OK so it's time to enjoy a soupcon of Gallic nastiness. The collection I've been reading is the lovely new Tartarus Press edition but it's a virtual reprint of this paperback:
The Dark Side (Xanadu 1989)
Which was itself a collection of
Tales of Supernatural Terror (Pan Books 1972)
The Diary of a Madman (Pan Books 1976)
Any cover scans would be appreciated! Anyway on with the contents and then I can do a bit of waxing lyrical:
Contents: Foreword by Ramsey Campbell, Introduction by Arnold Kellett, The Horla The Devil Two Friends Fear The Hand Coco The Mannerism 'The Madwoman 'Mohammed-Fripouille The Blind Man At Sea Apparition Saint-Antoine The Wolf Terror The Diary of a Madman A Vendetta The Smile of Schopenhauer On the River He? Old Milon The Head of Hair The Inn Mother Savage Was he Mad? The Dead Girl Mademoiselle Cocotte A Night in Paris The Case of Louise Roque The Drowned Man Who Knows? Mademoiselle Perle Notes
Ok so from reading these stories it strikes me that Guy de Maupassant (who died in 1893) was one of those writers who was plagued by mental illness and managed in his lucid moments to write about it quite superbly. Unfortunately he eventually went to the edge far to many times and fell off, attempting suicide and living out his remaining days in an asylum.
So are these a collection of weird and impenetrable stories - the ravings of a madman? No - in fact they are frighteningly well rendered descriptions of gradually encroaching neuroses driving people into madness, and of a bleak and increasingly cynical attitude towards love and his fellow man.
There are also quite a few stories in here documenting the kind of casual cruelty that must have taken place during the Franco-Prussian war, as well as several contes crueles that merely depict the unpleasantness of country folk who torture everything from faithful old horses to blind relatives just for their amusement or out of petty jealousy.
The Dead Girl - Brilliant. Puts into a few pages a brutally cynical view of love and humankind by employing the 'Danse Macabre' scenario of skeletons taking over a graveyard at night and etching their true stories inot the headstones to replace the kinder words put there by their loved ones. Other stories are more well known but this may well be my favourite
Diary of a Madman - He wants to lie under the guillotine so when the blade comes down the victim's blood sprays all over his face, which I would say qualifies for mad. Gruesome and satirical (the madman is in fact a high court judge) - a classic.
He? - Properly terrifying to anyone with a neurotic disposition - a do it yourself guide to how easy it might be to go insane in your own flat.
The Head of Hair - Gentleman who knows all there is to know about love and remains blissfully unaffected by it buys a desk in which he finds a secret compartment that contains a woman's shorn-off hair. Cue increasing obsession to the point where he takes it to the theatre with him and thus ends up being taken to the funny farm
Eerie spooky uncanniness! i'd prepared this quite recently, so no trouble getting some scans ready, though maybe some repetition.
Guy De Maupassant - Tales Of Terror And The Supernatural (Cardinal, 1989, 1990)
Photograph: Ralph Gibson: Untitled (From The Somnambulist)
Ramsey Campbell - Foreword Arnold Kellett - Introduction
The Horla The Devil Two Friends Fear The Hand Coco The Mannerism The Madwoman Mohammed-Fripouille The Blind Man At Sea Apparition Saint-Antoine The Wolf Terror The Diary of a Madman A Vendetta The Smile of Schopenhauer On the River He? Old Milon The Head of Hair The Inn Mother Savage Was he Mad? The Dead Girl (aka Was It A Dream?) Mademoiselle Cocotte A Night in Paris The Case of Louise Roque The Drowned Man Who Knows?
