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A novel of its time

October 31, 2011 15 comments

A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. Written in 1836. Published in 1840. French translation by A. de Villamarie. I don’t have the translation by Nabokov but I used the online English translation available here.

There are two men in me – one lives in the full sense of the word, the other reasons and passes judgment on the first.

Well, that’s a feeling I know and there were many other feelings I knew in A Hero of Our Time. Honestly, I’m having difficulties with this review. I have so many random thoughts and 14 pages of quotes I can’t really put in an intelligible order. I’m under the impression that Lermontov summed up in one work the literature of the first forty years of the 19thC.

In the first part Bèla, the reader is told the love story between Pechorin and Bèla. Pechorin is a Russian soldier stationed in a remote fort in the Caucasus. He’s described as a reckless man, unaware of danger, loving to hunt – literally and figuratively. When he sees Bèla at a party, he decides to seduce her, partly for the fun and for the challenge, partly because she’s beautiful. Follow the conquest and the tragic relationship. I wasn’t excited by that part, it reminded me of Atala, which I didn’t adore either. However, I enjoyed the description of the mountains and the nature there.

The moon, becoming pale in the western sky, was about to immerse itself in the black clouds that trailed like tattered bits of a torn curtain from the mountain peaks in the distance.

This summer I visited a 19thC fort in the Alps and I could picture very well the soldiers’ life in that isolated place. Lermontov has a beautiful prose and alternates engrossing descriptions of the nature and the autopsy of Pechorin’s feelings, his youth and his outdoorsy manners and lack enthusiasm for life.

In the second part, we are still seeing Pechorin through a third person’s eyes and watch him reject his old friend Maxim who was the witness of his love story with Bèla. Right. The man is light in love and light in friendship too.

The third part is my favorite one. It’s Pechorin’s journal, we dive into his thoughts, living with him the events he describes. The book is worth reading for the Princess Mary section. Pechorin is in a thermal city in the Caucasus. There he stumbles upon an old acquaintance, Grushnitsky, a soldier like him. The most desirable woman in town is Mary Ligovskaya and she rules the little social circle of the town. Grushnitsky admires her very much and would like to win her heart. He’s on his way to succeeding until Pechorin steps in the way and starts coveting and courting her too. He’s more handsome and more cunning than him. He wins. He doesn’t like her though, she’s a cover for his meetings with his true love Vera. All the way we read his thoughts, mocking Grushnitsky, toying with Mary’s feelings and being in love with Vera. It’s a cruel tale with many victims. Pechorin is in a foul mood, tempestuous, looking for danger and indifferent to death. The duel scene is incredible.

Is Pechorin likeable? Does he have to be? I can’t say I liked him but I enjoyed his witty and insightful remarks on life. In the foreword Lermontov added to the second edition in 1841, he says “A Hero of Our Time, my dear readers, is indeed a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of all our generation’s vices in full bloom.” Really, it’s clear that Lermontov was well-read and knew the literary trends of his time. I’ve been reading a few novels of that period over the last 18 months, The Red and The Black, René and Atala, A Slight Misunderstanding, Confession of a Child of the Century. (I should read Lord Byron, I haven’t so far.) and I found a bit of all these novels in this one. Pechorin has common points with Octave, Julien Sorel, René.

As bored as Octave (Confession of a Child of the Century by Musset) 1836. He even argues with a friend to know who of the French or the British have made boredom fashionable.

Is it worth the trouble to live after this? And yet you go on living–out of curiosity, in expectation of something new… How ludicrous and how vexatious!

