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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sit back, relax, and indulge yourself with this book of short stories from fin de siecle France. Tales in this book are from the Decadent movement, which perhaps less people are familiar with than other such literary and art movements. This book is chock full of tales and include:-

Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly - Don Juan's Crowning Love-Affair

Viliers de L'Isle-Adam - The Presentiment, The Desire to be a Man, Sentimentalism

Catulle Mendes - What the Shadow Demands

Leon Bloy - A Dentist Terribly Punished, The Last Bake, The Lucky Sixpence

Octave Mirbeau - On a Cure, The Bath, The First Emotion, The Little Summer-House

Jean Richepin - Constant Guignard, Deshoulieres, Pft! Pft!

Guy de Maupassant - At the Death-Bed, A Walk, The Tresses, Night

Gustave Geffroy - The Statue

Jean Lorrain - An Unsolved Crime, The Student's Tale, The Man With the Bracelet, The Man who Loved Consumptives

Georges Rodenbach - The Time

Remy de Gourmont - Danaette, The Faun, Don Juan's Secret, On the Threshold

Jules Laforgue - Perseus and Andromeda

Marcel Schwob - The Brothel, The Sans-Gueule, 52 and 53 Orfila, Lucretius, Poet, Paolo Uccello, Painter

Pierre Louys - A Case Without Precedent

So, as you can see there is a very good selection to choose from. Some of these tales you may be familiar with and read before, especially those by Guy de Maupassant, but others you may never have even heard of. Taking in love, the fantastical, murder, suicide, hedonism, and the macabre this is a good book for those who are coming to the Decadent period for the first time, as well as those familiar with this movement, as there is so much here all in one book. Some of these tales have a streak of very dark humour running through them and as you will find if you decide to get this, there are some real gems in here, such as the man with the headless shadow, whether a body is really dead before entering the oven at the crematorium, and what is the legal position of conjoined twins if one wants to marry, but the other doesn't.

I must admit that I have taken a bit of time putting a review on for this, the reason being that I already read it once over the weekend, but immediately started from the beginning and re-read it. As usual with OUP Classics, this has a good introduction, and explanatory notes. I would think that a lot more people than those who will actually buy this would enjoy this book, as it has so many different tales to offer, all of them very good.
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VINE VOICEon 11 August 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This collection of tales of the French Decadents didn't take off for me until I read the introduction (with a highlighter) and got to the stories of Mirbeau and de Maupassant. The context was vital to my reading experience and as a new reader to this group.

The disassociated themes and elaborate writing style (or 'art for art's sake') is not to my taste. Character is secondary to theme. There is a disassociation of cause and effect here. Perhaps that is why character does not develop with plot. Good deeds are not necessarily rewarded. There are stories whereby the theme 'takes off' such as the unforgettable Sans Guelle by Schwob, Mirbeau's: The Bath, and Constant Guignard by Richepin. Paris itself starts to figure as a murky and malevolent character with the same monuments and streets common to many of these tales.

Despite the early stories being a bit of a struggle for me (to keep reading) further reading has got me fascinated in this period and given me a real appreciation of this area of study. The decadents abhorred 'la democrasserie' and the commodification and homogenisation of their world which mirrors today our dislike of the homogenisation of our city centres in the UK. They were also against progress which Schopenhauer (the godfather of the Decadents) thought was a delusion (definitely a glass half empty sort of chap). Tuberculosis and syphilis were rampant then and the former was the main killer of the time/place. TB has again entered our country. Although these writers first took breath long after the French revolution, the aristocracy was still taking its dying breath with D'Aurevilly and d'Isle Adam, craggy Catholic and elitist aristocrats represented here. Most of these stories were reportedly dedicated to the former. The decadents were a close, pessimistic, effete and dandified group - who glorified Baudelaire and could not see the point of anything. 'Living? The servants will do that for us' is a phrase from one of d'Isle-Adams plays that sums up their dogma. Their misogyny is spectacular (ever felt you wanted a wife to 'add a splash of colour' to the living room or to mess up your papers?) and there is dark and hilarious humour here too (Constant Guignard). I would love to have sat in a smoky cafe with any amount of these writers and try and workout their fascinating mindsets. I imagine a lot of Withnail-type characters.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm clearly nowhere near as decadent as once I was. Like another reviewer, my knowledge of the literary decadents was really honed on Huysman's A Rebours/Against Nature, and some knowledge (in translation, I'm afraid) of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme.

I enjoyed the introduction to these stories more than in the main I appreciated the stories themselves.

Yes, there is a black humour, and gothic darkness, and sumptuous philosophical debates.

