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Posts Tagged ‘France’

Boule de Suif

August 5, 2014 | by

Boule_de_Suif 

Let’s talk about Guy de Maupassant, because he was born today in 1850 and because—why not? He’s Guy de Maupassant. As our own Lorin Stein wrote in 2010,

In a career that spanned barely a decade—the 1880s and early 1890s—Maupassant produced some 300 stories, 200 articles, three travel books, a collection of poems, three plays, and six novels, and the bulk of this production was consumed with the pursuit of illicit sex. His specialty was the conte leste, a kind of bawdy comic story we have very little of in English after Chaucer (think Boccaccio or The Arabian Nights). Maupassant modernized this tradition, testing the boundaries of what was permissible even in the Paris tabloids, where many of his stories first appeared. He was the best-selling writer of his generation.

Maupassant’s early story “Boule de Suif,” from 1880, remains a hallmark and a natural starting point. It’s about a prostitute whose refrain, like Bartleby’s, is that she would prefer not to—in this case, a Prussian officer asks repeatedly for the pleasure of her intimate company, and she invariably denies him. Unlike Bartleby, though, Boule de Suif must eventually give in, not by any defect of will but because of peer pressure.

This Prussian guy, you see, has detained her and several of her countrymen at a local inn. He’ll only allow the group to leave if Boule de Suif (or “Dumpling,” should that translation suit you, or “Butterball,” or most literally “Ball of Fat”) surrenders to his advances. And so her fellow travelers, all of whom disdain her for her occupation, find themselves begging her to succumb. Read More »

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The Many Poses of Marcel Marceau

July 9, 2014 | by

Mime’s brief spell in the mainstream.

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A 1974 publicity photo of Marcel Marceau.

At seven years old, before he becomes Marcel Marceau, Marcel Mangel goes to the cinema in Strasbourg with his his father, a butcher with a fine voice. The film is City Lights. A heavy curtain in the cinema pulls back as the lights go down. He sits next to his father, his shoes dangling, the seat and the velvety darkness huge around him.

Music. On the screen: a title, credits, grand municipal buildings, a crowd of people made of blacks, whites, and grays. They’re all still, waiting for something. Then comes a line of speech written in curled white letters, and a fat man gesticulating—these are the final days of the silent-film era. On the screen, a lady holding flowers pulls a ribbon to the sound of a trumpet fanfare, unveiling three giant stone figures. And there is Charlie Chaplin, horizontal, asleep across a giant stone lap. He stretches a leg upward, itches it, yawns. In the crowd, chaos. Chaplin sits up, grabs his cane, tips his bowler hat, tries to wriggle off the sculpture, and gets stuck. He fills the screen, the size of three Marcels.

When the butcher looks down, he sees Marcel’s eyes wide open in wonder, an expression the boy will mime often in years to come when he is the entertainment, being watched by rows of faces in theaters around the world. Read More »

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Hunting John Wilkes Booth’s Diary, and Other News

June 11, 2014 | by

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Booth ca. 1865. His diary may be in an abandoned tunnel in Brooklyn.

  • Knausgaard responds to his newfound celebrity
  • … and the French shrug at that celebrity. “Knausgaard gives us one striking example of what looks again like a very French phenomenon … The list of French books in the same vein of meticulous self-analysis is nearly infinite … Let’s hope that Knausgaard’s unexpected success will make them rethink their hasty judgment and consider the French production with fresh eyes.”
  • Is John Wilkes Booth’s diary in a forgotten Brooklyn subway tunnel?
  • The complex, semitragic history of Entertainment Weekly and ent-fo, i.e., “entertainment information”: “The plan was highly digestible reviews intended to keep the bourgeoisie in touch … They wanted to assist ‘the aging baby boomer who still wants to be plugged in,’ using a scale (A to F) that reflected the ‘universal experience’ of school grades. If you read EW, the logic went, you were saving yourself from your own bad decisions: The magazine’s pitch for subscribers even asked potential readers to weigh the $50-dollar yearly rate against ‘the cost of a bad evening’s entertainment.’”
  • Commentators in the nineteenth century argued that chess, being so addictive, would turn our nation’s youths into bloodthirsty maniacs: “The great interest taken in this warlike game—the importance attached to a victory—and the disgrace attending defeat, are exemplified in numerous instances … It is said, that the Devil, in order to make poor Job lose his patience, had only to engage him at a game at Chess.”

