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Les Chants de Maldoror (1869) - Comte de Lautréamont

Related: 1800s literature - 1869 - Lautréamont - French literature - surrealists (inspiration to)

Lautréamont borrowed much of the imagery from the popular gothic literature of the period, in particular Lord Byron's Manfred, Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer and Goethe's Faust. Of these figures, the latter two are particularly significant in their portrayal of a negative and Satanic anti-hero who is in hostile opposition to God. [Jul 2006]

I WILL state in a few lines that Maldoror was good during the first years of his life, when he lived happily. That is that. Then he noticed that he had been born evil: an extraordinary fatality! As far as he could, he hid his real character for a large number of years; but in the end, because of the concentration this required, which did not come naturally to him, the blood used to rush to his head every day; until, no longer able to bear such a life, he flung himself resolutely into a career of evildoing . . . a sweet atmosphere! Who would have thought so! --page 31, translation Paul Knight

"Beautiful as the fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table." --Lautréamont, Les chants de Maldoror

Les Chants de Maldoror (1868) - Comte de Lautréamont [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) is a poetic novel published in 1868 by the Comte de Lautreamont (Isidore Ducasse).

The story revolves around the misanthropic character of Maldoror, a figure of absolute evil who is opposed to God and humanity, and has renounced all ties to conventional morality and decency. There is no specific plot in the traditional sense, and the narrative style is non-linear and surrealistic. The iconoclastic imagery and tone is often violent and macabre, and ostensibly nihilistic.

Les Chants de Maldoror is considered to have been a major influence upon French symbolism and Dadaism. Several editions of the book have included lithographs by the French symbolist painter Odilon Redon. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Chants_de_Maldoror [Jul 2005]

see also: Comte de Lautreamont - 1868

Publishing history

The book was printed in the summer of 1869, but the publishers feared prosecution because of the blasphemous and obscene nature of the work and never put the book on sale. Lautréamont pressed his publishers to release the book to no avail and, a year later, wrote them about his new work of poems, a seeming negation of Maldoror that spoke of 'hope, faith, clam happiness and duty.' Lautréamont did not complete this work, nor did he see his Maldoror available to the public before he died in 1870 at the age of 24. -- http://www.vhok.nl/Expo/Dali/Objecten/DucasseAbout/ob.htm [Dec 2004]

Zoomorphism [...]

Even in his last essays Andre Breton continued to champion the writings of Lautreamont above the works of most of surrealism's contemporaries and influences. It is also in the works of Lautreamont that some blooming surrealist motifs become evident. (Balakian, pp. 51)

One of the key motifs which Lautreamont employs is zoomorphism. In Les Chants de Maldoror, the protagonist and other human characters are often seen metamorphosing into, or taking on the characteristics of animals in a literal or behavioral sense.

Penguin Classics back-cover

‘It is not right that everyone should read the pages which follow; only a few will be able to savour this bitter fruit with impunity.’

So wrote the self-styled Comte de Lautréamont (1846–70) at the beginning of this sensational Chants de Maldoror.

One of the earliest and most astonishing examples of surrealist writing, Lautréamont’s fantasy unveils a world – half-vision, half-nightmare – of angels and gravediggers, hermaphrodites and pederasts, lunatics and strange children. The writing is drenched with an unrestrained savagery and menace, and the startling imagery – delirious, erotic, blasphemous and grandiose by turns – possesses a remarkable hallucinatory quality.

The writer’s mysterious life and death, no less than the book itself, captured the imagination of surrealists. Jarry, Modigliani, Verlaine and others hailed it as a work of genius. André Gide wrote, ‘Here is something that excites me to the point of delirium,’ and André Breton described the book as ‘the expression of a total revelation which seems to surpass human capacities’. This volume also contains a translation of the epigrammatic Poésies.

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