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

Iginio Ugo Tarchetti

July 4, 2007

An author that I like very much is Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. I have read most of what he is written in Italian, and I know that a few of his books are available in English. I haven’t read these however, so can’t vouch for the quality of the translations.

Anyhow, here is a brief bio of his followed by a poem called Memento! which I translated, that was published a few years ago in a zine. It is very much in the vein of Poe:

I. U. Tarchetti.jpg 


Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1839-1869)

I. U. Tarchetti was an Italian writer, who after abandoning a career in the military, settled in Milan, in order to seek his fortune in literature. He wrote articles for diverse periodicals, poems, several novels, including the anti-military Una Nobile Follia (1867) and his masterpiece Fosca (1869, translated as Passion, 1994).  The translation of his book Fantastic Tales (1869, translated 1992) was nominated for a Bram Stoker award in 1992.



          When I kiss your perfumed lips,

Dear girl, I cannot forget

That a white skull is concealed beneath.          

          When I press your pretty body to mine,

Forget I cannot, dear girl,

That a skeleton is hidden beneath.          

          And in that horrifying vision, I am absorbed,

Whenever you touch or kiss, or lay on me your hand . . .

I feel protruding the cold bones of death!                                                                    

                                                  [Originally published in ‘Il Gazzetino’, 30 November, 1867]

Xavier de Montépin

July 2, 2007

I have to say I have a deep love for cheap 19th century novels. There is a certain low-brow charm about them that is difficult to articulate. Anyhow, one of the books I am currently reading is by Xavier de Montépin and is called I Misteri dell’India. It is about a young English gentleman who goes to India and finds himself the amorous subject of an Indian princess who is fond of makings use of sleeping potions, large silent servants who keep their arms crossed and suppers in the recesses of abandoned temples in the jungle.


The sequel, which I haven’t begun yet, is titled Il Velo e l’Anello. These books were originally written in French, but I am reading the Italian translations. It is a shame that this author has never been put into English. Not that many people would read him even if he were. But it is still a shame.

De Montépin was a prolific author, hugely popular in his lifetime. I am not sure how many books he wrote, but I myself have a healthy stack and know of a huge number of titles that I have never had the opportunity to read. Here is a brief bio of the author, probably more complete than anything currently available in English on the internet: 

Xavier de Montépin – He was born in Apremont on March 18th, 1824 and died in Paris on April 30th, 1902. He began life as a journalist, and wrote in conjunction with the Marquis de Foudras the novels Les chevaliers du lansquenet (10 vols., 1847) and Les viveurs d’autrefois (4 vols., 1848), to which he added many others equally descriptive of the elegant demi-monde. He gained great notoriety by the suppression of his licentious Filles de platre (7 vols., 1855), but continued to produce other voluminous works of a similar character, including Le bigame, Le mari de Marguerite, Confessions de Tulla, Les drames de l’adultere, La comtesse de Nancey, etc. His most famous novel however was La Porteuse de pain. He also assisted the elder Dumas as a playwright.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch: The Letawitza

June 25, 2007

This story was originally intended for an anthology of obscure and semi-obscure authors. The project was scrapped by the publisher, but obviously I still have the material. The translation is not mine, but the bio as well as one of the footnotes are.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895)

Austrian lawyer and writer, chevalier of the Legion of Honour, who published also under the pseudonyms Charlotte Arand and Zoë von Rodenbach. As a young man he taught at the University of Graz. In Leipzig he edited the review Auf der Hohe. He then moved to Paris where he pursued a strictly literary career. His grand scheme, probably modelled after Balzac’s Comedie Humaine, was to write a series of 36 novels under the title The Legacy of Caine, but he was only able to complete about a third of the work.  In 1873 he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which is also the name of the heroin of Sacher-Masoch’s novel of humiliation and suffering Venus in Furs, virtually the only novel of his which is still read today. The following story originally appeared in the Revue Des Deux Mondes.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.jpg

The Letawitza

By Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Translated by Sarah Dean

It was an unlucky day for the chase: two hazel-hens and a big vulture comprised the whole booty. “It is the fault of that confounded sorceress!” exclaimed the gamekeeper, taking off his hat, and wiping the large drops of perspiration on his forehead on the puffed sleeves of his shirt; then he handed me some brandy in a gourd, yellow and chubby as a Barbary ape.