However, in the main what I was most conscious of was overblown writing. This writing has aged badly, feels fussy and affected. Curiously, much of it seems as if it were written from the self-indulgence of young men. Taken as a collection in the end, exhausting, leaving me wanting what this period was NOT about - clean lines, and sparing use of shock and darkness. For a modern reader there cannot be any necessary `epater la bourgeoisie' which these pieces were written to provoke, as we are probably all a little over sophisticated and jaded to be `shocked' by what shocked the late nineteenth century reader. Or perhaps, the failure, for me comes from a general sense that characterisation, in most of these stories, was secondary to the intellectual or emotional `ideologies' the stories inhabit, so that they stayed firmly as exercises in writing, rather than writing which really made me stop and think, or get connected at all

If you are interested, as a scholar, in the period, this will I'm sure be a more pleasurable read, aided by that well crafted introduction, but I'd suggest it is a collection which shows its age too much to be of wider interest.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Romer has pulled together an interesting collection of short stories by French Decadent writers which give a broad flavour of the literary and aesthetic movement which fits, roughly, between nineteenth-century Romanticism and Gothic, and twentieth-century Modernism.

I'm fairly familiar with the poetry of the Symbolists and Aesthetes associated with fin-de-siècle Decadence (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Nerval) but haven't read much prose apart from Huysman's A Rebours (Against Nature in English), so this is an interesting introduction.

Decadence as a literary movement covers a lot of ground: influenced by responses to Darwin, Freud and, to a lesser extent, Marx, it is anti-capitalist, pessimistic, frequently neurotic, and passionately interested in excessive sensations and pathological mind states. Mental and physical extremes are sought to overcome the effete ennui of bourgeois life, and moral transgressions are tested, resulting in some of the more fetishistic elements of the stories here.

Many of these are short, often written to be published in literary journals, and shift between the frightening, the weird, the darkly humorous, and the strangely beautiful (for the latter, see Danaette by de Gourmont).

Romer's introductory essay is nicely scholarly but accessible to frame this collection, and the notes are useful: a good volume for anyone seeking a closer acquaintance with French Decadent prose fiction.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Stylistically akin to Edgar Allen Poe, the aim of these French writers was to penetrate through the boredom of everyday life. If you read the chronology of events building up to the stories, the boredom they railed against was from the ennui of McDonalds, X Factor, Ikea and Bruce Willis worlds of the 21st Century.

These people lived in a time stretching from the Paris Commune to the beginning of WW1, when science was on the march, along with Nationalism, atheism, socialism, anarchism and mass production. It was a time when the social worlds was in flux. Far from being a time of ennui, it was another of those high points when Nietzsche, Wagner, Huysmanns, Maupassant, Durkheim, Curie, Marconi, Bell were changing the structure of the world.

Within the short stories we have a group of men who were in full retreat from these changes, who primarily live in pre modern worlds and wish to transport the reader into times of salatial grandeur, where Don Juan's ghosts and sexual fission dominated the airwaves. So within the stories, short, without too much plot development, you are met with snapshots of life.

To the modern reader, the writing may appear over wrought with too much ostentatious refinery, but fear not because underneath the omnipresent ivy of creeping presentiment are little stories finely rendered to tease the imagination and gradually change the world and man's relationship to it.

Strange that a collection of writers in retrospect could have such an impact upon the world, but gather enough people together and you can change the world, if each has the energy to transport themselves. The proof is in this collection.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a fascinating collection of stories - and as a lover of the French short story, I greatly enjoyed the new twist on this volume - a focus on 1880-1900 Parisian decadence.

I was pleased to see one of my favourite French writers are here - Guy de Maupassant, with a selection of four stories including The Walk in which a lonely old man is accosted by prostitutes but finds that his despair is only increased by the experience. In The Tresses a man is driven mad by the discovery of a plait of a woman's blonde hair in a secret panel of a desk. In The Night, a man is driven on to his death in a frantic walk through night-time Parisian streets.

These stories encapsulate the book as a whole - a collection which illustrates the macabre, the manic, the sense of mis-placed passion. Anyone looking for truly erotic stories may be disappointed, the mood is more sombre than that, being concentrated on extremes of human feeling, perhaps leading to the verge of madness.

Gustave Geffroy's story, The Sculptor is an example of the obsessiveness which features in so many of the stories. A sculptor forces his wife to pose for him over the course of many years, but his gaze is too intense, his desire to capture every detail of her ageing body, just too obsessive. He remarks on and captures the increasing blemishes, the filling out of her curves, the appearance of wrinkles, and despite her reluctance to carry on posing for him, his insistence is too great, leading ultimately to the destruction of their marriage.

