Publishing resplendent & stercoraceous books, novels, poetry...
... 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)
Doctrines of Hatred, Part I: Anti-Semitism by Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu (AD 1842-1912) was originally published in 1902, under the French title of Les Doctrines de haine: lʼanti-sémitisme, lʼanti-protestantisme, lʼanti-cléricalisme.
Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu was a French historian and essayist. As a practicing Christian, he was in favor of the separation of Church and State. He was the last president of the National League Against Atheism, an association founded in 1886 initially to combat anti-clericalism and socialism. Politically a liberal, in addition to being a French patriot, Leroy-Beaulieu was opposed to anti-semitism. Thus this book, which could have easily been entitled “What is Anti-Semitism?”
Modern readers should approach this book less as a historical document from over 120 years ago, and more in the context of: a) anti-Semitism in France from the late 19th century, during and after the Dreyfus Affair (AD 1894-1906), when a political scandal rocked France and severely divided the French nation; in the wider context of b) anti-Semitism in Europe as a whole, since the middle ages, since perhaps the Crusades, if not earlier; in a still wider historical context, that of c) the plight of the Jews in the Middle East and Europe since the fall of the Second Temple (“Herodʼs Temple”) in Jerusalem, in AD 70, the denouement of the First Roman-Jewish War, together with the resultant diaspora of the Jewish people; and finally, perhaps most importantly, in the context of d) anti-Semitism today, the Jewish peopleʼs plight in our own era, since the Holocaust, WWII, the Zionist movement and its concomitant establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; since also the Gaza-Israeli conflicts, from 2005, with the most recent Israel-Hamas War that erupted on October 7, 2023.
A Silver-Grey Death (银灰色的死 in Chinese) and Drowning (沉沦), both by Yu Dafu (郁達夫), are short stories written and published in 1920 and 1921 respectively. Both tell the story of a young man, a Chinese national, living and studying in Japan in the early 20th century. Both are based (in part) on experiences in the authorʼs life.
Yu Dafu is perhaps unique, among Chinese writers of the period, as an author of decadence – in the literary sense, and in ways that should interest (if not please) Western readers. In both stories are themes of loneliness, desire (for the opposite sex), frustration, heavy drinking, and (in at least one of the stories, if not both): death. Both are succinct in their descriptions and both are beautifully written, sometimes hauntingly so. The narratives move at a clip.
Drowning is hands-down Yu Dafuʼs best-known work (in the West and in the East). It is the story of 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...” 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 girl he meets. It is only a matter of time before he finds himself 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.
Italian Nationalism is a series of talks given by Enrico Corradini between 1908 and 1914 on the subject of Italian nationalism. But nationalism did not exist in a vacuum then, or now, – it coexisted and competed with other political, economic, and social movements and ideas, including socialism, liberalism, democracy, to be sure, but also imperialism, internationalism, European plutocracy, monarchy, and even (later) fascism.
Originally published in 1914, in Italian, under the title of Il nazionalismo italiano, it is Enrico Corradiniʼs contribution to the sometimes contentious, ever and ongoing conversation about the place, duties, and responsibilities (not just the rights or “freedoms”) of the individual in the larger construct of the state or nation. And the nationʼs place, duties, and responsibilities in the world.
Enrico Corradini (AD 1865-1931) was an Italian journalist, novelist, editor, and senator. He was the founder and leader of the Italian Nationalist Association (L'Associazione Nazionalista Italiana), 1910-1923, an important Italian political party that later merged with the National Fascist Party in 1923.
… democracy is the insurance policy that is paid in public for oneʼs private use.
All contemporary democracy has a criminal nature... [it is] a political display of altruistic, popular... progressive and civil character, as a cover up... [for] its true nature which is made up of selfishness and egotistical exploitation.
Sylvie & The Chimeras are two of French author Gérard de Nerval (AD 1808-1855)ʼs best-known works.
Sylvie, a novella, is by all accounts his masterpiece; it was first published in July 1853 in the Revue des Deux-Mondes, a periodical. It is a Romantic tale of the love of a young man from Paris for two women, one a childhood sweetheart from Valois, and the other a stage actress in Paris. It is a tale of longing, misgiving, and nostalgia for the past, with the dreamy landscape of Valois as the backdrop. Immediately before having written the novella, Nerval had suffered several bouts of mental illness. After its publication, he was again seized, but more seriously this time, rushed off to the nearest hospital, and put into a straitjacket. In 1854, Sylvie was published in book format, in the collection entitled Les Filles du Feu.
