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Bruges-la-Morte (1892)

by Georges Rodenbach

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4511854,376 (3.77)32
Bruges-la-Morte is the story of one man's obsession with his dead wife and his soul's struggle between an alluring young dancer--his late wife's double--and the beautiful, melancholy city of Bruges, whose moody atmosphere mirrors his mourning.  This hallmark of Belgian symbolist literature, first translated into English by Philip Mosley to great acclaim twenty years ago, is now back in print for the next generation of English readers to discover. With penetrating psychological force and richly metaphorical language, Bruges-la-Morte draws a haunting picture of love, grief, and murder in what has become a "dead city," severely Catholic and once proud. The source of the famous opera Die tote Stadt and endless inspiration for Belgian and French artists, this novella will enthrall both the imaginations and heartstrings of an Anglophile audience.… (more)
  1. 10
    Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another book about death that takes place in a city with canals.
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English (15)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Bruges-la-Morte is Rodenbach's short and highly influential symbolist novel, and as with the movement in general it lives mostly on its poetic and rich prose - the evocation of the city of Bruges is almost a kind of perverse declaration of love as Rodenbach uses the sleepy, decaying city as a character in itself, imbuing tragedy into the futile and tragic fate of Hugues, a widower unable to move on from his deceased wife until he finds her likeness in another woman - with unforeseen and disastrous consequences. The constant relationship of doubles - Hugues as a kind of dead, immobile entity and the equally dead and unchanging city, the living woman embodied as sordid reality vs the deceased woman as perfected ideal, are all played to the fullest extent and give rich meaning to the fluctuations of desire, despair and yes, death (the references to "la mort/e" in this novella are omnipresent and the gloom of the city is never fully allowed to dissipate for even a moment). Very painful and sad but very good.

______

A difficult read as Rodenbach's prose is some of the most complex and flowery I've encountered yet in French - my dictionary wasn't of help with a lot of the more convoluted turns of phrase here either but I didn't feel I was deprived of too much compared to if I were reading a translation. Challenging and probably not a good idea to binge in a day (though I did anyway) ( )
  franderochefort | Aug 5, 2023 |
Bisogna riuscire a diventare cio’ che si e’ gia’ (amor Dei intellectualis - Spinoza - o Nietzsche).

Take it easy, mensch! e’ il solito ‘desiderio mimetico’ che salta fuori quando si ha a che fare con le donne…

Anche la citta’, amata e bella un tempo, incarnava a quel modo i suoi rimpianti. Bruges era la sua morta. E la sua morta era Bruges. Tutto si fondeva in un destino uguale. Era Bruges la morta, anche lei sepolta nei canali orlati di pietra, come arterie raggelate, quando aveva cessato di battervi la grande pulsazione del mare. (16)

E’ come se la nebbia frequente, la luce velata dei cieli nordici, il granito delle mura, le piogge incessanti, il passo delle campane influiscano con la loro lega sul colore dell’aria, e nella citta’ antica anche la cenere morta del tempo, la polvere della clessidra che gli anni accumulano su ogni cosa, con un lavoro silenzioso. (41)

Ah! sempre quel grigio delle vie di Bruges! (60)


( )
  NewLibrary78 | Jul 22, 2023 |


Hugues Viane has retired to Bruges after the death of his wife of ten years; five years later, he is still unable to put her memory to rest. Indeed, he has sequestered himself in his home, erecting a shrine to his wife; in this room are gathered her portraits and various objects and trinkets, along with a tress of her hair which Viane has placed inside a glass box. Each day he caresses and kisses each item, and by night he takes to the meandering the streets of Bruges whose grey melancholy he feels in tune with, a kind of "spiritual telegraphy between his soul and the grief-stricken towers of Bruges."

As in many symbolist texts, doubling is apparent here: not only is Viane's mood that of the city, and therefore emphasized, but his grief is so obsessive that he chances upon a woman whom he believes to be the striking image of his dead wife. This act of doubling is one in which Georges Rodenbach is extremely interested in that it proves how the dead die twice, the first death being their physical death and the second being when our memories of them begin to fade, causing those mental images to which we cling to no longer be sources of recollection and comfort:
But the faces of the dead, which are preserved in our memory for a while, gradually deteriorate there, fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse. Thus, within us, our dead die a second time.
Bruges-la-Morte is very much concerned with the vacillation between states of intense joy and utter anguish. In his obsession over Jane, the woman who resembles his dead wife, Viane is embodying this idea of the dead dying twice. While there are moments of some melodramatic intensity characteristic of symbolist work, Rodenbach is also keen on exploring how the life of a small city reacts to a scandal, and it is both the solitary city scenes that drive home the despair of the protagonist and the scenes of townspeople gossiping in the city that demonstrate how the city works in different ways for its inhabitants.

