The Captives of Longjumeau

Félicien_Rops_-_Les_Sataniques._Satan_semant_l'ivraie[1]Introduction

One of the most glaring omissions from Breton’s Anthologie de l’ humour noir is of  the symbolist writer Leon Bloy. Bloy’s scathing, vitriolic assaults on the bourgeoisie are certainly fine examples of black humour. His highly idiosyncratic, reactionary Catholicism is diametrically opposed to the Surrealist militant left-wing atheism, however the similarly politically inclined decadent writers J.K Huysmans and Villers de L’isle-Adam are both included. Maybe the absence of Bloy has more to do with his personality, he had an enormous talent  for making enemies. By the end of his impoverished life he had managed to fall out with everyone in the Parisian literary world, former friends especially, and had earned the nickname The Ungrateful Beggar for his constant written requests for money.

The following story by Leon Bloy was much admired by Borges who positions it as one of the few precedents of Kafka. Translation is my own.

The Captives of Longjumeau

The Longjumeau Post yesterday announced the deplorable end of Mr and Mrs Fourmi. This newspaper, rightly renowned for the quality and abundance of its coverage was lost in conjecture as to the causes of the mysterious despair that precipitated the suicide of a couple previously thought supremely happy.
They had married very young and had not left the city for even a day since their wedding almost twenty years ago.
It is true that they were amply provided for with all that is necessary to enhance a union and they were spared the usual money worries that can poison married life by the foresight of their parents. Yet even with this protection from the vicissitudes of love unknown to ordinary working people, they still were, in the eyes of the world, a miracle of perpetual tenderness.
On a beautiful evening in May, the day after the fall of Mr. Theirs, they arrived by train with their parents to the delightful house which was to accommodate their wedded bliss.
The Longjumellians could see their pure hearts and tenderness; the veterinarian without hesitation compared them to Romeo and Juliette.
That day they radiated health and resembled the pale children of a great Lord.
Mr. Piecu, the town’s notary, had acquired for them a plot of land at the entrance to the city that would have been the envy of the dead. Indeed everyone agreed that the garden was reminiscent of an abandoned cemetery. The effect didn’t displease so nothing was changed and the plants were left to grow at liberty.
To quote Mr. Piecu, they lived in the clouds; seeing almost no one, not though any malice or contempt, but simply because their thoughts were never directed towards others.
Their ecstasy at being together was such that they couldn’t bear to be parted for an hour, even a few minutes were too much. Upon my word though! When reminded of the shortness of life, this extraordinary couple seemed to lose all courage.
One of the greatest men of the Middle Ages, Master John Tauler tells the story of an anchorite who has an unwelcome visitor ask for an object in his cell. The monk dutifully returns to his room to find the object, but upon entering the cell he forgets what it was, because the image of external objects cannot remain in his mind. So he went out and asked the visitor to tell him what he wanted. The visitor repeated his request. The monk returned, but before finding the object he loses his memory. After several such attempts he is forced to tell the unwelcome visitor-Enter and find for yourself what you need, because I cannot keep the image of what you request in my memory long enough to do what you ask of me.
Mr. and Mrs. Fourmi often reminded me of this. They would have willingly given anything we would have asked of them if only they could have remembered it for a single minute.
They were famous for being distracted, said Corbeil. However this caused them no suffering and the ‘disastrous’ resolution which ended their enviable existence remains inexplicable.

A letter in my possession from the unfortunate Fourmi whom I knew before his marriage, has allowed me to reconstitute, by way of deduction, the whole of the lamentable history.
So here is the letter. Perhaps we will see that my friend was neither a doormat, nor a fool.

