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Return to Book Page. Bruges-La-Morte by Georges Rodenbach ,. Will Stone Translator. Hugues Viane is a widower who has turned to the melancholy, decaying city of Bruges as the ideal location in which to mourn his wife and as a backdrop for the narcissistic wanderings of his disturbed spirit.
He becomes obsessed with a young dancer whom he believes is the double of his beloved wife, leading him to psychological torment and humiliation, culminating in a dera Hugues Viane is a widower who has turned to the melancholy, decaying city of Bruges as the ideal location in which to mourn his wife and as a backdrop for the narcissistic wanderings of his disturbed spirit. He becomes obsessed with a young dancer whom he believes is the double of his beloved wife, leading him to psychological torment and humiliation, culminating in a deranged murder.
This work is a poet's novel, dense, visionary, and haunting. Bruges, the 'dead city', becomes a metaphor for Hugues' dead wife as he follows its mournful labyrinth of streets and canals in a cyclical promenade of reflection and allusion--the ultimate evocation of Rodenbach's lifelong love affair with the enduring mystery and mortuary atmosphere of Bruges. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published October 1st by Dedalus first published More Details Original Title. Bruges Belgium.
Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Bruges-La-Morte , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Bruges-La-Morte. Shelves: read-in Hugues Viane is a disconsolate widower who has found a matchless companion in the lonely melancholy of Bruges, a city whose glorious days of trade have waned into a suffocating atmosphere of religious conservatism.
Haunted by memories of his deceased wife, Viane roams the streets of Bruges in silent conversation with its canals, chiming bells and austere convents, absorbed by his inexhaustible despair until he crosses paths with Jane, a young actress who bears a strong resemblance with his beloved.
Spurred by his mysterious connection with the dormant city, Viane indulges in a deranged fantasy that takes him into a downward spiral towards a climatic ending that explores the link between death, conscience and grief. Bruges becomes the mute narrator and the ultimate protagonist of the story, Hugues the mirror that refracts it to the reader and Jane, a grotesque object disguised as femme fatale that gives a Gothic touch to the outcome of the novel. Tragedy can already be anticipated in the opening paragraph, but plotline is totally superfluous in this case.
View all 58 comments. I sometimes get the worrying feeling that nineteenth-century men preferred their women to be dead than alive. There is something archetypal about the repeated vision of the pale, beautiful, fragile, utterly feminine corpse.
Beyond corruption, a woman who's died is a woman you can safely worship without any danger that she'll ruin the image by doing something vulgar like using the wrong form of address to a bishop, or blowing your best friend. It's a vision that crops up everywhere in the works o I sometimes get the worrying feeling that nineteenth-century men preferred their women to be dead than alive. As my introductory para suggests, I find the general mindset a little problematic, but this is certainly a beautifully-written distillation of the theme.
Hugues Viane, our melancholy hero, settles in Bruges after the death of his wife, and prepares to live out the rest of his days nursing his memories of her: he dedicates a room of his house to her portraits, and preserves a lock of her hair in a glass cabinet.
When he's not staring at her pictures, he's out taking moody walks along the canals. Where, one day, he sees a woman in the street who looks identical, in every detail, to his dead wife.
Is it a ghost? An appalling coincidence? His mind playing tricks on him? And might it be somehow possible to recreate his lost love…? Viane is the main character; but drizzly, grey Bruges is the real hero of the book. A mysterious equation established itself. To the dead wife there must correspond a dead town. The point is underlined by the inclusion of a number of black-and-white photographs of the city, looking still and silent, and often including unidentified figures.
A modern reader can't help seeing the effect as Sebaldian. But anyway, however interesting this early use of photography may be, the real star is Rodenbach's prose. He finds a thickly atrabilious style to fit his story, rich in imagery, full of strikingly depressive turns of phrase. There are some paragraphs here that seem to be made up entirely of alexandrines. And then just look at a phrase like this: Les hautes tours dans leurs frocs de pierre partout allongent leur ombre.
There is a progression of vowels here that slides forward through the mouth beautifully, ending with the wonderful dirge-like assonance of allongent and ombre ; and the consonants travel too, from the silent h of haut , back in the throat, forward to the t of tours , on to one lip with the f of frocs , then both lips for the two p s, and finally the lips are pushed right out for the last two nasal vowels.
