Le Calvaire is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel, which recounts the tortured and traumatic coming of age of the narrator Jean Mintie. It paints a nightmarish picture of late nineteenth century French society: from the stultifying boredom of bourgeois provincialism, to the horrors of the Franco-Prussian war, the grotesque avarice of shameless women and the moral bankrLe Calvaire is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel, which recounts the tortured and traumatic coming of age of the narrator Jean Mintie. It paints a nightmarish picture of late nineteenth century French society: from the stultifying boredom of bourgeois provincialism, to the horrors of the Franco-Prussian war, the grotesque avarice of shameless women and the moral bankruptcy of their compliant victims. Mintie's progress through life is a descent into Hell, a plumbing of the lower depths, the martyrdom of a godless man in a godless age. The publication of Le Calvaire in 1886 marked a brilliant beginning for the Angry Young Man of the Age, who went on to flay the Establishment in Torture Garden and The Diary of a Chambermaid....
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https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48773TRANSLATED BY LOUIS RICH (From the original French "Le Calvaire")Produced by Dagny, Laura Natal and Marc D'Hooghe at http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made available by the Internet Archive.) Illustration de Georges Jeanniot, 1902Description: Le Calvaire is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel, which recounts the tortured and traumatic coming of age of the narrator Jean Mintie. It paints a nightmarish picture of late nineteenth century French society: from the stultifying boredom of bourgeois provincialism, to the horrors of the Franco-Prussian war, the grotesque avarice of shameless women and the moral bankruptcy of their compliant victims. Mintie's progress through life is a descent into Hell, a plumbing of the lower depths, the martyrdom of a godless man in a godless age. The publication of Le Calvaire in 1886 marked a brilliant beginning for the Angry Young Man of the Age, who went on to flay the Establishment in Torture Garden and The Diary of a Chambermaid.Opening: I was born one evening in October at Saint-Michel-les-Hêtres, a small town in the department of Orne, and I was immediately christened by the name of Jean-François-Marie-Mintié. To celebrate in a fitting manner my coming into this world, my godfather, who was my uncle, distributed a lot of dainties, threw many coppers and other small coins to a crowd of country boys gathered on the church steps. One of them, while struggling with his comrades, fell so awkwardly on the sharp edge of a stone that he broke his neck and died the following day. As for my uncle, when he returned home he contracted typhoid fever and passed away a few weeks later. My governess, old Marie, often related these incidents to me with pride and admiration.He was an excellent man, very honest and very gentle,—with a mania for killing. He could not see a bird, a cat, an insect—anything at all that was alive—without being seized with a strange desire to kill it. He waged a relentless trapper's war on blackbirds, goldfinches, chaffinches and bullfinches.Oh dear! And it is not just the animals that are pointlessly wasted...He himself pointed out the most stalwart among the trees, those which grew up straight and spread out like the columns of a temple. It was an orgy of destruction, criminal and foolish; a shout of brutal joy went up every time a tree fell on top of another with a great noise. The old trees became less dense, one could say they were mowed down by some gigantic and supernatural scythe. Two men were killed by the fall of an oak tree.And the few trees which remained standing, austere in the midst of ruined trunks lying on the ground, and the twisted branches which rose up towards them like arms outstretched in supplication, were showing open wounds, deep and red gashes from which the sap was oozing, weeping as it were.Mirbeau/Mintie then decides to question the cruelty and degradation...What was this country, in whose name so many crimes were being committed, which had torn us—formerly so full of love—from the motherly bosom of nature, which had thrown us, now so full of hatred, famished and naked, upon this cruel land?... What was this country, personified to us by this rabid and pillaging general who gave vent to his madness on old people and trees, and by this surgeon who kicked the sick with his feet and maltreated poor old mothers bereaved of their sons?... What was this country every step on whose soil was marked by a grave, which had but to look at the tranquil waters of its streams to change them into blood, which was always frittering away its man power, digging here and there deep charnel vaults where the best children of men were rotting?... And I was astounded, when for the first time it dawned upon me that only those were the most glorious, the most acclaimed heroes of mankind who had pillaged the most, killed the most, burned the most.From this point onwards, now the setting is described and the backdrops are in place, the story veers to tell of an obsessional love for Juliette. Jean Mintie, our narrator, is led a fine (and expensive) dance by this woman: I realized that she loved me less than the last piece of cloth, that she would have sacrificed me for a cloak or a cravat or a pair of gloves. It is always painful to watch a mismatched pair, whether on the page or in real life.Twice I thought about abandoning this, yet ultimately, was pleased to have seen this through to the end. 2.5*□ □ □ □ □ □ □From wiki: The Decadent movement was a late 19th-century artistic and literary movement of Western Europe. It flourished in France, but also had devotees in England and throughout Europe, as well as in the United States.3* The Diary of a Chambermaid 2.5* Empire of the Senses
An interesting study of obsession. I liked it much better than The Torture Garden, the only other book of his I've read.