The Chimeras are a collection of poems, all in Sonnet format. They were written over the course of several years, from as early as 1843 and as late as 1854, a year before the author passed away. Of them “El Desdichado” and “Christ in the Garden of Olives” (itself a collection of five sonnets) are the most famous. Although some of the poems were published in magazines previously, the entirety of them were published as part of Les Filles du Feu.
In the appendix is a short excerpt from the biography by Henri Strentz, published in 1911, which includes a discussion of the events leading up to Nervalʼs mental illnesses, his writing of Sylvie, and the squalid details surrounding his death by hanging by his own hand.
The Ride of Yeldis & Other Poems by Francis Vielé-Griffin (AD 1864-1937) was originally published in 1893 in France (under the title of Le chevauchée dʼYeldis et autres poèmes). This is the first English-language edition of the work, by the pre-eminent French Symbolist poet, whose dreamy style recollects Rimbaud, and also, strangely, Wallace Stevens. Griffin was born in the U.S., but emigrated with his mother to France at the age of seven or eight, not long after the Civil War ended.
The poetry speaks for itself:
The turrets that covered Her with their shadow
Rose like organ pipes against the sky,
Those evenings in June, with countless voices;
And, really, all the music
That vibrated on the terraces rich in honey,
Throughout that slow, sun-drenched June,
Was like one long canticle,
Of many voices, filled with wonder...
* * *
In an odor of tossed hay,
In a murmur of the rustic ford,
Through the diaphanous shade,
Come: oblique shadow,
The hay smells of love,
The waterʼs song is tender, silent, grave
Like a distant canticle
– The year has made its round.
The Desperate Man, 2nd Edition, (first published in 1887) is arguably the French decadent novel par excellence of the 19th century. It is also Léon Bloyʼs first novel and a seminal work which, as such, planted the seeds of just about every other important theme or topic that the author would later develop in subsequent works throughout his life and career. Life is rain water for talented writers; and habitual poverty for Bloy acted as the mulch.
There is in The Desperate Man the seed of satire, which was actually a small tree by the time The Desperate Man came out, the seed having been sprouted earlier in his career, in the articles for newspapers, predominantly the Chat Noir journal, – such satire as to rival Jonathan Swiftʼs; there is also the seed of apocalyptic Catholicism in The Desperate Man, and the nuts of the exegeses of commonplaces, not to mention the germs of the blood of the poor; there is the kernel of the constant attack on contemporaneous clergy and Bloyʼs self-professed fondness for cenobitism. There is the spore of the eulogy for sainthood, and the embryo of the denunciation of the proxenetism of the press, Parisian high-society and the bourgeoisie. There are the negative grains of anti-Republicanism, and anti-German sentiment. There are the positive grains of pro-conservativism, pro-Medievalism, pro-Monarchy, and pro-Merovingian French Dynasty.
Meditations of a Solitary in 1916 was written by Léon Bloy in 1916 in France, during World War I, and published in 1917, the same year that the author passed away. The themes are mostly theological, with sustained meditations on both the Christian soul and the lack of soul of Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany. Indeed, although biographical in nature, one might consider this less a follow up to On the Threshold of the Apocalypse in the Ungrateful Beggar series and more a companion piece to The Soul of Napoleon, but in a Bizarro sort of way, with a candidate alternative title of The Bizarro Soul of Wilhelm II, or Wilhelm IIʼs Lack of Soul, – such was the rage, frustration, contempt, sadness, heart-rending compassion of the author at the time of writing.
“How to accuse Wilhelm alone? That fellow at best is nothing more than an imbecile, as frightening an imbecile as you like, but an imbecile all the same..."
“ʻSo,ʼ someone asks me, ʻwhat remains?ʼ Absolutely nothing but the Eucharist in the Catacombs and waiting for the unknown Liberator whom the Paraclete must dispatch, when the blood of countless torture victims and the tears of some elect will have sufficiently purified the earth... God is preparing to start over again... the fulfillment of that apocalyptic prophecy is near.”
What is Fascism is a collection of essays, newspaper articles and interviews, discourses and polemics on the subject of fascism by Giovanni Gentile (AD 1875-1944), the “philosopher of Fascism.” The collection was written (or spoken and later transcribed) over the course of several years prior to its publication in book format, in 1925, under the Italian title of Che cosa è il fascismo.
