017-2019. Where the two meet is in the places and things found up and down and along either side of the Columbia River, the lifeblood of Oregon, from as far east as Dog River (modern-day Hood River) or even the Dalles, to the western shores of the U.S., where the Columbia River vomits sweet water into the brine of the “great Pacific Octean.” To say that William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, wrote poetry in his journals sounds far-fetched: he wrote in a prose that is, however, highly poetic in places. These are the Ourigan poems, co-authored, or rather edited, by Richard Robinson. They are 95% pure Clark: misspellings, warts, poetry and all; and 5% Robinson: editing, meter, rhythm, and rhyme where it works. The anonymous poems – the Oregon poems – are written, seemingly, as recollections in tranquility by an author whose background and whereabouts are equally uncertain. The poems were written in the same places along the river that Clark visited. But their themes, although similar, are wildly different. There is, in addition, a very particular pinch of modernness to them, which some might call depravity. We leave it to the readers to judge for themselves whether this collection of poetry coheres, or abruptly falls apart and dies, like water over an edge, or like autumnal leaves dropping, one by one, into the river, as they quietly “mend their way south” and “keep far from the strand.”
Voyage in France by a Frenchman by Paul Verlaine (Voyage en France par un Français) was written in 1881, but only published posthumously for the first time in 1907.
From the preface by Louis Loviot:
“Voyage in France by a Frenchman has remained unknown to Verlaine biographers; the title itself can be found mentioned only on the liminary page of the first edition of Sagesse, published by Palmé, in 1881... It seems surprising that Poor Lélian, always without two nickles to rub together, should have held on to the pages of a piece of writing without trying to draw some profit from them... [the] violent, reactionary pamphlet elaborated around 1880, during the time of mystical renaissance in which were composed the verses of sweet piety comprising the collection Sagesse, which Voyage in France is the virulent paraphrase of… [these] ʻrefound pagesʼ... offer a psychological document of the most singular kind and can serve to comment on and explain certain pages of Sagesse and of Bonheur.”
The Sylph by Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (fils) is an English translation of a little gem of a short story and libertine work first published in 1730, from the French (Le Sylphe, ou Songe de Madame de R*** écrit par elle-même à Madame de S*** ). Sylphs or Sylphids are, as most people do not know, elemental aery creatures, or spirits, not unlike faeries or nymphs even. Unlike nymphs, they come in both sexes, but in this genre-breaking short story they come in just one (vir). English-language readers will have encountered their very first sylph perhaps in Alexander Popeʼs The Rape of the Lock, written around the same time and published unfortunately on the wrong side of the Channel.
The Sylph in this story by Crébillon fils (“fils” to distinguish him from his father) is a tad more libertine than that of the Lock (assuming the Lock qualifies, which it doesnʼt). Short, as all short stories are, it takes place entirely in the bedroom of the young, charming, and beautiful Countess, Madame de R***, as she prepares to go to sleep for the night and is visited by a... male Sylph, or so it seems. Rather like The School of Women, which also takes place almost entirely in a bedroom, or bedrooms, and which is also of the libertine genre – The Sylph is about as tame and aery as libertine stories get. Even more so than the Ecclesiastical Laurels. But light and entertaining, it is also quite funny at times. The plot: a Sylph visits the Countess, who is not sure whether she is awake or dreaming, and seduces her in so many words.
“...I had retired to my room; the night was warm. I went to bed in a modest fashion, for someone who believes she is alone, but would not have done so if I had thought someone was watching me.”
The School of Women, by Nicolas Chorier (1612-1692), is an erotic novel written and published in the mid to late 17th century France. It has a convoluted history, much of it made up: Luisa Sigea, a female Spanish poet, had purportedly written the original in Spanish (Sotadic Satire on the Mysteries of Love and Venus); later Johannes Meursius, a Dutch classicist, purportedly translated it into Latin (Elegantiæ Latini Sermonis...). From there, it made its way into French and later English, multiple times.
This translation in English, from the French, contains the first 5 of 7 dialogs between two young women protagonists, Tullie and her younger companion, Octavie. The plot is simple: Tullie, the more experienced of the two women, has been asked by Octavieʼs mother to instruct her daughter on how best to satisfy her future husband in bed. Unsurprisingly, the dialogs themselves take place in bed. Itʼs a coming of age story of sorts for Octavie, and a paean to tribadism as well as to the heterosexual love between a man and his wife.
