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Old 12-18-2013   #1
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Topic Winner 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/

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"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
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Last edited by yellowish haze; 12-18-2013 at 03:06 PM..
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Old 12-18-2013   #2
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

In a fortuitous case of cosmic serendipity, I have myself been exploring these very same avenues, and have been busy reading the likes of Hellens, Ghelderode, and the latter's spiritual successor Paul Willems. There is also an anthology devoted specifically to this writing entitled 'The Belgian School of the Bizarre', edited by Kim O' Connell, and while I personally felt it could haven been better, as the only example of its kind in english, it is required reading for one interested in the subject. I can also endorse Edward Gauvin's work, which I have been reading at weirdfictionreview and elsewhere since becoming focused on writers unavailable in english, and have found them an invaluable resource on undertranslated authors of the fantastic and oneiric.
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Old 12-18-2013   #3
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

ChildofOldLeech,

I knew this will be the best place to post this and am very glad too see I wasn't the only one to have ventured into these hitherto unknown lands of literature. I am thrilled to hear about 'The Belgian School of the Bizarre' antho you mention. I will need to check the contents of the volume in question to see if the names sound familiar. Just FYI, there is a whole series of books in French dedicated to this school, called "Belgique, Terre de l'étrange". I am posting the covers just to give everyone the idea of of how much there is to explore over this undiscovered territory.



(I will be returning to this thread, but given time constrains I am currently under, it might take a moment before I post more, stay tuned!)

"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; 12-20-2013 at 03:12 PM..
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Old 12-18-2013   #4
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

Having read most of Franz Hellens in French, he is highly neglected. Ghelderode is a must but also the lesser known Paul Willems .

The Belgian surrealists have produced an array of fascinating strange works, and limiting it to English translations, Paul Nouge and Louis Scutenaire stand out but also Marcel Marien, Paul Colinet, Paul Magritte, Jaques Wergifosse, Willard, Achille Chavee, Klausner and others. The English translations of Nouge are easy to get, the others less so (but examples can be mostly found scattered in various anthologies and journals).
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Old 12-18-2013   #5
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

From my researches, I have compiled a checklist of all Belgian weird/fantastique/surrealist/etc. works I have found in English translation; I hope it proves useful:

Michel de Ghelderode


Seven Plays (Two Volumes)
Three Plays

Franz Hellens

Memoirs from Elsinore

Marcel Marien

The Life and Death of La Belle Desiderata and Other Stories

Jean Muno

Glove of Passion, Voice of Blood

Paul Nouge

Works

Thomas Owen

The Desolate Presence
The House of the Oracles


Jean Ray

Ghouls in My Grave
Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes: The Heir of Dracula
The Horrifying Presence
Malpertuis
My Own Private Spectres


Anne Richter

The Blue Dog

Georges de Rodenbach

The Bells of Bruges
Bruges-la-Morte
Hans Cadzand's Vocation and Other Stories


Jacques Sternberg

Future Without Future
Sexualis '95


Guy Vaes

October Long Sunday

Paul Willems

The Drowned Land and La Vita Breve
Four Plays of Paul Willems: Dreams and Reflections


See also:
The Belgian School of the Bizarre
The Custom-House of Desire: A Half Century of Surrealist Stories

The Dedalus Book of Surrealism (Two Volumes)
Theatrical Gestures of Belgian Modernism : Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, and Pure Plastic in Twentieth-Century Belgian Theatre
Surrealism in Belgium: 1924 to 2000

Last edited by ChildofOldLeech; 12-18-2013 at 10:23 PM..
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Old 12-18-2013   #6
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

Quote Originally Posted by ChildofOldLeech View Post
From my researches, I have compiled a checklist of all Belgian weird/fantastique/surrealist/etc. works I have found in English translation; I hope it proves useful:

Michel de Ghelderode


Seven Plays (Two Volumes)
Three Plays

Franz Hellens

Memoirs from Elsinore

Marcel Marien

The Life and Death of La Belle Desiderata and Other Stories

Jean Muno

Glove of Passion, Voice of Blood

Paul Nouge

Works

Thomas Owen

The Desolate Presence
The House of the Oracles


Jean Ray

Ghouls in My Grave
Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes: The Heir of Dracula
The Horrifying Presence
Malpertuis
My Own Private Spectres


Anne Richter

The Blue Dog

Georges de Rodenbach

The Bells of Bruges
Bruges-la-Morte
Hans Cadzand's Vocation and Other Stories


Jacques Sternberg

Futures Without Future
Sexualis '95


Guy Vaes

October Long Sunday

Paul Willems

The Drowned Land and La Vita Breve
Four Plays of Paul Willems: Dreams and Reflections


See also:
The Belgian School of the Bizarre
The Custom-House of Desire: A Half Century of Surrealist Stories

The Dedalus Book of Surrealism (Two Volumes)
Theatrical Gestures of Belgian Modernism : Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, and Pure Plastic in Twentieth-Century Belgian Theatre
Surrealism in Belgium: 1924 to 2000
Huge thanks for this CoOL. Seems like 2014 will be a good year to go a little further than the bit of Jean Ray and Thomas Owen I've managed to sample so far in this line.
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Old 12-18-2013   #7
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

Quote Originally Posted by yellowish haze View Post
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.
I don't know whether Henri Michaux could be regarded as part of this school, or whether he is sui generis, but he is worth mentioning as a Belgian author who wrote strange short fictions in French. I have two collections of Michaux's writings translated into English, and would recommend either or both: Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology and Selected Writings of Henri Michaux.
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Old 12-18-2013   #8
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

I was considering putting Michaux on the list, but thought that as he is fairly well-known (compared to the others on the list, at least), has a good deal of his writing available in translation, and is foremost a poet rather than prose writer, decided against it.
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Old 12-18-2013   #9
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

Another interesting writer is Paul van Ostaijen, influenced by the likes of Kafka (he was the first to translate Kafka into another language). Although predominately known for his poetry, I prefer and enjoyed his short tales (which he termed "grotesques") and there is a translated collection available called "Patriotism, Inc and Other tales".

As a general observation, Belgian literature, whether in the French, Flemish/Dutch or the rarer German, irrespective of classification is remarkably rich in volume and quality when it comes to the strange and weird.
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Old 12-19-2013   #10
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Re: L'école belge de l'étrange

Quote Originally Posted by ChildofOldLeech View Post

Surrealism in Belgium: 1924 to 2000

Nice!

"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
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