Trained as a philosopher, Giovanni Gentile spent many years as an academic, writing books and teaching. He held multiple posts as professor of philosophy, at various Italian universities including the University of Rome. Later, he served as the Minister of Public Education during the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini. His major contribution to the history of philosophy includes his own brand of absolute idealism, or new-Hegelianism, known as “actual idealism.”
Readers new to Gentile, or to fascism in general, may be surprised, if not shocked, depending on their political leanings, to understand how close fascism is or was to the liberalism of the 19th century. “Seeing that, in part, fascism is liberalism: at least the liberalism of men who sincerely believed in freedom, and had however an austere concept of it... liberalism, as I understand it and as the men of the glorious Right of the Risorgimento understood it, the liberalism of freedom in the laws and consequently in the strong State and in the State conceived of as an ethical reality.”
Dark Minerva: Prolegomena: The Moral Construction of Dante's Divine Comedy by Giovanni Pascoli was first published in 1898. (The original title in Italian is Minerva Oscura.) It is an impassioned, often poetic, but also scholarly and critical investigation into Dante Alighieriʼs Divine Comedy. As Pascoli says in the Prolegomena, “To know and to describe Danteʼs thought, will it ever be possible? He eclipses in the profundity of his thought: he intentionally eclipses. I have already set my heart on following him in one of those disappearances in which, after having said ʻLook,ʼ he immediately leaves us in the dark. This time I said to myself, if I see, I will always see; if I understand him in this place, I will understand him everywhere else.”
Giovanni Pascoli (AD 1855-1912) was a poet and Italian classical scholar, fluent in Greek, Latin, Italian and also English. He was a student of Giosuè Carducci, the Italian classicist poet and Nobel prize winner.
Four Years of Captivity in Cochons-sur-Marne: 1900-1904 by Léon Bloy (originally Quatre ans de Captivité à Cochons-sur-Marne) is the third diary in the Ungrateful Beggar series.
The autobiography, edited for publication, covers four years in the artistʼs life after he and his family moved back to France from Denmark, to Lagny on the Marne, about 40 kilometers outside Paris. It runs the gamut from gut-wrenching grief and sorrow, as the family lives on the edge of utter poverty while constantly being harassed by creditors and landladies; to full outrage against the pettiness, avarice, and hypocrisy of the bourgeois and wealthy; to uplifting praise for God for all that is adorable in life in spite of the suffering; to out-and-out satire and comicalness that will make the reader laugh before he can dry the tears.
“Terrible day! The lack of wine and fortifying alimentation, the threat of a lack of coal, the human certitude of being unable to feed our children tomorrow, the impossibility of continuing to live here and the impossibility of escaping, the apparent abandonment of everyone and the evident hostility of so many people; finally, and above all, that infinitely dolorous expectation of a liberator who never comes; all that together puts us two steps away from despair. While we stiffen our wills, our house is shaken by a tempest and the sky is sad like death without God. For whom then do we suffer thus?”
Enamels and Cameos, by Théophile Gautier (AD 1811-1872), was originally published in 1852. Théophile Gautier was an incredibly gifted, influential, and popular French author of the period, who wrote novels, short stories, plays, ballets, poetry, and travelogues. Today he is best known, at least to the English-speaking public, for his poetry. The poetry he wrote could be called Romantic, or it could be considered in reaction to Romanticism. However qualified, it is lyrical, inventive, and highly imagistic. One can see the influence he had on such poets as Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Villiers de lʼIsle Adam. He is known to have influenced Oscar Wilde and Ezra Pound. Here is an example of his poetry, from “Obelisk Nostalgias,” in this volume:
Scraping the motionless azure,
With my vermillion pyramidion,
With my shadow, on the sand,
Sketching the sunʼs progress!
And this from “Secret Affinities”:
You before whom I burn and tremble,
What rosebush, what pediment, what wave,
What dome has known us together,
Pearl or marble, flower or ringdove?
This edition also contains, in appendix, a critical essay entitled Théophile Gautier by Charles Baudelaire, the famous French poet and critic, who was a contemporary and acquaintance of Gautier.
