Droll Tales 6

The sixth tale in the first Decade of Honoré de Balzac’s scurrilous set is, in The Folio Society’s edition illustrated by

Mervyn Peake, entitled The Constable of France’s Wife.

In the author’s witty, humorous, robust prose packed with wordplay and innuendo, we have a story of seduction, deceit, and mistaken identity, which somewhat backfires on the perpetrators.

The High Constable’s Wife is the title translation given by the publishers of Gustave Doré’s earlier pictures;

and of those from Jean de Bosschère.

Further details of each of these publications is given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/

Droll Tales 5

The fifth tale in the first Decade of these stories by Honoré de Balzac is entitled variously as respectively accompanying each of the featured illustrators.

In profusely romping prose presented with humorous wit, similes and metaphors galore the author makes us privy to a right royal extended poo joke of a king known for his loose, licentious, living and propensity for practical pranks.

Mervyn Peake. The Diversions of King Louis XI.

Gustave Doré. The Merrie Jests of King Louis the Eleventh.

Jean de Bosschère. The Merrie Diversions of King Louis the Eleventh.

Further details of each of these publications is given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/

Droll Tales 4 Old Nick’s Heir

The fourth story in Balzac’s first Decade of his Droll Tales is a classic one of wit deciding which of three potential legatees would inherit a wealthy sum.

The clerical protagonist has earned his money in sinful ways disguised as innocent activities with plentiful double entendre and metaphor.

There is no illustration in The Folio Society Edition featured with the title as Old Nick’s Heir.

The Devil’s Heir is the title chosen by the publisher of

Doré’s pictures;

The Devil’s Lodging is the choice of the publisher of

those of Jean de Bosschère.

Further details of each of these publications is given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/

Droll Tales 3

The wind and the rain returned for the best part of the day which I spent on more reading of Balzac.

The third story of the second Decade of his Droll Tales, with the slightly varying titles shown beside the relevant name of the illustrators shown below, is a short tale of a marriage arranged for money; how the beautiful daughter turned it to her advantage; and the ultimate outcome. Further details of the publications are given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/

King’s Darling. Mervyn Peake;

The King’s Sweetheart. Gustave Doré;

The King’s Mistress. Jean de Bosschère.

This evening we dined on roast lamb; roast pork with crisp crackling; roast parsnips and potatoes, including softer sweet ones; firm broccoli and crunchy carrots, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Shiraz.

Droll Tales 2

Wild, wet, and windy weather persisted, producing dispiriting gloom throughout the day.

I therefore continued the sequence begun with https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/ wherein more details of the three publications featured here is given.

The second of the first Decade of stories is entitled “Venial Sin” by the Folio Society, and “The Venial Sin” by the other two. It deals with the nature of degrees of sin as believed by the Catholic Church, which was the dominant religion of the times. The determiner therefore becomes quite significant if we are considering the importance of a particular Venial Sin or the general nature of such an offence. Venial signifies a crime of a lesser nature and therefore not condemning the offender to the loss of divine grace and an eternity in Hell.

Fornication and adultery were definitely seen as Mortal Sins. Especially when they were themselves guilty the clergy in particular went to great lengths in apologetics to find a way of permitting such misdeeds as venial and therefore excusable after the service of a suitable penance. Not knowing what was happening, or occurring by accident were helpful vindications.

In 1968 The Dubliners dealt with the predicament in which this Balzac story’s young lady found herself. I couldn’t find an available video of that version of the 19th century ballad that Jackie remembers singing in the Girl Guides, although she professes not to have understood it at the time.

Balzac describes the genuine love between his protagonists and accompanying wishes each to please the other considering their differing needs with fluid prose and vivid descriptions of people, country, and location. A certain amount of subterfuge was inevitably employed. I will not go into the detail save to say that a debatable resolution is sought over a period of years.

This is Mervyn Peake’s of 1961

followed by Gustave Doré’s of 1874

and the more risqué offerings of Jean de Bosschère from 1926.

This evening we all dined on three prawn preparations – spicy, tempura, and breaded – on a bed of Jackie’s tasty egg fried rice topped by a thick omelette; with Becky’s tuna pasta salad. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden, our daughter drank Diet Pepsi, and I started another bottle of the Côtes du Rhône.

Droll Tales 1

Taking control of my computer screen from Thailand this morning, James Peacock worked on some of the problems that have arisen from my new site. He resolved some issues and made notes to work on about others. I celebrated with this post in which, for example, readers should be able to enlarge images.

The second of her books that Elizabeth gave me as part of her library culling was

This 1961 edition, bound in stout boards seemingly representing a clasp preserving the contents, carries an offer of free books for introductions.

The work is divided into three Decades, each of ten stories, which I will take separately, for reasons which will become apparent.

Since Balzac, in order to convey a marvellous picture of French life and manners in the sixteenth century, decided to write in the country’s ancient language, he has presented the translator wishing to render the stories into modern English. Imagine translating Shakespeare or even Chaucer into modern French.

I have chosen to return to my two other versions of these “Contes Drolatiques”, and present the work of other artists in company with Mervyn Peake’s quirky illustrations.

“She filled with Greek wine one of the goblets and offered it to her love”

The first story, given as “Beautiful Imperia” by Alec Brown, and as “The Fair Imperia” by each of the other translators, is a typically scurrilous tale involving competition from various members of the wayward religious hierarchy for access to the delights of a superior bawdy wench. The writer’s exuberant and unrestrained descriptive prose carries us along at a fair rate. As is my wont, I will not attempt to rival Balzac in spoiling detail.