As miserable and happy to be so as René

‘Listen, Maksim Maksimich,’ he replied, ‘I have an unfortunate character. Whether it is my upbringing that made me like that or God who created me so, I don’t know. I know only that if I cause unhappiness to others I myself am no less unhappy. I realize this is poor consolation for them–but the fact remains that it’s so. In my early youth after leaving my parents, I plunged into all the pleasures money could buy, and naturally these pleasures grew distasteful to me. Then I went into high society, but soon enough grew tired of it; I fell in love with beautiful society women and was loved by them, but their love only aggravated my imagination and vanity while my heart remained desolate . . . I began to read and to study, but wearied of learning too. I saw that neither fame nor happiness depended on it in the slightest, for the happiest people were the most ignorant, and fame was a matter of luck, to achieve which you only had to be clever. And I grew bored…

Trying to escape his life by traveling like Lord Byron.

My soul has been warped by the world, my mind is restless, my heart insatiable–nothing satisfies me. I grow accustomed to sorrow as readily as to joy, and my life becomes emptier from day to day. Only one thing is left for me, and that is to travel.

Cynical as a Balzacian hero

Sometimes I despise myself; is that why I despise others too? I am no longer capable of noble impulses; I am afraid of appearing ridiculous to myself. Another in my place would have offered the princess son coeur et sa fortune but for me the verb “to marry” has an ominous ring: no matter how passionately I might love a woman, it’s farewell to love if she as much as hints at my marrying her. My heart turns to stone, and nothing can warm it again. I’d make any sacrifice but this–twenty times I can stake my life, even my honor, but my freedom I’ll never sell. Why do I prize it so much? What do I find in it? What am I aiming at? What have I to expect from the future? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It’s some innate fear, an inexplicable foreboding…After all, some people have an unreasoning fear of spiders, cockroaches, mice…

Cousin in heart with Mérimée’s Darcy

If you don’t get the advantage over her, even her first kiss will not give you the right to a second. She’ll flirt with you to her heart’s content and a year or two later marry an ugly man in obedience to her mother’s will; then she will begin to assure you that she is unhappy, that she had loved only one man–that is, you–but that fate had not ordained that she be joined to him because he wore a soldier’s overcoat, though beneath that thick gray garment there beat an ardent and noble heart…

Reading A Hero of Our Time, I had the same feeling as before when I read Princess Ligovskaya, the impression I was reading French literature. I know Russian upper-classes mostly spoke French and sometimes hardly spoke Russian. Lermontov has read Goethe, Byron and other Romantic writers; you can hear it in the themes of the stories. But for me, he’s closer to French writers, there’s this French touch of impertinence in the style as well as the use of short witty and imaged phrases. Now I want to watch Un Coeur en hiver, a French film based on Princess Mary.

That’s the best review I could do and I’m not exactly happy with it. Readers interested in reading A Hero of Our Time may want to read other reviews: Kerry’s review is here and Guy’s thoughts are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and The film

 

 

 

Le Musée de la vie Romantique in Paris

October 20, 2011 27 comments

Le musée de la vie Romantique à Paris

 

 A sign on the noisy street, a paved alley where carriages used to ride and you reach the Musée de la vie Romantique, ie the Museum of Romantic Life. You leave the honking delivery lorries behind on the main street and enter a quiet place, and in a small leap you time-travel in the 1830s Paris. The museum is located in the Scheffer-Renan estate, in the 9th Arrondissement in Paris but was outside of Paris at the time. The house is interesting in itself as the last witness of individual houses in Paris in the 1830s. It hasn’t changed much, if you compare the picture I took and the painting by Arie Johannes Lamme (1865)

An anecdote: As you can see on the painting, people used to put a blanket on the guardrail of the stairs so that men couldn’t look under the women’s skirts when they were climbing the stairs before them.

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) was a famous painter of the Restauration (1815-1830). He painted the portraits of the royal family (Queen Marie Amélie). His house was the place of gathering for famous Romantic artists like George Sand, Chopin or Renan. I have to confess I didn’t know him before, just like I’d never heard of Louise Abbema, famous at La Belle Epoque.

