Wednesday 14 December 2011

It’s The End of the Book as We Know It

Or is it?

At the Edinburgh international book festival earlier this year Ewan Morrison suggested a bleak future for publishing. He was subsequently published in the Guardian, asking “Will books, as we know them, come to an end?” and answering his own question “Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books.” He also states, “ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of ‘the writer’ as a profession.”

He seems pretty sure of himself, and writes at great length. He argues that there has been a financial downturn in all of the traditional creative industries that have turned digital, because a culture has been created in which people no longer expect to pay for any “content”. This isn’t just due to piracy, but because so much “content” is offered for free, other “providers” have no option but to make their work available for nothing if they are to compete.

His argument is simple: if there is no money, no writer of any worth will continue to write, and why should they? He claims that “most ‘notable’ writers in the history of books were paid a living wage” and that in the last fifty years the system of publishers' advances has supported “notable” writers. Without the patronage of the traditional publishing industry there will be no great writers writing great books. 

In Morrison’s apocalyptic future, traditional publishing houses will inevitably go out of business. Any writer foolish enough to directly e-publish will lose the support system of editors, proof-readers, publicity and promotion. They won’t even be able to sell their works online: charging for extra content, eking their work out in instalments or via crowd-funding are all, apparently, non-starters.

He says that within a decade or so the biggest "publishers" in the world will be Google, Amazon and Apple. He offers a horribly persuasive vision of the near future in which all artistic endeavours will inevitably be channelled through these digital behemoths, offered for free, paid for by advertising. And that advertising revenue, presumably, goes into the pockets of the behemoths and none will go to writers, musicians, film makers, artists, etc. I came away from reading the article imagining a world in which badly-written flash-fiction will supplant novels, and amateur Youtube clips will take the place of films.

But is he right? I don’t think so (to answer my own question!)

For a start there are figures published by Nielsen BookScan here in the UK stating that in 2001 there were 162,000,000 books sold in Britain. In 2011 it was up to 229,000,000. Despite discounting, overall revenues are also up, especially for fiction. That doesn’t look like an industry in decline.

Sales of books in 2011 are apparently slightly down compared to 2010, so is this the beginning of the end? says that it is selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, but they admit that their sales of hardcover books continue to increase. Reports of the death of the physical book seem to have been premature, especially if we make allowances for the present economic climate.

And is there really a culture of freeloading as Morrison claims? As Lloyd Shepherd says in a very well argued Guardian article, music was pirated on a large scale for several years because there were no good alternatives if you wanted to download digital music. The success of iTunes shows that now a great way of legal downloading has been established, people use the service, and pay for it. And we should always beware of industries that tell us they lose sales through piracy; a good proportion of those piracies would never have been legal sales in a perfect world.

There will always be ludicrous claims from the doomsayers and the self-interested, just as there will often be something real at the root of some fears (in my opinion, the dominance of Amazon is one of the biggest potential threats to all the artistic industries.) But I have to admit that the one thing that really annoyed me about Morrison’s article was the claim that “most ‘notable’ writers in the history of books were paid a living wage” and that in the last fifty years the system of publishers' advances has supported notable writers. Anybody with any knowledge of literary history knows that many of the greatest works of literature were created by writers who were unappreciated by the literary establishment. It has always been the case, and probably always will be, that the best writers won’t give up writing just because a large, traditional publishing house might not give them a huge advance on royalties.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Mark Valentine: Book Collector

We have posted a short film on Youtube that should be of interest to those familiar with Tartarus Press, Mark Valentine, and some of the authors we have published over the years:

In the video, Mark discusses the following writers: Arthur Machen, Walter de la Mare, Lord Dunsany, M.P. Shiel, William Gerhardie, R. Austin Freeman, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Hubert Crackanthorpe, H.A. Manhood, Claude Houghton, E.E. Dorling, David Lindsay, Ronald Fraser, Park Barnitz, Norman Boothroyd, Francis Brett Young, Sarban, W.F. Morris, Denton Welch, Oliver Onions, Eric Lyall, Peter Vansittart, J.C. Snaith, Mary Butts, Frank Baker and Phyllis Paul. He ends with a discussion of the classic "British Rainfall, 1910".