“…For the tenth or twentieth time, dear friend, we have nothing to say in this matter. Outrageous I know. Regardless of your patience, I suppose that you will be loath to invite us again. The truth is that this last time, as well as all the previous times, my wife and I are without apology. We wrote to you saying that you could count on us and we had absolutely nothing else to do. However, we have missed the train, as always.
“For fifteen years we have completely failed with all trains and public transportation, whatever we do. It is infinitely idiotic, ridiculously awful, but now I am beginning to believe it is an incurable evil. We are the victims of a sort of inevitable irony. There is nothing we can do. For example we spent a sleepless night so as to not miss the eight o’clock train only to find that the train left at three in the morning. Eh! At other times, my dear, the chimney has caught fire at the last moment; I was about to board a departing train when Juliette’s robe got tangled in some bushes; we fell asleep in the waiting room and neither the shouts of the porters or the actual arrival of the train could rouse us in time, etc, etc. The last time, I forgot my wallet.
“For fifteen years we have missed all trains. I’ll repeat it again, this has lasted for fifteen years and I feel that it will be the cause of our death. Because of this, you’re the only person who hasn’t given up on us and yet I have failed to see you; the rest of the world completely ignores us. I am condemned as a monster of selfishness and naturally my poor Juliette is shown the same disapproval. Since our arrival in this accursed place I have missed twelve burials, thirty baptisms, seventy-four burials and a thousand other indispensable appointments. I left my lovely mother starve to death without even one visit during the year she was sick, angrily causing her on the eve of her death to write in a codicil depriving us of three-quarters of our inheritance.
“I will not tell you of every single misadventure occasioned by the incredible circumstance that we have never been able to leave Longjumeau. To sum up, we are prisoners and we now see the time when this state of captivity will cease to bearable to us as we are now deprived of all hope…”

I have emitted the rest where my friend tells of sad events which are too intimate to publish. But I can give my word of honour that he was not a vulgar man, that he deserved the esteem of his wife and that they both deserved better than their stupidly inappropriate ending suggests.
Some details I beg to keep to myself, however these details suggest that the hapless couple were really the victims of a plot by the dark Enemy of man who led them by infernal design to a malevolent corner of Longjumeau, from where nothing could pull them away.
I really believe that they could not possibly escape, as there was and still remains a cordon of carefully selected invisible guards against which no power has been able to prevail.
The definite sign of diabolical influence to me is that the Fourmis were consumed with a passion for travel. These prisoners were by nature essentially migratory.
Before marrying they had an unquenchable thirst to travel the world. When they were engaged they could be seen at Enghien, at Choisy le Roi, at Meudon, at Clamert, at Montretout. That day that had traveled on to Saint Germain.
In Longjumeau they planned to visit the islands of Oceania, such was their mania for bold explorations and adventures upon land and sea.
Their house was crowded with maps, atlases and globes. They even had a map of the Moon specially made by the curator Justus Perthes and published by Gotha.
When they were not indulging their love, they would read all the stories of famous Mariners which exclusively stocked their library and there was not a travel magazine, tour guide or geographic society bulletin to which they did not subscribe. There home was perpetually flooded with train timetables and shipping agents schedules.
They could not believe that they were captives. They were always ready to go, always on the point of leaving, willing to undertake an interminable journey to the most distant, most dangerous and unexplored countries.
I received forty dispatches announcing their imminent departure to Borneo, Tierra Del Fuego, New Zealand or Greenland.
Several times they were hardly a hair’s breath away from effectively escaping. But always they ended up not leaving, they never departed; they were absolutely unable to leave. The very atoms and molecules formed a coalition to hold them back.
One day, however, they thought that they had definitely escaped. Against all expectations they had succeeded in boarding a first class carriage destined for Versailles. All they’re wishes seemed to have been granted. Finally the magic circle was to be broken.
The train started to pull away, but they did not move. Of course they were stuck in the carriage designated to remain at the station. Everything started all over again.
They are now undertaking the one trip which even they couldn’t miss. Alas, intimate knowledge of their character leads me to believe that they trembled fearfully as they prepared for their journey.

