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Ms. M. K. Juby "morbid morag" (cottingham, yorkshire, UK)

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Bluebeard: Brave Warrior, Brutal Psychopath
Bluebeard: Brave Warrior, Brutal Psychopath
Price: £6.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Bluebeard sadly lacking in curiosity, 16 Nov. 2014
It is a red-letter day when a new English language biography of Gilles de Rais appears; the last was Leonard Wolf's serious and largely accurate, but entirely soulless, effort over a third of a century ago. Valerie Ogden's book promised so much, notably a sympathetic fresh interpretation of Gilles' life, but it is a sad disappointment. Like so many biographers before her, she has been led down the primrose path that leads to the ubiquitous Bibliophile Jacob and his “more circumstantial” copy of the trial record. Ogden does not list him among her sources, but it is not necessary to read the Bibliophile, Paul Lacroix, to be seduced by him. Bossard, for his own transparent reasons, accepted this obvious forgery as a genuine text; most biographers and novelists since have been strongly influenced by the Bibliophile, either by reading him directly or via Bossard and his imitators.

Ironically, the fatal flaw of this Bluebeard book is a lack of curiosity, specifically about sources. Ms Ogden dismisses Prouteau's radical biography as a “novel”, which indeed it is in parts, but is happy to cite Huysmans' novel Là-Bas and even Tragedy in Blue by Richard Thoma, which is nothing but a short story. Huysmans, like the Bibliophile, has much to answer for when it comes to muddying the waters of Raisian studies. The life of Gilles de Rais has long been obscured by myths, mostly created by these two writers and retailed unthinkingly by almost all subsequent biographers. Ms Ogden is no exception. So Gilles is arrested by Labbé and makes his witty pun, as invented by Lacroix; only here the joke is botched because “abbé ” is mistranslated as “priest”. And of course the Bishop of Nantes veils the crucifix, just as Huysmans had him do in an elaboration of a less dramatic moment in Lacroix.

Really, this is a book out of its time. It would be wrong to criticise it for failing in something it never set out to do, and I am fully aware that I come at it from an opposing camp. However, it must be said that slowly public opinion has shifted in favour of a revisionist stance, and it seems impossibly quaint in the 21st century to read a text that fully accepts the validity of an Inquisition trial with the use of torture. Ogden never fully faces the twentieth century movement towards rehabilitating Gilles de Rais; the only revisionist writer she addresses is Reinach, who is easy to discredit. Fleuret, Bayard and Prouteau, who make a more detailed case, are ignored. In particular, she cannot bring herself to mention the 1992 retrial that resulted in his unofficial acquittal. The ostrich position is never a good look; a writer can accept the verdict of the modern tribunal or argue against it, but to simply pretend it never happened is a wilful denial of reality.

Gilles is a difficult topic for a modern writer in any case. Roland Villeneuve could happily wallow in sodomy and black magic in the Satanism-obsessed 1970s; in the 21st century, sodomy is a taboo word and nobody believes in magic. Leaving only murder, repositioned as a response to that fashionable diagnosis Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. “Somehow he became a homicidal sexual psychopath”. There is a world of evasion in that word “somehow”. The psychology is vague and fails to gel. Because Ogden has fallen for some rather bizarre, novelettish fantasies about Gilles' childhood and youth, he is presented as a latent psychopath from his earliest days. He is then traumatised by some unknown event, possibly the death of Jehanne d'Arc, resulting in PTSD. However, since the primary trait of a psychopath is lack of human feelings, it seems unlikely that this could happen. The PTSD theory is a good one, but it remains a theory; there is no evidence at all to back it up. It is one more author attempting to explain away the complete transformation of Gilles' character which supposedly took place in 1432.

The errors are manifold. At one point we are told, wrongly, that brother René de la Suze was born the year before his parents died, in 1414. In the chronology, the date is correctly given as 1407; but this is said to be the same year as Jehanne, who was famously not yet twenty when she died in 1431. She was actually born in 1412. At another point, a horrible mistranslation has Henriet suggesting the idea of killing children by cutting their throats, as if this would never have occurred to a serial killer in the five years or so before his valet was initiated. This is not merely a mistranslation; it is a strong indication, and not the only one, that Ogden is not at all familiar with the trial record, which is her only primary source, either in French or in English. She also conflates the two exhumations that allegedly took place at Champtocé and Machecoul; in her account, Roger de Bricqueville arranges his peep-show at the former and the latter never takes place. This is simply sloppy reading of the text, or possibly an ill-judged attempt to simplify the story by removing a confusing duplication. What it is not is a serious attempt at writing history.