Very graphic in nature, – if written today, it might have had a subtitle of “How to please your man in bed, while practicing on a woman.” Highly erotic – it is definitely not a book for children, and may not be a book for some adults even.
She Who Weeps (Our Lady of La Salette) by Léon Bloy (Celle qui pleure, in French) was originally published in 1908. This is a new English translation of a work that is arguably a keystone of religious thought in Bloyʼs canon, given the authorʼs strong belief in, and promotion of, not only Mariology but also Millenarianism, both which beliefs permeate his work. Originally begun in 1879, before his articles written as a scatalogical demolitionary pamphleteer for the Chat Noir journal, before his ground-breaking first novel, The Desperate Man, which was, by the authorʼs own admission, the beginning of the “conspiration of silence” against him – She Who Weeps was surprisingly abandoned at first. It was only later when Pierre Termier, a lay “ambassador of Mary,” and close friend of the author in his later years, approached Bloy about the work, that the latter, encouraged, and with rekindled interest, picked it up again and brought it to completion.
It discusses the story of Mélanie Calvat, and also Maximin Giraud, two children-shepherds in the French Alps, witnesses to the Apparition of the Very Holy Virgin Mary on September 19, 1846, – twelve years before the more famous Marian Apparition at Lourdes – and the consequences that the event had on the lives of the two children – particularly Mélanie, who devoted her life to promoting the message.
“Pass it on to all my My People, the Mother of God had said to the Shepherds, having announced to them the Great News...”
On the Threshold of the Apocalypse: 1913-1915 is the seventh volume from Léon Bloyʼs personal journal begun in 1892. This volume begins one year before World War I began, but ends, like the author (who passed in 1917), before the great war ended. Often prescient when it comes to the European stage, and particularly the imminent threat posed by Prussian Germany, with respect to France, “the Eldest Daughter of the Church,” – Bloy had been predicting a terrible cataclysm as far back as the early 1870s. In fact, Our Lady of Salette, whom Bloy was familiar with, provided the religious explanation for the war, if purely human reasons were not enough.
In this journal, the bloody writing on the wall is seen as early as January, 1913: “When one wants to change a banknote, one is bombarded with one-hundred sous pieces. The Bank has returned all the gold coin to its vaults, in prevision for some dreadful war.” In late July, 1914, he writes, “Universal disquietude caused by the menacing attitude of Austria toward Serbia takes shape all of a sudden. That war being able to have a European conflagration for effect... Are the announced cataclysms close finally?” On July 31, 1914, he writes: “Austria has just begun its war with Serbia which will infallibly unleash everything.”
What follows is a nearly daily account of the war as seen from Paris, Chartres, Rennes. But with all the cataclysm and apocalyptic gloom that one would expect, from a man like Léon Bloy, there is also the optimism, and good faith, in a good God: “All that happens in life is perfectly adorable, because nothing happens that is outside the divine plan.”
Style (Theory and History), written by Ernest Hello, and published in 1861, is a collection of essays on the subject of... style; it is page after page of keen psychological insight into men, minds, God, art, life, and other things.
Helloʼs style itself, – contrary to what one might think from the rather boring title – runs the gamut from trenchant, mocking, playful, masterly, to brilliant. He takes a particular pleasure in laying into not a few of Franceʼs eighteenth century great luminaries – such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre – like a man with a pitchfork rushing at a pig. No one escapes the pen unscathed. They all scamper away bruised, bloodied, with their tails between their legs.
His critical assessments of Greek poetry, prose, and drama are brilliant, invigorating, novel and worth the charge of admission on their own: “...in order to penetrate Greek tragedy, one must seize it at its source, in Homer. Greek tragedy is a comment on the Iliad...” From the Greeks he proceeds to Rome eventually: “Virgil was actually incapable of imitating Homer; he wrote a parody...” and “Tacitus is not only the greatest writer of the Latin language, he is the greatest writer of classical antiquity.”
Bloyians will see in Ernest Hello a germ that sprouted in his brain; he had a huge influence on Léon Bloyʼs style and thought, particularly as a critic, but also as an artist and as a Catholic writer. Take this for instance: “What does not kneel before God kneels before the devil.” Sound like anyone we know? After you read Style (Theory and History) by Hello, go back and re-read Bloyʼs Je MʼAccuse and see if you canʼt hear the echoes from this book bouncing off its pages, as from a source.