La Malibran by François Bouchot 1834The first floor of the museum is dedicated to George Sand. We can see a reconstitution of her salon and a room decorated after her room in Nohan. I wandered in the rooms, looking at the paintings, her jewels and listening to Chopin. The second floor relates the Romantic life of this circle. I say “this circle” because we can see paintings by Scheffer inspired by Walter Scott or Byron but Victor Hugo is never mentioned although his Hernani had made of him a Romantic character. I was glad to see the portraits of two famous mezzo-sproanos (La Malibran and Pauline Viardot) and would have wanted to see the portrait of Rachel, the famous actress instead of a sculpture of her hand.

Pauline Viardot by Ary SchefferIt’s always strange to think that so many great artists used to be there, that Chopin was there, that the house entry hasn’t changed. The little garden is still there too with dying roses from that unusual Indian summer we’ve had this year. The place breathes peace (“Luxe, calme et volupté”?) It occurred to me that many of the persons there died rather young, of horse accidents, illness. I’ve just listened to A Slight Misunderstanding by Mérimée and I was thinking he made a convenient use of death in his tale. This visit reminded me that untimely deaths were indeed part of his world and we tend to forget it.

 

Atala – René by François-René de Chateaubriand

August 14, 2011 26 comments

Atala / René by François-René de Chateaubriand.  (1768-1848). I read the edition reviewed by the author in 1805.

I read Atala and René as part of the Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge hosted by Sarah, category A book that paralyses one with dread. These two novellas belong to a wider literary project entitled The Natchez, but Chateaubriand eventually published them as stand-alone. In 1805, the aristocrat Chateaubriand is 37. He’s been through the French Revolution – his brother Jean-Baptiste has been guillotined, he has spent seven years of exile in Great-Britain and has visited the French colonies in America. Bonaparte has become Napoleon. Chateaubriand has experienced different states of wealth from rich to filthy poor. Now the novellas.  

Atala or how I discovered that Chateaubriand was in favour of kibbutz.

There are classics we know only by name, some whose plot we know even if we haven’t read them. I knew Atala by name but had no idea of the plot. According to its English edition, it can be considered as the first American novel although it has been written by a Frenchman. Indeed, it is set in the French colonies in America at the beginning of the 18th C. The old Sachem Chactas relates his tragic love story with Atala to his adopted son René. He was a prisoner from Atala’s tribe, she fell in love with him, set him free and eloped with him. That’s the pitch.

It’s full of Romantic descriptions about the fauna and flora of the country, a sort of Eden. According to the footnotes, Chateaubriand was inspired by his own trip and by the books of other travellers. I rather enjoyed the descriptions. The way Chateaubriand bent geography to meet his own narrative goals made me smile and I marvelled at the outdated spelling of the Mississippi River. (Meschacebé). All this is right in the same line as Paul & Virginie, a novel I found so corny that I couldn’t finish it. Atala isn’t corny though. The useful footnotes enlightened me about the political and literary references of the text. Chateaubriand admired Rousseau and was the heir of the Enlightenment. Philosophical concerns are mixed in the novel as he uses this form to promote ideas. I liked the tolerance and humanism filtering through the text. Yes Atala stems from Voltaire and Rousseau.

Atala is an Indian girl whose mother was a Christian who had had a relationship with a white man. She baptised her daughter and had her swear on her dying bed that she would become a nun. The vows pronounced by the daughter are supposed to save the mother’s soul. Atala’s promise gets in the way of her genuine love for Chactas. Chateaubriand clearly criticises Atala’s mother for her selfishness: she disposed of her daughter’s life for her own benefit. It’s treacherous as Atala isn’t free any more and it is in contradiction with Chateaubriand’s moderate vision of Christianism. Because Atala is also a promotion of Christianism. When Atala and Chactas reach the community ruled by Father Aubry, Chateaubriand describes his ideal Christian society as opposed to a society based on the “contrat social” by Rousseau.