Constantinople and Byzantium by Léon Bloy (1846-1917) was originally published in book form in 1917, itself a “definitive re-printing of The Byzantine Epic and Gustave Schlumberger, published in 1906 by the Nouvelle Revue.” This book is a summary and interpretation then, à la Bloy, of Schlumbergerʼs “trilogy” with its focus on the Macedonian dynasty of Byzantium from the middle of the tenth century to the middle of the eleventh. It covers the rise and fall of such warrior emperors as Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimiskes, and Basil II, the “Bulgar Slayer,” under whom the Eastern Roman Empire experienced a kind of Renaissance, after a long series of wars with Bulgars, Rus (Russians), Saracens, and later Normands, to name only a few peoples, in the years and decades immediately preceding the Crusades. The last chapter treats of the two Porphyrogenita (“born in the purple”) empresses, Zoe and Theodora, “last branches of the Macedonian oak.”
“It is proven that God has no need of anyoneʼs ʻday after,ʼ and that his eternal today satisfies him. Pettiness is no less asked for than Greatness in the laboratory of prodigies. Disparate or desperate successions operate inexpressibly in a mysterious and adored way, in view of compensations or ineffable recuperations. So it is very simple that a series of mediocre or abject emperors should succeed a personage like the great Basil in order to destroy his work. Thirty years after his death, in 1055, his empire was ruined forever.”
Swans is Francis Vielé-Griffinʼs second book of poetry. It was originally published (as Les Cygnes in French) in 1887. This edition is based on the “new series” that came out in 1892. Originally born in the U.S.A., Griffin (1864-1937) emigrated to France in 1872 with his mother. He is widely regarded today as one of Franceʼs leading Symbolist poets.
In addition to the poetry of Swans, this book also contains in English translation, in the appendix, the extant text of chapter 1 (book 2) of Francis Vielé-Griffin: His Work, His Thought, His Art, by Jean de Cours. According to Jean de Cours, “...that which revealed an entirely original poetic temperament in F. Vielé-Griffin was, in addition to his so personal form, his feeling for nature. It seemed veritably like a ʻbreath of fresh airʼ... [but] it is not only Nature that F. Vielé-Griffin confesses a sensibility for, it is above all the charms of the countryside... As with his feelings for nature, so with his desire for joy, so with his conception of art... From his very first verses, the idea of beauty is affirmed by F. Vielé-Griffin as entirely new... The entirety of that collection of poems contained in Swans – 'At Helenʼs Tomb' – confides to us, through the transparent veils that the symbol dons, the idea of Beauty that the poet creates for himself. Beauty is clearly a happy proportion, a plastic harmony of forms: but it is also more than that... Helen, in whom the poet incarnates veritable Beauty, is another thing again, she is much more. She is alternately the face of joy, love, hope...”
The Good Song (originally La Bonne Chanson) was the third book of poetry written by French poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Originally published in 1870, The Good Songʼs theme is love. More particularly its theme is love for, and anticipation of marriage with, his future child-wife, Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville. It includes all the concomitant feelings one might expect from the poet: love, joy, elation, doubt, fear, nuptial desire or passion, to name only a few. Their romance took place with the Franco-Prussian War in the background. Having appeared during the war, it was according to Victor Hugo “a flower in a shell.” It represented, according to Edmond Lepelletier, a “transformation,” a “change in poetic matter” and “a transition piece... the passage from objective, descriptive, plastic, externalized poetry to personal expression, to a confession of the soul, to the notation of battles of the heart or excitations of the brain.”
Included with this translation, in the appendix, is an extant excerpt of chapter VII, “Marriage – The Good Song (1869-1871)” from Edmond Lepelletierʼs “official” biography of Paul Verlaine: Paul Verlaine: His Life, His Work.
Fredegund, France is the second book of poetry written by American poet Richard Robinson. The poetry is both modern and not so modern. The theme is France, but a different kind of France than what one might visit today, or yesterday even. Itʼs a France in the mind. Or itʼs a place where France and the mind cross. In his own words, in the preface, the author says: “What can I say, France is to me like a woman, the one that got away maybe, or a vintage bottle of wine that one drank once and could never find again. She is to me what Woman is to Villiers [de lʼIsle-Adam]...” As for Villiersʼ concept of Woman, Léon Bloy describes it as follows:
It has nothing to do with a pleading, with a dithyrambic paranymph, with such and such fawning praise for the dangerous Sex. It has to do with a renewal of earthly Paradise, after the harsh winter of six thousand years. It has to do with rediscovering that famous Garden of Voluptuousness, symbol and accomplishment of Woman, which all men search gropingly for throughout the centuries. [The Resurrection of Villiers...]