The Pornographer (Le Pornographe), written by Restif de la Bretonne and published in 1770 originally, is a novel, in epistolary format, that includes a serious proposal of rules for prostitution, at a state level, to address the problem of syphilis ravaging Europe at the time, as well as a counteractive to the degradation of public morality.
To say that French author Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne (1734–1806) was ahead of his time is, for anyone who knows his work, – and they are few – so platitudinous itʼs not funny. The man had an uncanny ability to synthesize history as far back as ancient Greece, and that of his own pre-Napoleonic era, and to project it onto our present, his future, as easily as a man casting a shadow on the ground at 3 pm. His ideas on the inequality of the classes, for instance, as a main cause of modern prostitution are both simple and brilliant. His strong words against the poor treatment of Native Americans immediately after the discovery of the New World, from which event syphilis was imported into Europe, is painfully relevant. His support of the working class (the “third estate”) and womenʼs rights over that of nobility, Church, and males anticipated ideas later encoded in the laws of Western societies, and the struggles today to keep said laws “honest.” Would it surprise any one of his readers that he probably coined the term “Pornographer,” over two hundred twenty-five years before the popularization of the Internet? With an eerily hyper-modern, politically correct, opinion on many things – he would have fit in most perfectly in this third decade of the twenty-first century, making many of us modern folk appear old-fashioned and dull – as perhaps no other 18th-century man of letters of France, or of any European country for that matter, could.
An Immodest Proposal, by Dr. Helmut Schleppend, is a literary curiosity from the posthumous papers of the late Dr. Helmut Schleppend, Head Physician of the Inpatient Psychiatric Care Unit of an important hospital in Portland, OR. It is, in the physician and authorʼs own words, “for improving the social, economical and psychiatric situation of one group of people in America, for making them happier, freer, more respected and self-respecting, not to mention useful participants in society, now and for the foreseeable future.” An ambitious, if not impossible, goal that the doctor was not shy to advocate whenever the opportunity arose, and was on the verge of putting into practice, if not for his untimely death.
It is a proposal to end all homelessness, with a discussion of other ills plaguing his city, and country. The good doctor wrote: “I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of homeless people on sidewalks, beside roads, on small grass strips, under bridges, down by the river, is in the present deplorable state of the union, a very great national burden, a huge grievance, a shame even, a danger, a drag on the economy,... my intention is far from being confined to provide only for homeless and professed beggars: it is of a much greater extent, and shall include, ʻembrace,ʼ the whole number of people, of all races...”
Héloïse Pajadou’s Calvary (Le Calvaire de Héloïse Pajadou originally), by Lucien Descaves, and published for the first time in 1883, is a Naturalist novel set in mid-18th century France, during the French Second Empire or possibly later.
This is a tale of marital infidelity on the part of a vulgar, but wily, inveterate skirt-chaser, Pajadou, and the toll his extra-marital affairs, ever more audacious, take on his good, good-hearted, faithful wife Héloïse, who runs a laundry business with him and her mother, in a small country village outside Paris.
Just when Pajadouʼs behavior seemed like it could not get any worse, the family-owned business apprentices Reine, a girl “not yet fourteen years old; she looked twelve, if that. She was small in stature, very slender, with an immensely sweet prettiness. Her very blond and very fine hair were tucked up under a little white bonnet pulled down over her ears. But what was particularly pretty about her was her complexion. Her white skin, a transparent, delicately pink white skin, which her eyelashes cast a shadow on, gave her a luminous face: it was like a spray of flowers...”
Joan of Arc and Germany (originally Jeanne dʼArc et lʼAllemagne), by Léon Bloy, was published in 1915. It is an account of the marvelous and miraculous prodigy, her overnight transformation from simple country girl of Lorraine to master military tactician and strategist, from virgin to general, from nobody to savior of France, putting an abrupt end to the Hundred Years War with England. It is based on historical documents, trial documents, eye witness accounts, modern historical interpretations, as well as generously peppered with the authorʼs own loving enthusiasm for, and unique vision of, the beatified and subsequently canonized Saint Joan of Arc.