“Je ne leur ai donné aucune loi ; je leur ai seulement enseigné à s’aimer, à prier Dieu et à espérer une meilleure vie : toutes les lois du monde sont là−dedans. Vous voyez au milieu du village une cabane plus grande que les autres : elle sert de chapelle dans la saison des pluies. On s’y assemble soir et matin pour louer le Seigneur, et quand je suis absent, c’est un vieillard qui fait la prière, car la vieillesse est, comme la maternité, une espèce de sacerdoce. Ensuite on va travailler dans les champs, et si les propriétés sont divisées, afin que chacun puisse apprendre l’économie sociale, les moissons sont déposées dans des greniers communs, pour maintenir la charité fraternelle. Quatre vieillards distribuent avec égalité le produit du labour. Ajoutez à cela des cérémonies religieuses, beaucoup de cantiques (…) vous aurez une idée, complète de ce royaume de Jésus−Christ. “

I didn’t impose any law; I only taught them how to love, pray God and hope for a better life. All the laws of the world are there. You see a bigger house in the centre of the village: it is used as a chapel during the rain season. We gather there on mornings and evenings to celebrate the Lord and when I’m away, an old man says the prayers. Indeed old age is, like maternity, a sort of calling. Then we work in the fields and if the estates are divided so that everyone can learn social economy, harvests are deposited in a common barns, to sustain brotherly charity. Four old men distribute equally the product of the fields. Add to this religious ceremonies, a lot of carols, (…) you shall have a full vision of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

I didn’t know Chateaubriand was in favour of the kibbutz. It’s a sort of utopia, incredibly naïve or should I say candid?. Only Pangloss is missing with his famous “Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles”

The surprise was that I enjoyed his style much more than I thought I would. He manages to instil poetry in his sceneries:

La nuit était délicieuse. Le Génie des airs secouait sa chevelure bleue, embaumée de la senteur des pins, et l’on respirait la faible odeur d’ambre qu’exhalaient les crocodiles couchés sous les tamarins des fleuves. La lune brillait au milieu d’un azur sans tache, et sa lumière gris de perle descendait sur la cime indéterminée des forêts. Aucun bruit ne se faisait entendre, hors je ne sais quelle harmonie lointaine qui régnait dans la profondeur des bois : on eût dit que l’âme de la solitude soupirait dans toute l’étendue du désert.

It was a lovely night. The Génie of the air was shaking off his blue hair that smelled like pine trees. One could breathe in the light scent of amber coming off the crocodiles laying under the river tamarinds. The moon was shining amid an immaculate azure and her pearl-grey light was falling on the hazy canopy of the trees. No sound could be heard except for a kind of remote harmony that prevailed in the deep woods. One could think that the soul of solitude was sighing in the whole desert.

What a delightful description of an enchanting summer night! All senses are invited in. First, taste as in French, “délicieux” means “delightful” or “lovely” but also “delicious”. Second, the sense of smell with the odours of the trees and animals. Third, sight with the moonlight. And the absence of distinct sound addresses our ears. The whole human being is engulfed in a whirl of sensations.

After Atala, I thought I could read more of him and reading his memoirs now tempts me but I’ll have to wait at least until I have finished In Search of Lost Time. It’s a long-term project. But time for us to move on to …

René or how Chateaubriand missed the opportunity to invent tissues.

In René, the roles are changed. Chactas, the Indian who has been to the court of Louis XIV now listens to René, the white man who left France behind to live in the woods with Native Americans.

Ah René! Let’s say it right away, fortunately, it’s short. It met my expectations of moaning Romanticism. René has le mal du siècle. Not the same mal du siècle as Octave, the hero of Musset. He has le mal de son siècle, the 18th C, coming from growing under a declining political regime where nobility had no serious occupation. As a consequence, René has no profession and thus has too much time to think. He has the spleen, the blues, the vague à l’âme, whatever you call it. He’s alone and lonely. He’s tired of everything and bored. His only human bond is with his sister Amélie but she shies away from him until he writes such a depressing letter that she runs to him, fearing he might commit suicide. She starts living with him and the more he blooms by her side, the more she withers, until she leaves him to become a nun after telling him about her inappropriate feelings for him. Well, that was unexpected from that primp and proper Christian writer. Or so I thought. Now I start thinking he was more twisted than I imagined. And back to the nagging idea of discovering the Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe.