Monday 14 November 2011

Halifax alt.Ghost Story Festival, Dean Clough, Halifax 12th November 2011

Last year the Halifax Ghost Story Festival at Dean Clough Gallery was spread, in a leisurely fashion, over three days, and we were pleased to be able to organise a thread on the Saturday afternoon with speakers and readings. The whole event was a great success but, sadly, could not be repeated in such an extravagant way this year. (Not only was it all a ridiculous amount of work for visionary organiser, Dee Grijak, but, in the current economic climate, external funding for such an enterprise is no longer available.) There was a re-think, and it was decided that Dean Clough would hold a day-long festival this year, and we at Tartarus were again delighted to be asked to have a hand in the event. 

The festival started off with a reading of Arthur Machen's short story “Ritual” by actor and writer Reggie Oliver. Reggie brought the story to life very effectively, as you will see if you follow the link to our film. Many thanks to him for allowing us to make the video available.

“Ritual” was followed by a panel chaired by Mark Valentine, on which Gwilym Games, Reggie Oliver and myself discussed Machen’s life and work. The excuse, if one were needed, for the Machen theme was the publication of his stories in the Penguin Classic series, The White People and Other Weird Stories. It also allowed us to showcase a new short film of Machen’s story, “The Happy Children”, directed by Mark Goodall. A wonderfully atmospheric piece, beautifully narrated by Jon Preece, this black and white gem deserves to be better known. We were delighted that Mark was able to make it to Halifax to introduce his film, and answer questions from the audience afterwards.

The Happy Children, a film by Mark Goodall

After a break, the second panel of the afternoon, “Pushing the Boundaries of the Ghost Story”, was chaired by John Probert. This time the panellists were Mark Valentine, writer Nicholas Royle and psychiatrist Chris Maloney. They each chose authors to illustrate how writers have gone beyond the traditional conventions of the ghost story. Mark Valentine discussed the work of Walter de la Mare, Nick Royle the writing of Joel Lane, and Chris Maloney chose M. John Harrison. John Probert wrapped up the panel by mentioning films that push the boundaries, including “The Others” and “The Baby’s Room”. A number of attendees commented on the fact that the panel would have benefitted from a longer time-slot, but there was a schedule to follow.

Douglas Henshall as Billy and Dan Mullane as John in Three Miles Up

We all then went down to the Viaduct Theatre, in the bowels of the Dean Clough complex. Dark, chilly, and with water running across the cobbles it was a wonderfully atmospheric venue to see a 1995 TV adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's “Three Miles Up”. With a sympathetic back-story not in Howard’s original tale, it is a powerful and creepy film, with a great performance from Douglas Henshall.

(Incidentally, we launched We Are For the Dark by Elizabeth Jane Howard and Robert Aickman at the Festival. The collection serves not only as a manifesto for the Aickmanesque short story, but contains "Three Miles Up".)

Following on was an HTV adaptation of Robert Aickman's “The Hospice” (directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard). Filmed in the 1980s, it is already a period-piece, and has the relentless quality of nightmare, in spite (or because?) of the absurdity of the situation that poor stranded motorist Jack Shepherd finds himself in. The overheated lounge, after the impossibly large meal, and then sharing a bedroom with the delightfully pathetic Jonathan Cecil, all seems somehow very plausible. Dee Grijak hopes to be able to unearth further Aickman TV adaptations, and details will follow shortly of her petition which she hopes will help get them released (under the campaign name “The Attempted Rescue”).

 The above trailer for Dark Entries contains foggy footage from an old vhs copy of "The Hospice.

Two contemporary films, “The Hairy Hands” (directed by Ashley Thorpe), and “An Urban Ghost Story” (directed by Geneviève Jolliffe), rounded off the festival, the latter of which appears to have been enjoyed by the brave souls who stayed until the end. Sadly, we had to miss it; like several others, we had a distance to travel home that evening…

We’d like to thank Dee Grijak for her vision and all of her work, not least in securing permissions and quality copies of “Three Miles Up” and “The Hospice”, and Vic Allen, Artistic Director at Dean Clough. Many thanks also to the various panellists, and to Mark Goodall for sharing his film “The Happy Children”. There were approximately seventy people attending the festival this year. If only we hadn’t packed so much into the day we might have had a chance to talk to many friends who came along! Hopefully we can repeat this year’s success in 2012.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Elizabeth Jane Howard and We Are for The Dark

The first edition of We Are for the Dark, Cape, 1951
On November 12th Tartarus Press will be publishing We Are For the Dark by Elizabeth Jane Howard and Robert Aickman. It will be launched at the Alt.Ghost Story Festival in Halifax where, amongst other attractions, we have permission to screen the 1995 TV adaptation of Howard’s 'Three Miles Up' from that collection. (We will also show Aickman’s equally-rare  ‘The Hospice’.)