With ever an eye on historical symbolism, the author compares Franceʼs war with the Germans of World War I to its war with the English during the Hundred Years War. Léon Bloy says it best when he says:
“The world never stops, it always keeps going. Immemorial, secular progression of the strong and the oppressed, of the iniquitous and the innocent whom they crush down, towards the communal grave of Eternity. History is merely a cry of grief throughout the centuries. It is as if there had not been a Redemption. One would be tempted to believe it if, every now and then, marvelous creatures did not appear who seem to say that the All Powerful is captive for an indeterminate period of time, that Supreme Justice is provisionally enchained, and that men of goodwill must trust in their God. Prefigurative creatures of consolation and hope, by their actions, of an unimaginable magnificence that the Scriptures announced.”
Written and published in 1884, Léon Bloyʼs The Revealer of the Globe: Christopher Columbus and His Future Beatification is an attempt by the author to renew the Cause for Canonization of Christopher Columbus. This is part one of that work. It includes a preface by Jules Barbey dʼAurevilly. To read this book today feels sometimes like reading a book written only yesterday. Christopher Columbus represents the West and Western Civilization as no other person before him can or ever will. And everyone else, intra or extra muros, those who do not subscribe to that civilization but inherit all its benefits – they are the angry, ingrateful hordes some of whom, quite clearly, do not know what they do, nor what their actions imply. Léon Bloy says it best when he says:
“The prejudice against Christopher Columbus is so tenacious and so strong that the greatest poet in the world, supposing him inspired by the most magnificent of all indignations, would never succeed in overcoming it.”
“Doubtless also, he had to believe that that captive world would not be handed over to him without a fight and his heroic soul counted on the God of the oppressed to decide his fortune. But the extraordinary injustice, the unprecedented ingratitude, the indefatigable persistence of misfortunes as he had never seen before and, above all, the supernatural, absolute, implacable insuccess of all his efforts – with the exception of the Discovery, – that there must have strangely astonished his soul, which was unique among the unique!”
Two Novellas: Francine Cloarec's Funeral & Benjamin Roses – published in 1881, and written by Léon Hennique – are two delightful sketches or snapshots capturing French life during the French Second Empire or early Third Republic.
The author, Léon Hennique (1850-1935), studied painting as a young man before turning to writing. This will be of little surprise to readers of Francine Cloarecʼs Funeral, which feels like a painting: one steps back in time into a tableau by Monet or Renoir on reading it. Benjamin Rozes is of similar style, but also different. Both stories are light, entertaining, charming, and endearing.
Léon Hennique was a friend of, and collaborator with, Émile Zola, the founder of Naturalism, as well as with J.-K. Huysmans, with whom he co-authored a theatrical play, Pierrot sceptique (not included).
This is a large-print edition. It is also available for Kindle.
A Platonic Love, 1886, by Paul Alexis is a novel, or novella, about the unrequited love between a mature man of means, Mr. Mure, who is fifteen years the senior of the beautiful Helen, a woman heʼs known since she was a child. It was published originally in 1886 as Un amour platonique (but even earlier, in 1880, under the title Journal de Monsieur Mure).
Paul Alexisʼ touch is fine, his style is deft. This book is elegantly written, nostalgic, and masterful. If it werenʼt for the Naturalist moniker that often gets attached to him – by literary historians – one might almost call him Romantic. The last thing that comes to mind when reading him and A Platonic Love in particular, because their styles seem, although similar, so very different – is Émile Zola, who was his friend and master and the founder of Naturalism.
Paul Alexis is not very well known at all in the English-speaking world, nor even in the French one. A Platonic Love is even less so. If one had to compare this novel with something better known today, F. Scott Fitzgeraldʼs The Great Gatsby comes immediately to mind. Both participate in a rich and deep feeling of longing, unrequited love, and a strong sense of nostalgia for things of the past. Another book similar in theme might be The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe.
Theresa the Philosopher & The Carmelite Extern Nun: Two Libertine Novels from 18th-Century France, 1748/47.
Theresa the Philosopher, by the marquis dʼArgens (purportedly), was published in 1748, over 270 years ago – before the modern era, before the Napoleonic phenomenon, before the Directorate, before the French Revolution. It is a happy tale with a happy ending, with not a little bit of hanky-panky slapped in between. Compared to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, published in 1740, which was the first modern (albeit English) novel, whose characters are more than two-dimensional and whose story depends more on what happens inside the mind of the characters than, say, where a boat might go (like Robinson Crusoe for example) – Theresa the Philosopher is scandalous. Compared to the marquis de Sade’s Justine, which was published in 1791, it may seem tame. According to the marquis de Sade, Theresa the Philosopher “achieved happy results from the combining of lust and impiety... [it] gave us an idea of what an immoral book could be.”
