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The Sponger by Jules Renard
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The Sponger (1892)

by Jules Renard

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"The Sponger" foregrounds the sort of character that has often slunk through the pages of greater and more ambitious novels, a character type that, to my knowledge, has not previously been awarded his own sustained spotlight anywhere else in the world of quality books. Henri, the titular parasite, sets out to take advantage of the bourgeois sympathy towards and incomprehension of poetic types. The novel is his account, peppered with irritating crocodile tears, of his total infiltration of the Vernet household.

Often, "The Sponger" tickles with strange, dry descriptions such as, "His cigarette keeps going out. He relights it. It dies again. It is a struggle, and he appears to be eating matches." Or, "M. Vernet spoke of his cellar. Since there was wine in it, I considered that natural." Renard's prose is crisp and efficient without being frivolous or hasty.

But the story is uni-polar and Henri gets a bit tiresome, especially with his stalling and hand-wringing. His "scruples" were probably meant to give him depth; but they were so forced that they have almost the opposite effect.

This was a singular portrait and a decent read. I'll enjoy holding this character in my memory to serve as an extra in the background of other novels and plays from the period. ( )
1 vote fieldnotes | Dec 5, 2008 |
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C'est un homme de quarante ans, un peu raide et lourd, convenablement vêtu.
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