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French Decadent Tales (Oxford World's…
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French Decadent Tales (Oxford World's Classics)

by Stephen Romer (Translator)

Other authors: Villiers de L'Isle Adam (Contributor), Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly (Contributor), Léon Bloy (Contributor), Remy de Gourmont (Contributor), Guy de Maupassant (Contributor)10 more, Gustave Geffroy (Contributor), Jules Laforgue (Contributor), Jean Lorrain (Contributor), Pierre Louys (Contributor), Catulle Mendès (Contributor), Octave Mirbeau (Translator), Jean Richepin (Contributor), Georges Rodenbach (Contributor), Stephen Romer (Introduction), Marcel Schwob (Contributor)

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This book is a collection thirty-six French decadent tales written by fourteen different authors where most of the authors, with the exception of Guy de Maupassant, will probably be unfamiliar to many readers. But don't be put off by your unfamiliarity. Why? Because poet/scholar Stephen Romer has written a clear, insightful twenty-seven page introduction providing the historical/cultural/literary context as well as a detailed bibliography, a chronology of the major events and literary publications of the French Fin de siècle, and, lastly, extensive explanatory notes on each of the tales. Thank you Stephen Romer and Oxford Press! I couldn't imagine a more informative and more enjoyable book to read for anyone interested in the literature of this period.

So what can we expect to find in a turn-of-the-century French decadent tale? In a nutshell, a tale usually set in Paris, told with an acid bite, focusing on the morbid, macabre, perverse, unclean, unnatural side of life, all told without a hint or suggestion of moral instruction. One way to look at these stories is how the decadent authors, outlined by Stephen Romer in his introduction, follow Baudelaire when "he broke apart the perennial parings: virtue--reward, vice--punishment, God--goodness, crime--remorse, effort--reward, future--progress , artifice--ugliness, nature--beauty." Think about it: these pairing are the very glue holding conventional society together. And that is exactly the point: the decadents wanted to turn conventional society upside down and shake vigorously.

And why, you may ask, would the decadent writers want to engage in such turning and shaking? Because these authors saw themselves as outsiders set apart from the uncultured, unrefined mass of bourgeois (what we call nowadays "middle-class" or "middle-brow" society), as individuals capable of intense, refined aesthetic pleasure and literary cultivation. Stephen Romer points out how an aristocrat/aesthete from a Huysmans novel served as a model for the decadent writers when he travels to a nearby town and recoils in horror when he comes across a group of pot-bellied bourgeois with sideburns. Keep in mind these decadent writers greatly admired pessimistic German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, a thinker who highly valued aesthetic experience and urged people to rise above the murky turmoil of everyday life to reach a kind of release. Schopenhauer even went so far as to say how one's character is stamped on one's face, and subsequently finds it remarkable how most people can walk the streets without a bag over their heads. Oh, my goodness - cynicism and disdain, anyone?

With all this in mind, here is a sampling of three tales and how they each break apart a perennial parings:

THE DESIRE TO BE A MAN by Villiers de I'Isle-Adam (crime--remorse)
Walking down a Paris street alone at night, the main character, an old actor, realizes his acting days are over. He will no longer be able to play the role of other men and will be forced by age to live his own life as a man. But what is a man? He reflects that to be a man one needs strong feelings. But, aghast, he recognizes right there on the Paris street he has no such feelings! He surmises he will have to commit a heinous crime to feel the powerful sensations of remorse and be haunted by the ghosts of the souls he murdered. So, resolving on-the-spot action is required, that night he sets a residential section of the city on fire, resulting in the death of many men, women and children and creating great tragedy for multiple families. The old actor see the aftermath of the fire as he rides by in his coach and retires to a remote lighthouse to experience his remorse and be haunted by ghosts. But, alas, to his amazement and disappointment, no ghosts, no remorse, not even the slightest feeling of regret.

