July 2018 Reading Group Selection — Imaginary Lives by Marcel Schwob

Be sure to grab a new copy of this month’s reading group selection: Imaginary Lives by Marcel Schwob.

The Book Beat reading group will meet Wednesday, July 25th 2018 @7:00PM at Goldfish Tea Cafe, located at 117 W. Fourth Street in Downtown Royal Oak. All are welcome.

Get 15% off on the Current Reading Group Selection.

Imaginary Lives by Marcel Schwob ——- paperback @ $14.95 (-15% off)

Image result for imaginary lives by marcel schwobImaginary Lives remains, over 120 years since its original publication in French, one of the secret keys to modern literature: under-recognized, yet a decisive influence on such writers as Apollinaire, Borges, Jarry and Artaud, and more contemporary authors such as Roberto Bolaño and Jean Echenoz. Drawing from historical influences such as Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius, and authors more contemporary to him such as Thomas De Quincey and Walter Pater, Schwob established the genre of fictional biography with this collection: a form of narrative that championed the specificity of the individual over the generality of history, and the memorable detail of a vice over the forgettable banality of a virtue.

These 22 portraits present figures drawn from the margins of history, from Empedocles the “Supposed God” and Clodia the “Licentious Matron” to the pirate Captain Kidd and the Scottish murderers Messrs. Burke and Hare. In his quest for unique lives, Schwob also formulated an early conception of the anti-hero, and discarded historical figures in favor of their shadows. These “imaginary lives” thus acquaint us with the “Hateful Poet” Cecco Angiolieri instead of his lifelong rival, Dante Alighieri; the would-be romantic pirate Major Stede Bonnet instead of the infamous Blackbeard who would lead him to the gallows; the false confessor Nicolas Loyseleur rather than Joan of Arc whom he cruelly deceived; or the actor Gabriel Spenser in place of the better-remembered Ben Jonson who ran a sword through his lung.

“The art of the biographer consists specifically in choice. He is not meant to worry about speaking truth; he must create human characteristics amidst the chaos.” –Marcel Schwob

“He wanted to compose books by means of quotation and citation and recycling. He was constantly masking himself. His subject position is one of loan, collage, theft. He was a scholar. He wrote about François Villon, he wrote about Robert Louis Stevenson, he wrote about Paul Verlaine. But the other books still reek of Marcel Schwob. You can tell that he’s the one writing them—he has a very distinct voice.” –from a Paris Review interview with Paul Schwob’s translator Kit Schulter

About The Author: Marcel Schwob (23 August 1867 – 26 February 1905), was a Jewish French symbolist writer best known for his short stories and his literary influence on authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolaño. He is the author of six collections of short stories: Cœur double (“Double Heart”, 1891), Le Roi au masque d’or (“The King in the Golden Mask”, 1892), Mimes (1893), Le Livre de Monelle (“The Book of Monelle”, 1894), La Croisade des Enfants (“The Children’s Crusade”, 1896), and Vies imaginaires (“Imaginary Lives”, 1896).In addition to over a hundred short stories, he wrote journalistic articles, essays, biographies, literary reviews and analysis, translations and plays. He was a true symbolist, with a diverse and an innovatory style. His name stands beside Stéphane Mallarmé, Octave Mirbeau, André Gide, Léon Bloy, Charles Péguy, Jules Renard, Alfred Jarry, Édouard Dujardin in French Literature. Marcel Schwob was a scholar of startling breadth and an incomparable storyteller. The secret influence on generations of writers, Schwob was as versed in the street slang of medieval thieves as he was in the poetry of Walt Whitman (whom he translated into French). Alfred Vallette, director of the leading young review, the Mercure de France, thought he was “one of the keenest minds of our time”, in 1892. Téodor de Wyzewa in 1893, thought Schwob was “tomorrow’s taste in literature itself.”

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