At dawn we had, it is true, in starting out on our expedition, met a little old woman, all withered up, who was searching for mushrooms in the brushwood; and now evening was falling, and there was nothing left for us but to return to the house. The sun was setting, red and angry, behind the huge blocks of granite that like great crumbling towers overhang the grey, jagged sides of the Carpathian Mountains. Nothing else was to be seen, unless it were an old stunted trunk, which, stretching out from the rubbish over the slippery declivity, seemed to reach towards us its long, gnarled arms. It stood projected against the sky, with its bent back, its hanging chevelure and mossy beard, absolutely like our Jew; but it clings, firm and immovable, to the rock, as he also knows how to hold on energetically to whatever his thin bony hands have once seized[1].

We descended rapidly by a path draped with bilberries and rhododendrons, our dog panting painfully behind us, and passed under the green canopy of pines. The subdued noise of a distant waterfall accompanied us. The tall, green, feathery tree-tops, which shot up toward heaven with solemn majesty, began to mingle with the golden, rosy horizon, while from their slender trunks escaped their amber-coloured resinous juice. Red and purple berries, with the large forest flowers, made designs like a many-coloured embroidery upon the velvety moss which spread among the interlacing roots; and deep shadows fell from above upon the branches, like black drops between the motionless needles.

A few minutes longer, little clouds hovered in the west, bathing themselves in the rosy sea; then a line of purple extended along the horizon. Above the ground the soft, tremulous air was filled with innumerable little flies transparent as spun glass, and vapours, that might have been taken for white veils of an impalpable material, ascended with brilliant reflections from the tranquil valley, already plunged in night. The bushes, the trees, the mountains, seemed to shoot up in the golden atmosphere and lose themselves in the infinite, while their shadows stretched out ever farther. In the west, a star glittered above the pines, which stood erect against the sky like black swords, or like iron pickets around a park. The songs of birds had ceased. Here and there, only, a whistling sound pierced the forest, and some affrighted animal fled among the branches. The pearly sky had become blue, and gradually darkened. The shadows closed around, and at last were inextricably mingled with the impenetrable mass of slowly thickening gloom. Having, at this moment, reached the foot of the wooded hill, we followed a narrow path which wound around between common pastures and potato-fields. Suddenly the dark space between two rocks towards the west was illuminated, and began to flame as if some village were on fire; then, after a moment, the moon unmasked her golden disk, suspended majestically in the obscurity of the heavens, and diffused over the country her mild, consoling light. A current of cool air passed over the stalks, the grasses, the leaves of the trees, and the dismal summits of the pine forest; everything began to swarm, to flutter, to murmur. Far in advance of us the lights of a village gleamed like glow-worms lying in the grass, and overhead the immense vault was strewn with innumerable stars, like the bivouac fires of a grand army. The moonlight lay along the branches like threads of silver, and all the hills, all the ravines, were swimming in this magical reverberating light, which produces in us at the same time such calm and such melancholy.

As we reached a little cluster of birches, a flashing rocket traversed the sky and disappeared in space. The gamekeeper crossed himself, and stopped short. “Too late, the evil has come,” said he.

“What evil?”

“Didn’t you see the star shoot?”


“It will be transformed into a letawitza.”

“How is that?”

“In every shooting star there lives a demon which falls upon the earth,” replied the gamekeeper in a troubled voice. “If at the instant when one perceives it he recites a certain formula, the witchcraft is conjured away, but if the star touches the earth it takes the form of a woman of great beauty, with long blonde hair which flows and glistens like stars. This beautiful creature is gifted with a strange power over every human soul. She draws young persons to her in the golden network falling over her white shoulders. At night, when all sleep, she bends over them and embraces them,-embraces them pitilessly, until they fall dead.” Read the rest of this entry »