The book is not difficult to read an many of the stories are very short. The introduction by Stephen Romer is excellent and sets out the context in which they were written. I am pleased to have the book in my collection and would recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys short stories of the period.
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on 24 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This collection of short stories of late-nineteenth century France's 'Decadent' school is valuable chiefly for making some of this work accessible in English (it is not the first such collection, but, all the same, many of the authors included will be unfamiliar to most readers).

I would guess that this collection will chiefly interest those with an interest in the evolution of literary styles, and those who are interested in the culture of the period. These audiences are well served by a coherent selection, a useful and authoritative contextual introduction, annotations and a substantial bibliography. There is also, however, the question of how enjoyable the stories themselves are. They are certainly interesting thematically, and the writing is often strikingly vivid, especially regarding characters' psychological states. At the same time, as even the editor concedes, there is a degree of over-orchestration and straining for effect that can make the texts a little draining to read. In this respect, it is fortunate that the stories are brief, mostly only 4 or 5 pages in length, as this makes it easier to break up the reading. In total, it only covers 200 pages or so, but reading it all in one go would take some endurance. In sum, I would stop short of describing this book as enjoyable, but as someone with an interest in the culture of the period, I found it to be a fascinating collection.
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VINE VOICEon 9 September 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'French Decadent Tales' is a collection of short stories gathered from a group of writers associated with the 'Decadent' school that grew at the end of the nineteenth century Paris. Stephen Romer has done a fine job in translating and assembling tales ranging from the louche to mystery and supernatural. He has also written an excellent introduction and chronology which sets the scene and context for the book.

The stories are highly readable and give insight into the work of the school and represent a who's who of inspired writers such as Gourmont, Lorrain, Maupassant, Mirbeau, Richepin, Schwob and Villiers. They perfected the art of short story fiction. Maupassant is my particular favourite, but a particular strength of the collection is that for the newcomer there are exciting discoveries to be made into this part of neglected French literature.

It is a book can you dip into, whichever mood you happen to be in. What is without doubt, is that you will never be bored as there is something to interest, delight or fascinate you.

It is a collection which still has relevance today and I recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Probably like many, I started off with Dorian Gray, then went to Huysmans A Rebours, the book described by Gray as both "the strangest book that he had ever read" and "poisonous". This anthology of French "decadent tales" is the next logical step, to compare Huysmans with some of his contemporaries.

A major problem with these stories is their shortness. The average length is only six pages, so that each author gives himself little time to do more than paint a sketch. The brevity reminded me of Wilde's statement that a cigarette is "the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied."

With these limitations, the selection is entertaining. Some themes occur more than once: necrophilia, or variations on it, and a man simply fading away because of the utter monotony of his life. The latter is in line with the Decadents' pose of world-weariness. Some of the stories refreshingly diverge from the usual Decadent viewpoint; I liked "Deshoulieres", a story of "the dandy of the unpredictable", which could almost have been written by Roald Dahl.

Dandyism (the more common kind) is one of the main articles of the Decadent faith, as explained in the excellent introduction by Stephen Romer; another is the movement's misogyny, probably an inverted form of late nineteenth- century prudery. Romer identifies Huysmans as the prime decadent, and Baudelaire and Schopenhauer as its main ancestors, but for me several of the stories are heavily redolent of Poe.

Overall, this is worth a read, if you're not squeamish, but you would be far better off reading A Rebours first - the template for decadence, but without the naughty bits and gore.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Within these pages are tales designed to shock the 'petite bourgeoisie' in the late 19th and early 20th century. Taking the darker elements of the romantics and from writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, (and I would recommend H.P. Lovecraft as a continuation of gothic and decadence into the 20th century), and fusing them with the 'degeneracy' of Parisian street life, the Decadents flowered between Romanticism and Modernism.

The short stories frequently take the form of anecdotes and do not always have an ending, they are more like snapshots and, frequently, come across as exercises in description. It is almost 'art for art's sake' - designed to shock the 'modern' reader and to highlight the failings of society and the 'banality of progress'.

As always with a collection like this it is best to read the introduction first as this gives context to the stories and what the writers were trying to achieve - otherwise the stories can seem a little pointless and un-worthwhile - and it can also serve as a good reference point to investigate the Decadent movement further.

This is a fascinating collection and each story is worth reading for the quality and talent displayed here. A book to dip into and delve around in allowing you to savour the fullness of squalor and darkness presented here.
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