CONSTANT GUIGNARD by Jean Richepin (virtue--reward)
After experiencing repeated bouts of bad luck as a boy, the author tells us, "Such inauspicious beginnings in life would have turned a lesser nature vicious. But Constant Guignard had a soul of the higher type, and convinced that happiness is the reward of virtue, he resolved to conquer his ill-fortune by sheer force of heroism." Although this young man holds the values and world-view most dear to conventional society, alas, his tale is told by a decadent. The more decent and honorable and charitable he becomes, the more fate drags him down until he faces his last dark days. Can his equally decent, honorable, charitable friend save Constant Guignard's reputation and let the world know what a fine man Constant Guignard truly was by having his tombstone inscribed with an honorable epitaph? Well . . . let me just say Jean Richepin is a decadent with a lively sense of humor.

DANAETTE by Remy de Gourmont (God--goodness)
Is Danaette thinking holy thoughts as she is surrounded by angels taking the form of snowflakes? Not quite - for she is a complete sensualist and seasoned adulteress. When on one evening Danaette falls into a semi-trance, we read, "Deliciously icy, the snow kisses passed through her clothes, and in spite of all her defenses they found her skin and gathered in declivities: it was wonderfully gentle, and procured her a voluptuous pleasure she had most certainly never felt before." Remy de Gourmont combines the language and imagery of sensuality and perversion with images of religious holiness. Quite a combination! Ah, the decadents.

These tales of the French decadent writers not only turn the values of conventional society upside down but also give their tales a bit more spice with a twist at the end. After all, these writers are French. If you are a fan of short-stories, you will not find a collection more entertaining and engaging - each story is a delicious treat. This is fine literature told in a highly polished language. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
This book is a collection thirty-six French decadent tales written by fourteen different authors where most of the authors, with the exception of Guy de Maupassant, will probably be unfamiliar to many readers. But don't be put off by your unfamiliarity. Why? Because poet/scholar Stephen Romer has written a clear, insightful twenty-seven page introduction providing the historical/cultural/literary context as well as a detailed bibliography, a chronology of the major events and literary publications of the French Fin de siècle, and, lastly, extensive explanatory notes on each of the tales. Thank you Stephen Romer and Oxford Press! I couldn't imagine a more informative and more enjoyable book to read for anyone interested in the literature of this period.

So what can we expect to find in a turn-of-the-century French decadent tale? In a nutshell, a tale usually set in Paris, told with an acid bite, focusing on the morbid, macabre, perverse, unclean, unnatural side of life, all told without a hint or suggestion of moral instruction. One way to look at these stories is how the decadent authors, outlined by Stephen Romer in his introduction, follow Baudelaire when "he broke apart the perennial parings: virtue--reward, vice--punishment, God--goodness, crime--remorse, effort--reward, future--progress , artifice--ugliness, nature--beauty." Think about it: these pairing are the very glue holding conventional society together. And that is exactly the point: the decadents wanted to turn conventional society upside down and shake vigorously.

And why, you may ask, would the decadent writers want to engage in such turning and shaking? Because these authors saw themselves as outsiders set apart from the uncultured, unrefined mass of bourgeois (what we call nowadays "middle-class" or "middle-brow" society), as individuals capable of intense, refined aesthetic pleasure and literary cultivation. Stephen Romer points out how an aristocrat/aesthete from a Huysmans novel served as a model for the decadent writers when he travels to a nearby town and recoils in horror when he comes across a group of pot-bellied bourgeois with sideburns. Keep in mind these decadent writers greatly admired pessimistic German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, a thinker who highly valued aesthetic experience and urged people to rise above the murky turmoil of everyday life to reach a kind of release. Schopenhauer even went so far as to say how one's character is stamped on one's face, and subsequently finds it remarkable how most people can walk the streets without a bag over their heads. Oh, my goodness - cynicism and disdain, anyone?