Of course, Chateaubriand complains. I expected a whining author, I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, my dear Chateaubriand, hearts vary. Fortunately they do. They move on, otherwise we couldn’t heal, recover from losses and keep on living for those who remain and count on us. He thinks the society is rotten. Life in nature is pure. Blah blah blah. I don’t like the myth of the Good Savage corrupted by civilisation in opposition to a innocent life in nature. I notice that those descriptions of nature never include volcano eruptions, hurricanes or tsunamis. It is only gentle Mother nature generously providing food and shelter to humans. How handy. The tyle is full of “O”, exclamation marks, cries and sighs. Get the tissue box, please.

So yes, René irritated me and I love the conclusion of René by Father Souël:

On n’est point, monsieur, un homme supérieur parce qu’on aperçoit le monde sous un jour odieux. On ne hait les hommes et la vie, que faute de voir assez loin. Étendez un peu plus votre regard, et vous serez bientôt convaincu que tous ces maux dont vous vous plaignez sont de purs néants.

One is not a superior man because they see the world in a hateful light. One only hates men and life because they look at them with distant eyes. Widen you look and you shall be soon convinced that all the troubles you complain about are sheer nothingness.

Hear that Michel Houellebecq? That’s exactly what I wanted to say at the end of The Elementary Particles.

Golden eyes maybe, but certainly not a golden book

January 21, 2011 41 comments

La Fille aux yeux d’or (1835) by Honoré de Balzac.

Translated as The Girl With the Golden Eyes. The translation I found online is by Ellen Marriage.

I’ve decided to read this novella after reading contradictory and strong comments at the end of Guy’s post on The Chouans. I was curious. Well sometimes curiosity is a bad master.

Paris, 1835. Henri de Marsay, 22, walks in the Jardin des Tuileries and meets a beautiful young girl with golden eyes. Henri has everything, he is handsome, rich, witty. He likes partying, and though he is still young, this dandy is already blasé. After several meeting and glamorous glances in the Jardins, Henri is sure the girl fancies him too. He follows the carriage in which the girl leaves the Jardins to try to discover who she is and where she lives. Henri sends his valet to meet the postman and learn as much as he can about her. Her name is Paquita Valdes, she is Spanish and kept from men by an army of servants. Henri suspects an old jealous lover.

Henri finally finds an incredible way to reach her, through secret contacts, drugs and tricks. However, when Paquita organizes their meetings, everything is so well put up that Henri wonders if she as innocent as she seems. He intended to play with her. She plays with him. It’s a dark story of manipulation and violence. Who manipulates who? Are there true feelings somewhere?

It’s Romanesque in the worse meaning of the word.

I really disliked this book. The sentences are long, full of adjectives. They sound pompous. I don’t like the Balzac I can read through the lines. He sounds conceited, misogynistic – this is not a surprise – and racist. Everything foreign is suspicious and full of clichés. He generalizes and lacks of subtlety. For example:

Nous prenons tant de choses des Anglais en ce moment que nous pourrions devenir hypocrites et prudes comme eux. We take so many things from the English just now that we could become as great prudes and hypocrites as themselves.

On a literary point of view, this text is a melting pot of several influences, as if the writer had not found his voice yet.

