Monthly Archives: November 2006

Intertextuality between Faust and Don Juan

Certainly Faust is a reproduction of Don Juan. … Like Don Juan, Faust is a demonic figure, but at a higher level. .. —Either/Or, Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard, who had been working up an abandoned project on the three great medieval figures of Don Juan, Faust and Ahasuerus (the wandering Jew) incorporated much of the work he had done into Either/Or.

The literary characters that most influenced Kierkegaard were Don Juan (representing pleasure), Faust (doubt) and the Wandering Jew (despair); he used characters based on them in his writings. For example, both Don Juan and Faust personify the demonic in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Part One ..

“Baudelaire en vers et Flaubert en prose”

“”Baudelaire en vers et Flaubert en prose” said Péladan in 1885: the analogy could not be juster and is today taken for granted. Baudelaire and Flaubert are like the two faces of a Herm planted firmly in the middle of the century, marking the division between Romanticism and Decadence, between the period of the Fatal Man and that of the Fatal Woman, between the period of Delacroix and that of Moreau.” —The Romantic Agony

Les Mémoires du diable (1838) – Frédéric Soulié

Les Mémoires du diable (1838) – Frédéric Soulié
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Frédéric Soulié is another writer of the roman frénétique. In his time he was as well known as Balzac or Eugène Sue. His Les Mémoires du diable (1838) is mentioned in Colin Wilson’s Misfits and the Romantic Agony.

Who knows who did the painting on the Robert Laffont edition shown above? It looks like something done by Daumier.

The French frenetic school of the 1820s/1830s

Cover to Janin’s Dead Donkey

Inspired by The Romantic Agony, I bring you some 19th century cult fiction by the likes of Jules Janin and Charles Nodier of the “frenetic school”.

“The Dead Donkey” & “The Guillotined Woman” by Jules Janin, Honore de Balzac, Terry Hale (Editor), Tony Johannot (Illustrator)
Paperback – 168 pages

This story features probably the most nauseating narrator in the entire history of literature.

In nineteenth century France there flourished a literature of horror on a par with the English Gothic novel or the German Schauerroman. It was christened ‘the frenetique school’.

The frenetique was at its peak in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Of this short-lived literary movement Jules Janin’s The Dead Donkey and he Guillotined Woman is one of the finest and certainly one of the most unpleasant examples. Jules Janin is supposed to have begun the tale as a spoof of the fashionable frenetique style. However, with its wealth of horrible incident and its sinister and claustrophobic atmosphere, it seems likely that the author actually fell in love with his subject. The bizarre duality of the novel is one of its most striking qualities.

This edition comes with Balzac’s extraordinary spoof sequel, Chapter XXX, published in an all-English edition for the first time. Masterly in-depth commentary by Terry Hale, and the celebrated illustrations by Tony Johannot. — [Nov 2006


‘The frenetique school’: frenetic means fast, frantic, harried, or frenzied

In the category of “la littérature frénétique”, most frequently cited are Jules Janin, Charles Lassailly, Charles Nodier (Smarra, or the Demons of the Night (1821)) and Pétrus Borel. Its peak was the late 1820s and early 1830s.

La France frénétique de 1830: Choix de textes (1978) – Jean-Luc Steinmetz
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Some French language notes:

A côté du romantisme officiel qui occupe le devant de la scène existe un autre courant, encore marginal mais porteur d’avenir. Influencée par le roman gothique et ses images de caveaux humides, fantômes blafards et cul-de-basse-fosse ensanglantés, une certaine tendance friande d’horreur et de frissons s’épanouit en France, la littérature “frénétique”. Elle se teinte d’ailleurs assez vite d’aspects parodiques (Jules Janin, Charles Lassailly), ou alors accentue son côté sombre et pervers accompagné d’un humour très noir (Pétrus Borel “le lycanthrope”, 1809-1859). —

Every European country had its own terminology to denote the sensibility of the gothic novel. In France it was called the roman noir (“black novel”, now primarily used to denote the hardboiled detective genre) and in Germany it was called the Schauerroman (“shudder novel”). Italy and Spain must have had their own, but I am unaware of their names as of yet.

Dedalus European Classics, who’ve also lovingly published works by Rachilde has Smarra by Nodier in print in what I think is a lovely painting by Gustave Moreau:

Smarra & Trilby (1821, 1822) – Charles Nodier
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Last night was the night when the wind came

Last night was the night when the wind came and changed autumn into winter, taking with it all the leaves that crowned the trees.

I’ve added a list of protagonists and themes/tropes to the page dedicated to Praz’s Romantic Agony, a remarkable book, especially considering that it was written during the late 1920s, when the decadent movement wasn’t even cold yet.

As far as its quality goes, it is way up there with Todorov’s The Fantastic, Colin Wilson’s The Misfits, Ludwig Marcuse’s Obscene and André Breton’s Anthology of Black Humor.

Definitely one of my favorite works of literary criticism.

Todo: the thematic criticism of Jean-Pierre Richard (Littérature et Sensation, 1954) and the Geneva school as it applies to the works above. See theme. Maybe start here; or with Horst Daemmrich Themes and Motifs in Western Literature and with the criticism by Todorov on Richard?