My earliest version of the tales is dated 1874, just 37 years after first publication by Gosselin of Paris, and the first in English. At some point the volume has been skilfully rebound, but the pages are clear and undamaged.

The book is lavishly illustrated by the renowned Gustav Doré. When enlarged, these pages will give examples of the prose, although the translator is not credited.

According to the flyleaf my next version of the first Decade once belonged to Gwyneth Ressich of Manila. It is No. 2,335 of a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Alongside the title page and frontispiece above is the embossed design by the artist pictured on the front board.

The Belgian-born Jean de Bosschère (1878-1953) was heavily influenced by Aubrey Beardsley. His full page illustrations are protected by tipped-in tissue.

This evening we all dined on succulent roast lamb; crisp Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and parsnips; firm Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and carrots; and meaty gravy, with which I drank more of the Côtes du Rhône.

Une Vie

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Today I read the last few pages of

Maupassant is perhaps best known for his short stories. In his short life of 43 years these were quite prolific. This exquisite gem is his first novel.

I have to be even more careful than usual not to give away details of this life, which is the theme of the book, however, I will do my best aided by concentrating on the deliciously poetic prose. The straightforward fluid language is a pleasure to read, especially, as the work of a man, it is described most credibly from the perspective of a woman. He stints neither appropriately placed adjectives nor adverbs, and packs his evocation with similes and, to a lesser extent, metaphors. He has that skill of using weather conditions to reflect the emotional mood of his subject.

Maupassant has the ability to enter the mind of his main protagonist; to focus on her hopes, dreams, disappointments, fears, conflicts, and memories; and to engage our own feelings, both positive and negative, of varying strengths: we may become romantic or inspired to violence.

Not having read the original, I cannot judge the translation, but I feel certain that Katharine Vivian has produced a faithful rendition.

Mervyn Horder’s introduction sets the novel in the context of the author’s life and work, and of his time.

Hungarian/British artist Laszlo Acs’s well crafted lithographs are of splendid composition.

Although not stated, front and back boards are probably from his design.

The Sun Also Rises

On another wet and windy day I finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s first novel from 1926, originally published in UK as “Fiesta”, a title soon finalised as above, taken from “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” (Ecclesiastes), reflecting the author’s following the theme of the post-first World War generation, believed to have been lost.

We are abruptly introduced to the author spare, journalistic, style in the convincing dialogue of Book One, focussing on the main protagonists’ relationships.

As usual I won’t give away details, and could not match the many more scholarly reviews of this classic from a future Nobel prizewinner.

Certainly it is clear that the gang taking a trip across France and Spain to witness the fiesta and accompanying bull-fights, behaved as if in a drunken mire. Hemingway, it seems, believed that they were not lost.

We soon learn that he is capable of pared-down, unpoetic description of location, landscape, action, and emotions. He is well able to depict ambivalent characterisation.

The writing continues at a good pace as, eschewing adjectives, he varies his sentence lengths with no loss of fluidity.

Full enjoyment of this work probably requires an appreciation of people having badly and the now controversial sport of bullfighting.

My version is contained in The Essential Hemingway, published in 1964, which also carries a bus ticket, probably from the 1950s.

My penchant for leaving bookmarks in my reading material is described in https://derrickjknight.com/2012/06/05/bookmarks/

Crime & Punishment

On this Boxing Day of post-Christmas stupor I finished reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime & Punishment”.

Heron Books published good quality series of classic novels well printed on white paper from the 1960s to the 1980s. My copy of this novel is inscribed ex libris 1960 by me.

Introduced by ‘A Portrait of Dostoevsky’ by Gilbert Sigaux, the work is illustrated by Philippe Jullian (1919-1977), “a French illustrator, art historian, biographer, aesthete, novelist and dandy.” (Wikipedia)

This is definitely not a whodunnit – we learn quite quickly the detail of the crime, the nature and identity of its perpetrator. The punishment is the mental and psychological self-inflicted torment which is the theme of the guilty party, whose gradual deterioration is reflected in the living conditions of the residents of 19th century St Petersburg.

The dependent circumstances of women is another focus in what is also a story of loves, lies, manipulation, suicide, and resilience.

As usual I will avoid giving details of the tale, save to say that, despite the author’s typically depressing bent, his fluid prose is easy to follow; his complex characterisation evidence of knowledge of the mental processes; and his dialogue convincing. Strangely enough, the translator is not credited in this edition, but he or she must have aided the reader’s comprehension. I am sure many of my readers are familiar with the story, but I do not wish to spoil the mystery for anyone who isn’t.

Half the artist’s quirky illustrations have already been featured in https://derrickjknight.com/2022/12/18/the-first-dozen/

Here are the rest.

The First Dozen

Apparently our outside temperature was due to warm up today, but with continual steady rain pouring through the pewter colander overhead we haven’t investigated.

As I near completion of my reading of ‘Crime and Punishment’ I scanned the first dozen of French artist, Philippe Julian’s quirky, yet well executed, pen and wash illustrations. The rest will follow when I feature the book.

This is his portrait of the writer;

and these, the first 11 full page illustrations to the story.

I watched most of the ITV transmission of the Football World Cup Final between France and Argentina.

This evening we dined on fried eggs on toast with a side of tomatoes.