The Carmelite Extern Nun, written by Anne-Gabriel Meusnier de Querlon, and published one year earlier, in 1747, is another whopper. It is the “Amorous True Story [of Saint Nitouche], the Carmelite Extern Nun, Written by Herself, and Addressed to her Mother Superior.” It is anticlericalism, antiestablishmentarianism, and eroticism – the three main pillars or themes, sometimes even agendas, of the 18th century libertine novel – all in one short, but fast-paced, scandalous sack.
Blood of the Poor by Léon Bloy, 1909. Originally Le Sang du pauvre, Blood of the Poor by Catholic writer Léon Bloy is perhaps the hardest to read of Léon Bloyʼs writings, as it goes straight to the heart of the matter of what is wrong in the world. Itʼs hard to read, emotively, because it gives the honest reader no room for cover, no space for shelter, no shadow of a tree to hide under. With avarice as its theme, it is a dark poem in prose, a sermon in the style of Savonarola, with the biting satire of a Jonathan Swift.
“The Blood and the Flesh of the Poor are the only aliments that can nourish, the substance of the rich being a poison and a putrefaction. It is therefore a necessity of hygiene that the poor be devoured by the rich who find that very good, and who ask for it again. Rich children are fortified by the juice of the poorsʼ flesh, and the rich manʼs cuisine is endowed with concentrate of the poor.”
“You believe yourselves to be innocent because you have not slit somebodyʼs throat, as yet, I want to believe; because you have not forced open somebodyʼs door nor scaled his wall in order to despoil him of his possessions; because finally you have not transgressed human laws too visibly. You are so gross, so carnal, for you do not conceive of a crime that cannot be seen. But I say to you, my very dear brother, that you are a plant, and that that assassin is your flower.”
“It is true that there are refuges: drunkenness, prostitution of the body, suicide, or madness. Why would the dance not continue?”
The Soul of Napoleon by Léon Bloy, 1912; translated by Richard Robinson, 2021. Lʼâme de Napoléon, in French, is a poem in prose on the great generalʼs achievements and greatness, but it is more than that, it is a re-assessment of his significance from a Catholic and a Catholic eschatological point of view, as perhaps no other writer than Léon Bloy could have put down on paper. Written in 1912, it is also, like many of Léon Bloyʼs writings, prophetic in an eerie way of near-term events to come, a prefiguration of both WWI and beyond.
“The history of Napoleon is quite certainly the most unknown of all histories. Books that claim to recount it are innumerable, and there is no end to documents of every sort. In reality, Napoleon is perhaps less known to us than Alexander and Sennacherib. The more one studies, the more one discovers that he is the man whom nothing resembles and thatʼs all there is. Itʼs the unfathomable gulf. One knows the dates, one knows the deeds, victories or disasters, one knows, a bit or quite a bit, of the famous negotiations that are, today, merely dust. His name alone remains, his prodigious Name, and when it is pronounced by the poorest of all children, it is enough to make a great man blush, no matter whom. Napoleon is the Face of God in darkness.”
“There is, in the humblest churches of France, a poor lamp lit night and day, before the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The thought crossed my mind, absurd perhaps, that that lamp is something like Napoleonʼs confidence.”
Ten Years a Bohemian by Émile Goudeau, 1888; translated by Richard Robinson, 2021. Dix ans de bohème , in French, first published in 1888, is the autobiographical account of a young man, Émile Goudeau, who moves to Paris from the French countryside in the mid- to late-1870s, with high ambitions of becoming a poet. Would that it were so easy! Whimsical and endearing, it tells the story of the Bohemian life of not just one young man, but countless other struggling artists in the Belle Epoque period of Paris, many of which artists are now famous (and more not) – a whoʼs who of sculptors, painters, musicians, performers, poets, writers, and comedians, you name it – living, struggling, drinking, laughing, – somehow managing to survive, with stiff upper lips and on shoe-string budgets – in the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.
