miércoles, 23 de septiembre de 2009

Gérard de Nerval

"Le Rêve est une seconde vie".  --Gérard de Nerval (above), Aurélia

"The Poet"
by Théophile Gautier
France, 1867

I'll probably get around to posting about the rest of Gautier's My Fantoms at some point, but I wanted to pause for a moment here to sing the praises of its concluding chapter first.  Although translator Richard Holmes insists on calling "The Poet" a "story" for reasons that are beyond me, Gautier's affectionate tribute to his lifelong friend (originally published simply as "Gérard de Nerval") is decidedly more factual than fictional.  Gérard de Nerval's own life was apparently not so clearly defined in his mind, a type of fiction in its own right that was spent shuttling back and forth between the dream world and cold reality until he finally decided to hang himself one night on the Rue de la Vieille Lanterne.  If the poet's tragic end clearly traumatized Gautier, who was tasked with identifying the body in the morgue, you, the 21st-century reader with multiple reading choices at hand, need have no such fears on your part.  While the biographer's retrospectively aware of the many signs of madness that Nerval's friends were late to recognize "in those days of literary eccentricity" then in vogue in Paris (161), this doesn't stop him from illustrating Nerval's "otherness" with the choicest of anecdotes: the wonderful story about the big Renaissance bed that Nerval bought and restored in honor of his infatuation with a woman he was too timid to approach in person, the Frenchman's travels in Goethe's Germany and the "Mohammedan" Orient, the unforgettable day the poet innocently chose to walk a live lobster on a blue silk ribbon through the gardens of the Palais Royal.  Gautier's also splendid at evoking an insider's picture of bohemian Paris (for example, the riots at one of Hugo's plays) that fans of the City of Light and/or writing about writers won't want to miss.  In short, excellent reading for any of you tired of our own day and age's regard for generic but media-savvy authors who peddle their boring wares via blog tours and tweets on Twitter and the like.  Source: Théophile Gautier (translated by Richard Holmes).  My Fantoms.  New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2008, 151-173.  (http://www.nyrb.com/)

Gérard de Nerval's Aurélia & Other Writings (Exact Change) with that lovely illustration that haunts me all the more because my French version of the novella from Le Livre de Poche is so unbearably ugly.

"Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog?" he used to ask quietly, "or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk?  I have a liking for lobsters.  They are peaceful, serious creatures.  They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do.  And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad."  There were a thousand other reasons, each one more ingenuous than the last.
--My Fantoms, 163

11 comentarios:

  1. I'd heard of that lobster story, but I'd lost track of who it was about! It's so satisfying when a piece of lost knowledge just drops in your lap like that. :-) Lobsters aside, this sounds like an interesting and vivid foray into bohemian 19th-century Paris. Thanks for the review!

  2. Holmes does sort of appropriate Gautier for his own purposes, doesn't he?

    I did a week on Gautier and a week on Nerval earlier this year.

  3. The lobster story alone would've sold me, but, as one of those who love bohemian Paris, I definitely don't want to miss this one. How do you find all these amazing authors?

    I much prefer dogs, though (I even love coyotes). Lobsters are very tasty but they're kind of gross and creepy when alive.

    ". . . generic but media-savvy authors who peddle their boring wares via blog tours and tweets on Twitter and the like."

    Yes, thank you!

  4. Yet another author that I've never heard of. It's amazing how they continue to crop up!! Thanks for the tip - both the biography and Gautier's own work look very interesting.

  5. *Emily: I'm glad to hear that the Encyclopedia of Lost Knowledge came in handy for you in the way you describe. With any luck, the next time I post on something as a pretext to share a frivolous crustacean anecdote it will include similarly satisfing information for you, my friend!

    *Amateur Reader: Thanks so much for the links, which I will take another look at this weekend after only getting a chance to glance at yesterday. Holmes is annoying in at least a couple of different ways, but he's going to get a free pass from me for now because I found his supplementary essays useful. Anyway, thanks for the visit (and cool blog you got there, by the way)!

    *E.L. Fay: That lobster story is a classic among classics, but Nerval was only one of several madmen (I use the term here affectionately) to come out of France between Baudelaire's heyday and all the surrealist shenanigans of the '20s and '30s. Lots of great writers and outright loons to pick from, many of the people being great writers and outright loons at one and the same time. Do you have a favorite bohemian Paris book or author to recommend to me, by any chance? I hope to be spending more time on the matter in the months ahead. Cheers!

    *Sarah: The Gautier essay is a quick read, so you could check it out and see if either of the two writers interests you further without really wasting any of your time. I've actually only read snippets of Nerval myself, but he has long been one of my favorite characters on account of all the stories about him and my image of him as a dedicated dreamer. Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Philippe Soupault's Last Nights of Paris. I'm dying to read it.

    Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's The Crimes of Paris is a great non-fiction work. It's been described as a blend of social history and crime thriller.

  7. Hola, Richard, no sabía que fuese tan profunda la relación entre Gautier y Nerval, pero me has puesto en el buen camino.
    De Nerval leí Aurelia, un libro realmente demencial, en el cual la fusión entre el mundo onírico y el real es alucinante.
    Tengo pendiente Sylvie.

    ¡Un saludo!

  8. *E.L. Fay: I already have the Soupault book at home waiting to be picked up and read one of these days, but that The Crimes of Paris sounds mighty interesting itself. Thanks so much for the tips!

    *Andrómeda: A pesar de haber comprado el libro hace años, sólo he leído fragmentos de Aurélia hasta ahora. ¡Qué lástima! Espero que tú disfrutes la lectura de Sylvie, y que compartirás una reseña de la obra dentro de poco. ¡Saludos! P.D. ¿Si la pregunta no te molesta, podrías decirme si lees tus libros en castellano únicamente o si trabajas con otras lenguas? Es un tema que me fascina por alguna razón. Gracias.

  9. I picked up My Fantoms last summer after learning that Baudelaire had dedicated Les Fleurs du Mal to Gautier. I have yet to read Nerval, but I love how such threads lead me from one author to the next.

  10. He leído algunos libros en inglés, Richard, pero la verdad es que en ese idioma leo mucho mejor de lo que escribo. Ya retomaré las clases, mientras tanto voy a practicar con tus reseñas. :)


  11. *Hi Isabella: I didn't mention Gautier being the dedicatee of Les Fleurs du Mal, but that was one of the reasons I first became curious about him as well. These "threads" you talk about are also one of the main ways I discover new writers, so I'm so glad you shared that in your comment. Thanks for the visit!

    *Hola Andrómeda: ¡Muchas gracias por tu respuesta! El asunto de la lenguas es un tema que siempre me interesa, y por supuesto tu blog me ayuda practicar mi español de escuela también. Por mi parte, yo "leo mucho mejor de lo que escribo" en castellano...pero pienso que esto será bastante obvio, ¿no? Je, je. ¡Saludos, mi amiga!