Belle Du Seigneur

Belle Du Seigneur

by Albert Cohen, Albert Cohen
     
 

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Solal is a man of remarkable gifts and disappointed ideals. A Mediterranean Jew who is Under-Secretary of the League of Nations, he has become disillusioned with a world dominated by personal and national interest. His last hope for redemption is through love, and so he embarks on the seduction of his boss's wife, the beautiful Adrien. 320 pp. 5,000 print.

Overview

Solal is a man of remarkable gifts and disappointed ideals. A Mediterranean Jew who is Under-Secretary of the League of Nations, he has become disillusioned with a world dominated by personal and national interest. His last hope for redemption is through love, and so he embarks on the seduction of his boss's wife, the beautiful Adrien. 320 pp. 5,000 print.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A vast, astonishing satire of modern life, Cohen's continuously digressive comic novel, set in Geneva in the 1930s, skewers, above all else, the emptiness of middle-class existence, its worship of power and money. Its antihero is Solal, Under-Secretary of the League of Nations, who risks his reputation over an obsessive love affair with the rebellious, bored wife of a pompous League official. Like Cohen himself, Solal is a Mediterranean Jew, an outsider. He mocks his own deep religious faith and expresses skepticism about the League's idealistic internationalism-which he nevertheless makes his personal mission. Tracing Solal's path, Cohen swings from slang to grandiloquence and pure stream-of-consciousness, mixing low farce, high comedy, rapturous erotica and acid satire on the rise of fascism. His gleefully observed gallery of fools exposes a catalogue of human failings-pretense, envy, snobbery, machismo, conformity-all typified by the man Solal cuckolds, Adrien Deume, a hypocritical, bigoted bureaucrat whose narrow-mindedness contrasts with the League's grand ambitions. Bumbling through this sprawling canvas, meanwhile, are "the Valiant," five picturesque cousins from Corfu whose Chaplinesque antics and open embrace of their Jewish roots counterpoint Solal's brooding. Cohen takes in his giant stride such themes as the psychological battlefield of marriage, humanity's bestiality beneath its civilized veneer, the persecution of Jews across the ages and the terrible brevity of each life. Readers of this magnificent conclusion to a trilogy that also includes Solal (1930) and Mangeclous (1938) will understand why, upon its publication in 1968 in France, it won the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman, and why it has gone on to sell more than one million copies in Europe alone. (May)
Andre Brink
Belle du Seigneur is a tour de force, a comic masterpiece weighted with an understanding of human frailty…It is, quite simply, a book that must be read.
The Observer
Kirkus Reviews
The first US publication of a celebrated 1968 work that won France's Grand Prix du Roman and earned its late author (18951981) comparison with Joyce and Proust and serious Nobel Prize consideration.

This novel, in fact, concludes an ambitious trilogy whose earlier volumes (published in 1930 and 1938) trace the youthful experiences, in love and politics, of Solal, a Jew born on the Greek island of Cephalonia (as was Albert Cohen) whose career success owes much to his pragmatic concealment of his Jewish roots. Here, Solal has risen to an influential position as an official at the League of Nations in Geneva. The story's action, which occurs in the mid-30s, is concerned only nominally with League business (at least for the first 800 pages), focusing instead on the family of Solal's colleague Adrien Deume, a foppish minor bureaucrat who imagines himself "a cross between Lord Byron and Talleyrand," and whose beautiful wife Ariane embodies to Solal "the Absolute" romantic fulfillment of which he dreams, and whom, with Stendhalian suavity, he sets out to possess. The adulterous rapture these two share is thereafter vividly counterpointed against the Olympian snobbery and myopia of the Deume's circle (Adrien's parents Hippolyte and Antoinette are particularly hilarious avatars of haute-bourgeoisie complacency). The story flags halfway through, during an extended diapason in which the lovers mutually celebrate their "conjoinings," but it's effectively varied most of the way by Cohen's deployment of an impressive variety of rhetorical forms (heroically translated by David Coward), and by its powerful long climax and dénouement in which Solal's chastened discovery that he cannot not be a Jew, and that love does not last, leads to an erotic Götterdämmerung (reminiscent of Zola) that will leave few readers unshaken.

Satiric, digressive, meditative, didactic: Proustian indeed in its best moments; cloyingly wearisome at its worst. This is a great novel, and its appearance here in English translation really is, as they say, a literary event.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9782070404025
Publisher:
Gallimard, Editions
Publication date:
02/28/1998
Edition description:
French Edition
Product dimensions:
4.30(w) x 7.00(h) x 2.10(d)

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