The bulk of these had originally appeared over two Pan paperbacks, Tales Of Supernatural Terror (1972) and Diary Of A Madman (1976), which, being a mug, i got rid of during my one and only mass purge thinking thanks to this bumper edition plus, i wouldn't be needing 'em. We've already met a number of these tales of madness and horror in a multitude of anthologies, sometimes under different titles.
favourites? it's been too long since i read him but The Case of Louise Roque, concerning the hunt for the killer of a little girl, deserves some kind of award for grimness and The Dead Girl is a thing of morbid beauty. The Horla, told in journal form, is, imho, rightly regarded as a classic of vampire paranoia. Some other stuff to look out for:
The Mother Of Monsters: A peasant farm-worker falls pregnant and, ashamed, constructs a corset of wood and rope to conceal the evidence. The child is born hideously deformed, earning her mother the nickname ‘the She-devil’. However, her misfortune turns to advantage when the owner of a travelling show offers to buy the monstrosity. She then becomes a one woman atrocity factory, pumping out a mutant offspring to order (in as much as it’s physically possible, of course) and setting herself up for life.
The Hand: Sir John Rowell keeps the severed black hand of his “best enemy” as a memento of his victory in their epic struggle – a hollow one as it turns out, for he has to keep the shriveled black relic on a stout chain for fear of it throttling him. One night ….
A Vendetta: When her son is murdered the widow Saverini swears vengeance. But how can an old woman and a gaunt sheepdog overcome a robust young killer? It’s amazing what you can do with some bales of straw, your husband’s old clothes and a string of black pudding.
The Tomb: Courbataille, a young lawyer, is apprehended in Bezier's cemetery one night as he removes his lover's corpse from her grave. Before an initially hostile court he tells how his anguish at never being able to see the beautiful twenty-year old again had driven him to it. Then he describes the condition of the rotting body he held in his arms ...
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
Interesting Dem - I thought The Horla was more a case of science fiction paranoia - I didn't really get a vampire angle from it, more than it was some kind of invisible entity that had arrived from outer space - a kind of 'superior being'. Or of course just the author going crazy (again!).
Other favourites from this little lot would include:
The Case of Louise Roque - I really liked this too - it's by far the longest tale in the book and a grim story of rape and murder. The fact that we get to see inside the murderer's head and actually end up feeling pretty sorry for them by the end must have been fairly revolutionary at the time - unless anyone knows any better?
The Inn - Another how-to-go-completely-mad-in-a-confined-space tale. Two caretakers (not to mention the dog) are snowed in for the winter. The one sets of to shoot chamois and never returns, the other goes slowly insane turning every noise into fuel for his paranoia. And is that scratching at the door the dog or something far worse...
A Night in Paris - A fevre dream exploration of Paris after 2am reveals it to be a far more pleasant place than say Weston super-mare would be if I decided to go walkies at that time of night. Nevertheless our protagonist gets more and more wound up by minor occurrences until eventually he finds himself close to the Seine. Oh dear.
The Drowned Man - It's not just paranoia, neurosis or claustrophobia that can drive you mad - a parrot can do it too.
Mademoiselle Cocotte - Hugely bittersweet story of a man ordered to drown the dog he loves and going insane as a result. Maupassant obviously loved dogs and this tale veers from comedy to affection to horror effortlessly.
It's worth noting that there are two versions of Le Horla - the most famous version (written in the form of a journal) was written and published after the onset of the syphilis-induced madness that eventually claimed de Maupassant's life, but an earlier version, in which the events of the story are recounted by the protagonist to the doctors at the lunatic asylum, is also available, and arguably better - it appears in the Penguin edition of de Maupassant's stories, which skimps a bit on the horror stories, but is still worth seeking out.
Finally finished this last night & I'm definitely a fan, even if I have disposed of my Penguin edition because I've got this which means I've lost the alternate version of The Horla. Anyway, the Tartarus book finishes with:
Who Knows? - A man witnesses his furniture walking off into the night, only to discover it months later in an antique shop. When he alerts the police it magically all goes back to his house. This sounds daft and it is, but the knowledge from the notes that this was written very close to Maupassant going insane, plus the quality of the writing itself, means the paranoia in it is satisfyingly worrying.
Mademoiselle Perle - A change of pace to finish with - a bittersweet tale of missed opportunity in love, with a last line that is absolutely beautiful and, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely true.
And very finally - I was having dinner in a very nice restaurant last night and as is my wont made a point of taking something with a lurid cover to read. The French waiter who served me revealed not only that he was a horror fan but when I mentioned Maupassant to him told me how in France he had had to study all these stories in school.
Now I want to see Charles Birkin on the school curriculum