With all this in mind, here is a sampling of three tales and how they each break apart a perennial parings:

THE DESIRE TO BE A MAN by Villiers de I'Isle-Adam (crime--remorse)
Walking down a Paris street alone at night, the main character, an old actor, realizes his acting days are over. He will no longer be able to play the role of other men and will be forced by age to live his own life as a man. But what is a man? He reflects that to be a man one needs strong feelings. But, aghast, he recognizes right there on the Paris street he has no such feelings! He surmises he will have to commit a heinous crime to feel the powerful sensations of remorse and be haunted by the ghosts of the souls he murdered. So, resolving on-the-spot action is required, that night he sets a residential section of the city on fire, resulting in the death of many men, women and children and creating great tragedy for multiple families. The old actor see the aftermath of the fire as he rides by in his coach and retires to a remote lighthouse to experience his remorse and be haunted by ghosts. But, alas, to his amazement and disappointment, no ghosts, no remorse, not even the slightest feeling of regret.

CONSTANT GUIGNARD by Jean Richepin (virtue--reward)
After experiencing repeated bouts of bad luck as a boy, the author tells us, "Such inauspicious beginnings in life would have turned a lesser nature vicious. But Constant Guignard had a soul of the higher type, and convinced that happiness is the reward of virtue, he resolved to conquer his ill-fortune by sheer force of heroism." Although this young man holds the values and world-view most dear to conventional society, alas, his tale is told by a decadent. The more decent and honorable and charitable he becomes, the more fate drags him down until he faces his last dark days. Can his equally decent, honorable, charitable friend save Constant Guignard's reputation and let the world know what a fine man Constant Guignard truly was by having his tombstone inscribed with an honorable epitaph? Well . . . let me just say Jean Richepin is a decadent with a lively sense of humor.

DANAETTE by Remy de Gourmont (God--goodness)
Is Danaette thinking holy thoughts as she is surrounded by angels taking the form of snowflakes? Not quite - for she is a complete sensualist and seasoned adulteress. When on one evening Danaette falls into a semi-trance, we read, "Deliciously icy, the snow kisses passed through her clothes, and in spite of all her defenses they found her skin and gathered in declivities: it was wonderfully gentle, and procured her a voluptuous pleasure she had most certainly never felt before." Remy de Gourmont combines the language and imagery of sensuality and perversion with images of religious holiness. Quite a combination! Ah, the decadents.

These tales of the French decadent writers not only turn the values of conventional society upside down but also give their tales a bit more spice with a twist at the end. After all, these writers are French. If you are a fan of short-stories, you will not find a collection more entertaining and engaging - each story is a delicious treat. This is fine literature told in a highly polished language. ( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Mar 13, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Romer, StephenTranslatorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adam, Villiers de L'IsleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barbey D'Aurevilly, JulesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bloy, LéonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Gourmont, RemyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Maupassant, GuyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Geffroy, GustaveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laforgue, JulesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lorrain, JeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Louys, PierreContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mendès, CatulleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mirbeau, OctaveTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Richepin, JeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rodenbach, GeorgesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Romer, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schwob, MarcelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199569274, Paperback)

"He had become the dandy of the unpredictable."

A quest for new sensations--and an avowed desire to shock--possessed the Decadent writers of fin-de-siècle Paris. Indeed, the years 1880-1900 saw an extraordinary, hothouse flowering of talent, that produced some of the most exotic, stylized, and cerebral literature in the French language. Death and Eros haunt these pages, and a polymorphous perversity by turns hilarious and horrifying. Their stories teem with addicts, maniacs, and murderers as they strive to outdo each other.

This marvelous selection by Stephen Romer-whose translations brilliantly capture the stylish wit and black humor of the originals--brings together 36 of the best decadent tales from the French fin-de-siècle, including work by well-known writers such as Maupassant, Lorrain, Mirbeau, and Villiers as well as lesser known figures such as Léon Bloy, Jean Richepin, and the Belgian Georges Rodenbach. Romer's engaging introduction provides a full context for the stories, underscoring the principal literary, philosophical, scientific, and political trends of the time, which fed into their authors' loathing of the modern world, and the discovery of the Unconscious.

The book also includes biographical notes on the authors and explanatory notes to clarify cultural references, plus a chronology of the key publications and main events of the period.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:27 -0400)

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