 

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Butlers for Everyone, and Other News

June 10, 2014 | by

GammelVane

A Danish cartoon from 1901.

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Acrobats and Mountebanks

May 9, 2014 | by

This week, Project Gutenberg made available Acrobats and Mountebanks, an 1890 book that explores the circuses, fairs, carnivals, and hippodromes of nineteenth-century France. Written by Hugues Le Roux and Jules Garnier, and translated from the French by A. P. Morton, the book features 233 illustrations of clowns, trainers, tamers, equestrians, equilibrists, acrobats, gymnasts, contortionists, fortune-tellers, dwarves, elephants, carousels, Ferris wheels, and all the trappings of classic mountebankery. It’s worth perusing for the drawings, a selection of which are presented above—but it’s also, after more than a century, still an astonishingly funny read, full of sharp observations and acerbic asides. Here, for instance, is a passage on dwarves:

No one should wonder at the fact that many people are more interested in the abnormal than in the beautiful. But this trait being once recognised, the dwarf is more wonderful than the giant; man is such a complicated machine, that in watching these microscopic creatures who gesticulate and speak like ourselves, we feel something of the same astonishment that would strike us if we found the seconds marked by a miniature watch which we could only see through a magnifying glass. For this reason the dwarf show is one of the most popular booths in the fair.

Every one knows that there are two kinds of dwarfs—those who are naturally dwarfs, and those who, as children, were at first of average size and growth, but whose development was abruptly checked. In their case the limbs which no longer grew, were yet capable of enlargement. As a rule the head is enormous. Monsieur François, from the Cirque Franconi—the partner of Billy Hayden the clown, the tiny circus rider—is a typical specimen of this class of dwarfs, who are called noués to distinguish them from the perfect miniature of humanity. They are physically deformed, but in all other respects they resemble other men. François, for instance, is very intelligent. I shall always remember our first interview two years ago in Erminia Chelli’s box at the Cirque d’Eté.

“How old are you, Monsieur François?”

“Twenty.”

“I am older than you are, M. François; yet, as you know, I am not celebrated.”

M. François shook his head … “You see not every one can be a dwarf.”

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The Allure of the Roller Rink, and Other News

April 18, 2014 | by

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Photo: GuillaumeG, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Marianne Moore’s strange, sad childhood: “Mary [her mother] established a pattern whereby Marianne, in family conversations and correspondence, was invariably referred to as a boy and identified only with male pronouns. Furthermore, Mary encouraged the siblings to regard each other as ‘lovers,’ and to think of her as their ‘lover,’ too.”
  • In the Paris of the eighteenth century, elite prostitutes were monitored by the fuzz—but why? “A final and enduring theory is that the reports were meant as bedtime reading for King Louis XV and his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, who had been the protector of the police lieutenant general most responsible for establishing the unit in the first place. According to this theory, the reports were meant to enliven the reputedly jaded, enervated royal sex life.”
  • Japanese astronauts took some cherry pits into space. Now, one of them has grown into a mighty cherry tree, perhaps with superpowers.
  • Adventure Time is a smash hit cartoon aimed primarily at kids age six to eleven. It’s also a deeply serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world.”
  • “I can’t articulate exactly what it was that turned the roller rink into fantasy-on-wheels for me … the feelings I sought only came from visits to those dingy rinks—their smell of ashtrays, sweat, and desolation. In retrospect, part of what I craved was the roller rink’s ability to detach me from the everyday. Because I frequented roller rinks as they were on their way ‘out,’ they seemed to exist apart from the regular world.”

 

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