Émile Goudeau, a recognized poet, is best known today as the founder the Hydropaths Club, a wildly-successful literary club in Paris from 1878-1880, and subsequently as the influential editor-in-chief of the Chat Noir journal, the mouthpiece and vehicle for the world-famous eponymous cabaret, which he helped found with Rodolphe Salis. Rodolphe Salis, the “gentleman cabaret owner,” often gets the credit for the idea of the Chat Noir journal and cabaret – but after one reads this story, one will quickly realize that the true genius behind both of them is probably... Émile Goudeau, poet, editor, journalist, novelist, and finally... shepherd, in Asnières.
On the cover is a scene from Parce Domine, 1884, by Adolphe Willette, the full version of which was painted on the walls of the original Chat Noir cabaret.
Available in book format and for Kindle.
On Huysmans' Tomb by L
éon Bloy, 1913; translated by Richard Robinson, 2021. Sur la tombe de Huysmans, originally is a collection of critical essays written by Léon Bloy about his erstwhile friend, Joris-Karl Huysmans. Written between 1884 and 1893, and published in book form in 1913, six years after Huysmansʼ death, it is an appraisal of Huysmans himself and his most important work at that time: À Rebours, En Rade, Là-Bas, – as nobody other than Léon Bloy could have written, with keen psychological insight into Huysmansʼ mind and personality, and providing first-hand information about the inception of those works, particularly Là-Bas, that satanic masterpiece of Huysmans' that originally was intended to look up (Là-Haut), rather than down.
“The intensity of a writer like Huysmans is, principally, in his contempt... The well-known author of À Rebours has not at all the ignivomitous allures of an imprecator, and the torrential flux of green bile is, in him, merely the literary illusion of some prickly vanity... Huysmans had finally divested himself of the pedagogic reminiscences of his art education, in order to enter upon certain originality,... The synoptic pessimism of des Esseintes appeared to many as a stopping place or as a refuge, and the agonizing future of that anchorite of analysis excited the emulation of a large group of dreamers...”
“En Rade does not appear to be a work fated to modify the destiny of that reprobate [des Esseintes]. The pessimism of À Rebours has merely been strengthened and consolidated... No counterweight, from now on, to the deep despondency of souls. No pale brightness, no wan glimmer of the skies... Never has hope been so positively dismissed...”
The appendix includes a review by Jules Barbey dʼAurevilly on À Rebours.
Songs for Her & Odes in Her Honor (two books in one) by Paul Verlaine (1891, 1893); translated by Richard Robinson, 2021. (Originally Chansons pour elle, & Odes en son honneur.) The first things that come to minds and lips, when thinking about Paul Verlaineʼs poetry, are music and nuance. It is through his heightened employment simultaneously and regularly of those two attributes, of those two mesmerizing attributes of his often absinthe-like poetry, that Paul Verlaine, the poet, really shines, – brightly, not incandescently, but fluorescently, like the greenish-blue polestar on a winterʼs night. But the poetry found in Songs for Her (1891) and Odes in Her Honor (1893) is somewhat contrary to the commonly held ideas of what Paul Verlaineʼs poetry is or “should be,” in terms of nuance; it is just as musically virtuosic or experimental as his earlier poetry was, which we all know and love. Because these are poems of mostly physical love, but also emotional love, between a middle-aged man and a woman (two women actually, just not à trois) – there is arguably little need for, and little use of, nuance. They are paeans to physical love. Paul Verlaine didnʼt set out to be Petrarch in these two books of poetry. And neither Philomène, the tantalizing tart at least twenty years his junior, the “her” in Odes in Her Honor; nor Eugénie, his practical and good-hearted if not somewhat ugly and thick-necked bed partner, the “her” in Songs for Her, – neither of them, those two muses, are like Laura.
Je M'Accuse... by L
éon Bloy, 1900; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. Je M'Accuse... (I Accuse Myself...), written by Léon Bloy and published in 1900, is a blistering, unforgiving, and often hilarious attack on Ėmile Zola, the founder of the Naturalist movement of French literature, famous internationally for his participation in the Dreyfus Affair through an open letter, "J'Accuse...!", which he addressed to Félix Faure, then President of the French Third Republic, and which was published (in 1898) on the front page of Aurore magazine. Je M'Accuse... is also a scathing attack on, and criticism of, two of Zola's (then) recent novels, Lourdes and Fecundity. Lovers of Zola will find little to appreciate here, but admirers of Bloy will be rolling on the floor laughing. Staunch, satirical, atrabilious, and intransigent Catholic writer, Léon Bloy, always ready for a good (literary) fight, enters the ring punching – against Zola and for Catholicism.