The most evident one is Romanticism. The introduction about the mores of the Parisian people is a grotesque lecture. There is a trace of Romanticism in the way he despises the society he finds corrupted by money, ambition and material pleasure. He depicts a disenchanted society dominated by pettiness and boredom. Right. Alfred de Musset will brilliantly explain the same things in La Confession d’un enfant du siècle (The Confession of the Child of the Century) in 1836. Musset is a lot better for the style and the depth of the analysis. This part was too long according to me. There were too many pages just to say:

Qui donc domine en ce pays sans mœurs, sans croyance, sans aucun sentiment ; mais d’où partent et où aboutissent tous les sentiments, toutes les croyances et toutes les mœurs ? L’or et le plaisir What, then, is the dominating impulse in this country without morals, without faith, without any sentiment, wherein however every sentiment, belief and moral has its origin and end? It is gold and pleasure.

It is interesting to see that what he describes could be applied to nowadays society too. People run after time to earn money, do not make effort to think or learn.

The Spanish theme is common in the French literature of that time. Hugo’s Hernani dates back to 1830 and was a huge scandal. It is the landmark of Romanticism in France. So, Spanish protagonists are a way to link this novella to the Romantic current. Hugo will also write a poem named Guitare in 1840 with Spanish characters. In 1847, Mérimée will write Carmen. Spanish women represent passion and violence in the French imagery of that time. The other reference to Romanticism is when Henri uses the name of Adolphe to meet Paquita. I think it refers to Adolphe by Benjamin Constant, a Romantic novel published in 1816.

I could also see the influence of theatre, especially Molière, Marivaux and Musset. Laurent, the valet, made me think of Sganarelle, a famous character in Molière. Balzac openly refers to comedy:

Il fallait jouer cette éternelle vieille comédie qui sera toujours neuve, et dont les personnages sont un vieillard, une jeune fille et un amoureux : don Hijos, Paquita, de Marsay. Si Laurent valait Figaro, la duègne paraissait incorruptible. Ainsi la pièce vivante était plus fortement nouée par le hasard qu’elle ne l’avait jamais été par aucun auteur dramatique !   He was about to play that eternal old comedy which will always be fresh, and the characters in which are an old man, a young girl and a lover: don Hijos, Paquita, de Marsay. If Laurent was the equal of Figaro, the duenna seemed incorruptible. Thus, the living play was supplied by Chance with a stronger plot than it had never been by dramatic author! 

Molière is also present through Henri de Marsay, who looks like Dom Juan. He wants Paquita. He knows he can seduce her. I also thought of Marivaux and Musset for the disguise and the playing with sentiments.

What truly made me yawn and roll my eyes are the two scenes where Henri has a rendezvous with Paquita in a mysterious place where he is led with his eyes bandaged. Balzac makes a reference to Ann Radcliff’s novel. (Oops, that hurts) The room is decorated with white, gold and red. The allusion to oriental settings is obvious; it made me think of the Turk Bath by Ingres, thought it was painted years after this book was written. Paquita is a virgin but well instructed in all the pleasures. (sic!) It is all ridiculous and dripping with mawkishness and at the same time quite pervert.  Balzac needed pages to tell what Baudelaire will later put in two verses:

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté
There, everything is order and beauty,
Luxury, calm and voluptuousness

So how can I sum up my impressions on this novella? I disliked it because it is a patchwork of several genres. There are two many themes and none is well treated. I thought the story ridiculous, even if the revelation of the name of Paquita’s lover is quite a surprise and an unexpected theme for that time. I was more than irritated by his vision of women as brainless beings. There are too many references to books (Rousseau, Radcliff, Molière, Constant…) or paintings (Boticcelli, Delacroix…). It’s heavy, it’s clumsy, it’s arrogant.

Well Balzac was not Balzac yet when he wrote this. Don’t start reading Balzac by reading The Girl With the Golden Eyes.

I have a friend, but my pain has no friend. (Alfred de Musset)

July 11, 2010 3 comments

I have much to say about The Confession of a Child of the Century by Alfred de Musset. I chose to read it after seeing Lorenzaccio in a theatre and loved the play. I knew it was a masterpiece and I hadn’t read it yet, so I bought it.