Three Gothic Novels

Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto; Vathek; Frankenstein (1968) – Various
[FR] [DE] [UK]

The Gothic novel, which flourished from about 1765 until 1825, revels in the horrible and the supernatural, in suspense and exotic settings. This volume presents three of the most celebrated Gothic novels: “The Castle of Otranto“, published pseudonymously in 1765; “Vathek” (1786); and the story of “Frankenstein” (1818). Introduction by Mario Praz. The cover image of this Penguin edition illustrates one of the main tropes of gothic fiction: the isolated and haunted castle.

My copy of Praz’s The Romantic Agony

My copy of Praz’s The Romantic Agony arrived Thursday, with an introduction by Frank Kermode and the famous Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation (c.1485) by Memling on the cover. At times it reads as the gossip pages from the Decadents. Here is a quote on the supposed impotence of Baudelaire:

“[The] case of Baudelaire’s exotic exclusiveness will be understood, and of his strange conduct towards Madame Sabatier, and it can be why so many people give credit to the rumour reported by Nadar. (Baudelair’s impotence, generally admitted in this case, is denied by Flottes.)” pages 153 and 187 of The Romantic Agony.

It seems that I was wrong about Praz’s ‘panning’ of the decadence of late romantic literature. In his introduction Praz that it is his aim to describe the what-is-ness of this sensibility (morbidity and perversion) in romantic literature.

Philippe Noiret (1930 – 2006)

Noiret in good company, I believe the lady on the left is Jeanne Moreau.
Photo credit unidentified, sourced here.

As you reach middle age, actors, singers and other artist whose work you’ve followed start to die. Most recently it was Philippe Noiret’s turn. His peephole closed last Thursday. Noiret debuted on the screen in 1956 in La Pointe Courte by Agnès Varda, but was not cast again until 1960 in Zazie dans le métro. After that, he became a regular on the French screen, without being cast in major roles untill the late 1960s. Noiret first came to my attention in 1984, in the French film Les Ripoux (English title: My New Partner). A story about a veteran cop who sees his habits disrupted by his new partner. (co-written by real internal police officer Simon Michaël) My first unconscious exposure to Noiret must have been the famous 1969 heist movie Topaz which our father encouraged us to see in the early seventies. I recently saw him perform in the 1969 art-agit film Mr. Freedom by William Klein and Zazie (his performance was superb).

He shone in such films as Coup de Torchon, the 1981 French film adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1964 novel Pop. 1280, directed by Bertrand Tavernier; in the legendary La Grande Bouffe (1973) by Italian director Marco Ferreri; and perhaps most of all in one of my all time favourite films: Life and Nothing But (1989), again directed by Bertrand Tavernier where Noiret turns in an unforgettable performance as a French Army Officer given the thankless task of uncovering the identity of all the dead of the post World War One battlefields (and falls in love with the character of Catherine Deneuve in the process).

He also starred in two feelgood films of the late eighties and early nineties: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (of minor interest because of its the famous ‘kissing scenes‘ montage near the end of the film) and the sentimental comedy Il Postino (the story of real-life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda ).

Interwar and post-war American erotica

598 Seventh Ave., circa late 1960s. This was originally the Liberty Book Shop, later named Forsythe Books.
Photo courtesy Guy Gonzales, New York City.
Sourced here.

After cleaning up my American erotica and American exploitation pages, I stumbled upon this quote from, on which Jay Gertzman himself comments with a link to American Fetish – a forthcoming book by Robert V. Bienvenu II, Ph.D.

There was a certain odd gap in my research. I had plenty of material on the Victorian era: Munby and Cullwick, Sacher-Masoch, Krafft-Ebing and My Secret Life, just to name a few things. After WWII there’s Willie, Stanton and Bilbrew, the biker/leatherman culture, L’Histoire de O, the Profumo scandal and so on.

But what happened in kink in the Interwar period? There’s the Weimar Republic of Germany, as documented by Mel Gordon’s [correction mine] Voluptuous Panic. I also want to work in William Charles Moulton and his creation, Wonder Woman. And what else?

Furthermore, what happened in America all those years before the 40s? Why was the US apparently so vanilla compared to Europe?

Jay A. Gertzman’s Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The trade in erotica, 1920-1940 (University of Pennsylvania, 2002) helps a lot. It covers a strange era in US history when Americans grappled with the issue of what is permissible in print, which Europeans had dealt with generations before. The main axis of conflict is between immigrant pornographer and “pariah capitalist” Samuel Roth, and John Saxon Sumner, the more polite and reflective successor to the great American censor, Anthony Comstock.

Gertzman’s divides the erotic book trade into five categories: gallantiana, sex pulps (set in the here and now), erotology and sexology, “bibles” and “readers” (cheap paperbacks), and classical and modern books “judged to be rankly indecent.” (Pg. 61)

Gallantiana, a term coined by Gershon Legman, is “those marginal elements of unexpurgated literature such as jest-books and balladry, works on (and against) women and love, facetious treatises in prose and in verse, and the hinterland of scatologica.” (Pg.62) This included Beardsley’s Under the Hill, Venus in Furs and other works that had, or tried to have, a certain upper-class grace. —Peter Tupper via