Friday, December 24, 2010


I made it back from Russia. With what? Well, better knowledge of Russian grammar (способ действия, in particular - very handy for reading literature! But for the life of me I can't incorporate any of them in my speech...), perhaps some improvement in my spoken Russian - which to my great surprise was deemed better than my ability to translate! I always thought it was the other way around. I'm happily back though, after all, although I currently find myself in the north of Sweden where it's OMFG cold and I'm doing... nothing but reading.

While in Russia, I got inspired to read more, and as a consequence, languages are on hold for the moment. I'm reading instead. I will write a post on my "guilty pleasure" reading later, but this post is about two books that have quite some things in common, even though I hadn't really realized it until last night.

Let's make a list! Both books...

* take place in 18/19th century France (exact years escape me)
* are written by Frenchmen (one in 1787, the other was finalized in 1900)
* deal with the lives of young women
* deal with the lives of young women who constantly get into trouble
* are highly subversive
* reveal the hypocrisy and debauchery of the "fine world"

Perhaps I should have picked up on those similarities a little bit earlier?

I'm reading one of them in Russian, because I found it in a 2nd hand book store in St-Petersburg, the other I found at the top of one of my book boxes that haven't been unpacked yet in our new apartment.

1. Justine by Marquis de Sade
2. Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre by Octave Mirbeau (The Diary of a Chambermaid)

Octave Mirbeau's book is of course of a somewhat higher literary quality, even though the style is made out to be that of an actual chambermaid. Marquis de Sade has never really struck me with his awesome prose, not even in Russian (reading in foreign languages tend to make miserably poor prose seem better since you're too bad at the language to realize what crap you are reading)... I'm not saying Sade is THAT bad, he's just no... Emily Brontë. Reading Sade is always a case of curiosity, for the fun of it, not because he's a great author or because his philosophic ideas are breaht taking. Moral relativism is after all as comfortable and easy as it gets within moral philosophy!

The misfortunes of Mirbeau's chambermaid are of the "naww, poor girl" kind, plus dear Célestine doesn't complain all that much and is not trying to dissimulate her true nature from the reader. Justine, on the other hand, runs into the kind of stuff that goes two thousand miles beyond "naww..." and is, herself, a Saint (at least so far). So, yes, Mirbeau's books is a *bit* more nuanced and interesting. Sade's book makes you finally understand why sadism was given his name - some of his other books certainly don't, nor does his life - but I hardly doubt you will finish it with a sense of "oh I can so totally recognize myself in the characters" or "oh my god, this book has changed my life". Mirbeau has some points, and I find myself wishing I had a book to write down quotes in.

Okay, just one! Just one!

L'habitude agit comme une atténuation, comme une brume, sur les objets et sur les êtres. Elle finit, peu à peu, par effacer les traits d'un visage, par estomper les déformations; elle fait qu'un bossu avec qui l'on vit quotidiennement n'est plus, au bout d'un certain temps, bossu...

So I have this tendency to write about books I have yet to finish... I will write again once I have read them до конца, and see what I think about them then. Mirbeau's book is full of anti-Semitic stuff (one of the characters is an anti-Semite) and was written during the Dreyfus affaire, so I have to look into that more, and there's a movie with Jeanne Moreau. Fun fun!

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