Bruges-la-Morte, Paperback
5 out of 5 (3 ratings)

Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 166 pages, black & white illustrations
  • Publisher: Dedalus Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9781903517826

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by
5
‘The faces of the dead, which are preserved in our memory for a while, gradually deteriorate there, fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse. Thus, within us, our dead die a second time.’Bruges-La-Morte is the cardinal work of Symbolist literature: a haunted, profoundly intimate novel that explores the sacred obligations of grief, sorrow, and sin—and the way that a place, here the decaying city of Bruges, can inform the rhythm of life (as well as life-in-death) of the scattered, ruined souls that comprise its inhabitants. Written by a Belgian, Georges Rodenbach, in 1892, Bruges-La-Morte is a key component of the literature of the Decadence—as well as, perhaps, the most moving and acutely poignant work in its canon. Rodenbach’s prose, orphic and sensuous, could be labeled a sort of exercise in hypnotism, the spell achieving its greatest successes when, after coming up from the depths of an opium-dream, we are startled with the occasional interruption of painfully raw, near-caustic laconicism; these short, beautifully-woven sentences linger in the brain like a fever, inducing a rapture of agonized comprehension. This novel, curiously, is utterly empathic to the concerns of even the most jaded and stoic of readers: because it is a work dedicated to the study of human ‘analogies’—the strange, surreal comparisons drawn in the minds of all and torn to pieces within the obsessions, and eager fervor, of an unfortunate few. The plot is merely a gauze upon which to hang the ghosts of observation: it details the dream-like, funereal existence of a widower who, after ten years of mourning his dead wife—worshiping her possessions, photographs, and physical memories like the reliquaries of a saint—chances to meet a woman who, in outward appearance, is the very mirror-image of his lost love. They begin an affair: one in which our protagonist sees not the intimations of sin and betrayal against the dead so often experienced by the bereaved, but, instead, the literal continuation of his wife’s actuality: he is trying to recreate her existence, as if a thread had never been cut—as if it had only been interrupted. Obviously we can expect little but disappointment and tragedy from so misguided a notion; but the climax of this novel is triply-tragic, because three lives are shattered by the highest intentions of one.Bruges-La-Morte, as I said, is a novel of analogies; and the highest analogy is between the insistent sentience of the city and the way it mirrors—as a dead wife is mirrored by a stranger—the psyche of a citizen. Rodenbach, of course, illustrates this phenomenon best: ‘Towns above all have a personality, a spirit of their own, an almost externalized character which corresponds to joy, new love, renunciation, widowhood. Every town is a state of mind, a mood which, after only a short stay, communicates itself, spreads to us in an effluvium which impregnates us, which we absorb with the very air.’ And the ‘effluvium’ of dead, gloom-haunted, and weeping Bruges (which, arguably, remains the most important character in this novel) is rich with a paradoxical aura of contagion, comfort, and doom. Bruges-La-Morte is one of the dozen or so pieces of literature that have been instrumental in defining, refining, and directing my sensibilities as an intellectual and an artist; but it has also served to reflect my perception of the nature of love, sorrow, and decay, by crystallizing my notions of the ‘sacred sin’ that, ultimately, intimates salvation. The protagonist of Bruges-La-Morte is left to his own sins before we can glimpse his absolution: but if the trajectory of my philosophy, that we must rot before we ripen, is accepted as truth, Bruges-La-Morte, with its jarring tragedy and startling pessimism, casts a light upon one of the more troubling intimations of this school of thought: that salvation is relative: that sometimes decay is, in and of itself, the only salvation at all.
Review by
5