A thread that runs through the book is Gilles' apparent obsession with the “black planet” that ruled his destiny. Several times Ms Ogden stresses that he mentioned it more than once, that both his valets heard him talk about it, that Gilles himself hinted at it in his out-of-court confession. Not so. It is mentioned once only, by Henriet at the ecclesiastical tribunal; this is one of the few points on which his and Poitou's evidence differs. Neither is there any implication that this was a regular theme with his master; he said it once. Allegedly.

This biography occupies an uneasy no-man's-land between genuine history and novel. There are impossible descriptions that seem to come from works of fiction and at every turn we are told what Gilles is wearing – at one point, “rose-pink tights”. Some of this comes from the Bibliophile Jacob, who has Gilles wearing first white and then black before the court at symbolic moments; though here the details are elaborated upon, Gilles is seen in five different shades of white and later in three shades of black, including “corbeau-damask”. There is a lurid and completely uncanonical description of Poitou's initiation, involving hanging from a hook and a “serrated” dagger, and also one of Ms Ogden's not-infrequent lapses of tone which has this young boy described as “sinewy and stunning” and “this loopy young man”. Almost all of the missing boys have a couple of words of description, which would be perfectly justifiable in a novel but has no place in a historical work. It also makes this section of the book conspicuously formulaic and adjective-heavy. More worryingly, the murders are dealt with in a manner that is gleefully gruesome (“slashing and bashing”) and not wholly accurate – that Gilles squatted in the entrails of his victims was an exaggeration by Huysmans, and there is no mention of “violated anuses” in the trial record; sodomy is not necessarily buggery. On a lighter note, the poor people are said to decorate their hovels with henbane flowers – of all the flowers they could have chosen, this is possibly the least likely, as henbane is poisonous in all parts and even its scent is intoxicating. A sceptic might remark that this is one explanation for some of the more outré testimony.

It would be tedious to continue. Inaccuracy, minimal grasp of the facts as related in the trial documents, a fatal weakness for a well-turned myth, poor translations from the French (Memory of the Heirs is clunking as well as incorrect) numerous verbal infelicities (“ominous omens” should never have made it past the first draft), and most of the accents missing from the names, which does not add to the authority of the book. At the end, Valerie Ogden explains how she came to be interested in Gilles de Rais; she is related by marriage to a family who claim descent from him, although they “run away” when she tries to question them. One can hardly blame them at this point. It is tempting to wonder if her in-laws were playing a joke on her, since de Rais had only one daughter, who was childless, and the family died out completely in 1502. As she would have known if she had read Bossard attentively. Although Ms Ogden has dutifully parroted the Abbé's official myth that Gilles was named “Bluebeard” because of his war-horse, or barbe, which was bluish-black, she clearly clings mutinously to the Bibliophile's description of him as literally blue-bearded, since these self-styled descendants have “cobalt-blue hair”...

Gilles de Rais, ou, La gueule du loup (Collection Danielle Pampuzac)
Gilles de Rais, ou, La gueule du loup (Collection Danielle Pampuzac)
by Gilbert Prouteau
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vexing, perplexing, vital book, 7 Sept. 2013
On June 17th 1992, The Guardian put a story headlined Second chance for Bluebeard on its front page. "More than 550 years after he was hanged and then burned" it began, with typical inaccuracy, "for offences ranging from sodomy to heresy, Gilles de Rais, Joan of Arc's companion in arms, is to be retried in an official process of rehabilitation." This came as a pleasant shock to those of us who had long believed that Gilles was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. A few months later, the verdict was announced: Not guilty. This made news worldwide; the account in The Guardian, and also The New York Times, can be read online. Gilles de Rais' sudden return to the limelight, and rehabilitation, can be put down to one man, Vendéen novelist Gilbert Prouteau, and one book: this one.

Prouteau's masterpiece of revisionist literature has been cruelly treated by history, through no fault of his. It is easily the most influential book about Gilles de Rais ever published, as it is essentially the case for the defence which was put to a special court of appeal under the auspices of UNESCO and led to his sensational acquittal. But the book and the retrial were in 1992, before the internet, and both are mostly forgotten today. Prouteau's book, which I understand was a best-seller in France, has never been translated into English and I have been unable to find any detailed online reviews.

