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eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
PublisherDover Publications
File size6.8 Mb
Release date 02.02.2000
Pages count256
Book rating4 (5 votes)
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Rarely have I so enjoyed a collection of half a dozen short novellas by different authors as I have enjoyed the stories included in this volume.Selected from 19th century French literature especially prized by the French themselves, these stories demonstrate the rangeand variety of the genre during that period.Each is unique, utterly different from the others, and each tempts the reader to pursue and enjoy other works by these same authors.

Prosper Mérimée has contributed “Mateo Falcone”, a terse narrative filled with the local color of Corsica, a story that is gripping in its inevitability.Wrenching in its relentless progress towards disaster, it produces more than a frisson of horror and leaves the reader stunned by the implacability of fate and the mercilessness of codes of honor.

In “Sylvie”, Gérard de Nerval contrasts Paris with the Valois countryside, weaving a tale of a young man vacillating between the two, dallying over a period of years with his rural sweetheart even as he watches her drift away from him into her own life.Less lushly Romantic than it is Proustian, this story captures the tides of love and ambivalence in a gentle way, never prematurely revealing its outcome.

How these two stories differ from Alphonse Daudet’s “La mule du Pape”.This droll little tale is told from the perspective of the Pope’s beloved mule, a mule mistreated by young clerics, a mule that plots its revenge and ultimately carries it out.

Gustave Flaubert’s “Hérodias” is of another mood altogether.It is a creative retelling of the death of John the Baptist and provided the inspiration for Oscar Wilde’s version that in turn was the basis for Richard Strauss’s gripping opera, Salomé.Filled with anguish and ambivalence, terror and tragedy, the central figure is the ruler Antipas whose mixed desires and underlying fears lead him into a psychological trap from which there is no escape.

“L’attaque du moulin” by Emile Zola is a masterpiece of realism.The story takes place during the Franco-Prussian War, the small battle in question occurring in a random village, involving random innocent people, and having a tragic outcome.The characters are real and very human, pawns in a game that they neither desire nor have a significant interest in.Making crucial decisions motivated by love, the central characters find that love is not enough to overcome wider movements and actions that seem to have no possible positive outcome.

Guy de Maupassant’s “Mademoiselle Perle” is the final work in the collection.It demonstrates the author’s talent at its best, embedding a story within a story and then tying the two together in a heartbreaking way that has the potential to either crush the protagonists or to liberate them.The narrator’s final action can be seen as either merciful or callous, and the reader is left with haunting decisions to make about the rightness of the outcome.

In a fine introduction to the collection, Appelbaum suggests other authors who might have been included, and this provides fertile ground for the reader’s subsequent exploration of this genre and this period.The dual-language edition allows the reader uncertain of his French to check his understanding via the English translation on each facing page, although one will probably find that this becomes less and less necessary as one proceeds.

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