Yet it is precisely this morning mood that is intolerable

German cover of Marcellus Emants novel Posthumous Confessions. [1]

I am currently teaching romanticism, realism and naturalism in literature. I’ve been studying literature for the last 2 years, but mainly from an anglocentric point of view so I was glad to find somewhat transgressive literature in my mother tongue. Marcellus Emants’s novel, Een Nagelaten Bekentenis (1894) is categorized in Belgium as naturalistic literature, but as is evident from the German translation shown above (Bekenntnisse Eines Dekadenten) it is categorized in Germany as decadent literature. The novel was translated by J. M. Coetzee in 1976. Another transgressive Dutch-language work of fiction to check out is L. P. Boon’s De paradijsvogel (1958), for a good article on Boon, see here.

From the opening:

My wife is dead and buried.

I am alone in the house, alone with the two maids. So I am free again. Yet what good is it to me, this freedom? I am within reach of what I have wanted for the last twenty years (I am thirty-five), but I have not the courage to grasp it, and, besides that, would anyhow no longer enjoy it very much.

I am too frightened of anything that excites me, too frightened of a glass of wine, too frightened of music, too frightened of women; for only in my matter-of-fact morning mood I am in control of myself, sure that I will keep silent about my act.

Yet it is precisely this morning mood that is intolerable. To feel no interest – no interest in any person, any work, even any book – to roam without aim or will through an empty house in which only the indifferent guarded whispering of two maids drifts about like the far-off talk of warders around the cell of a sequestered madman, to be able to think, with the last snatch of desire in an extinct nervous life, about only one thing, and to tremble before that one thing like a squirrel in the hypnotic gaze of a snake – how can I persevere to the end, day in, day out, in such an abominable existence?

Whenever I look in the mirror – still a habit of mine – I am astounded that such a pale, delicate, insignificant little man with dull gaze and weak, slack mouth (a nasty piece of work, some people would say) was able to murder his wife, a wife whom, after all, in his own way, he had loved. —source

One thought on “Yet it is precisely this morning mood that is intolerable

  1. raffaella

    Hello, I agree that it is a beautiful book which could only reach me through Coetzee’s reposed style. I am fond of literary translation and interested in translating this book into Italian (my native language) as I found it a fascinating read (besides being a great fan of Coetzee) and interesting literary find! That it is already in translation makes the task of the translator easier – and its polished style lends itself to translation. All the best, raffaella cantillo

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