It is a strange book, not obviously a "biography" in the usual sense, and not at all what the tourist board of Brittany expected when they commissioned it. It opens with a recalled rant by Prouteau's late mentor, the lawyer Maurice Garçon, who memorably claims that if he had to defend Gilles de Rais in court he would get him off with "six months with remission". Prouteau then goes on to relate how a local dignitary asked him to write a biography of Gilles de Rais to tie in with a new tourist trail. By implication, Prouteau jumped at the chance.

The resulting book is a curious mish-mash of fact and fiction. Some, including the spectacularly parti pris Jacques Heers (Gilles de Rais), have accused him of writing a romantic novel. It is that, in part, but it is also a lot more.

The biographical/romanesque section of the book proceeds in an eccentric fashion, opening with a character assassination of Rais's nemesis, Bishop of Nantes Jean de Malestroit, an outline of the bad feeling between the two and the trap that the bishop set for his foe. This section ends with Gilles' arrest and Malestroit arranging to have the heavy-drinking nobleman deprived of alcohol in order to weaken his resistance to interrogation.

The book then segues into a romanticised sketch of Gilles' life, written by Gilles himself as he languishes in the Tour Neuve at Nantes. In a way, this is the book the tourist board wanted for their wretched "circuit touristique" - we have the lonely boy wandering the grim castle, the parental neglect, the mother who abandons him (although it is more probable that she predeceased her husband) and, above all, the fallacy of the two young fianceés who both die, thus adding an atmosphere of doom and nodding to the spurious Bluebeard myth.

In the next section, Gilles is still writing, this time long letters to Pierre de l'Hôpital, President of Brittany and representative of the civil court. With much justification, Prouteau felt that Hôpital was sympathetic to Gilles and unconvinced of his guilt. These passages are intercut with extracts from the trial, which Gilles comments on. The final letter is followed by the words "Fin du journal apocryphe de Gilles de Rais" and a few pages describe his execution.

This is not, however, the end of the book. The most interesting section is still to come: it is titled "J'Accuse", in a very clear reference to the Dreyfus case, and it deals with Prouteau's attempt to have Gilles de Rais' name cleared. He sought out the aid of a barrister friend, Jean-Yves Goeau-Brissonnière, who agreed to represent Gilles in court at a specially-arranged tribunal, the details of which are frustratingly vague, and the next sixty or so pages record the peroration that Goeau-Brissonnière delivered before the court. Touchingly, we are not given the verdict; if the book had been held back from the publishers for a few months, it could have included the spectacular triumph of Gilles' acquittal. It seems that Prouteau did not really expect this result and wished to market the book on the sensation of the retrial, believing that the verdict would be a damp squib.

For all its dramatic effect in the real world, this is an imperfect work: Prouteau does, in the romanesque section, print the legend and to some extent play into the hands of the Vendéen tourist board, with their accursed son et lumière and "Sur les Traces de Gilles de Rais" nonsense. He does not cite his sources, so his extraordinary claim that Gilles was an alcoholic who was deprived of his drug in prison in order to extract a false confession from him can neither be challenged nor confirmed. And he does make the mistake of accepting certain parts of extorted evidence as gospel truth, which puts him in the unnecessary position of having to pen a defence of paedophilia.

Still, this is the book that forced France, if not the rest of the world, to look at her prodigal son in a new light. In this new century, one sees its influence on web sites and coffee table books even in the anglophone world. Few books have had such a resounding effect as this one, and it is worth the read, even for those of us who struggle with French as a second language. A translation seems unlikely so long after the original publication, but if one were forthcoming it would certainly repeat its success in a new market.

Gilbert Prouteau lived till the advanced age of ninety-five and died on August 2nd 2012, a round twenty years after La Gueule du Loup was published and Gilles de Rais acquitted. Shamefully, his death barely caused a ripple outside France. Let this book and its reverberations in the real world be his memorial.

BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
Price: £19.47

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars poor instructions, 28 Aug. 2012
They were fine once I had my husband explain to me how to use them, and they fit my tiny lily-white hands to a tee. Perfect for jotting shopping lists and recipes, but I have to dock a star for poor instructions. Really, how's a girl supposed to know which way up they go?

