by Gérard de Nerval
"Non! disais-je, je n'appartiens pas à ton ciel. Dans cette étoile sont ceux qui m'attendent. Ils sont antérieurs à la révélation que tu as annoncée. Laisse-moi les rejoindre, car celle que j'aime leur appartient, et c'est là que nous devons nous retrouver!"
"'No!' I said, 'I don't belong to your heaven. On that star are those who await me. They predate the revelation that you've announced. Let me rejoin them, for the woman that I love belongs to them and it's there where we need to meet each other again!'"
Although anybody who knows anything about Gérard de Nerval's mental breakdowns and eventual suicide will probably read Aurélia wondering just where the author's imagination leaves off and his illness begins, those of you who know nothing about Nerval can just sit back and enjoy the wild ride...an autobiographical quest narrative with nods to Aeneas' descent into the underworld, Dante's Vita Nuova and Divina Commedia, and Swedenborgian mysticism, Aurélia--set into motion by the woman who broke Nerval's heart and accompanied by disarmingly casual accounts of his time spent under medical supervision--is perhaps best thought of as a lush, poetic odyssey dedicated to exploring its opening sentence's proposition that "Le Rêve est une seconde vie" ["Dream is a second life"] (3); of course, since no amount of playing pin the tail on the donkey re: genre matters can quite prepare one for the onslaught of oneiric imagery depicting the heaven and hell occupying real estate in Nerval's mind, nobody will fault you if you choose to experience Aurélia as a vision literature-damaged memoir or an extravagant poem in prose on the subject of dreams and madness and a seeker's traipses through a nightmarish Paris instead...Jean Giraudoux, referring to the tradition that a manuscript of Aurélia was fished out of the dead man's pockets by his friends after they were sent to identify Nerval's body at the morgue, has rightfully characterized the work as "une préface passionnément mais volontairement écrite au suicide qui allait l'interrompre" ["a passionately but wilfully written preface to the suicide that was going to interrupt it"] (xviii)--a judgement which makes total sense even if it only hints at Aurélia's more alluring and ecstatic qualities as a reading experience. A revelation.
Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855)
Tom of Wuthering Expectations, whom I believe I first "met" on account of this Gérard de Nerval-related post at Caravana here, has written several savvy posts on our troubled French hero and one man doppelgänger. His No More Death, No More Sorrow, No More Anxiety - The Mad Dreams of Aurélia is as good a place as any to set off on the Wuthering Expectations Nervalmania expedition, but you probably won't want to stop there once you start.
I love Aurelia, and Nerval's work in general. Your line about the heaven and hell occupying real estate in his mind is both hilarious and spot on. Talk about a manifestation of psychic reality - Nerval's dream world is more symbolic, nuanced, layered and excessive than reality ever could be. It's not surprising the madness won; with Nerval that's both tragic and somehow glorious.ResponderBorrar
Aurélia was one of the most long ago purchased titles in my TBR, Litlove, so it's quite ironic that I ended up enjoying it so much after all these years after mostly ignoring it for so long (I didn't trust my French enough in the distant past, though). Very encouraged but not all that surprised to hear that you've enjoyed other Nerval works, and I couldn't agree more with what you say about his dream world and his madness winning out in the end. It really is "both tragic and somehow glorious" as relates to his prose.Borrar
This was once one of the most important texts for me, while I was living in Paris, just after school and had a lot of time to wander the streets. It's easy to get lost in his words and even a bit dangerous.ResponderBorrar
"It's easy to get lost in his words and even a bit dangerous" is a fascinating thing to hear you say about Nerval, Caroline, and I envy your younger self having been able to wander through Paris with texts like Aurélia on your mind. What fun that must have been--I can only pretend from where I live now, but sometimes I get lucky and have a dream that I'm back on the streets surrounding Notre Dame!Borrar
I only knew a little about Gérard de Nerval and thought what I had heard made him sound interesting. I have never read him. It sounds as if Nerva covers a lot of territory here in an odd way, I often really like works of this sort. Based on your commentary this sounds incredible!ResponderBorrar
Although definitely odd, Brian, it was an extremely entertaining and even delirious work in terms of its impact on me. I now want to read much more by Nerval--although I'll plan to stick to the prose for a while given Miguel's comment below.Borrar
Never read this, curious though. I've read some of his poetry, I didn't particularly love it.ResponderBorrar
But I find it hard not to like a man who had a pet lobster.
Miguel, it's definitely hard to dislike a man so fond of our friends the lobsters! However, I would have really enjoyed this even without knowing much about Nerval--so many surprises in Aurélia...Borrar
Ah, that cover is a disaster!ResponderBorrar
I have no words for Nerval. I guess I wrote hundreds of them at some point, but right now I have none. He was a revelation to me, too. At least three masterpieces, all substantially different form each other (but closely related, too).
In retrospect, Tom, I think that unappealing cover might have presented even more of an obstacle for me to finally finish this than my schoolboy French ever did! In any event, I'm happy to be reminded that you and Litlove and Caroline all had such enthusiastic opinions about Nerval's back catalog (my copy of Aurélia includes a few more goodies, and I've borrowed a Penguin edition of his Selected Writings from the library). Maybe it's time I finally finish Gautier's My Fantoms now--it's not like it's unduly long or painful to read or anything...Borrar
reading the comments on this posts Caroline in particular it makes me think I should try Nerval he has been on my radar for a long while since archipelago issued on of his books the other year ,all the best stuResponderBorrar