That is what Fredegund, France is, and as the author says, it is “very banal.” Here is an excerpt from the volume, the poem Laus Perennis:
And gone are the days of gestes, and tonnes
Of cider, or ambrosia, or fermented mead
Quaffed between daybreak and 3, and the need
For damsels in forgotten towers to get undone,
The Veleda, and the hordes of blonde leudes,
Lying in “wait” in the Septentrion. And I,
Like a Sigismund, foreseeing myself dead
At the bottom of a well, and hearing,
Above the aqueous and glaucous swell,
The stagnant echoes of a laus perennis –
Not for me, not for me, not for....
The Biography of Léon Bloy: Memories of a Friend, published in 1921, is the official biography of Léon Bloy (1846-1917) by his friend, René Martineau. René Martineau and Léon Bloy were good friends for the last eighteen years of the latter writerʼs life.
“The first time I met Léon Bloy was at the train station in Lagny, in 1901.” Lagny or Lagny-sur-Marne or, as Léon Bloy later put it, “Cochons-sur-Marne” (“cochons” meaning “pigs” in French). Bloy goes into day-after-day detail about the struggles he lived through there, in his published journal Four Years of Captivity in Cochons-sur-Marne (Quatre ans de Captivité à Cochons-sur-Marne)... four grievous years in the artistʼs already grievous life. They were, in René Martineauʼs words, four years of “... unexpected contact of the most vulgar provincial villagers with the least common of French writers.”
The biography continues to follow Bloy, after Lagny, in Montmartre and then Bourg-la-Reine, (outside of Paris), until his passing. It also covers Bloyʼs early years, based on information obtained from the writer himself, and his wife, Mme. Bloy, as well as from letters, and friends.
It is as much a biography as a defense, or apologia, of the great writer, whose reputation had suffered greatly as a result of the “conspiration of silence” during his lifetime, and following it. As René Martineau succinctly puts it, “One will recognize in him [Bloy] an honest, affectionate, solitary man, of a ponderous mind and full of bravery, as neither the injustices nor the poverty that he faced had prevented him from achieving the most original, eloquent, and powerful work of our era... His complete works, while entering into literary history, will be Léon Bloyʼs best defense in the face of posterity.”
Poems Saturnian (2nd Edition: English-French) by French poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) is the first book of poetry that the “Prince of Poets” wrote. This is the book that launched his career. First published in 1866 under the title of Poèmes Saturniens, the influences are clearly Romantic and Parnassian: Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Leconte de Lisle principally, but also Théophile Gautier, Catulle Mendès, Théodore Banville, and Albert Glatigny even.
The poetry speaks for itself.
Memory, memory, what do you want from me?
Autumn made the thrushes flutter through the atonal air,
And the sun shot monotonous rays
Through the yellowing wood where the bise is distonal.
We were alone together and walked dreaming,
She and me, hair and thoughts to the wind.
Suddenly, turning towards me her touching gaze,
She said, “What was your finest day?” in her lively, golden voice.
Her sweet and sonorous voice, with a fresh, angelic timber.
A discreet smile of mine gave her the response and
Devotedly I kissed her pale white hand.
– Ah! the first flowers, how sweetly perfumed they are!
And what a charming sound the first “yes” makes
When it leaves the loved oneʼs lips!
The Resurrection of Villiers de lʼIsle-Adam, by Léon Bloy, originally published in 1906, 15 years after Villiersʼ passing, is as much an homage to Villiers de lʼIsle-Adam – his literary corpus and genius – as it is a plea to Thomas Edison to help subscribe monetarily to the statue, sculpted in marble, by Frédéric Brou.
“And now, itʼs to you that I address myself, Thomas Alva Edison. Will you not do anything for him who did so much for you? If you are known in France other than by your inventions, the ʻsorcerer of Menlo Park,ʼ it is because of Villiers de lʼIsle-Adam...”
Villiers had written The Future Eve, whose main character, or protagonist, was Edison.
“The central preoccupation, the umbilicus, of the singular poet that was the author of The Future Eve was, and this is something that must be completely intolerable to imbeciles, his really unprecedented need for a restitution of woman... It has nothing to do with a pleading, with a dithyrambic paranymph, with such and such fawning praise for the dangerous Sex. It has to do with a renewal of earthly Paradise, after the harsh winter of six thousand years. It has to do with rediscovering that famous Garden of Voluptuousness, symbol and accomplishment of Woman, that all men search gropingly for throughout the centuries.”
“In any case, she lived within him, in what a frothy life! and that is her whom I see pulling off the boards of his coffin!”
