Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Marvelous Story of Claire D'Amour, by Maurice Magre, adapted by Brian Stableford

Black Coat Press, 2017
254 pp


"They were all dreamers, and they were there because they had dreamed of the ideal on earth, and were suffering bitterly..." -- 175

After spending the summer exploring other areas of reading interest, I'm back here again with this book, which is the first of twelve in a series exploring the work of Maurice Magre, a French writer, who as Brian Stableford reveals in this book's introduction, was "one of the most far-ranging and extravagant writers of fantastic fiction active in France in the first half of the 20th century," and  "perhaps the finest of them."   The fourteen stories in this book are examples of "contes merveilleux," or "tales of enchantment," but as Stableford notes (and which quickly became obvious once I started reading), some of these are actually quite nihilistic, trending more along of the lines of tales of "disenchantment."  As I also discovered not too far into these tales, he's also on the money when he says that "in Magre's work the tragic component usually outweighs the comedic component, and sometimes swamps it entirely." [For a more complete take on Magre's work, I can point you to Stableford's articles in The New York  Review of Science Fiction  (NYRSF) vols. 341, 342, and 343; the last article is available for free online; the other two you can pick up as pdfs for $3.00 each.]

Before launching into just brief sketches of each story, I'll add here that while not true for every tale, there's no missing the message (as Stableford tells us)  that "amour, although irresistible is invariably fatal because it is blinded by illusion" (NYRSF, 341, 7), which may reflect on events in Magre's own life and how they influenced his fiction.  In the introduction, for example, we learn about the author's breakup with "the first woman with whom he became infatuated as soon as he discovered that she had slept with someone -- someone he found particularly loathsome," and that this same motif also runs "incessantly" through Magre's stories. It may be that the author "changed his philosophy of amorous relationships abruptly in 1903", and if so, it is probably
" not a coincidence that Maurice, in "Histoire merveilleuse de Claire d'Amour" is blinded by illusion, and thus immunized against jealousy. Such, so far as it can be determined, is the personal context of Magre's early fiction, insofar as it deals with claire d'amour -- i.e., the bright light of amour in the broad sense."
Whether or not this background is of interest to anyone else or not, the bottom line is that I fell in love with this book while reading it, and as brutal as it can be sometimes, it is absolutely delightful.

In this collection of tales, it is "amour," "the flower of youth," the power of illusion, and "the ideal" that takes center stage, beginning with "Marcelle."  Unlike the stories that follow it, there are no elements of the fantastic to be found anywhere, just a man whose lover deceives him with other men. He breaks it off in anger, later bemoaning that he'd killed "amour...by virtue of stupidity and pride."  "Doctor Faust's First Love" follows a young student named Fritz in love with the daughter of the local burgomaster, Elsbeth. Sadly, Elsbeth has a "mediocre soul" under her outer beauty and accepts her father's choice of husband, a "rich and aged lord." Fritz, believing that "science and labor might perhaps bring a remedy to his woes," goes to visit local sage Dr. Faust and arrives at just the wrong time. "Marinette and Old Water-Sprite" is a delightful tale about a sad young girl and those who love her, including a water sprite, a simple young man "full of gaiety and charm, and a "very rich lord," born under the sign of Saturn. The centerpiece of the book, and the titular story is next, "The Marvellous Story of Claire D'Amour. "  One would think that when one has Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin as godparents, life would be great for young Maurice.  It may have been except for the "gift of illusion" bestowed upon him by the Sandman that will permit Maurice "never to see life as it is." When he meets and falls in love with the poor, amoral but beautiful Claire, that extra gift will cost him.   Beyond excellent, it is my favorite story in the book and while this one is definitely on the nihilistic side, it is a joy to read.

Maurice Magre, from Black Coat Press

"The Toy Merchant" is the story of Lubin and Colette, who vow as children to love each other forever.  It starts out sweetly enough and then BAM!, end of that.  How I won't say, but it's another good one.  Next up is "The Story of Lili-Des-Roses and the Black Prince," in which Lili, "the glory of the country" scorns the simple pastor Jean-des-Bois and his "limitless love for her" in favor of the black prince"because he is rich."   This one is followed by "The Poor Musician and the Little Genie," which also touches on amour but also something a bit different -- the love and dedication of an artist for his art.  "The Flower of Youth" comes next, a true quest story in which young Joël must find the flower of youth in order to marry Princess Raphaële, who has sworn to love only the "King of France, the Devil," or the man who brings her this treasure.  She is, of course, taking advantage of his "naivety" and being cruel, but he doesn't know this, and off he goes, abandoning everything previously dear to him in his search.  A very twisty ending has this one, catching me completely by surprise.  In "The Story of an Unlucky Grenadier," a young man who has, since childhood, had the worst luck ever, desperately wants to impress the parents of the woman he loves after they refuse to consent to the marriage.  All I'll say about this story is that maybe he should have rethought that idea.  "The Doll" is its own way a poignant story, focusing on a man whose attraction to a beautiful actress causes him to rethink his career choices in order to get her attention while he wonders what he can do to make her love him.   "The Goatherd King" has a lovely touch of irony, beginning with a prophecy made to young Eloi by a witch who reveals that he is destined to be a king; this is followed by "The Last Siren" who is discovered by a man in the Seine after deciding to end it all.  Finally, the end of this book offers  "Jeannett's Three Professions," reminding me a bit of a rather twisted "Parable of the Talents."

I can't begin to say how very much I enjoyed this book and how I looked forward to coming back to it every time I had to put it down.  I've been stockpiling books from this series for a while, and now that I've had my first taste of Magre, I don't doubt that I'll be reading as many of them as I can.

yes, yes, yes, highly recommended. 

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