Musset was born in 1810 and died in 1857. The Confession of a Child of the Century was written in 1836. The main protagonist Octave is the fictional alter ego of Musset himself. He wrote this book as a therapy to recover from his break up with George Sand.

The story is a first-person narrative. Octave tells us about three years of his life during which he suffered from le mal du siècle, a sort of spleen. It starts with the end of a love relationship, after he witnessed his mistress’s betrayal. The book is split in five parts. In the first one, Octave mopes. In the second part, he tries to heal his heart by throwing himself in debauchery with his friend Desgenais. After his father’s death and a mourning period, he meets Brigitte Pierson and falls passionately in love with her. The last three parts of the book describe this new love.

This novel is in the tradition of romantic literature but does not entirely belong to it. Some chapters sound like romantic prose, with many “O!”, lamentations, self-pity, exclamation marks, weeping, fainting, references to Ancient Greece and Rome.

“Ah! faithless one! wretch!” I cried between my sobs, “you knew that it would kill me. Did the prospect please you? What have I done to you?”

But Musset sometimes puts in irony, which gave me fresh air from moping and pulling out hair by the roots. For example,

Is she your first mistress’? He asked – ‘No, said I’, she’s the last one

In Musset’s case, the chapters alternate between romantic style and more simple style. Some chapters of the second part, when Desgenais tries to convince Octave to live according to his physical needs without too much thinking, reminded me of The philosophy in the Bedroom, by Sade, not the pornographic chapters, the philosophical ones.   

Musset has also a gift for describing people with few words, like Mercanson, the priest:

He was large and at the same time pale, a thing which always displeases me and which is, in fact, unpleasant; it impresses me as a sort of diseased healthfulness. Moreover, he had the slow yet jerky way of speaking that characterizes the pedant. Even his manner of walking, which was not that of youth and health, repelled me; as for his glance, it might be said that he had none. I do not know what to think of a man whose eyes have nothing to say. These are the signs which led me to an unfavorable opinion of Mercanson, an opinion which was unfortunately correct.”

The Confession of a Child of the Century is definitely a masterpiece; there is no arguing upon that. It is wonderfully written, clever and full of an exceptional lucidity for a man of only 26. It is through this novel that Musset popularized the notion of “Mal du siècle” already described by Chateaubriand. I will write another post about that because that’s probably the only thing that rang a bell in me in this book.

Honestly, it was hard for me to finish reading it, I was constantly checking how many pages left I had to read, which is never a good sign. I wish Musset had said in 200 pages what he wrote in 350. I have to admit I was bored and I skipped some dramatic passages that were too much lyric for my taste.

Being myself more of a “shrug-it-off” and “suffer-in-silence” type, I’m not really fond of lyricism, it doesn’t reach my heart.  When I read The Suffering of the Young Werther, I don’t know who suffered most: Werther or me reading the book. These characters take things too seriously and lack a healthy dose of self-irony, which helps overcoming difficulties. Maybe it is also easy for me to say so because most of the acute pain we all have to take in life is ahead of me.

I truly regret I can’t like romantic authors because they have much to say and their language is like a thick smoke screen between their thoughts and me. They can’t touch me. I am a lot more moved by love scenes in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall than I am reading Octave’s outbursts of joy, tears or sentiments. It sounds fake to me and in life, too much intimate details in confidences make me ill at ease. In addition, too many elements about an event or a state of mind don’t leave enough room for my imagination. And my imagination needs room when I read.

I can’t say I didn’t like The Confession of a Child of the Century, because there were really interesting chapters but I couldn’t sympathize with Octave. His relationship with Brigitte is of a toxic kind. It is spoiled by his uncontrolable and poisonous jalousy and I have little patience with that kind of tortuous passion. 

To conclude, I didn’t enjoy myself reading it but I guess that Goethe and Byron’s fans will like it better than me.

And now I want to read crime fiction to have fun.

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