Some scenes, some lines, are almost identical: Rodenbach must surely have been a Nerval fan. He sums up the poetic essence of this tradition perfectly — indeed so perfectly that I found the formalities of plot resolution at the end of the book to be irritatingly drab and melodramatic by contrast.
I guess that's the problem with turning poetry into a novel. Nevertheless, Bruges-la-Morte is obviously a high point of Symbolist writing, a book that's obsessed with death and always alert to new ways to externalise deep emotions. There is a brooding openness to the supernatural, and a looming architectural presence, which also has clear links with the Gothic.
But more importantly it's just beautifully-written: every sentence drops balanced and gorgeous into your head. For best results, it should be read at dusk, preferably when it's raining outside. Just make sure you have a brisk walk afterwards. Oct View all 19 comments. May 21, Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing. The town, so glorious of old and still so lovely in its decay, became to him the incarnation of his regrets.
His only resource was the attempt to discover suggestions of her in other countenances. Bruges became again to him an intangible personality, guiding, counselling, and determining all his actions. View 2 comments. Hugues Viane has retired to Bruges after the death of his wife of ten years; five years later, he is still unable to put her memory to rest.
Indeed, he has sequestered himself in his home, erecting a shrine to his wife; in this room are gathered her portraits and various objects and trinkets, along with a tress of her hair which Viane has placed inside a glass box.
Each day he caresses and kisses each item, and by night he takes to the meandering the streets of Bruges whose grey melancholy he fe Hugues Viane has retired to Bruges after the death of his wife of ten years; five years later, he is still unable to put her memory to rest.
Each day he caresses and kisses each item, and by night he takes to the meandering the streets of Bruges whose grey melancholy he feels in tune with, a kind of "spiritual telegraphy between his soul and the grief-stricken towers of Bruges.
This act of doubling is one in which Georges Rodenbach is extremely interested in that it proves how the dead die twice, the first death being their physical death and the second being when our memories of them begin to fade, causing those mental images to which we cling to no longer be sources of recollection and comfort: But the faces of the dead, which are preserved in our memory for a while, gradually deteriorate there, fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse.
Thus, within us, our dead die a second time. Bruges-la-Morte is very much concerned with the vacillation between states of intense joy and utter anguish. In his obsession over Jane, the woman who resembles his dead wife, Viane is embodying this idea of the dead dying twice. While there are moments of some melodramatic intensity characteristic of symbolist work, Rodenbach is also keen on exploring how the life of a small city reacts to a scandal, and it is both the solitary city scenes that drive home the despair of the protagonist and the scenes of townspeople gossiping in the city that demonstrate how the city works in different ways for its inhabitants.
Although he is under "the spell" of this double, and even though he hopes that the likeness "would allow him the infinite luxury of forgetting," Viane can do no such thing, and soon finds himself at an erotic and psychological crossroads at which the "distressing masquerade" he enacts to quell his grief is not enough to sustain the memory of the dead.
Bruges is very much the main character in the novel: "He was already starting to resemble the town. Once more he was the brother in silence and in melancholy of this sorrowful Bruges, his soror dolorosa. Rodenbach is adamant about how living spaces breathe and affect those living there: Towns above all have a personality, a spirit of their own, an almost externalised character which corresponds to joy, new love, renunciation, widowhood.
Each town is a state of mind, a mood which, after only a short stay, communicates itself, spreads to us in an effluvium which impregnates us, which we absorb with the very air. This idea of the city having an emotional and psychological state of its own is also something Rodenbach explores in the short essay included in the Dedalus edition, "The Death Throes of Towns.
A time of melancholic desperation. Everything appears reminiscent of the loss of our loved one. It is not a projection of our loss but that we chose to live here, a place which occupies our feelings, moods. The inner and outer has become dissoluble.
There is something very familiar about this story: a middle-aged widower, Hugues Viane, moves to Bruges as it is the town most suited to his melancholy. He desperately misses his wife; and in the cloistral, muffled, moribund city of Bruges he finds the perfect analogue for his grief. And then one day he sees a woman in the street who appears to be the exact double of his dead wife. He obsesses about her, pursues her, and eventually begins a relationship with her. But it turns out that she is not the reincarnation of his wife
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