Ponson du Terrail: A Toss-up for a Husband

December 2, 2010

One of my favourite authors is Ponson du Terrail. He really works best in his longer works – his tales that go on for thousands of pages. Very little of his work is in English. Here is something for those interested:





THE Marchioness was at her toilet. Florine and Aspasia, her two ladies’ maids, were busy powdering, as it were with hoar-frost, the bewitching widow.

She was a widow, this Marchioness, a widow of twenty-three; and wealthy, as very few persons were any longer at the court of Louis XV., her godfather.

Three-and-twenty years earlier, his Majesty had held her at the baptismal font of the chapel at Marly, and had settled upon her an income of a hundred thousand livres, by way of proving to her father, the Baron Fontevrault, who had saved his life at the battle of Fontenoy, that Kings can be grateful, whatever people choose to say to the contrary.

The Marchioness then was a widow. She resided, during the summer, in a charming little chateau, situated half-way up the slope overhanging the water, on the road from Bougival to Saint Germain. Madame Dubarry’s estate adjoined hers; and on opening her eyes she could see, without rising, the white gable-ends and the wide-spreading chestnut-trees of Luciennes, perched upon the heights. On this particular day—it was noon—the Marchioness, whilst her attendants dressed her hair and arranged her head-dress with the most exquisite taste, gravely employed herself in tossing up, alternately, a couple of fine oranges, which crossed each other in the air, and then dropped into the white and delicate hand that caught them in their fall.

This sleight-of-hand—which the Marchioness interrupted at times whilst she adjusted a beauty-spot on her lip, or cast an impatient glance on the crystal clock that told how time was running away with the fair widow’s precious moments—had lasted for ten minutes, when the folding-doors were thrown open, and a valet, such as one sees now only on the stage, announced with pompous voice—“The King!”

Apparently, the Marchioness was accustomed to such visits, for she but half rose from her seat, as she saluted with her most gracious smile the personage who entered.

It was indeed Louis XV. himself—Louis XV. at sixty-five; but robust, upright, with smiling lip and beaming eye, and jauntily clad in a close-fitting, pearl-grey hunting-suit, that became him to perfection. He carried under his arm a handsome fowling-piece, inlaid with mother-of-pearl; a small pouch, intended for ammunition alone, hung over his shoulder.

The King had come from Luciennes, almost alone, that is to say with a Captain of the Guard, the old Marshal de Richelieu, and a single equerry on foot. He had been amusing himself with quail-shooting, loading his own gun, as was the fashion with his ancestors, the later Valois and the earlier Bourbons. His grandsire, Henry IV., could not have been less ceremonious.

But a shower of hail had surprised him; and his Majesty had no relish for it. He pretended that the fire of an enemy’s battery was less disagreeable than those drops of water, so small and so hard, that wet him through, and reminded him of his twinges of rheumatism.

Fortunately, he was but a few steps from the gateway of the chateau, when the shower commenced. He had come therefore to take shelter with his god-daughter, having dismissed his suite, and only keeping with him a magnificent pointer, whose genealogy was fully established by the Duke de Thchelieu, and traced back, with a few slips in orthography, directly to Nisus, that celebrated greyhound, given by Charles IX. to his friend Ronsard, the poet.

“Good morning, Marchioness,” said the King, as he entered, putting down his fowling-piece in a corner. “I have come to ask your hospitality. We were caught in a shower, at your gate—Richelien and I. I have packed off Richelieu.”

“Ah, Sire, that wasn’t very kind of you.”

“Hush I” replied the King, in a good-humored tone. “It’s only mid-day; and if the Marshal had forced his way in here at so early an hour, he would have bragged of it every where, this very evening. He is very apt to compromise one, and he is a great coxcomb too, the old Duke. But don’t put yourself out of the way, Marchioness. Let Aspasia finish this becoming pile of your head-dress, and Florine spread out with her silver knife the scented powder that blends so well with the lilies and the roses of your bewitching face . . . . Why, Marchioness, you’re so pretty, one could eat you up

“You think me so, Sire?”

“I tell you so every day. Oh, what fine oranges!”

And the King seated himself upon the roomy sofa, by the side of the Marchioness, whose rosy finger-tips he kissed with an infinity of grace. Then taking up one of the oranges that he had admired, he proceeded leisurely to examine it.

“But,” said he at length, “what are oranges doing by the side of your Chinese powder-box and your scent-bottles? Is there any connection between this fruit and the maintenance—easy as it is, Marchioness—of your charms?” Read the rest of this entry »

Books Bought

August 1, 2008

I got hold of a number of Jules Verne titles from his Extraordinary Voyages series which I am looking forward to reading. All of them are translated into Italian. The titles are:

1) La Stella del Sud (L’Étoile du sud) [The Southern Star]

2) Un prete nel 1839 (Un prête en 1839) [A Priest in 1839]

3) Borse di Viaggio (Bourses de voyage) [Travelling Bags]

4) Le avventure di Ettore Servadac, Attraverso il mondo solare (Hector Servadac, voyages et aventures a travers le monde solaire) [Hector Servadac, Voyages and Adventures around the Solar World]

5) César Cascabel

6) Racconti di ieri e di domani [Tales of Yesterday and Tomorrow]

7) Il superbo Orinoco (Le superbe Orénoque) [Superb Orénoque]

8 ) Il castello dei Carpazi (Le chateau des Carpathes) [The Castle in the Carpathians]

9) Claudius Bombarnac

10) Di fronte alla bandiera (Face au drapeau) [Facing the Flag]

Gustave Kahn

July 11, 2008

Today I finally got hold of a book I have been looking for for years:

Gustave Kahn: La Principessa solare

He was an important French symbolist writer.

