Marcel Schwob - Le Livre de Monelle

2024-05-09 @Literature

Hardly informed of the motives behind this heavily symbolist 1894 ouvre, the little I recall spoke of afflictions and hardships and disenchantment with female liaisons. And even that I could’ve misconstrued, but no matter. I could effectively identify sources of inspiration until the next resurrection or apocalypse, or at least the next Easter (or ramadan).

The stories of Le Livre de Monelle, whatever the autobiographical origin, in contrast to Le Roi au masque d'or (save for a small overlap) or Vies Imaginaires, emphasize young women and children, the follies of adulthood, amorous deceit, enchantment and disillusion, desolation, the caprice and the passion of female archetypes.

Three sections comprise this work:

Paroles de Monelle introduces the allegorical Monelle: the prophetess, the demi-déesse, the voice behind all the Monelles, a phantom born of the night, undergoing transformation, fading, resurrecting and so on, across vicious continuity.

None of this yet transpires. Monelle merely primes the still opaque and voiceless narrator for the eventuality. She then plunges into a lengthy heap of proverbs, the paroles of all manner of merit, ambiguity and humour: reminiscent of scripture in a way, though universally entertaining.

The spirit of it immediately reminded me of William Blake’s Book of Thelle, Proverbs of Hell, the auguries of … whatnot, all those visionary poems and precepts.

Les sœurs de Monelle

Though Monelle makes explicitly clear that all her sisters are her extension, that they are one and all, come the reality of it, I lost all but meager trace of Monelle. This second portion proceeds into the main bulk of independent stories loosely molded in the above mentioned attributes. Though at times I felt unclear on the moral framework, the spirit of Monelle, however abstract, hardly identifiable.

That said, who cares if the structural cohesion doesn’t entirely live up to the ambition? These stories entertain, employ an engaging allegorical framework of symbols, and sections read like poetry, though by no means easily: I struggled with this French as with most of Schwabs’s ouvre or the nineteenth century poets.

There’s reference to folklore and fable. Like Schwob’s other collections, or the Arabian Nights (whose influence pervades), or Baudelaire’s Fleurs, whose mannerisms share more in common with Monelle than I initially conceived, the elegant intermingles with the vulgar. (Unlike Baudelaire, the vulgar doesn’t generally yield to the deranged, not that I’d mind.)

We meet some rustic maid (la fille verte) born of the wood, ignorant of the ways of man; a country maiden arrived in the urban decay in search of her sailor lover; one in rapport with her very reflection; one obsessed with the obsequies of the Orient; one pursuing a dream prophecy; one in search of identity in the desert abyss.

Beautiful stories amount when we lastly arrive at the serenely surrealist climax titled simply Monelle. The narrator, having by now acquired a voice, mysteriously arrives (as Dante in the dark forest) at the kingdom of incessant rain, perpetual bleakness and some metaphysical lanterns unmanageable but by the hands of the never ageing children, the Peter Pans. The prophetess Monelle makes entries and departures throughout the indefinite timeline, imparting further hypnotic doctrine in course.

Conformance vs rebellion, work vs leisure, adulthood vs the infanthood, the color spectrum, these comprise just some of the dichotomies. Schwob adorns those colors, surveyed in abundance all throughout and not merely this collection.

Other singular developments follow whose obscure nature I’ll refrain from relating, nor judge myself adequately equipped for the role. The dream landscape distinctly evoked the very sensations I recall from the more surreal H. Murakami translations read years back. But each reader will form distinct associations. I might as well quell my urges to cite Poe, Coleridge, Rimbaud or Gumilev.

There’s something for everyone .. Provided you enjoy the weird and the symbolic.

«Afin que tu sois le second narthécophore et que tu détruises par le feu ce qui a été créé par le feu et que le feu descendu du ciel remonte au ciel.»

Questions, comments? Connect.