As our new edition of We Are For the Dark will be the first hardcover reprint since its first publication exactly sixty years ago, we felt that it required a new Introduction that would explain the genesis of this landmark collection of ghost stories. Although the early uncertainty over the individual attribution of the stories has been cleared up (Aickman was responsible for ‘The Trains’, ‘The View’ and ‘The Insufficient Answer’, and Howard for ‘Three Miles Up’, ‘Left Luggage’ and ‘Perfect Love’), the degree of collaboration between the two authors has always been queried. In The River Runs Uphill Aickman wrote:

‘ …we touched up each other’s contributions (the spoof obituary notice from The Times in Jane’s terrifying tale ‘Perfect Love’, was written by me).’

Elizabeth Jane Howard and Robert Aickman on the Ailsa Craig
Literary speculation and guesswork is all very well, but it seemed sensible to talk to the surviving author, and Elizabeth Jane Howard kindly agreed to discuss Robert Aickman and We Are For the Dark. Her memories of the composition of the short stories are slightly different to those of Aickman. A part of the interview is reproduced here:

Elizabeth Jane Howard, by Michael Trevillion

RBR:  ‘Perfect Love’ strikes me as a perfectly ‘Aickmanesque’ story, playing games with the reader.

EJH: I didn’t see it like that. What made me want to write it was that I didn’t think that anybody had written a story about a ghost who grew up; who haunted somebody from being a small baby to a full-grown person. I thought this was a fascinating idea, and I chose Mielli as a good victim, as somebody who travelled around the place a lot for her work. I wasn’t conscious of playing games. One of the things you have to be careful of, when I wrote ‘Mr Wrong’, for instance, is that you have to obey all the laws. That had to have a murderer and a ghost in it, and I had to stick to the rules. It’s important, so that you know you’re not cheating.

RBR: Does Robert Aickman cheat?

EJH: I think that a lot of the time Robert Aickman does cheat.

RBR: How much was We Are For the Dark a collaboration?

EJH: We didn’t touch each other’s work. We read each other’s work, of course. Neither of us actually interfered with the other person’s writing. It was a collaboration only in the sense that he wrote three stories and I wrote three stories, and that was enough for a book.

RBR: He claims that he wrote the Times obituary piece in ‘Perfect Love’.

EJH: He might have. I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the story for a very long time.

RBR: Critics always try to work out what is autobiographical in fiction. For example, your daughter Nicola was growing up at the same time as you were writing about the ghost of a child in ‘Perfect Love’.

EJH: They had no connection.

RBR: I originally assumed that ‘Perfect Love’ was written by Aickman, and assumed it was about a horror of children.

EJH: He hated children. If it had been written by him that would be a reasonable assumption.

RBR: But written by you, a mother…

EJH: That wasn’t it at all. It was simply if you were going to have a ghost growing up you’d start with them being small. That’s what I thought. I stopped writing those stories because there are a limited number of themes that you can actually embrace. If you are M.R. James you can embroider on it, you can do it again in another context. I didn’t want to do that. Robert did go on writing them.

RBR: He did, although he said there were only, perhaps, thirty-forty good ghost stories in Western literature… You’d have been reading LTC Rolt’s ghost stories at the time? Sleep No More.

EJH: Yes. … Aickman got to know Rolt because he wrote a very good book, The Narrow Boat. And Robert was fascinated by canals. Together they formed the Inland Waterways Association, which I became a Secretary of, and so did Ray [Aickman’s wife]. That’s what brought them together. And then Rolt decided to write Sleep No More. I remember he read ‘Three Miles Up’ and had a totally different opinion of me after that. He said it was a damn good story. And he was writing Sleep No More, which he actually published before we published We Are for the Dark.

RBR:  Perhaps it is Aickman taking a few liberties, but I’m sure he claimed he found, at least, the title for Sleep No More.

EJH: It’s like he says he founded the Inland Waterways Association. He was very manipulative, and very keen on power. It might have been me or it might have been him that found the title, Sleep No More. I remember we had a discussion about it. ...