Dark Star: The Satanic Rites of Gilles De Rais
Dark Star: The Satanic Rites of Gilles De Rais
by Georges Bataille
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A wasted opportunity, 12 Sept. 2010
This could have been something really special - an anthology of writings about Gilles de Rais, one of the most notorious men in history. Some of the material is interesting, some of it is even rare, but it is difficult to see who it is aimed at. It is not a good place for a novice to start, since fact and fiction are not easily distinguished in the life of Gilles de Rais at the best of times, and anybody reading the passages from Valentine Penrose (which is factual although heavily romanticised, but finds itself in the fiction section of the book)will read much that is pure fantasy. Anybody who has read much about him will buy this for the rarities but be frustrated by finding much that they have already read, particularly Bataille and Huysmans.

The proofreading, moreover, is the worst I have ever seen in a professionally-produced publication. The short story Tragedy in Blue, by Richard Thoma, which I was particularly looking forward to reading, was in places rendered almost incomprehensible by typographical errors.

The worst fault, however, is a complete failure to address or even mention the revisionist view of Gilles de Rais, which had been in the ascendant for over a decade when this anthology was conceived. Gilles de Rais was innocent, the last of the victims of the witch trials to gain posthumous justice. He was a great war hero on the French side; his judges were pro-English and had an interest in blackening his name and, possibly, by association, that of Jehanne d'Arc. His confession was obtained under threat of torture and also excommunication, which he dreaded. A close examination of the testimony of his associates, in particular that of Poitou and Henriet, reveals that they are almost identical and were clearly extracted by means of torture. Even the statements of outsiders, alleging the disappearance of children, mostly boil down to hearsay; the very few cases where named children have vanished can be traced back to the testimony of just eight witnesses. There was no physical evidence to back up this testimony, not a body or even a fragment of bone. His judges also stood to gain from his death: in fact, Jean V Duke of Brittany disposed of his share of the loot before the trial was over.

In France, the subject of de Rais's possible innocence is far more freely discussed than it is in the English-speaking world. In 1992 a Vendéen author named Gilbert Prouteau was hired by the Breton tourist board to write a new biography. Prouteau was not quite the tame biographer that was wanted and his book, Gilles de Rais, ou, La gueule du loup (Collection Danielle Pampuzac), argued that Gilles de Rais was not guilty. Moreover, he summoned a Court of Cassation to re-try the case, which sensationally resulted in an acquittal. As of 1992, Gilles de Rais is officially an innocent man.

There is even a rumour that he was put forward for canonization recently, which would make a more interesting story than many in this volume. He was certainly not the basis for Bluebeard, although Charles Perrault's fairy tale opens the book; this is a very old story which appears all over the world in different forms.

I can understand why this material was omitted: with a subtitle like "The Satanic Rites of Gilles de Rais", it would be embarrassing to include evidence that all the Grand Guignol was an invention of the Church for political reasons. However, the fact that there is not even an appendix dealing with this very interesting matter makes it a very one-sided account. And I do question whether the world needs another attempt to cover up a truth which took 550 years to come to light.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2012 12:03 PM BST

Old City, New Rumours
Old City, New Rumours
by Ian Gregson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars To Hull in a Handcart, 25 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Old City, New Rumours (Paperback)
This anthology is a sequel to one that was published in 1982 (& here I state an interest: I was in both books). In his introduction to the earlier book, A Rumoured City: New Poets from Hull, Philip Larkin said: "[Hull] is still as good a place to write as any. Better, in fact, than some. For a place cannot produce poems: it can only not prevent them, and Hull is good at that".

Now, what do we all know about Larkin? That for many years he was unable to write! The English Department at the University, formally known as the Larkin Building, is jocularly known as the Larkin Block. So I do think the old devil was being sarky, don't you?

Hull is a godawful place, full of suppressed and not-so-suppressed violence. It's a joke to say that it inspires poetry. It is, however, true that there was a thriving poetry scene in the eighties, which was reflected in the first anthology, although several poets were omitted and this caused a lot of hard feelings at the time. The new anthology doesn't really relate to Hull in the same way. The word obviously went out: find some big names with a Hull connection! Going to University in a town doesn't really make it a major influence in your life or work, and I think it would have been possible to blag entry into this volume if you once changed trains at Hull Paragon in 1978.

Still, if you're looking for a sampler of poetry from many varied poets, some well-known and some less so, this will give you what you want. Just try not to be be too crushed when Hull doesn't feature that strongly.