Leon Bloy

Advertisements

46 thoughts on “The Captives of Longjumeau

  1. I need to come back and read this…my head is hurting from a virus..but I was going to ask you if you liked Huysmans and then I also see Villers de L’Isle-Adam… I once got to take a great course in college on La Conte Fantastique (French fantastic story genres). I really loved it and even wrote my own. My French was pretty abysmal but the professor appreciated the effort. I still have the story in my head. Actually, I would love for you to read the novel I’ve been working on at some point. It has a lot of fantastic in it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Do you have a novel? Short story? I haven’t really had people read mine yet since unfinished plus I’ve been taking a break from it, trying to publish something commercially viable that could make some money, but I think you would like this novel. Tell me about yours.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I mainly write short stories with elements of fantasy, eroticism and a dash of psychological horror…they are not as bad as I am making them sound…I have written the first part of novel concerning gambling…not realistic though….I would love to read your novel even if it is unfinished, i can offer constructive criticism if it is needed…I’m going to finish your four parter as I had to go to work earlier…hope to catch you later…shall I send some stuff on?

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Nasty is a strange word — there is a subtle undertone to it that makes me think “me too, I could have done that”. It has a dream like resonance and the mixing of the letter with the narrative is well done. I read it more as dream than nightmare: hence I question nasty. Well done, though. A labour of love and I love it. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are right, nasty is probably not the right word, though it has an element of malice. This is probably one of Bloy’s gentler stories, some of his other works are drenched in vitriol. A strange case. I do love this story, the dreamlike frustration of the travellers trapped in some appalling corner is wittingly and heartbreakingly outlined. I couldn’t really do justice to his prose style.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s very rare for a translation “to do justice” to an original. What you have done is great. I am aware of very, very few translations where the translator has a parallel creative talent to the original artist. Even then, you have to add the in-depth knowledge of BOTH languages, and a cultural bridge across time zones. You did good, as we say up here!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you, I hope I do have some creative talent at least, certainly hope I don’t end up like Bloy either, a misanthropic reactionary beggar with some very questionable political theories (I tend towards leniency in this matter though)

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I see the talent there … however, you must develop it and believe in it, and showcase it. The rest will come eventually. As for the “bad bits”, just treat your mind like a novel script and write them out!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am extremely impressed that you translated this. A strange and bleak tale but I can see why it appealed to you. People trapped in and out of time. Atoms and molecules forming a coalition against them. I am imagining you translating that… Tres bien.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, yes it is definitely up my alley this story. Their adventurous spirit and the charmed circle of their love crushed by a comic inability to leave Longjumeau, the comedy turning to tragedy, which is surely black humour. The paranoia as well, my favourite line is the atoms and molecules forming a coalition. Thank you for the praise, hopefully it doesn’t outshine by own stories too much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome Mr. Cake, I did enjoy it. The story rather begs the question, who’s driving the car? I love the idea that the house (we assume) is holding them captive, yet is could also be a sort of collective insanity. Splendid job on the translation. Wishing you a wonderful day. ~ Miss Cranes

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is folie a deux but also I think the Bloy is being literal when he hints that it is the Devil who is responsible… Satan is the Adversary and just as in Job he can arrange (atoms and molecules forming a coalition) a test with the full backing of God… The Fourmis wish to travel, even if their travels have been confided to Parisian Suburbs till now, however the Devil will test them until they lose the goodwill of the world and confine them until they despair, which as a good Catholic is the ultimate and final sin. Just as Job was fortunate so are the Fourmis until the cordon is formed. That is my thoughts on it anyway

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Next to to the awesomeness of this post as a whole, I find the picture to be rather diverting, the way that long-legged pal’s stepping on Notre Dame, very funny… Almost considerate behaviour, quite in contrast to the rest of his presence.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Satan as the arch-pimp. Makes sense really. I have often wandered about the dandified nature of the archetypal 70’s pimp with their canes and broad rimmed hats and stacked shoes. Were they the heirs to Buadelaire’s dandies? A bit of a stretch but curious anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s