The English version can be found at Project GutenbergFree download in French available at Project Gutenberg.Dagny made the R1 proofreading of this book for Free Literature, and I did the R2 round.The original file was provided by Internet Archive.The author show how his main characters are so decadent and self-destructive. But I really hated all parts where animals were savagely and brutal murdered. For this reason, I only gave 2 stars for this book.
This story recounts a young man’s descent into ruin in late nineteenth century Paris, just the kind of tale to warm the cockles of my heart. How could I resist? Yet it wasn’t the straightforward narrative that got me, but rather the exacting prose. Two or three examples highlight the Victorian register of this chronicle of doom:Now, day by day, and as it were hour by hour, the bright horizons I had been reaching out to were closing in, and darkness was falling, a dense darkness that was not only visible but also palpable …The gate of hell closed behind him, and for a moment my eyes penetrated the abyss. I thought I saw red flames, smoke, dreadful couplings, the flounderings of frightfully entangled human bodies …… those compact vehicles kept passing, following closely on each other in endless lines, taking predatory whores to wreak nocturnal havoc. Why, the rotting pages of this lurid tale veritably crumbled in my hands!Time lets later generations partake in the moral horror of sexual degeneracy without actually being taken in by it, so my detachment allowed me to feast on the prose without being scared out of my wits. In fact, the studied moral sentiment combines with the fine, tight prose to double one's enjoyment. Reading Le Calvaire is a feast if you like the examples, because every page of the book maintains this same solid style, one in which you can tell Mirbeau thought about every word and phrase he used to move the story along. If you like the gothic ambiance and an aura of decadence, this book is for you.
review of Octave Mirbeau's Le Calvaire by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 3, 2015 I 1st remember encountering the work of Mirbeau in translation in a collection entitled Bizarre edited by Barry Humphries wch I read in October, 1975. In the brief introduction to the excerpt from Mirbeau's "The Torture Garden" in that bk it's stated that "During the earlier part of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, Mirbeau defended him in the French Press." (Bizarre, p 71) Anyone who supported Wilde at the time of his imprisonment for homosexuality earns my respect. I highly recommend Fredrik Rzewski's musical setting of Wilde's "De Profundis". I later learned that Mirbeau was an anarchist. Ever since, I've been wanting to read something by him. I at least saw Buñuel's movie version of Mirbeau's Diary of a Chambermaid. Now, 40 yrs after I 1st encountered Mirbeau's work, I finally read a novel by him: Calvary, a reference to the hill in Jerusalem where the mythical Jesus is sd to've been crucified. The title seems to be a metaphor for the trials & tribulations of the main character, Jean Mintié. According to the bk's back cover: "Le Calvaire is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel". If that's so, Mirbeau only partially won my sympathy. One of the 1st things that caught my attn about this bk is that the translator, Christine Donougher, also translated Jan Potocki's Tales from the Saragossa Manuscript wch was made into a film in 1965 by Wojciech Has (w/ music by Krzysztof Penderecki) wch I was fortunate enuf to witness at a recent 3 Rivers Film Festival. The 2nd thing that caught my attn is that the publisher also publishes at least 2 bks by Rachilde, whose work I still haven't read, who was a close friend of one of my favorite writers, Alfred Jarry. The 3rd thing was an uncredited preface that puts Mirbeau's work in a cultural context: "Like his colleagues, contemporaries and friends Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin and Auguste Rodin, Mirbeau's novel is imbued with the ideals of Baudelaire, the pessimism of Schopenhauer and the pragmatism of Darwin. "Published in 1886 in serial form, Le Calvaire bears the mark of Mirbeau's recent seduction by the anarchist tracts of Peter Kropotkin (Paroles d'un révolté) and Leo Tolstoy (Ma religion). "What makes Le Calvaire stand out first of all is its vigorous stance against war." [..] "[']I wanted to learn the human rationale for religions that stupefy, governments that oppress, societies that kill.' "Mirbeau is clearly drawing on his own experiences as an officer during the Franco-Prussian war and when the novel was first serialized the passages on the war were edited out: they were deemed too unpatriotic." - p 9 Anyone who's censored is likely to be someone whose work I want to read. These days, the insidious & ignorant school board idiots making such decisions in Tucson, Arizona have banned bks by bell hooks, Isabelle Allende, Thoreau, Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, Shakespeare & others. If those names mean nothing to you I suggest that you shd broaden yr education. "Speaking of his own education by Jesuits in Vannes, he" [Mirbeau] "referred to them as éducastrateurs and pilloried their 'sacerdotal