The vampire
The vampire
by Ornella Volta
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars morbidly endearing, 14 Oct. 2008
This review is from: The vampire (Paperback)
This was my favourite book as a (rather precocious)schoolgirl; in fact, I was banned from bringing it into class, as it was so much more absorbing than what the teacher was saying. It has stood the test of time and I still enjoy dipping into it and plucking out one of its nuggets of strange facts and folklore. The footnotes are just as entertaining as the body of the text, which I always find endearing in a book. The ostensible topic is vampires but it roams all over the place and anything related to death and possible resurrection is grist to its mill. History, literature, crime, myth, natural history, all are plundered for relevant anecdotes. If you have a morbid and enquiring mind, this is the book for you. I guarantee you will go back to it time and time again over the years.

by Beatrice Phillpotts
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attention all mermaid lovers!, 11 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Mermaids (Hardcover)
If you love mermaids, you have to have this book. It combines a learned, but not dry, history of the mermaid with lavish illustrations, some from the author's own collection. I have collected sirenobilia for many years & I have never come across a better book on the subject. Why is this marvellous book out of print? And why has nobody thought to do an updated version, taking in 'Splash!' & Disney's rather twee bastardization of Andersen's timeless tale? Although only Madison & her spectacular tail are truly missed, Ariel is ubiquitous. Publisher please take note, a new generation is waiting to buy Beatrice Phillpott's magnum opus. (The author is fetching on the dustjacket in her silver scaly tail, so she is clearly a good sport). Sirenomaniacs, what are you waiting for? Catch this one now before it swims away.

One for Sorrow: Two for Joy
One for Sorrow: Two for Joy
by Clive Woodall
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avian Racism, 1 Oct. 2008
I don't care much for the Watership Down style of anthropomorphism at the best of times, but this is disgusting. If there is one thing the world does not need, it's yet another excuse to persecute the magpie. This poor bird is beset by legend; it's unlucky, it has a drop of the devil's blood under its tongue, it sat "jabbering over the drowned world" rather than enter the Ark... Now Clive Woodall casually accuses it of genocide. The magpie is our most beautiful & intelligent native bird & it really does not deserve this vilification. Yes, it does raid nests & feed (partly) on eggs & fledgelings: so do crows & all the corvidae. Birds of prey predate on all our smaller birds but they are, rightly, protected. The magpie cannot help its diet & has to feed its own young. This does not make it evil, a human concept that no bird can understand. Woodall would be quite properly pilloried if he wrote these things about Jews or black people or Muslims but for some reason it's fine to impute all manner of moral turpitude to a poor harmless bird. My copy bears the chilling words: SOON TO BE A DISNEY FILM! I do sincerely hope not. There is already a bounty on magpies in America: does Woodall have the slightest idea of the bloodshed he may be responsible for?

The Charles Addams Mother Goose
The Charles Addams Mother Goose
by Charles Addams
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars wonderful cartoons ruined by poor layout, 11 Aug. 2008
I would love to give this five stars, and if I was going on the cartoons alone I would. Charles Addams was a genius, but he is ill-served by this edition of his Mother Goose. Too many cartoons are spread over two pages, which means that the centre details are lost and the pleasure of Addams' warped wit is often lost with it: you virtually have to break the spine to see what the old woman under the hill is doing. I do not know whether the publishers took this wrong-headed approach because the book would otherwise be too slim or whether they were concerned about images potentially being scanned and pirated. Whatever the reason, they have published a botched version of something that could have been quite wonderful. Such a shame. Chas should come back and haunt them like his splendidly ghoulish Wee Willie Winkie.

Beast Of Alice Cooper
Beast Of Alice Cooper
Offered by hifi-media-store
Price: £3.83

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars warning: this CD may turn you into a total Alice freak, 9 July 2008
This review is from: Beast Of Alice Cooper (Audio CD)
These days, Alice seems to bring out a new Greatest Hits every month. Why not, he has to pay the rent. But this is a goody - as other reviewers have said, it's his early work, plenty of solid gold tracks. And it's cheap, so if you think you might like him but don't want to lay out a fortune, get it & give it a whirl. Might be the best CD you buy this year. I bought this many years ago because I wanted to hear School's Out & Elected again. Now I'm a devoted Alice fan & have all his albums. Is that a recommendation or is it a dire warning?

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