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Ecstasy by Louis Couperus


by Louis Couperus

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It must be the irony of history that Holland twice, with an interval of a hundred years, brought out Ecstacy, lastly known as XTC. However, in May 1892, the great Dutch author of decadence and turn-of-the-century writing, Louis Couperus, published the novella Extaze. Een boek van geluk, which appeared the same year in an English translation by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos and John Gray as Ecstasy. A Study of Happiness. The translator, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, a contemporary of Louis Couperus, was born in Amsterdam in 1865, and grew up in London, where his parents moved 1874. However, in 1908 Teixeira de Mattos obtained Dutch citizenship. He was active as a translator, translating works of various French, for instance Jean-Henri Fabre and Dutch authors, notably seven novels by Louis Couperus into English. Because of the outstanding quality of his translations, many of his translations have remained in print.

Extaze. Een boek van geluk describes how the young, wealthy widow Cecile van Erven who falls madly in love with the Taco Quaerts. While their relationship remains platonic, Quaerts apparently falsely impresses Cecile with the false hope that their relationship may develop to full bloom, hopes shattered as Quaerts withdraws himself towards the end of the novella. Throughout the book, the relation between Quaerts and his mother, Cecile, is watched with suspicion by the androgynous, oldest son of the Cecile, Jules. While Quaerts motives and feelings for Cecile are supposedly pure, as is suggested by his name, which is pronounced as "quartz", there is also an undertone of cool and hardiness. At the end of the book, there is also the suggestion, that it is not the first time Quaerts has thrown a spell over a woman like Cecile van Erven, with the slight suggestiveness that other considerations than pure love may have played a part.

The language in Extaze. Een boek van geluk is characterised by exaltation, and deep passion, a style which characterizes many of Louis Couperus major novels. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jun 2, 2013 |
On some levels it seems like quite a light romance, but it is so much more. There were a lot of levels and resonances. And especially at the beginning quite powerfully sensual with description of the rooms and sensations. And then of course the interior world of Cecilie especially.

It put me in mind of work by Virginia Woolf, and I wonder if she had read Couperus. I think she must have. She certainly took what he was doing to the umph degree, but some of his pieces reminded me of her ‘The Waves’ and ‘Mrs Dalloway’. LC's work isn’t as dense as her novels, but it’s there in small servings. It is a long while since I have read such a romantic story, but he captures that youthful dizzy sensation of inexplicable feelings of intensity, almost as if one has been imbibing opium (as it might have been in the era). ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Jan 8, 2008 |
Though Louis Couperus is not a name that turns up frequently on summer reading lists or undergraduate syllabi, it is, I am given to understand, one that is still well-known in Holland. In his time, at the turn of the last century, his name was infamous among his staid, well-mannered countrymen. His writing tended to avoid the common place, the enshrined prejudices, which Remy de Gourmont accurately defined as the prevailing morality of one's times. His name was associated with Oscar Wilde's and the vice du jour - and nothing much, in the end, is known of his private life.

To have fallen from the grace of notoriety (originality?) is, in a way, a good thing: many of his books were translated into English and are available, reasonably priced. Also, the Pushkin Press has reprinted several of his novellas in attractive, yet budget-minded, paperback format.

Briefly, Ecstasy is the story of a young widow and mother of two young children, born of the industrious and unfailingly discreet middle class who is drawn out of her solitude by the jaundiced aura of Taco Quaerts, a strange, independent bachelor about whom little is known, but much conjectured.

Introduced in society, she despises him at first, but gradually (not gradually enough, to my taste) she falls madly in love with him. The thing may follow one of two paths as there is, apparently, no moderate option: savage earthly consummation or taper-and-myrrh-scented adoration. I'll leave it at that and say it is for the prose - lush and luminous- which reaches to trace a state both voluptuous and ascetic, that I offer this recommendation.

The translator, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, kept company with Max Beerbohm, William Rothenstein, Richard Le Gallienne and other English and continental writers and artists of the 1890s. ( )
3 vote leprarheos | Jun 20, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louis Couperusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alexander Teixeira de MattosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Aan / het Geluk en het Leed / te Zamen // L. C. / Hilversum, Jan. '92
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Dolf Van Attema was op zijne wandeling na den eten aangegaan bij de zuster zijner vrouw, Cecile Van Even, op den Scheveningschen weg, en hij wachtte in den kleinen voorsalon, wandelend tusschen de rozenhouten meubeltjes en de vieux roze moiré cauzeuses met de drie, vier groote passen, waarmeê hij de nauwte van het vertrekje telkens en telkens scheen over te meten.
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A young and beautiful widow falls in love with a notorious womanizer. The tranquil setting in turn-of-the-century Holland belies the degree of suffering and pain that Cecile, the young widow, has to endure in the midst of polite society. Ecstasy is the moving story of thwarted and unspoken passion as Cecile abandons herself to love.
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This is one of Couperus's most powerful novels. A brilliant observer of fin-de-siècle Dutch society, his works are characterised by perfect characterisation, exquisite description and a mordant wit, which brought comparisons to Oscar Wilde. Pushkin Collection editions feature a spare, elegant series style and superior, durable components. The Collection is typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper. Both paper and cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

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