Join Date: Mar 2005
L'école belge de l'étrange
I keep noticing that a huge amount of writers of strange tales (“contes fantastiques” or “contes insolites”) who produced works in French came from Belgium. I was surprised to discover recently that this movement bears the name of “L'école belge de l'étrange” coined by the Belgian critic and writer Jean-Baptiste Baronian, author of Panorama de la littérature fantastique de langue française: Des origines à demain.
The development of a particular type of fantastic literature in Belgium in the XXth c. is a phenomenon worth exploring. The fantastic plays a central role in the Belgian literature in general with fantastic symbolism and realism originating in Belgium at the end of XIXth c. Symbolism creates an atmosphere suitable for the intrusion of the supernatural, either though allegory, fables, or simply through a skilled use of its evocative qualities. The major work representing this current is Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (1892).
Two Belgian writers particularly popular in the field are Franz Hellens and Jean Ray. The former, with his works rooted in magic realism, alternates between symbolism and realism. Jean Ray is certainly the best known Belgian writer of strange tales and is usually included among the creators of the most innovative literature of the supernatural of the XXth c. (a claim with which I do not personally agree). His novel Malpertuis (1943) is considered to be his greatest achievement. Three of his collections, with which I’m sure many here are familiar, have been published in English so far: Ghouls in My Grave (1965), My Own Private Spectres (1999), The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales (2009).
Finally, there are two writers whom members of TLO interested in fantastic literature should find most appealing. The first being Thomas Owen whose collections The Desolate Presence (1984) and The House of Oracles (2012) together with the majority of untranslated works are filled with existential dread and whom Thomas Ligotti in a blurb for another writer identified among “figures whose writings form a tradition of poetic horror that looks back to the oneiric landscape of Poe and at the same time looks ahead to even darker and more delirious territories that will require who knows what combination of words and silence to describe.”
Michel Ghelderode alongside his impressive theatrical work available in English in two volumes entitled Seven Plays, has also penned short stories available in Sortilèges ("Spells" – not sure if this was translated into English), a collection of fantastic stories considered a cornerstone of the genre. The name Faliol from Ligotti’s Masquerade of a Dead Sword is a permutation of Folial - the name of a character in the play Escurial by Ghelderode.
Edward Gauvin, French-to-English translator known on TLO from his contributions to the site Weird Fiction Review seems to be the leading authority on the French and Belgian fantastic in the English language. He has published several articles on the subject, two of which can be read here and here: 1 , 2 , 3 . You can find more information and links on his blog: http://www.edwardgauvin.com/blog/
(photos are linked from other sites)
"In my imagination, I have a small apartment in a small town where I live alone and gaze through a window at a wintry landscape." -- TL
Confusio Linguarum - visionary literature, translingualism & bibliophily
Last edited by yellowish haze; 12-18-2013 at 03:06 PM..
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