Friday, 16 January 2009

Bruges-la-Morte 1 Die tote Stadt

C'était Bruges-la-Morte, elle-même mise au tombeau de ses quais de pierre, avec les artères froidies de ses canaux, quand avait cessé d'y battre la grande pulsation de la mer.

Bruges-the-dead, cut off from the sea, the waters in its canals turgid like the blood in dying arteries…a surreal city of silence. In the novel, by Georges Rodenbach, a man called Hugues Viane has lived in limbo since his wife died five years before. Nothing is changed, everything as she left it. He doesn’t even like to move the dust on the mirror. He wanders the empty streets, desolate, numb. Then one day he sees an apparition, a woman with the same hair, the same eyes…. Agitated, he follows her, losing her in the crowd, like clouds hiding the moon. Since his wife died, Hugues had feared music. Even the wheezing, asthmatic strains of a street accordion reduced him to tears. In this city of church bells and organs, Sundays were hell. At last he sees the woman again. She’s the exact image of his wife “Le miroir vit”.

Jane is a dancer, she lets him set her up in a silent apartment where he stares mutely at her, wanting her never to change. He dresses her up in his dead wife’s clothes. “I look like an old portrait” she says, innocently. In the novel the quasi-religious kinkiness is implicit. “En cette Bruges catholique surtout, où les moeurs sont sévères!..... À tous les coins de rue, dans des armoires de boiserie et de verre, s'érigent des Vierges en manteaux de velours, parmi des fleurs de papier qui se fanent,tenant en main une banderole avec un texte déroulé, qui de leur côté proclament: «Je suis l'Immaculée.» Chapter 6 is particularly evocative of the city and its mysteries. The prose flows like a journey through the streets, through the widower’s soul. He has “une âme grise, de la couleur de la ville”. Spring comes, and Easter, then winter descends once more. Read Chapters 10 and 11 too, like poetry. Hugues wants to become like the towers that stand immobile, frozen above the city, as if suspended in the time of Memling. He wanders in at the end of Mass where the priest is talking about death. Hugues is anguished, torn between his need for Jane and his fear of damnation. To be continued.....

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