RBR: I remember reading them a few years ago and they are good of their kind, but a little flat. But I’ve never been a big fan Jamesian ghost stories.

EJH: No, I’m not a big fan of James. I can see that he very much had his day and was much enjoyed by his boys, but he kept repeating himself. Now the other James, Henry, ‘The Turn of the Screw’… I know that fascinated Britten, but I always felt that was a very unclear story. I rather like clarity. It’s more frightening… if one wants to frighten people.

RBR: It’s a personal thing, but the things I find frightening in real life are the things I don’t understand, or have any control over. Which is why ‘Perfect Love’ works for me. You’ve created the ghost of a child, but what’s happening? Presumably it’s hers? And then there’s the Mephistophelean patron who whisks her off. Is the child also his? It seems possible, but the story begs so many questions… Whatever you do, don’t tell me the answer!

EJH: I’m not sure that I know what the answer is now! Sometimes I know, sometimes I don’t. It’s interesting, because whenever I was writing a story I put into it everything that I’ve got. And then years later you look at it and you think, I could have done that better. At your worst, you think, I couldn’t even do that now. That’s the worst feeling. But I haven’t looked at them for a very long time. I think that ‘Left Luggage’ was a kind of parody of James. It was a Jamesian notion, and I think it is the least good one for that reason.

RBR: One of the things that confused me when I was trying to work out who had written which stories, was the fact that both of you were quite comfortable writing from the point of view of the opposite sex. ‘Perfect Love’, for example, is written, rather compiled, by a man who has had an eccentric father, and it seemed reasonable to think that it was by Aickman. And Aickman wrote from the point of view of women in ‘The Trains’.

EJH: He wasn’t very good with men. He and Rolt had a violent quarrel, and that was dreadful. It mucked everything up.

RBR: Are the two brothers in ‘Three Miles Up’ meant to be Aickman and Rolt?

EJH: No [laughs]. I didn’t have them in mind at all. The characters are quite different.

RBR: I always thought that he wrote from a woman’s point of view extremely well, although that’s from my perspective as a man.

EJH: He wrote about his ideal of women very well. He liked them to be mysterious and glamorous. Particularly mysterious.

RBR: He writes very good femmes fatale. Which is another reason I was confused because ‘Three Miles Up’ contains the ultimate femme fatal.

EJH: So you thought it was by him!

RBR: Yes, and ‘The Trains’, being written about women…

EJH: Well, that’s his best story, I thought.

RBR: The end strikes me as slightly farcical, with the cross-dressing butler and train tickets in the pocket.

EJH: He was a very good literary critic, and I thought those were the best things he did were for the review run by Voight, Nineteenth Century. He did marvellous reviews of things like ballet. You really felt as though you were really there. But I never thought his fiction was all that good. But we really quarrelled and didn’t see each other at all. I saw him when he was dying because he asked me to. He also wrote a play, a Ruritanian comedy.

RBR: And a long philosophical treatise called Panacea which is meant to be unpublishable.

EJH: He wouldn’t take kindly to people editing his work, I’m sure. He taught me a great deal because I really had no education at all. He taught me things like the pluperfect, which I didn’t really understand, but he never actually  interfered with my writing.

RBR: He has been described as a very controlling man…

EJH: Very controlling. 

RBR: He didn’t go through your manuscripts?

EJH: No. For example, he and Ray read The Beautiful Visit [EJH’s first novel], and I gave it to them to handle because I was Secretary of the Inland Waterways Association. They sent it to Cape who accepted it in three weeks, so there were no problems. But when I won a prize with it, Robert wanted some of the money, which I thought was rather infra dig.

RBR:  Ghost stories, for me, tend to work without satire or humour, because there is the danger of undermining the atmosphere.

EJH: I think you can be a bit satirical. One of the things about ghost stories, or horror stories, is that you lull people into a state where everything seems to be quite alright, really, only then it isn’t…

RBR:  I can’t think of many light-hearted ghost stories that are successful at producing a genuine shudder. Saki, perhaps, at his best, but he is usually being very cruel and satirical…

EJH: He is. I read some of his stories the other day and I was appalled! I hadn’t remembered how sadistic he was. At the least, they are about discomforture.

RBR:  They are too short, though, to really create an atmosphere…

EJH: Atmosphere is very important. If you are very good you can create atmosphere very quickly, like Evelyn Waugh. He was the best at implying things. He never tells you how people are feeling, ever. It’s only in dialogue that you come to understand. It’s sparsely written, and taut; it’s marvellous. Genius!