Li Yu, Charming blossoms . . .

July 7, 2008

Here is another poem by Li Yu. This one was also translated by my friend Bo Jiang and myself and was also originally printed in the same anthology mentioned in my first Li Yu post:

Charming blossoms in the grove are saying goodbye to crimsoning spring,
They are gone too soon,
It cannot be helped though since cold rain comes in the morning and rain at night.
She is crying; rouge melts with tears,
I am drunk with her asking me to stay,
“When will you be back?”
It is natural that the river keeps flowing east,
And men always feel regret.

Li Yu, Alone I ascended . . .

July 2, 2008

The following is a brief bio of Li Yu and a poem he wrote. This was translated by my friend Bo Jiang and myself from the Chinese. It was originally published in an anthology called Literature of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Prentice Hall 1999).

Li Yu [937-978] was the sixth son of Li Jing. He was enthroned in 961 at the age of twenty-four and was emperor of South Tang for fifteen years. In 975 his country was invaded by the Sung and conquered, leaving him in the position of a mere titular noble. On July 7, 978 the emperor Shong Tai Chong compelled him to take poison and he died at the age of forty-two. Most of his famous poetry was written in the period after his fall from power when he was forced to sit idly by and watch his country ruled by another.

A poem:


Alone I ascended West Tiered Manor in silence,

While the moon appeared like a hook.

The cool fall was locked in this maple garden, calm and quiet;


This thing cannot be cut,

It gets more messy trying to straighten out.

A melancholy departure,

And a raw feeling in my heart.

Mysteries of the Court of London

December 29, 2007

A few months back I bought a book called Mysteries of the Court of London, by George M. Reynolds. Well, it is actually a book in ten volumes, each volume being about 500 pages. So, it is a 5,000 page novel essentially-which is about three times as long as War and Peace. Now, when I bought the set, I was perfectly aware that Reynolds had written a book titled Mysteries of London, but somehow imagined that it was part of Mysteries of the Court of London. Now, after seeing some of the text of the previously mentioned work, I have discovered that it is completely different, though equally as long! Apparently, the two works together are made up of 4.5 million words. As they were written over a twelve year period however, this averages about 1,100 words a day, or about four pages, which is quite a lot, but not phenomenal. What is phenomenal however, is that in this same period he completed another 11 series, including Mysteries of the Court of Naples and Mysteries of Old London. As these titles are very difficult to come  by however, I am uncertain about the lengths.

Here is a little taste from Mysteries of London:

Women press their little ones to their dried-up breasts in the agonies of despair; young delicate creatures waste their energies in toil from the dawn of day till long past the hour of midnight, perpetuating their unavailing labour from the hour of the brilliant sun to that when the dim candle sheds its light around the attic’s naked walls; and even the very pavement groans beneath the weight of grief which the poor are doomed to drag over the rough places of this city of sad contrasts.
    For in this city the daughter of the peer is nursed in enjoyments, and passes through an uninterrupted avenue of felicity from the cradle to the tomb; while the daughter of poverty opens her eyes at her birth upon destitution in all its most appalling shapes, and at length sells her virtue for a loaf of bread.
    There are but two words known in the moral alphabet of this great city; for all virtues are summed up in the one, and all vices in the other: and those words are
    WEALTH.    |    POVERTY.  


Ponson du Terrail books

October 2, 2007

Ponson du Terrail has become one of my favourite authors. I plan to post a story of his here, once I can get it together. In the mean time, here is an incomplete catologue of the books of his that I have. The reason it is incomplete is a) I am not sure if I have counted all the books of his that I have, and b) I have not listed the copies I have of alternative titles (in the Rocambole series I have a number of these). All titles are in Italian, since that is the language I am reading Terrail in.

1. Un paggio di Luigi XIV

2. Dragonne e Mignonne

3. Il nuovo maestro di scuola

4. Il secreto di Dottor Rousselle

5. Il romanzo d’una cospirazione

6. Le maschere rosse

7. Il grillo del mulino

8. L’Organetto

9. La fatta d’Auteuil

10. I cavalieri della notte

11. La regina delle gitane

12. Il re degli zingari

13. Il brigadiere la jeunesse

14. La Madre miracolo

15. L’Armajuolo di Milano

16. I bellimbusti

17. Memorie d’un gendarme

18. Rossignol il libro pensatore

19. Inglese e Cinese

20. Il capitano dei penitenti neri

21. Il castello del diavolo

22. La buca di Satana

23. Un delitto di gioventu’

24. La Bella argentiera

25. La favorita del Re di Navarra

26. Gli amori della bella Nancy

27. Le avventure del Fante di fiori

28. La notte di S. Bartolomeo

29. La Regina delle barricate

30. Il bel Galaor

31. La seconda gioventù di Re Enrico

32. L’eredita misteriosa

33. Il club di fanti di cuori