pomposity'". (p 10) If a May 18, 2012 article in The Guardian by Patricia Williams is to believed (& if this isn't outdated by now), 2 such modern day edu-castraters wd be Michael Hicks (Tucson school board member) & Naomi Schaefer Riley (Chronicle of Higher Education blogger). According to the preface's chronology: "1885 Conversion to anarchism. Stopped wiring for monarchist newspaper Le Gaulois and started writing for radical paper La France". (p 12) That kindof funny given that Le Gaulois just means "The Gauls" or "Gallic" wch refers to: "Gaul (Latin: Gallia) was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaul ) making the monarchist paper more internationalist, in a sense, than the more obviously nationalist "France". The novel starts off immediately w/ some cynical irony: "In due celebration of this entry into the world my godfather, who was a uncle of mine, handed out sweets aplenty and threw lots of small coins to the local urchins gathered on the church steps. Fighting over them with his companions, one child fell so badly on the edge of a step that he fractured his skull and died the next day. As for my uncle, he went down with typhoid on his return home and passed away a few weeks later. My nurse, old Marie, often recounted these events to me with pride and admiration." (p 13) Jean's father represents a similarly ironic benevolent/maleficent influence: "He was a very kind man, extremely courteous and mild, with a mania for killing. He could not lay eyes on a bird, cat, insect or any living thing whatsoever, without being at once being seized with the strange desire to destroy it." (p 15) I'm reminded of a story from my own life: my mom & stepdad, usually a very nice man, saw a feral cat going thru their backyard. They went to great lengths to befriend the cat, who was understandably wary of humans, by building a shelter for it & feeding it. Then, when they finally had its trust, they caught it & had it killed. They explained to me that this was merciful of them b/c 'the cat was better off dead than wild'. That explains alot about my own personal upbringing. Mirbeau gives us a taste of Paris in the 19th century: "One day I saw a man killing another: he was admired and his name was at once on everyone's lips. The next day I saw a woman lifting her skirts in an obscene gesture: the crowd followed her in procession." (p 38) "And the insistent cry of newsvendors is to be heard constantly, as they pass to and fro, throwing out in the midst of their racy patter a famous woman's name, news of a scandal, while some grimy, sly street-urchins slip between the tables like cats, offering obscene photographs, which they half reveal to whip up dormant desires, to rekindle slaked curiousity. And little girls whose precocious vice had already blighted their thin, childish faces, come up to you with flowers, smiling an ambiguous smile, making eyes with the knowingness and ghastly lewdness of old whores." - p 138 Some might find the above despairingly corrupt, others might find it titillatingly decadent. I find it a prime example of arrested development: examples of how children facing the hardships of adults develop some characteristics too soon at the expense of other characteristics quite probably never to be developed. Gossip, of course, in such a society, runs rampant, regardless of whether it serves any beneficial purpose: "One day, having completely run out of money, and being cut off by his family, he had the ingenious idea of pretending to repent, made a great show of leaving an old mistress, and went back home. A young girl, a former childhood companion, adored him. She was rich. He married her. But on the night of his wedding he ran off with the dowry and returned to his old mistress." - p 141 Some of the strongest passages of Le Calvaire for me, despite their somewhat peripheral relationship to the main plot, were the Franco-Prussian War ones: "I shook his hand, and he said that at the first engagement he sincerely hoped to be taken prisoner by the Prussians . . . Then the train moved off and disappeared into the darkness, taking all those gaunt faces and already defeated bodies to who knows what pointless and bloody carnage?" (p 44) Jean eventually has his anti-war epiphany: "I realised that the world was governed by the rule of strife; an inexorable, homicidal law that was not content with arming nations against one another, but caused strife between children born of the same race, the same family, the same womb. I found none of the sublime abstractions of honour, justice, charity and patriotism that so larded the classical texts on which we are raised, that serve to beguile and hypnotise us — the better to delude the good and the young, the better to subdue and slaughter them. So what was this patriotism in whose name so many acts of madness and so many heinous crimes were committed, that had torn us, replete with love, from motherly nature, to cast us, filled with hatred, starving and naked, into this hostile world? What was this patriotism. embodied for us by that stupid, marauding general who persecuted old men and old trees, and by that surgeon who kicked the sick and bullied poor old mothers grieving for their sons?" (p 61) Nonetheless, Jean isn't exactly