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.
 

Percy Shelley and the Not-So Dead Margaret Nicholson

“Soft, my dearest angel, stay
Oh! You suck my soul away:
Suck on, suck on, I glow, I glow!
Tides of maddening passion roll,
And streams of rapture drown my soul.
Now give me one more billing kiss,
Let your lips now repeat the bliss,
Endless kisses steal my breath,
No life can equal such a death.”

-Percy Shelley

Well, I do believe the meaning of that poem is quite clear! 😉

This piece appears in The Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, a collection of poetry written by Percy Shelley and Jefferson Hogg, and published in 1810.

As a lighthearted hoax, the two men pretended the book had actually been written by Margaret Nicholson, herself, and discovered after her death.

In truth, the former maid to nobility was still quite alive, residing in Bethlem Hospital after attempting to assassinate King George III with a dessert knife.

Ms. Nicholson insisted she was a virgin, and the mother of Lords Mansfield and Loughborough who both happened to be older than herself.

The failed murder attempt caught the attention of the young Shelley who was beginning to espouse his antiwar and antimonarchical views.

“Monarchs of earth ! thine is the baleful deed.
Thine are the crimes for which thy subjects bleed.
Ah ! when will come the sacred fated time,
When man unsullied by his leaders’ crime.
Despising wealth, ambition, pomp, and pride,
Will stretch him fearless by his foemen’s side ?
Ah! when Avill come the time, when o’er the plain
No more shall death and desolation reign ?
When will the sun smile on the bloodless field,
And the stern warrior’s arm the sickle wield ?
Not whilst some King, in cold ambition’s dreams,
Plans for the field of death his plodding schemes ;
Not whilst for private pique the public fall,
And one frail mortal’s mandate governs all.”

The first printing of the book was only 250 copies. While it did sell out, it was not reprinted until 1877.

Percy Shelley drowned on July 8, 1822

Victorians and Their Not So Subtle Bustle

One of the things I enjoy doing is dispelling the myth that the Victorians were prudes. Oh, they might try to fool you with their dress rules (an ankle is showing! horrors!), but even there they often failed.

Let’s face it. The bustle was created for one reason, and one reason only.


Henrik Ibsen and the Real Lady of the Dollhouse

from A Doll’s House (original title: Et dukkehjem) by Henrik Ibsen:

“Nora [shaking her head]. You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.

Helmer. Nora, what do I hear you saying?

Nora. It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you–

Helmer. What sort of an expression is that to use about our marriage?

Nora [undisturbed]. I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which–I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman–just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.

Helmer. How unreasonable and how ungrateful you are, Nora! Have you not been happy here?

Nora. No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so.

Helmer. Not–not happy!

Nora. No, only merry. And you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.

Nora. I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are–or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.” Nora.

When Nora walked out of her house at the conclusion of Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House it caused an uproar at its premiere at the Royal Theatre in Denmark. Depression due to the inequalites in marriage had long been a subject in literature, but the problem (except in rare cases such as Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall) had been “solved” by plunges off cliffs or glasses of arsonic.

One of the many things that stands out is that Ibsen has the guts to make Nora unsympathetic at times. This is most evident when she talks endlessly about herself to her friends, Mrs. Linde and Doctor Rank. (the former, a widow looking for employment at the bank. the latter, dying). It would have been all too easy to make Nora simply a poor, put-upon woman. Controversy remains to this day regarding the fact that she abandons her role as a mother. But as Nora makes clear, she is hardly suitable for that role, being nothing more than a child, or doll, herself.

It is this self-realization that sets Nora apart from the Madam Bovaries. She can acknowledge her flaws and she sees a way to solve them. Perhaps her solution is not ideal, but she is taking active measures. If she is given this chance to be by herself for the very first time in her life, then perhaps one day she can return home, “changed”. And if in the interim, her husband is able/willing to do the same, then perhaps, “the most wonderful thing of all could happen.”

Henrik Ibsen first saw his Nora coming to him in a blue woolen dress. He wrote on October 17, 1878 that, “A woman cannot be herself in modern society since it is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.”

It should be noted here that later on Ibsen declined an award from the Norwegian Women’s Rights League, claiming he had not consciously written the play thinking about women’s rights, but about all humanity.

Yet, the question remained, who was this woman who came to him in a blue woolen dress?

Laura Kieler was a friend of Ibsen’s. Their relationship had begun in 1870 when she’d sent him a novel she’d written entitled, Brand’s Daughters. Stricken, Ibsen nicknamed her, “lark”, as Helmer would later affectionately call Nora in the play.

In 1876, after discovering that Laura had secretly taken out a loan, her husband demanded a separation and had her committed to an asylum. Shaken by his friend’s ordeal and feeling powerless to help- Ibsen poured his frustrastions onto paper. His woman could and would, choose life and freedom.

Laura was released after a month and returned to her husband. She resumed her writing career and tried (unsuccessfully) to distance herself from being associated as the model for Ibsen’s, “Doll”.

The fate of Nora resides in readers’ imaginations.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm  Comments (22)  
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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.”

Berlin Zoo- 19th Century and Now

On August 1, 1844 the first zoo opened in Germany. Named the Zoologischer Garten, it was funded by the King of Prussia who donated 850 animals from his own menagerie.

The idea to create a public zoo had been the idea of Alexander von Humboldt and Heinrich Lichtenstein, a zoologist. Peter Lenne was hired to design the park which allows open habitat for many of the animals to roam without bars.