RBR:  Transport is a common theme in the stories: ‘The Trains’…, ‘Left Luggage’ is trains again, ‘Three Miles Up’ is canals, and the rest are all about travelling. (As is ‘Mr Wrong’, which is about cars). And canals feature in ‘Falling’.

EJH: Canals come into several of my books. They come in the Cazelet trilogy also. I love them. I can’t do them any more, but I love them.

RBR:  They have a wonderful atmosphere, especially early in the morning when there is nobody around. Even when you’re surrounded by industry.

EJH: You go through huge cities, and then there is suddenly wonderful country around you. It’s wonderful. They asked me to open, well, they’ve reopened Standedge tunnel. I was one of the last people to go through it. It’s three and a third miles long and we got stuck in it. Rolt was there too. I suppose because Rolt is dead, and Aickman is dead, they asked me if I would open the tunnel formally, but I just couldn’t get there. I felt rather sad about that. I would have enjoyed it, going through it.

RBR:  There’s something about the atmosphere of canal tunnels

EJH: Well yes, because people had to leg through them. They had to at Standedge because it didn’t have a tow-path. It did have adits to the main railway line so every now and then it was filled with smoke.

RBR:  Are you an admirer of L.P. Hartley and Oliver Onions?

EJH: I’ve read a bit of Hartley and I met him, and liked him very much. I read The Go-Between and then I read a science fiction tale about people all having the same face. I didn’t like it somehow. I haven’t read any of the others at all.  I’m still learning. 

RBR: Have you read Aickman’s autobiographies?

EJH: I read The River Runs Uphill … but I’ve discovered subsequently that he tended to exaggerate the facts. He told me about his childhood but I think he exaggerated that. I went to the house in Stanmore where he was brought up, and his mother did go and leave him, and that probably had a much worse effect than he realised on him. He was reading by the time he was four and he went to very good schools. Highgate was a very good school. I think it probably was a fairly lonely childhood…  He could be very prickly and difficult, or he could be very charming. He certainly had the gift of the gab. He could get up and make a speech about practically anything without any notes, or apparently having planned for it. I used to take dictation for weeks and months for him, to millions of people in the IWA. He just dictated them pat and there were never mistakes. He never changed his mind. Punctuation, everything. When the Market Harborough festival wanted to do a play, Springtime for Henry, they said they wanted a curtain-raiser and I’d written a one-act play called Illusion which was just about the right size and everyone was keen on it, but he went through the roof. He said "you can’t have a play on unless I have one", so I had to give way to that. 

RBR:  Was it his ego getting in the way?

EJH: Yes, yes. I think it was vast, really. And Ray colluded in a lot of that. She recognised that she was his mother all the time, and that was what he wanted. 

RBR:  Those who don’t like his fiction tend to point to the negative aspects of his life; that he was a control freak.

EJH: Being a control freak doesn’t mean that you won’t do good work…

We Are for the Dark is published by Tartarus Press on 12th November 2011.

Friday 14 October 2011

The Decadent Genius of Théophile Gautier

For those who appreciate supernatural French Decadence, Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) is a pioneer of the genre. Gautier’s enthusiasm for supernatural literature was inspired by the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman, but to this he added an erotic effusiveness all his own. Gautier’s manifesto for Romanticism was taken up by numerous other writers, most notably by Charles Baudelaire, who in 1857 dedicated Les Fleurs du mal to him.

We are publishing twelve of his best fantastic, supernatural tales in Clarimonde and Other Stories, on the 21st October 2011. For those who have yet to experience the rare delights of Gautier’s prose, we have great pleasure in presenting below ‘The Opium Pipe’. This is a short tale, but it gives a flavour of Gautier’s Decadent style:

by Théophile Gautier
First published 1838.
This translation copyright R.B. Russell/Tartarus Press