Although he is under "the spell" of this double, and even though he hopes that the likeness "would allow him the infinite luxury of forgetting," Viane can do no such thing, and soon finds himself at an erotic and psychological crossroads at which the "distressing masquerade" he enacts to quell his grief is not enough to sustain the memory of the dead.

Bruges is very much the main character in the novel: "He was already starting to resemble the town. Once more he was the brother in silence and in melancholy of this sorrowful Bruges, his soror dolorosa." The novel is accompanied by photographs of the city to underscore the central role it plays in Viane's state of mourning. Rodenbach is adamant about how living spaces breathe and affect those living there:
Towns above all have a personality, a spirit of their own, an almost externalised character which corresponds to joy, new love, renunciation, widowhood. Each town is a state of mind, a mood which, after only a short stay, communicates itself, spreads to us in an effluvium which impregnates us, which we absorb with the very air.
This idea of the city having an emotional and psychological state of its own is also something Rodenbach explores in the short essay included in the Dedalus edition, "The Death Throes of Towns."Bruges-la-Morte is a symbolist masterpiece; more than that, it is powerful novel about grief and mourning, as well as a treatise on how one's city can reflect one's emotional state, and vice versa. ( )
  proustitute | Apr 2, 2023 |
Set in the author's native Bruges, Belgium, this 1890 novel follows lonely widower Hugues. Bereft of his beloved, near perfect wife, he chooses to settle in this melancholy city and dwell on his memories. In the house, his late wife's possessions and hair are quasi-religious relics to him.
And then he chances on a lookalike in the street and, in a kind of madness, takes up with her in an effort to "resurrect" the deceased. Yet while Jane may resemble "Madame", her attitude and behaviour is a world apart..
But the important thing in this work is not the characters, but the city itself. Rodenbach saw Bruges as grey, dying, solitary, religious, historic; "the peace of a cemetery reigns in those deserted districts and along the taciturn quais....the eternal weeping, the streaming and dripping of the gutters, the drains and the sporadic springs, the overflow from the roofs, the seepage from the tunnels of the bridges, like a great euphony of sobbing and inexhaustible tears."
It's a VERY strange book; the delusions of our hero don't entirely convince us, and yet....how much of a role does Bruges itself have in events? Although "it was for its melancholy that he had chosen it", nonetheless, Hugues' increasing dependence on Jane is partly due to his feeling "a horror at the idea of being left alone, face to face with this town, without anyone between him and it any more."

With atmospheric B/W shots of Bruges throughout... ( )
  starbox | Apr 30, 2021 |
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3483597.html

I am afraid that I thought it was rather silly. The protagonist, recently widowed, takes an actress with an uncanny resemblace to his dead wife as his sugar baby; eventually there comes a point where he realises that his new lover is in fact her own person, and he strangles her with a lock of his dead wife's hair. (Sorry for the spoiler, but the book has been around for a century and a quarter.) The symbolism of the dead town and its dead rituals is belaboured well beyond the point you would have thoguht possible. The French original (which you can read here) was illustrated with some very nice contemporary photographs of Bruges, supposedly the first novel to have this feature (and there can't be many). My translation, with introduction by Alan Hollinghurst and also an essay by Rodenbach on "The Death Throes of Towns", unwisely has chosen to update the photographs with pictures from the present day. ( )
  nwhyte | Oct 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rodenbach, GeorgesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alan HollinghurstIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bertrand, Jean-PierreEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grojnowski, DanielEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guilmain, AndrésTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobs, MarjolijnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, MikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nix, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, WillTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tevel, JolijnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaal, WimAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The daylight was failing, darkening the corridors of the large, silent house, putting screens of crepe over the windows.
De kwijnende dag verduisterde de gangen van het stille herenhuis en hing sluiers van krip voor de ramen.
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Bruges-la-Morte is the story of one man's obsession with his dead wife and his soul's struggle between an alluring young dancer--his late wife's double--and the beautiful, melancholy city of Bruges, whose moody atmosphere mirrors his mourning.  This hallmark of Belgian symbolist literature, first translated into English by Philip Mosley to great acclaim twenty years ago, is now back in print for the next generation of English readers to discover. With penetrating psychological force and richly metaphorical language, Bruges-la-Morte draws a haunting picture of love, grief, and murder in what has become a "dead city," severely Catholic and once proud. The source of the famous opera Die tote Stadt and endless inspiration for Belgian and French artists, this novella will enthrall both the imaginations and heartstrings of an Anglophile audience.

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