Cazotte: The Fantastique Writer Who Saw Death

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) note: some sources put his birth at 1720

” A brief but sparkling bon-bon from the French writer Jacques Cazotte, who was guillotined in 1792. A young captain, stationed in Naples, is tempted into summoning up Beelzebub, who appears first in the guise of a hideous camel, then as a cute spaniel, and lastly – and most dangerously – as a gorgeous, pouting nymphette who declares herself enamoured of the young man and follows him everywhere. This is an amusing study of temptation, with sinister undertones.” Anne Billson in Time Out “In Biondetta there remains no trace of the monstrous apparition conjured up by Alvaro in the ruins of Portico. The satanic seductress is hidden behind the face of the tormented and plaintive beauty until the end of the fable.” Jorges Luis Borges “The Devil in Love is famous on various counts: for its charm and the perfection of its scenes, but above all for the originality of its conception. ” Gerard de Nerval- from the blurb for the Dedalus European Classics edition of The Devil in Love.
 
Written in 1772, (original French title: Le Diable Amoureux), The Devil in Love was Jacques Cazotte’s crowning achievement  of the fantastique which paralleled the English Gothics of the day.
 
Educated by Jesuits, Jacques worked for public office in Martinique, and returned to Paris with the rank of commissioner-general.   In his forties, he began his foray into writing.  Having little interest in the rationalism of the day, he penned a series of fantastical stories as well as translating several Arabian tales into French.
 
Cazotte’s belief in his ability as a seer led him to the Martinist mysticism of Martinez de Pasqually.  The esoteric form of Christianity concerned itself with the fall of man, and his return to the divine source.
 
Declaring himself a “mystical monarchist”, Cazotte warned several men and women at a dinner party in 1788 that they would all soon die by guillotine or noose.  To the theater critic Sebastian Chamfort,  he declared, “You will slash your own wrists 22 times before dying a long and miserable death.” 
 
When the French Revolution began, Chamfort supported it for humanistic reasons.  However, as it became more and more bloody, he condemned the murders and was imprisoned.  Wishing to escape a public execution, he slashed his wrists twenty-two times with a dull razor before dying.
 
Cazotte’s prediction to  The Marquis de Condorcet that he would one day take poison to escape the guillotine came true in 1794.
 
Jacques Cazotte could not escape his own fate, either.  On September 25, 1792 he was beheaded for treason.
 

French Gothic Novel or The Roman Noir

The term, “noir” instantly brings to mind the works of such authors as Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain, and Dorothy B. Hughes.  Many of their novels turned into the gritty, black and white films of the 1950s.  Tales of downtrodden men and women (victims and perpetrators alike) lost in the underbelly of society.

However, Roman Noir (black novel) was first coined by the French in the 18th century, and originally referred to the Gothic novels emerging from England at the time.

The English Gothic novel (born from Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto) were mysteries often set in ruined castles populated by lonely women, tyrannical Lords, and creepy servants.   Ancient curses, ominous visions, forbidden romance, and fears of the supernatural abound.

The Roman Noir became the parallel literary movement in France.  Notable authors included  Denis Diderot, Madame de Genlis,  Baculard d’Arnaud,  Stéphanie Ducrest de St-Albin,Gaston Leroux, Balzac, Vicomte d’Arlincourt,  Francois Ducray-Duminil,  Victor Hugo, and Maupassant.

During the nineteenth century,  in continuation of the Gothic or Roman Noir, a new emphasis on horror gave birth to the  le roman frenetique.  

-Lou Chaney as The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Ambrose Bierce and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.”

Thus begins Ambrose Bierce’s short story about a Southern civilian about to be hung by two soldiers of the Federal army. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge first appeared in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).

“He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children.”

“…now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by–it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.”

The man stares at the water and considers that if he were able to free his hands he might be able to jump into the creek and swim to shore.

What follows can be read in full here: http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html

Ambrose Bierce, himself, served in the Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. His experience during the Battle of Shiloh would haunt him for the rest of his life, and inspire several of his stories.

Noted for his economy of style, dark imagery, and fabulism, he despised the Realistic School. Upon the publication of Stephen Crane’s, Red Badge of Courage, he stated, “”I had thought there could be only two worse writers than Stephen Crane, namely, two Stephen Cranes.”

In 1913, the sardonic, disillusioned idealist took off for Mexico. On September 10th, he penned a letter to Samuel Loveman. This letter, posted from Chihuahua was the last time anyone saw or heard from Ambrose Bierce ever again.

In 1963, the French short film version of Owl Creek won the oscar. One year later it aired as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

quotes by Bierce:

“A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms agains himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”

“Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.”

“Doubt, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming hdenial; but if honest, and bent on thorough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth.”

“Dog – a kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship.”

“Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.”

The First Victorian Silent Horror Film

Christmas Eve. Paris. 1896.

The French filmmaker, Georges Melies, premiered, Le Manoir Du Diable ( The House of the Devil) The three-minute long film which depicts a demon conjuring up ghosts and witches is now considered to be the very first horror film ever made.

Previously having worked as a stage magician, Melies was an innovative director who invented the stop trick, a special effect in which an object is captured on film, then moved, so when the camera pans back, it appears that the object has vanished. Nicknamed the “cinemagician”, he also used time-lapses, multiple exposures, and dissolves to great affect.

There is nothing in the short piece to frighten anyone today, and even back then Melies said he had made the picture more to amuse the audience, than to frighten.

Nevertheless, step back into time, and watch it through the eyes of those who first viewed it over a hundred years ago at the Theatre Robert Houdin.

Published in: on May 29, 2011 at 10:24 am  Comments (15)  
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A Gypsy’s Plans for the New Year

First, Happy New Year to everyone!

I was just checking last year’s post:  https://gypsyscarlett.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/plans-for-a-victorian-in-the-new-year/, in which my goals were to read 12 German novels, keep up my daily writing, and find Sput a new hobby so she would stop regaling me nonstop about her city.

Let’s see how I fared.

I did indeed read 12 novels in German.

I wrote almost everyday, and in doing so revised PORTRAITS several times, and completed a few rough drafts.

And I did find Sput some new hobbies!   She’ll thank me one day. 

So, onto this year’s plans

1.  Rewrite, revise, edit, etc one of my rough drafts into a lovely, polished piece ready for submission

2.  Continue my German studies.  But while I’ll still be reading German, this year, I intend to concentrate on improving my listening skills.  (my weakest point, I fear).  So I shall intensely listen to German for at least one hour a day.  No eating, or writing, or knitting, or anything else but paying close heed to the sounds of Deutsch for that hour.  Let’s see if 365 hours of intense German listening has helped by the end of the year.

3.  Read at least one novel in French.  Yes,  the bug known as Francophilia has overtaken me.  Goodness, help me!

So, what shall you be working on this year?

– Ishtar’s Gate inside the Pergamon Museum

Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm  Comments (23)  
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