THE OTHER DAY I found my friend Alphonse Karr sitting on his divan with a lit candle, although it was broad daylight, and holding in his hand a pipe of cherry wood with a mushroom-shaped bowl into which he was crumbling a kind of brown paste like sealing-wax. The burning paste was spluttering in the bowl as he inhaled through a small mouthpiece of amber, and the smoke spread through the room with a faint scent of oriental fragrance. Without saying anything I took the apparatus from the hands of my friend, put my lips to the end, and inhaled a few times. I experienced a kind of dizziness that was not without its charms and not unlike the thrill of first intoxication. It was a day on which I was to write my regular column, and having no time to get really high, I hung the pipe on a nail in the wall, and we went down into the garden. We said hello to his dahlias and played around with his dog, Schutz, a happy animal that had no other function than to provide a shade of black against the carpet of green grass. I went home, I dined, and went to the theatre to endure some play or other. Then I returned to go to bed, because such a destination is inevitable (and through this few hours’ oblivion we prepare for our final death). The opium I had smoked, far from producing the expected effect of drowsiness, threw me into nervous agitation such as is produced by very strong coffee, and I turned in my bed like a fish on a grill, or a chicken on a spit, the bed-clothes a perpetual tangle about me, to the annoyance of my cat curled up on the corner of the quilt. Finally, long-sought Sleep poured its golden dust into my eyes, which became hot and heavy, and I finally succumbed. After an hour or two of black, uninterrupted slumber, I had a dream, and here it is:

I found myself at my friend Alphonse Karr’s, just as I had been that morning, and he was sitting on his divan of yellow damask, with his pipe and his lit candle. The only difference was that the blue, green and reds from the sun through the stained glass window was not thrown, as before, across the walls like butterflies of a thousand colours. I took the pipe from his hands, as I had done a few hours earlier, and I began to slowly draw in the intoxicating smoke. I was soon overcome by a soft indolence, and I felt the same dizziness I had experienced when smoking the real pipe. Until then my dream was rooted within the most precise limits of the real, habitable world, and repeated, like a mirror, the actions of my day. I was curled up in a pile of cushions, and I stretched my head lazily back to follow up the bluish spiral of smoke that swirled in the air before melting into a cloud of cotton-wool. My eyes were naturally on the ceiling, which is as black as ebony, with arabesques of gold. By dint of gazing at it with the attention that precedes ecstatic visions, it began to appear to be blue, but a hard blue like coat tails of the night.

‘You’ve painted your ceiling blue,’ I said to Karr, who remained impassive and silent. He had put another pipe into his mouth, and was exhaling more smoke than a stove pipe in the winter, or a steamboat in any season.

‘No, my dear fellow,’ he replied, putting his nose out of the cloud. ‘But you would seem to have painted your insides red with a great deal of Bordeaux—Chateau Lafitte!’

‘Alas! If only that were true! All I have had is one miserable glass of sugared water, in which all the ants of the earth had come to drink, and a school of insects to swim in.’

‘Well, my ceiling apparently became bored of being black and turned blue. After women, I know nothing more capricious than ceilings. It is a ceiling’s caprice, that’s all; nothing out of the ordinary.’

Whereupon Karr withdrew once more into his cloud of smoke, with the pleased expression of someone who has given a clear and satisfying explanation. But I was only half convinced, and I found it hard to believe that ceilings could be as fantastical as that. I continued to watch the one I had above my head, not without some feeling of uneasiness. It now turned blue, it turned as blue as the sea on the horizon, and stars were beginning to open their eyelids with lashes of gold. These eyelashes were of an extreme delicacy, and stretched into the room and filled it with sheaves of prismatic colour. A few black lines streaked the azure surface, and I soon realised that they were the timbers of the upper floors of the house, because the rest of the building had become transparent. Despite the ease with which one normally accepts the weirdest things in dreams, all this began to seem a little questionable, even suspicious, and I thought that if my friend Esquiros Magus was there, he would give me an explanation more satisfying than of my friend Alphonse Karr. As if the thought somehow had the power of conjuration, Esquiros suddenly appeared before us, much like the poodle in Faust comes from out behind the stove. His face was animated and triumphant, and he said, rubbing his hands together: ‘I can see as far as the Antipodes, and I have discovered the speaking Mandrake root.’ This apparition surprised me, and I said to Karr, ‘Oh! Tell me how Esquiros, who was not here before, has managed to enter without having opened the door?’

‘Nothing is more simple,’ said Karr. ‘He came in through the door when it was shut. Only ill-bred people pass through open doors. You know the insult: “He’s always trying to push through open doors”.’

