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- The Dedalus Book of French Horror: The 19th Century?
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Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! This is the eighth volume in Dedalus? During the nineteenth-century, Belgian literature was still largely written in the language of education, French. Then the Flemings, who inhabit the northern half of Belgium, became aware of the value of their own language, whose standardised form is, to all intents and purposes, Dutch. Modern Flemish literature was born. This anthology incorporates fantasy stories from the early twentieth century to the present day. The types of fantasy are various: horror, mysticism and magical realism being the dominant ones.
One of the early authors is Felix Timmermans who started out with horror stories, but later ended up writing his inimitable Vitalist novels. Two magic realist authors stand out: Johan Daisne and Hubert Lampo. And horror is well represented by several authors including Hugo Claus, Hugo Raes and Ward Ruyslinck - all household names in Flanders. Still I would say this collection Not all of these are horror stories in the traditional sense, in fact most aren't and quite a few of the conte cruel's are of the humorous variety. Still I would say this collection is fairly uneven, compared with excellent collection "French Decadent Tales" edited by Stephen Romer for example.
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In overall tone these two collections aren't very different either I'd say. There's a lot of great stories here, but the one's I didn't like were a chore to get through sometimes. Also the best stories are one's I'd read previously, although they're all good enough to warrant a re-read.
The introduction is definitely worth reading, will give you a lot of other authors to investigate.
A story of terrible revenge upon a knight who throws a family out of their home. After experiencing a deeply hurtful insult a man decides to leave civilization behind and go to a place where he imagines all men are equal and live harmoniously in nature. Alexandre Dumas - Solange - This is a powerful story, both horrific and sad, with a potent and building Gothic atmosphere.
About half through it changes gears quite sharply.
The French frenetic school of the 1820s/1830s
During the Reign of Terror a man meets a beautiful aristocrat living in hiding and aids the escape of her father from France. They fall in love and she decides to stay there with him, despite the danger. Underneath the gritty, Zola-esuqe story one can feel a seething loathing for the masses and mankind generally. A man foolishly tells his lecherous friend of a beautiful, innocent young woman he intends to marry, leading to horrible tragedy. Alphonse Royer - The Covetous Clerk - A more traditional horror story, mostly set in a graveyard, with a conte cruel ending.
A clerk decides to steal the corpse of a criminal who has a reward on his head. Overwrought, over-dramatic and overlong; this one is full of long, wandering speeches that rarely get to the point. Still, it's not an awful story, it has a certain surreal mood to it that I enjoyed and the ending is quite a jolt, I just found it a very frustrating read. In Spain a girl who was set adrift by a mysterious monk and never knew her parents gets involved in a passionate love affair that leads to tragedy and murder. A charitable Count aids a poor family who's father has been falsely accused of murder, with terrible unintended consequences.
Charles Baudelaire - Mademoiselle Scalpel - A strange, brief little story that's a bit anticlimactic but still effective. A doctor meets a woman with a very strange fetish. A young woman, just finished committing a sin, decides to flaunt it in a church. Jean Richepin - Constant Guignard - One of the funniest stories in the collection, one I'd read previously, but it's worth a re-read. A man trying to do good causes havoc and tragedy everywhere he goes. Charles Cros - The Hanged Man - A humorous story, about a man who tries to break a streak of bad luck in a very strange fashion.
Jules Lermina - Monsieur Mathias - One of the best humorous stories in the book. A man trying to catch his wife having an affair goes to extreme lengths. The humor of this conte cruel is far blacker than the others here and reminds me of something one might expect in an issue of Tales From the Crypt. A father who retires to find a way to console millionaires, with an equally money-grubbing son receives a sort of cruel justice. Huysmans - A Family Treat - The shortest entry in this collection, and certainly one of the most potent.
Very decadent. A man imagines the possibilities for a scientific discovery concerning a chemical found in decomposing animals.
Edmund Haraucourt - The Prisoner of his Own Masterpiece - This is one of the better stories here, a pretty grisly one too. It's manic style reminds me a bit of Poe. A man decides to kill his wife who he is convinced is having an affair -- it goes wrong quite badly. It's less of a horror tale, although there are horrific elements, and more of an account. Yet I can't help thinking the author himself is being a bit ironic and kidding us a bit at the end, those old times weren't really that great were they? A man recounts the story of a girl set to be executed, but whom a nun is convinced will be spared by God.
This one is even a bit more traditional horror.
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A policeman investigates a cursed house and thinks he has cleared it of evil, but he has only brought it onto himself. A young artist starts to suspect that a series of suicides at an inn across the street are caused by a quiet old woman who lives in an identical house nextdoor to him. A man wanders the streets, causing havoc because he is convinced that people he sees are reincarnations of the same people he knew years before. A man goes mad after making a strange discovery in a secret drawer of an old antique bureau. This one started out a bit slow, but it's got a great ending and plenty of eerie, visually evocative Gothic tropes in the second half.
A strange, beautiful socialite disappears from Paris, showing up in a gloomy old Italian villa where some dark deeds start to take place. Jean Lorrain - One Possessed - An erotic story of obsession and madness. It's one of those decadent stories, making constant references to art and Green myths. It has some clammy weirdness at times, but at others my eyes glazed over a bit. Following the mysterious death of a withdrawn collector, his diary reveals a strange obsession that led him down some strange paths. Aug 29, Christina rated it it was amazing.
Every short story in this book was better than the last with the exception of one. This has it all, ghouls, corpses, cremations, burials, lots and lots of forlorn love and unrequainted love, butchery, fetish and necrophilic undertones and not to mention lots of be-heading and guillotine aciton. I love spooky stories but am naturally a coward so I seek out ones that still allow me to sleep at night.
Anthologies of nineteenth-century French horror fiction — of which there have been two or three in recent years — tend to follow a well-beaten track. The present anthology has no intention of pursuing a similar course. Huysmans — every attempt has been made to present material with which the reader may not be immediately familiar. This is not to pursue a policy of novelty for the sake of novelty — it is simply intended to demonstrate the breadth and range of French writing in relation to the strange and macabre.
Indeed, if horror fiction is a vehicle for exploring forbidden themes — a claim which will be put forward here — then it would not be untrue to claim that French writers in the nineteenth century proved themselves every bit as inventive as their British and American counterparts of the same period. One should not, of course, necessarily expect them to explore precisely the same themes though. As dramatic and successful as these tales may be, they represent but one strand of horror fiction — that which came to be known in the s as the conte fantastique — in nineteenth-century France.
As we shall see, neither of these two other strands are reliant on the supernatural to quite the same extent.
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The first clearly recognisable development in the history of the nineteenth-century French horror story occurred in the early s. By and large, the more successful attempts soon owed but little, either in style or content, to their English or German counterparts.