consistent: "I thought of a playwright, however celebrated, as one who had gone astray; he was to the poet what the unfrocked is to the priest, the deserter to the soldier." (p 98) That's definitely an odd thing to say for someone who's anti-war from an author who supported Oscar Wilde. Jean is an author, making the afore-mentioned "thinly veiled autobiographical" nature of Le Calvaire even more obvious: "'You're not by any chance suggesting that you've read his book?' "'I beg your pardon, Monsieur Lirat . . . I have read it . . . It's very good.' "'Yes; like my studio and my painting, you mean?' "'Oh no, not at all!'" - p 73 This is from when Jean 1st meets the woman, Juliette, central to his downfall. What's strange about this, in the light of later developments, is the thought that the woman wd ever take time out from shopping, preening, manipulating, & fucking to actually read a bk. Jean's friend & mentor, Lirat, is an impoverished philosopher/painter who purports to detest women: "[']The mother! Ah, yes, the mother! The mother-goddess, is she not? It's she who creates this race of sick and exhausted creatures that we are, who smothers the main in the child, and casts us, without tooth or nail, brutish and tamed, on to the mistress' divan and the wife's bed . . . "Livat paused for a moment; he was choking. Then bringing his hands together in the air and locking his clenched fingers round an imaginary neck, frantically, appallingly, he shouted, 'That's what we should do to every single one of them, every single one . . . do you understand? Eh? Tell me! Every single one of them!'" - p 77 Jean becomes obsessed w/ Juliette, he perceives her in an idealized way: "Even her manner of walking, greeting, smiling, and sitting spoke of a good upbringing, a quiet and happy life, free of any nasty impatience, unsullied by remorse. Her hat, coat, dress — all of her attire was of a quiet subtle elegance calculated to make one man happy, to bring joy to a house firmly locked and barred against those in pursuit of unchaste quarry . . . And those eyes, so filled with sanctioned tenderness, shining with such candour and ingenuousness, seemingly ignorant of deceit — those eyes, lovelier than moon-reflecting lakes!" (p 93) But why wd he think that it's all "calculated to make one man happy" instead of calculated to make many men do her bidding? & where did he think the money came from to pay for attire "of a quiet subtle elegance"? It doesn't take long before he's addicted: "At one point I thought I had seen her in the back of a brougham travelling in the opposite direction to that of my cab. "'Turn round, turn round,' I shouted to the cabman, 'and follow that broughham.' "It did not occur to me that this was very inconsiderate behaviour towards a woman I happened to have been introduced to the day before, and whose name I desperately wanted to clear. "Half hanging out of the door over the lowered window, I did not lose sight of the vehicle. And I said to myself, 'She may have recognized me . . . she may stop, climb out, make an appearance.' Yes, I said this to myself without crediting myself with the slightest thought of making a libertines conquest." - p 96 Alas, for better or for worse, Jean's infatuation finds cognitive dissonance w/ direct experience: "Instead of this poetic vision, I found a ghastly dog that barked at my legs, and a woman just like any other, with no brain, no ideas, solely engaged in pleasure" (p 106) It wd've been interesting if Jean cd've ever pried commentary on his bk out of Juliette. It appears that he having 'read' it was merely part of her bait, an allure based on her solid intuition of Jean's desperate need, his egoism. Nonetheless, Jean is addicted &, despite his moral image of himself, he gets Juliette to give her current paramour the dainty boot so Jean can more easily fill the smoking gap: "I did not hesitate to insist on Malterre's departure, and to assume responsibility for Juliette. Malterre wrote despairing letters, begged and thereatened; finally he left. Later, Jesselin, with his native good taste and wit, told us that a very broken-hearted Malterre was travelling in Italy. / "'I accompanied him to Marseilles,' he told us. 'He wanted to kill himself, he was always in tears" (p 114) It's easy to be so uncaring about someone else's suffering as long as the shoe's on the other foot. Jean's feet were soon to be harshly pinched. It's hard for me to relate to "thinly veiled autobiograph"y, even by an anarchist author, when the protagonist has servants & doesn't have to work for a living: "Our news staff consisted of a cook — a filthy, grasping and bad-tempered old woman whose talents did not extend beyond tapioca, veal stew and salad; a chambermaid — Celestine, a brazen and vicious girl who had respect only for people who spent a lot of money; and finally a housekeeper, Mère Sochard, who was continually taking snuff and got terribly drunk, in order, she said, to forget her sorrows — a husband who beat her and took advantage of her, and a daughter who had gone to the bad." (p 126) It's easy to be on a high horse about other people's low morals when the horse is pd for by someone else & all one has to do is ride it to one's content while everyone else has to try