 I could find no objection to such a sensible argument, and I remained convinced that indeed the presence of Esquiros was entirely explicable and proper. But he looked at me with a strange expression, and his eyes widened in an excessive manner; they were ardent and round like shields heated in a furnace, and his body continually dissolved and drowned in the shadows so that I could see no more of him than his two glowing and radiant eyes. A mesh of fire and streams of magnetic ectoplasm flickered and whirled about me, binding me ever more inextricably tight. Each sparkling filament penetrated my every pore, and established themselves in my skin almost like the hairs on my head. I was in a state of complete somnambulism. Then I saw small white flakes that crossed the blue expanse of the ceiling like tufts of cotton wool carried by the wind, or as the feathers of a dove would fall through the air. I tried in vain to guess what it was, when a voice with a strange accent whispered low and quick in my ear: ‘These are spirits!’ The scales fell from my eyes, the white vapours took on more precise forms, and I distinctly saw a long line of veiled figures who followed the cornice of the ceiling from right to left, with a very strong upward movement, as if caught in a current of air which raised them swiftly aloft. At the corner of the room, sitting on the moulding of the ceiling, was a girl wrapped in a large muslin cloth. Her feet were naked and hung nonchalantly crossed one over the other; they were, indeed, delightful, and their smallness and transparency made me think of those beautiful feet of jasper that extend so white and so pure from under the skirt of black marble of the ancient statue of Isis in the Museum. The other ghosts touched her on the shoulder in passing, and said:

‘We are leaving for the stars, come with us.’

But the phantom with the feet of white alabaster answered them:

‘No! I do not want to go to the stars. I would rather live another six months.’

The procession passed on until the phantom remained alone, swaying her pretty little feet, and hitting the wall with her heel which was tinged with pink, pale and tender as the heart of a hyacinth. Although her face was veiled, I sensed that she was young, pretty and charming, and my soul rushed to her side, with open arms and beating wings. Either consciously or instinctively, the phantom understood my feelings and said in a soft and crystalline voice like a harmonica: ‘If you have the courage to kiss the mouth of the girl who was me, and whose body is lying in the black city, I shall live for six more months, and my second life will be lived for you.’

I got up and asked myself whether or not I was the victim of some illusion, and if all that was happening was not a dream. It was my one last glimmer of rational intelligence before it was extinguished by sleep.

I asked my two friends what they thought of it all. The unflappable Karr claimed that the affair was common; he had experienced several similar, and I was very naïve to be surprised by such a trifle. Esquiros explained everything by magnetism.

‘Well, that’s fine, I’d leave, but I’m still wearing my slippers ...’

‘That does not matter,’ said Esquiros. ‘I imagine that there will be a carriage waiting at the door.’

I went out and saw, in fact, a two-horse carriage waiting for me. Although there was no coachman, I got inside, and the horses moved off on their own. They were completely black, and galloped away so furiously that their hindquarters rose and fell like waves, and a shower of sparks crackled behind them. They first took the rue la Tour d’Auvergne, then the rue Bellefond and rue Lafayette, and from there, other streets that I do not know the names of. As the carriage went, the objects around me assumed strange forms: houses squatting by the roadside like sullen old women spinning; wooden fences and street lights looked like gallows, and soon the houses disappeared altogether as the carriage sped into open countryside. We swept through a dismal, dark plain—the sky was very low, leaden, and an endless procession of small slender trees were flying by in the opposite direction to the carriage on both sides of the road, like a disordered army of broomsticks. Nothing could have been more sinister than the vast grey sky with the black silhouettes of the skeletal trees: not a single star shone, not the slightest light glimmered in the depth of this half-darkness. Finally, we reached a city, unknown to me, with houses of a singular architectural style, glimpsed but vaguely in the gloom. They seemed to me to be too small to be inhabitable; the carriage, though much larger than the streets it was traversing, was in no way delayed, for the houses to the right and left acted as frightened pedestrians might, stepping back to let us pass. After many detours, I felt the carriage melt under me and the horse vanished into vapour. I had arrived.

 A reddish light filtered through the interstices of an ajar bronze door. I pushed it open, and I found myself in a room flagged with black and white marble, and vaulted in stone, with an antique lamp placed on a pedestal of purple breccias. The dim light illuminated a reclining figure, which I first mistook for a statue such as those who sleep with their hands clasped, a greyhound at their feet, in the Gothic cathedrals. However, a moment later I realised that it was a real woman. She had a bloodless pallor that I can only compare to that of yellow beeswax, while her hands, crossed over her breast, were as matt white as the consecrated Host. Her eyes were closed, and their lashes reached down over her cheeks, and in every way she appeared to be dead, apart from her mouth, which was like a fresh flowering pomegranate, gleaming purple and succulent with life, half smiling as if in a happy dream.