Hugues Viane has retired to Bruges after the death of his wife of ten years; five years later, he is still unable to put her memory to rest. Indeed, he has sequestered himself in his home, erecting a shrine to his wife; in this room are gathered her portraits and various objects and trinkets, along with a tress of her hair which Viane has placed inside a glass box. Each day he caresses and kisses each item, and by night he takes to the meandering the streets of Bruges whose grey melancholy he feels in tune with, a kind of “spiritual telegraphy between his soul and the grief-stricken towers of Bruges.”<br/><br/>??As in many symbolist texts, doubling is apparent here: not only is Viane’s mood that of the city, and therefore emphasized, but his grief is so obsessive that he chances upon a woman whom he believes to be the striking image of his dead wife. This act of doubling is one in which Georges Rodenbach is extremely interested in that it proves how the dead die twice, the first death being their physical death and the second being when our memories of them begin to fade, causing those mental images to which we cling to no longer be sources of recollection and comfort:??<br/><br/><blockquote>But the faces of the dead, which are preserved in our memory for a while, gradually deteriorate there, fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse. Thus, within us, our dead die a second time.</blockquote><br/><i>Bruges-la-Morte</i> is very much concerned with the vacillation between states of intense joy and utter anguish. In his obsession over Jane, the woman who resembles his dead wife, Viane is embodying this idea of the dead dying twice. While there are moments of some melodramatic intensity characteristic of symbolist work, Rodenbach is also keen on exploring how the life of a small city reacts to a scandal, and it is both the solitary city scenes that drive home the despair of the protagonist and the scenes of townspeople gossiping in the city that demonstrate how the city works in different ways for its inhabitants.<br/><br/>??Although he is under “the spell” of this double, and even though he hopes that the likeness “would allow him the infinite luxury of forgetting,” Viane can do no such thing, and soon finds himself at an erotic and psychological crossroads at which the “distressing masquerade” he enacts to quell his grief is not enough to sustain the memory of the dead.<br/><br/>Bruges is very much the main character in the novel: “He was already starting to resemble the town. Once more he was the brother in silence and in melancholy of this sorrowful Bruges, his <i>soror dolorosa</i>.” The novel is accompanied by photographs of the city to underscore the central role it plays in Viane’s state of mourning. Rodenbach is adamant about how living spaces breathe and affect those living there:??<br/><br/><blockquote>Towns above all have a personality, a spirit of their own, an almost externalised character which corresponds to joy, new love, renunciation, widowhood. Each town is a state of mind, a mood which, after only a short stay, communicates itself, spreads to us in an effluvium which impregnates us, which we absorb with the very air.</blockquote><br/>This idea of the city having an emotional and psychological state of its own is also something Rodenbach explores in the short essay included in the Dedalus edition, “The Death Throes of Towns.”??<i>Bruges-la-Morte</i> is a symbolist masterpiece; more than that, it is powerful novel about grief and mourning, as well as a treatise on how one’s city can reflect one’s emotional state, and vice versa.

Review by
5

Hugues Viane has retired to Bruges after the death of his wife of ten years; five years later, he is still unable to put her memory to rest. Indeed, he has sequestered himself in his home, erecting a shrine to his wife; in this room are gathered her portraits and various objects and trinkets, along with a tress of her hair which Viane has placed inside a glass box. Each day he caresses and kisses each item, and by night he takes to the meandering the streets of Bruges whose grey melancholy he feels in tune with, a kind of “spiritual telegraphy between his soul and the grief-stricken towers of Bruges.”<br/><br/>??As in many symbolist texts, doubling is apparent here: not only is Viane’s mood that of the city, and therefore emphasized, but his grief is so obsessive that he chances upon a woman whom he believes to be the striking image of his dead wife. This act of doubling is one in which Georges Rodenbach is extremely interested in that it proves how the dead die twice, the first death being their physical death and the second being when our memories of them begin to fade, causing those mental images to which we cling to no longer be sources of recollection and comfort:??<br/><br/><blockquote>But the faces of the dead, which are preserved in our memory for a while, gradually deteriorate there, fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse. Thus, within us, our dead die a second time.</blockquote><br/><i>Bruges-la-Morte</i> is very much concerned with the vacillation between states of intense joy and utter anguish. In his obsession over Jane, the woman who resembles his dead wife, Viane is embodying this idea of the dead dying twice. While there are moments of some melodramatic intensity characteristic of symbolist work, Rodenbach is also keen on exploring how the life of a small city reacts to a scandal, and it is both the solitary city scenes that drive home the despair of the protagonist and the scenes of townspeople gossiping in the city that demonstrate how the city works in different ways for its inhabitants.<br/><br/>??Although he is under “the spell” of this double, and even though he hopes that the likeness “would allow him the infinite luxury of forgetting,” Viane can do no such thing, and soon finds himself at an erotic and psychological crossroads at which the “distressing masquerade” he enacts to quell his grief is not enough to sustain the memory of the dead.<br/><br/>Bruges is very much the main character in the novel: “He was already starting to resemble the town. Once more he was the brother in silence and in melancholy of this sorrowful Bruges, his <i>soror dolorosa</i>.” The novel is accompanied by photographs of the city to underscore the central role it plays in Viane’s state of mourning. Rodenbach is adamant about how living spaces breathe and affect those living there:??<br/><br/><blockquote>Towns above all have a personality, a spirit of their own, an almost externalised character which corresponds to joy, new love, renunciation, widowhood. Each town is a state of mind, a mood which, after only a short stay, communicates itself, spreads to us in an effluvium which impregnates us, which we absorb with the very air.</blockquote><br/>This idea of the city having an emotional and psychological state of its own is also something Rodenbach explores in the short essay included in the Dedalus edition, “The Death Throes of Towns.”??<i>Bruges-la-Morte</i> is a symbolist masterpiece; more than that, it is powerful novel about grief and mourning, as well as a treatise on how one’s city can reflect one’s emotional state, and vice versa.

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