My Hospitals & My Prisons, by Paul Verlaine, 1891/1893; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. Autobiographical in nature, but reading more like a work of fiction, written in that rare, ephemeral, and nuanced style of prose that Paul Verlaine is famous for in his early poetry, here are two essays, in a first-ever English translation, originally published in French in 1891 (My Hospitals) and 1893 (My Prisons), less than five years before his death in 1896. Enthusiasts of the Paris Commune and the Belle Epoque will be enthralled by these eye-witness accounts of events before, during and after, – with brief cameos by Arthur Rimbaud, Victor Hugo, Léon Bloy, Leconte de Lisle. My Prisons provides important details surrounding the infamous shooting of poet and friend Arthur Rimbaud in Brussels, which landed Verlaine in Mons prison, where he subsequently converted to Catholicism and wrote many of the poems that were later included in Sagesse, Jadis & Naguère, and Parallèlement. In short, two documents of utmost importance and interest in the life and times of this “Prince of Poets.”
Fanchetteʼs Pretty Little Foot by Restif de la Bretonne, 1769; translated by Richard Robinson 2020. Originally Le Pied de Fanchette in French, this was an early novel by Restif de la Bretonne, published in 1769. The story is a cross between the fairytale Cinderella, from 1697, and Samuel Richardsonʼs moral story (actually libertine novel) Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, from 1740. Now, Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper was originally a folk tale dating back at least 2000 years ago to a similar tale from Greece or Egypt, but it was made famous in the modern era (at least for Western audiences) with the 17th-century publication of French writer Charles Perraultʼs version of the tale, and more recently still by the 20th-century release of Walt Disneyʼs animated movie. But one does not have to be a scholar of French fairytales, Hollywood movies, or 18th-century English libertine novels to appreciate this simple, but delightful tale about a young and virtuous bourgeois girl, the daughter of a wealthy fabric merchant, whose parents die while sheʼs still a teenager, leaving her to fateʼs fortune in then-naughty Paris. She is pretty as a belle [sic] and even more virtuous, but it is her prettier little foot in especial that gets her into all kinds of trouble. Who would have thought that a girlʼs foot, embellished by a rich slipper, could be so attractive and seductive? Leave it to the French to capitalize on that. Or leave it to Restif de la Bretonne in this charming story, which is really a comedy, to bring it front and center. Interestingly, this novel was the first to give a name to a sensual preference called shoe fetishism, or “retifism” in French (after the authorʼs name, Restif).
Salvation Though the Jews by L
éon Bloy, 1892; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. (Originally Salut par les Juifs.) “In these unprecedented times” (ugh) we need a prophet. But prophets are hard to come by in the flesh and blood, unless we unearth one from the modern or post-modern past, from our own graveyards preferably. If fusty, fetid, fecal, and fiery Léon Bloy cannot fit the bill, we donʼt know who can. Salvation Through the Jews picks up where certain apocryphal, poetic, eschatological, and prophesying chapters in The Desperate Man left some readers panting for more. It was published 6 years after the latter novel, and one can see in it the sprouting sequel of a germ planted in 1886, if not earlier. Léon Bloy was a great artist and a genius. Nobody can deny that. And there is artistry in this book; he uses it deftly to make a compelling point. But like all arguments, one needs to hear the major and minor premises first before arriving at the synthesis or conclusion. This work NEEDS to be read even if one is not a Christian or a Jew because although it is about the Passion and although it is about the so-called "Jewish problem," on another level it is something else, and one can take the Jews and Christians out of the equation altogether, strip them naked, bleach them white, remove their particulars from this book, and replace them rather easily by more modern equivalent cardboard cutouts in the theater of now.