I leaned over, put my mouth on hers, and I gave her the kiss that would revive her. Her lips were moist and warm, as if the breath had only just left them, and they quivered under mine, returning my kiss with an incredible ardour and life.

Here there is a gap in my dream, and I do not know how I recovered from the black city, be it mounted on a cloud, or on the back of a giant bat. But I remember perfectly that I was with Karr in a house that was neither his nor mine, nor anyone’s I knew. However, all the interior layout and details were extremely familiar to me; I can still clearly recall the fireplace in the style of Louis XVI, the floral-patterned screen, the lamp with the green shade, and shelves full of books either side of the chimney. I occupied a deep armchair with wings while Karr was in another with both of his feet resting on the mantel so that his weight was supported by his shoulders, if not his head. He listened with a pitiful, resigned manner while I related the account of my expedition, which I considered to have been a dream.

Suddenly a loud bell rang, and I was informed that a lady wanted to talk to me.

‘Show the lady in,’ I replied, excited, and sensing who she might be.

A woman dressed in white, her shoulders covered with a black cloak, entered with a light step, and stood in the shadows cast by the light of the lamp. By some very strange phenomenon, I saw three different sets of features pass across her face: for a moment she resembled Malibran, then Mme ——, and finally the young girl who had said that she did not want to die, and whose last words had been: ‘Give me a bouquet of violets’. But these resemblances soon passed like a shadow upon a mirror, and the features became fixed and definite. I recognised the dead girl I had kissed in that dark town.

Her dress was extremely simple, and she had no jewellery apart from a circle of gold in her hair, which was a dark brown and fell in clusters of ebony curls either side of her smooth, velvet cheeks. Two small patches of pink flushed above her cheekbones and her eyes shone like drops of burnished silver; she had, indeed, the beauty of an antique cameo, and the ivory transparency of her skin only added to this likeness. She stood before me and asked, strangely, what her name was. I replied, without hesitation, that her name was Carlotta, which was perfectly true. She told me she was a singer, and that she had died so young that she did not know the pleasures of existence, and before descending into motionless eternity, she wanted to enjoy the beauty of the world; all the pleasures of becoming intoxicated with and plunging into the ocean of earthly joys; she felt an unquenchable thirst for life and love. She said all this with an eloquence of expression and a poetry that is not in my power to repeat, and she clasped her arms around my neck, interlacing her slender hands in my hair. 

She began to speak in verse of a wonderful beauty, which even the greatest living poets could not have matched, and when verse could not contain her thoughts, she added music to its wings; trills, and necklaces of notes purer than perfect pearls; high, sustained notes beyond the reach of human ability; all that the heart and soul could dream of, more tender, more exquisitely pretty, more loving, more passionate and more ineffable. ‘Life for six months, for six months more . . .’ was the refrain of all her songs. I saw very clearly what she was about to say before the thought had formed in her mind or her heart and had travelled to her lips, and I completed it for myself, or started singing it. And I had the same transparency for her, and she read my own soul with equal fluency. I do not know to what heights these ecstasies would have ascended, not in the least inhibited by the presence of Karr, when I felt something hairy and rough brush against my face. I opened my eyes and I saw my cat rubbing her whiskers against my own by way of a morning greeting, as dawn was sifting through the curtains with a flickering light.

Thus ended my dream of opium, leaving no other souvenir than a vague melancholy, which is the usual consequence of these kinds of hallucination.


Théophile Gautier

Clarimonde and Other Stories contains: ‘Introduction’ by Brian Stableford, ‘Onuphrius’, ‘Two Actors for One Part’, ‘Omphale’, ‘Clarimonde’, ‘One of Cleopatra’s Nights’, ‘The Opium Pipe’, ‘The Duplicated Knight’, ‘The Mummy’s Foot’, ‘King Candaules’, ‘Arria Marcella’, ‘Jettatura’, ‘Avatar’, and various addenda.

Clarimonde and Other Stories is a sewn hardback of 366+xiii pages, printed lithographically, with head and tailbands, and d/w.
Limited to 300 copies.
Publication 21st October 2011
ISBN 978-1-905784-38-7
Price £35/$60 inc. p&p.

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