Located in Berlin, it is now one of the most frequented zoos in the world, renowned not only for hosting approximately 17,000 animals (1500 different species) , but for the lush greenery.

*all photos are personal property from my last visit*

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm  Comments (21)  
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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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Muses and Writing

(Thalia by Jean-marc Nattier)

(Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
“I pray to Mnamosyna (Memory), the fair-robed child of Ouranos (Heaven), and to her daughters [the Mousai].

Sappho, Fragment 103 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C6th B.C.) :
“Hither, holy Kharites (Graces) and Pierides Moisai [come inspire a song].”

The nine Muses of Greek mythology: Calliope of epic poetry, Clio of history, Erato of lyric poetry, Euterpe of music, Melpomene of tragedy, Polyhymnia of sacred poetry, Terpsichore of dance and song, Thalia of comedy, and Urania of Astronomy. They granted boons to the poets and artists of the ancient world.

Dante, cried out in The Inferno:
O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!

Long after wide- belief in them had died out, some artists still sang their glories.

From Wiki: “Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a “Cult of the Muses” in the 18th century. A famous Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Les Neuf Soeurs (“nine sisters”, that is, the nine Muses), and it was attended by Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, and other influential Enlightenment figures. One side-effect of this movement was the use of the word “museum” (originally, “cult place of the Muses”) to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.”

Flash forward to the 19th century when Emily Bronte depicted her muse like a lover:

“What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
Who loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

Burn then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear-
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air;
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.”

In today’s world, many scoff at the idea of muses. Perhaps this stems from the many would-be writers who bemoan not being able to write due to not feeling “inspired”. And they wait and they wait and they wait.

Confession time: I have a muse. But here’s the things. She isn’t a sweet, angelic thing who waves a magic wand over my head. No, she watches over me as I regularly type away. Sometimes the words and ideas come easily. More often, the words are crappy, and silent cursing is going on in my head as I try to figure out another plot snafu.

But then, sometimes when I’m still struggling at the netbook, but more often, when I am drifting to sleep, she comes to me and whispers the answer.

The Muse award those who work diligently.

Published in: on May 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm  Comments (19)  
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The German Shakespeare Part One

 “Sein oder nicht sein.  Das ist hier die Frage.”- from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  Founded 1864 in Weimar, Germany,  die Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, is the oldest Shakespearean society in the world.

Shakespeare invaded Germany in the 1700s when English actors traveled across the Channel to perform his works.  According to the  website about.com, to this day, Shakespearean plays are showcased, and attended,  more in Germany than in Great Britian.  Neuss, Germany even boasts a replica of the Globe Theatre.

And so how does the Bard compare in the two languages?

From MacBeth:

First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch

Where the place?

Second Witch

Upon the heath.

Third Witch

There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch

I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch

Paddock calls.

Third Witch

Anon.

ALL

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

 

First Witch 1. Hexe.
Wenn kommen wir drey uns wieder entgegen,
In Donner, Blizen oder Regen?

2. Hexe.
Wenn das Mordgetuemmel schweigt,
Und der Sieg den Aufruhr beugt

When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and Won.}

3. Hexe.
Also, eh der Tag sich neigt.

1. Hexe.
Nennt den Ort!

2. Hexe.
Die Heide dort.

3. Hexe.
Dort gehn wir Macbeths wegen hin.

1. Hexe.
Ich komm, ich komme, Grimalkin–

2. Hexe.
Padok ruft–wir kommen schon.

Alle.
Auf, und durch die Nebel-Luft davon!

and this siloquey from Lady Macbeth: 

O, never  
  Shall sun that morrow see!  
  Your face, my thane, is as a book where men  
  May read strange matters. To beguile the time,  
  Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,  
  Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,  
  But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming  75
  Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch;
 
  Which shall to all our nights and days to come  
  Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.

 

O nimmer soll die Sonne diesen Morgen sehn!  Euer Gesicht, mein
Than, ist wie ein Buch, worinn man gefaehrliche Dinge lesen koennte.
Heisst euer Gesicht aussehen, wie es die Zeit erfordert; traget
freundlichen Willkomm in euern Augen, auf eurer Zunge, in eurer
Hand; seht wie die unschuldige Blume, aber seyd die Schlange unter
ihr.  Geht, und sorget fuer die Aufnahme dessen der kommen soll, und
ueberlasset meiner Sorge das grosse Geschaefte dieser Nacht, welches
allen unsern kuenftigen Tagen und Naechten die ungetheilte und
unumschraenkte Herrschaft geben soll.

 Lady MacBeth by John Singer Sargent

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (13)  
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Happy Birthday to the most Famous Unknown Songstress

Dr. Patty Smith Hill  (1868-1946)

Many probably don’t recognize the name.

But it would be difficult to find someone who did not know a certain song she wrote.

Yes, today is the birthday of the woman who co-wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous songs in the English language.

Happy Birthday to You.

The four-line piece was writtten by Patty and her sister, Mildred J. Hill.    Both worked in Louisville, Kentucky  as teachers.  

In 1893, they wrote the piece (originally titled:  Good Morning to All) as a greeting for Patty’s kindergarten class.  Following its popularity, they published the work in their Song Stories for the Kindergarten.

The young pupils enjoyed the ditty so much they began singing it at parties, and the lyrics were changed to, “Happy Birthday”.

In 1996, a Forbes article stated the song brought in roughly two million dollars annually in revenue.

And for the record, I’ve heard more than once, different neighbors around me belting out the tune in their thick, German accents.  Now that’s a  aural delight not to miss!  😉