When Jean Lorrain (1855-1906) was recruited to the stable of writers assembled by Catulle Mendès to supply L'Écho de Paris with material on a weekly basis, in July 1890, he joined in readily with the experimental spirit of that enterprise, exploring various narrative strategies that could be employed in fitting work to slots that varied in length between 1,000 and 2,000 words. The contributions to the paper that he signed with his own name were soon outnumbered by the items that he signed "Raitif de la Bretonne," in honor of the prolifically innovative Nicolas-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), most of whose publications had appeared without the royal warrant necessary prior to the 1789 Revolution for works to be printed and sold legally.
Presented here, for the first time in English or any other language, are sixteen of the pieces Lorrain wrote under the "Raitif de la Bretonne," by-line, collected and translated by Brian Stableford, the contents of the present volume partaking in the same meticulously perverse point of view that were the author's unique literary hallmark, thus performing the valuable function of offering readers an eccentric sampling of the his heretofore "lost" work.
Monsieur de Bougrelon, which originally appeared in serial form in Le Journal between 20 January and 10 May 1897, is here presented in English in a wonderful and fully annotated translation by Brian Stableford. This literary masterpiece, the eponymous “hero” of which is an extraordinary invention, remarkably exotic even by the standards of an era in which the intersection of neo-Naturalist and Symbolist Movements had created an intense interested in abnormal psychologies, is, for all its calculated eccentricity a strangely poignant work. It is not surprising that Monsieur de Bougrelon continued to haunt the author long after he had completed its composition and, as literary revenants go, the character is one of those most likely to make a liminal but profound impression even in today’s world.
In addition to the title novella, the present volume includes nine delightful stories from Lorrain’s later period, which have never before appeared in English.
Fards and Poisons, originally published in 1903 and here made available for the first time in English in a translation by Brian Stableford, is one of the more eccentric works of the ever-eccentric Jean Lorrain. Defying the standard narrative expectations of short stories, the items in this volume might be seen as a series of gossipy character sketches, of actresses and mystics, gigolos and dowagers, of an entire rogues gallery of fin de siÈcle types, which help explain how the author gained a reputation for corrupting public morals by literary means. Resembling fragments excised from a kind of endless series of conversations, the result is a strange literary collage that is perhaps the most quintessential of Lorrain’s works: the slice of his life that pins his own literary persona most precisely, like a lepidopterist’s long pin.
Included in the current volume, and for the first time republished since its initial appearance in Le Journal, is also the short story “Victim”, for which Lorrain was disastrously sued, and convicted of, libel, the court imposing a massive punitive fine on the author and sentencing him to two months imprisonment, though the rulings were later overturned.
Errant Vice, here presented in English for the first time in a translation by Brian Stableford, is one of the key compositions of the Decadent Movement. A blackly comic novel starring Count Wladimir Noronsoff, the last of an accursed branch of a Russian aristocratic family, this is arguably the most outrageous of Jean Lorrain’s works, with a richness of perversity and a quasi-imperial craziness in which the CÔte d’Azur is an arena where echoes of Byzantium resound.
This is a novel of fascinating moral and artistic complexity which, with its horror and sadness, humor and tragedy, is the climax of the author’s career.
Jean Lorrain, one of the leading figures of the Decadent Movement, was a master of the conte cruel. Presented here, for the first time in English, are ten such tales: stories of princes and princesses; mock-fairytales that seem to pervert the innocence of their settings with a triumphant immorality, plunging the reader into an atmosphere of voluptuousness and sensuality.
“Whoever has not believed as a child,” wrote the author, “will not dream as a young man; it is necessary to think, on the threshold of life, of weaving beautiful tapestries of dreams in order to decorate our abode as winter approaches; and beautiful dreams, even when faded, make the sumptuous tapestries of December.”
No other writer of the fin-de-siÈcle period undertook a more elaborate exploration of perversities and abnormalities than Jean Lorrain, and no one else went as far afield in the search for discoveries of that curious kind than he did. Perhaps, given the variety of human behavior, it was not possible for him actually to invent perversities that no one actually practiced, or were even tempted to practice, but what is certain is that no one ever examined the anatomy of eroticism, including its wilder extremes, with a greater analytical fervor.
In this, the second collection of short stories by Jean Lorrain to be made available in English, exquisitely translated by Brian Stableford, psychological studies of amorous perversity are presented together with mock-folktales, giving further evidence of the amazing inventiveness and imagination of one of the key figures of the Decadent Movement.
None of Jean Lorrain’s biographers has contrived to discover exactly when or why he began taking ether, or how much of it he took before realising (too late) that it was an extremely bad idea. The drug certainly helped provide the feverish, nightmarish atmosphere of these wonderfully decadent and sophisticated tales, and many of the apparitions with which they are populated.
Brian Stableford’s superb translations represent the first appearance in English of Jean Lorrain’s ether-inspired ‘nightmares’, originally collected as Sensations et Souvenirs in 1895. The later tales also translated here for the first time are in the tradition of the contes cruel, and in them the influence of ether-drinking is still very much apparent.
In his authoritative Introduction Brian Stableford presents Lorrain as one of the select band of literary figures “whose life and art were bound together into the most seamless whole. He was the man who embodied, more intimately and more inescapably than any other, the absurdities, affectations, paradoxes and perversities of the Decadent style and the Decadent world-view.”
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