21 Days of a Neurasthenic

21 Days of a Neurasthenic

by Octave Mirbeau
     
 
Octave Mirbeau, author of The Torture Garden and Diary of a Chambermaid, wrote this scathing novel on the cusp of the twentieth century. Driven mad by modern life, Georges Vasseur leaves for a rest cure, where he encounters corrupt politicians, amnesiac coquettes, cheerfully sadistic killers, imperialist generals, and quack psychiatrists. Hypocrites are eternal, and

Overview

Octave Mirbeau, author of The Torture Garden and Diary of a Chambermaid, wrote this scathing novel on the cusp of the twentieth century. Driven mad by modern life, Georges Vasseur leaves for a rest cure, where he encounters corrupt politicians, amnesiac coquettes, cheerfully sadistic killers, imperialist generals, and quack psychiatrists. Hypocrites are eternal, and not much has changed since Mirbeau wrote this acid portrait of his era.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/22/2015
Justin Vicari, the translator of this latest volume in Dalkey Archive's French literature series, has set for himself a difficult task: modernising Mirbeau's 1901 novel for a contemporary anglophone readership, while also maintaining the bite of this satirical roman à clef. Writing after the disgrace of the Dreyfus Affair, Mirbeau takes aim at the whole of French society, declaring it hypocritical and insane. The narrator, Georges Vasseur, has traveled to a resort town in the Pyrenees, "which turns my general boredom of travel into a heightened form of torture." Georges is depressed, anxious, and wildly funny. The book details encounters and stories with his wild cast of friends and acquaintances, who are "like most people, some grotesque, others merely repugnant; perfect scum whom I would not recommend young ladies to read about." There is the vain Clara Fistula, a 17-year-old wonderkid who needs 20 francs to publish his opus, Cosmogonic Virtualities, a work that once and for all solves the grotesque problem of human reproduction; old Baron Kropp, who kills himself to make an iron ring for his beloved, to which she replies "I would have rather had a pendant"; and the Marquis de Portpierre, a royal con, who despite his brutality is beloved by his peasants. The work is filled with episodes that are amusing and revolting in equal measure; a story detailing flesh-eating sea winkles stands out. Vicari's translation is airy and accessible, retaining the endless ellipses of the original French text. While the modern reader might not appreciate every subtlety of Mirbeau's broadside against his society, its essential targets of corruption and cruelty remain timeless. (July)
Alfred Jarry

An entire social order is rendered clear through these twenty-odd outrages, admirable in the strength of their offensiveness.

Lev Tolstoy

Octave Mirbeau is the greatest contemporary French writer, and the one who best represents the eternal brilliance of France.

Emile Zola

A man of justice who has given his heart to the wretched and miserable of this earth.

From the Publisher
"An entire social order is rendered clear through these twenty-odd outrages, admirable in the strength of their offensiveness." —Alfred Jarry

Dalkey Archive Press

"Octave Mirbeau is the greatest contemporary French writer, and the one who best represents the eternal brilliance of France." —Lev Tolstoy

Dalkey Archive Press

"A man of justice who has given his heart to the wretched and miserable of this earth." —Emile Zola

Dalkey Archive Press

Kirkus Reviews
2015-04-15
An ailing iconoclast, driven to despair by his own ennui, retreats to the Pyrenees for a rest cure. Film critic and translator Vicari (Male Bisexuality in Current Cinema, 2011, etc.) offers a distinctly modern translation of this turn-of-the-century expressionist novel by the avant-garde French novelist Mirbeau (A Chambermaid's Diary, 1900, etc.). By using contemporary references and giving the language a florid, conversational tone, Vicari rescues the work from its own artifice and lets its arch humor breathe in a way that might not have come through in a more conventional translation. The narrator is Georges Vasseur, a cynic whose weariness with the world has saddled him with "neurasthenia," an antiquated diagnosis that would today be likened to anxiety, depression, or neurosis. In short vignettes, Vasseur describes his days at a sanitarium high in the mountains near the Iberian border. Mirbeau uses the framework to offer pointed criticisms of the politics, culture, and social structure of the Third Republic, peppering his text with real-life figures from the age. Vasseur's friends include Robert Hagueman, a lusty character who could just as easily occupy a Beat novel, and Clara Fistula, an adolescent transgendered genius who preaches asexuality. The novel is acidly funny, though it takes work to understand the context of some of Mirbeau's acerbic wit. That said, some passages are timeless, like the early fragment where Vasseur adopts a hedgehog that quickly succumbs to its owner's decadent lifestyle. "Total alcoholic inebriation. Cause of death: dropsy. An unprecedented case among hedgehogs," writes Georges' doctor. The novel gets to some dark places as its narrator plunges deeper into depression, but Mirbeau's mischievous humor and keen observations about uncertainty as the cause of existential anxiety have much to offer contemporary readers who are willing to take the plunge. A scandalous artifact from an earlier age that has more mileage than one might expect from an experimental novel more than a century old.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781628970302
Publisher:
Dalkey Archive Press
Publication date:
09/25/2015
Series:
French Literature Series
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
673,137
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) was a leader of the "Decadent" movement. Producing works in reportage, art and literary criticism, travel writing, fiction, and drama, he inspired everything from surrealism to gonzo journalism.

Justin Vicari is a poet, critic, and translator. He is the author of Male Bisexuality in Current Cinema: Images of Growth, Rebellion and Survival (McFarland, 2011). His work has received the Third Coast Poetry Prize among other awards. The Professional Weepers is his first full-length collection of poems.

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