to not get trampled underneath. Once Jean is supporting Juliette in high style he 'has her' but only on her own terms & only as long as she needs to tolerate him before finding an even richer benefactor. In the meantime, he tries to oppress her into conforming to his ridiculous 'ideal': "'What about Gabrielle Bernier? Is she also a member of the Geographic Society?' "Juliette never lost her temper. Only, when she was angry, her eyes suddenly became harder, the crease in her forehead became more pronounced, her voice lost some of its sweet resonance. She simply replied, 'Gabrielle is my friend.' "'That's exactly what I have against her!' "There was a moment's silence. Juliette sat in an armchair, twisting the laces of her dressing gown, thinking. An ironic smile played about her lips. "'So, I'm not to see anyone? That's what you want, isn't it? Well, that's going to be fun! We never go out as it is! We live like real hermits!'" - pp 129-130 The price Jean pays for the pleasures of Juliette are steep: "Without knowing precisely how my finances stood, I felt close to ruin. I had paid out large sums of money, my debts were accumulating, and far from decreasing, Juliette's demands became ever more numerous and more extravagant. Gold ran through her fingers like water from a fountain, in a continuous stream." (p 142) I've always sd that one advantage of being poor is that no-one wants you for yr money (wch might just translate into no-one wants you period). "My father had left a few uncollected debts at St-Michel. Generous and kind-hearted, he liked to oblige small farmers in difficulty. I mercilessly set the bailiffs on these poor devils, forcing them to sell their hovels, their bit of land, their means of eking out a wretched existence, doing without everything." - pp 145-146 Jean continues to hopelessly lust for Juliette even after his idealized perception of her character has become severely disillusioned: "I'm going to kill her! She's lying in her room in the dark. I'm in the dressing room, pacing round and round, breathing heavily; my head's very hot and my fists are clenched, impatient for justice . . . I'm going to kill her! Every so often I stop at her door and listen. She's crying. And soon I'll go in . . . I'll go in and haul her out of bed, I'll drag her by the hair, I'll bloody her belly, I'll smash her skull against the marble corners of the fireplace . . . I want the room to be red with her blood. I want her body to be just a bundle of bruised flesh that I shall throw on the rubbish heap, which the dustcart will collect tomorrow . . . Go on, cry! In a moment you'll be screaming, my precious!" - p 156 A more sensible but less likely reaction considering the high emotionality of the situation wd've been to've taken everything he bought for her, to resell it, & to leave her to the next person she chooses to parasitize. While I have considerable sympathy for Jean's despair, I wish there were a novel written from Juliette's perspective to counterbalance Mirbeau's male narrator. Jean's self-criticism & self-pity is such that he considers himself "a person good for nothing, of no use to anyone, whose life is more of a torture to him than the condemned man's iron collar, the convict's chains" (p 174) & to wch I reply NOT!. I'm sure any condemned man w/ an iron collar or chains wd trade his dilemma for Jean's anyday!! At one point, Jean tries to get away. His new landlady tells him about her own woes: "[']Dead, what! All three of them, my husband and my two fine lads, dead, our Mintié . . . The keeper of Penmarc'h lighthouse had found them washed up on the rocks.' "I was not listening. I was thinking of Juliette; where is she? What is she doing? Those eternal questions! "Mère Le Gannec went on: 'I know nothing of your affairs, our Mintié, and I don't know what's making you unhappy! But you haven't lost your husband and your two sons all at once![']" - p 179 Exactly. &, obviously, Mirbeau understands this. Nonetheless, sex is a powerful addiction: "Not only is the image of Juliette prostituting herself no longer a torture to me, on the contrary it excites me. It is an image I seek out and hold on to, and try to fix indelibly in my mind: paired with objects, animals, and monstrous mythological beasts; driven, by me, to criminal debauchery, having been lashed into a frenzy by iron-hard rods." (p 193) Le Calvaire's naive idealistic vulnerability was sometimes an irritation but the honesty of the protagonist's self-revelation is ultimately worthy of my respect.
Mirbeau is the cruellest of Decadent authors. I tremble to read The Torture Garden.
Jude Fawley meets Daniel Prince meets Jean des Esseintes.
This was an interesting read.. I really liked The Torture Garden, it's one of my favorite books so I was interested in reading something else from Mirbeau.. The opening chapter is a really seductive beginning, and I do love the way this book started unfolding itself. Despite the sudden mood swings that occurred somewhere around half reading, and as I nearly finished the book a note of shallow reading consumed me, the fact that Le Calvaire is a largely autobiographical novel, kept my curiosity at a high level....
A five star first chapter. beyond that; a graveyard of words and clichés.