Words of a Demolitions Contractor by L
éon Bloy, 1884; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. The Words of a Demolitions Contractor (originally Propos d'un Entrepreneur de Démolitions), published in 1884, is a collection of articles written by French author Léon Bloy, previously published in the columns of various Parisian journals between the years 1882 and 1884 – the Chat Noir journal principally, but also the Gils Blas, the Figaro, the Nouvelle Revue, and Le Petit Caporal. Selected by the author himself, they represent Léon Bloy at his earliest and fiery best as a thunderous, irascible, intransigeant Catholic pamphleteer and polemicist. These are the articles that earned him his reputation, and these are the articles that essentially torpedoed his career. So maligned and hated was he from the start, that his reputation as an author still suffers. But as the dust settles after nearly 150 years, in retrospect, Léon Bloy stands out as a beacon of righteousness, a Parisian Diogenes, shedding the light of his genius and rancor on the ills plaguing Paris and France at the time – during the Belle Epoque years and the years leading up to the two world wars.
Itʼs hard to discover a writer of such intensity, love and disgust, pathos, anger, and parody – in any language, at any period of time in the history of Western literature. Imagine the gloom and despair of Dostoevsky, mixed with the prophesy and thunder of an Old Testament prophet, throw in the biting wit of Jonathan Swift – shake it up and let it sit for a minute – and there you have him: Léon Bloy.
Cellulely by Paul Verlaine, written between 1873-75; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. Many twenty-first century readers and appreciators of French author Paul Verlaine and his poetry will be surprised and delighted to first learn about the discovery in December 2004 of a “lost” manuscript by Paul Verlaine, Cellulairement, never published in any language before 2013. Cellulely is the first known English translation to come out, by Richard Robinson.
Cellulely is all the more striking and full of wonderment given the circumstances under which the poems in question were written (prison, religious conversion), and the notorious events leading up to those circumstances (Rimbaud, fog of absinthe, pistol). Famous events, and turning points, in the life of the poet.
Readers of Cellulely will also be interested to know that these are some of the same poems that are referred to on several occasions in Verlaineʼs autobiographical work, My Prisons, also available in English translation by Sunny Lou Publishing.
Lady mouse scampers,
Black in the grey of evening,
Lady mouse scampers
Grey in the black of night.
One sounds the bell,
Sleep, good prisoners!
One sounds the bell:
You must go to sleep.
Ecclesiastical Laurels: or Abbot T***’s Campaigns with the Triumph of the Nuns, &c., by Jacques Rochette de la Morlière, 1748; translated by Richard Robinson, 2020. The title of this story, Ecclesiastical Laurels (originally Les Lauriers ecclésiastiques), foreshortens in two words the basic plot: a commendatory abbot, the Abbot T***, wages war on the field of love. After several conquests, of varying degrees of success, with women at various levels of society and of various vocations, he progresses from a complete neophyte in the rules and etiquette of love-making and seduction, through a middle period of maturation and rage, to finally being fulgurated by the woman of his future happiness and “legitimate passion,” who, as chance might have it, is a nun. His successes, or conquests, earn him his laurels, imaginary leafy crowns that are more like garter belts.
One subtitle of this story, the “Abbot T***ʼs Campaigns,” further emphasizes the libertine tendencies of the main character and plot. But if anything, it is soft-libertinage, where the main character could be described as a mélange between ambitious young lover Julien Sorel (of Stendhalʼs Le rouge et le noir, also a bildungsroman) and master seducer Valmont in Choderlos de Laclosʼ Les liaisons dangereuses.
Flowers of Bitumen, by Émile Goudeau, 1878/1885; translated by Richard Robinson, 2021. Flowers of Bitumen (Fleurs du Bitume in French) is the first volume of poetry, published in 1878, by Émile Goudeau, who is best known as the founder the Hydropaths Club, a widely-successful literary club in Paris from 1878-1880, and subsequently as the influential editor-in-chief of the world-famous Chat Noir journal.
Léon Bloy, his cousin, says this of him: he “is the lover, at first happy and successively distraught with each passing minute of his own existence, which makes him, at thirty-four years old, madly adored by fifteen million mistresses. When... Flowers of Bitumen [first appeared], I didnʼt understand anything in it... I noticed nothing at all of the extreme nascent superiority of that poetʼs rough outline that was teased out of his marble like Michelangeloʼs unfinished Slave. I called him Mohammad-Goudeau and I made him enter into Byzantium. I cried plaintively that that was decidedly the end of ends, and that the bitumen was going to gobble up the literary Pentapolis of the Occident. That bitumen has become the asphalt of Glory and we are certain to have a great poet hiding amongst us in the nineteenth century....” (“The Fifteenth Child of Niobe,” Chat Noir journal, November 3, 1883).
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