Septentrion by Jean Raspail is a dystopian novel set in the year 2041. Itʼs a story of beauty and sadness, a story of the ugly things that happen in the world, and the courage of an elect few who happen, against all odds, to hold a line, to preserve a culture, a civilization, a way of life that they love and embody, but which is on the verge of extinction, assaulted. The enemy: the demos, the grey masses, todayʼs people. Unwilling to compromise, and unlikely to succeed, they flee – north, the only place left to escape to – on a train, through the dark forests and the snow-clad steppes of Septentrion.
“The signs were accumulating, all across the north of the country, far from the capital and its golden steeples, without our noticing their exact consequences. Vaguely we understood how, without really knowing why. Everything happened so quickly... We understood barely that a sort of different eternity was advancing rapidly, in an inform and inexorable way. Nothing would be the same, nothing would ever change again, once it happened.”
“One cannot be a man, fully, from the moment one admits that others exist. For one is no more than a copy, a vague facsimile drawn from a billion examples. One mustnʼt know anything about others, or at least by ruthless choice, unless it is how to invent oneself on oneʼs own, – everything has been so repeated.”
The Son of Louis XVI (Le Fils de Louis XVI in French), by Léon Bloy, is a monograph on the life of Louis-Charles de France, youngest son of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, both executed by guillotine in 1793 during the French Revolution. The eight-year-old Dauphin, and rightful heir to the throne, was kept in captivity in the Temple Tower where he is said to have died in 1795.
Others contend that he survived, that he escaped the Temple in 1795 through an intrigue instigated by Josephine Beauharnais of all people. He resurfaces in Prussia in 1810 as Charles-William Naundorff, the “pretender.” When he tries to regain contact with his sister, the “saintly” Duchess dʼAngoulême, she will have none of it.
“One did what one could to kill him. The most barbaric imprisonments, knife, fire, poison, calumny, fierce ridicule, dark misery and black chagrin, all were employed. One succeeded in the end, when God had had enough of guarding over him... when he had succeeded in bearing his penance of sixty kings.”
“Louis XVII, universally rejected, reigned however for fifty years, from 1795, year of his supposed death, to 1845. He reigned ʻdemonetized,ʼ invisible, and all-powerful, by the very impossibility of proving that he did not exist.”
Joys (Joies in French) is the fourth book of poetry written by Francis Vielé-Griffin (1864-1937). It was first published in 1889, when Griffin was 25 years old. Griffin was American by birth, born in Virginia. As a boy of seven or eight years old, he was sent to France by his father to attend school; he remained.
Francis Vielé-Griffin was an adherent, and one of the principal and early practitioners, of the Symbolist movement in poetry, which grew out of the Decadent movement of poetry. An intimate friend of Stéphane Mallarmé, Griffin was also a great believer in free verse.
In his own words, Griffin says this about Joys:
“The verse is free verse; – which means nothing more than that the 'old' Alexandrine with one or more 'cæsura,' with or without 'rejet' or 'enjambment,' is abolished or put down; but – more generally – that no fixed form is considered as the necessary mold anymore for the expression of all poetic thought; that, from now on, but consciously free this time, the Poet will obey the personal rhythm that must be, without M. de Banville or any other ʻlegislator of Parnassusʼ intervening; and that talent shall resplend in different ways than by the traditional or illusory 'vanquished difficulties' of rhetorical poetics: – Art is not merely learnt, it recreates itself continually; it does not live by tradition, but by evolving.”
Fêtes Galantes & Songs Without Words are the 2nd and 4th books of poetry by French poet and author Paul Verlaine.
Fêtes Galantes (Fêtes Galantes in French) was originally published in 1869. A common theme running through these poems is the scenes, characters, and props of French comedy, semi-civilized pastorals, and commedia dellʼarte, – figures like Harlequin, Colombine, Pierrot, Leandre, Innamorati, etc., against natural backdrops and Watteau-like dreamy landscapes, with all the appurtenances that one might expect: mandolins, lutes, masques, moonlight, prettily clad women, moss-covered benches... – interfused with the sentiments, melancholy, amorous longings, joys and regrets of the poet.
Songs Without Words (Romances sans paroles in French) was originally published in 1874. The common theme in these poems is the amorous and sentimental love lost, found, and lost again between the poet and his childhood female cousin, or his child wife, or his new-found friend and fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud against a backdrop of the Ardennes, the Belgian countryside, Brussels, and London. It includes perhaps Verlaineʼs most famous poem: “Il pleure dans mon cœur...”
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 apocalyptic, 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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