Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]

dours of Truth to their souls. Poe is less precise in his statements on this point; Berenice, Ligeia, Eleonora, Morella, having crossed the shadowy waters, the boundary of Life, having entered the temple of ebony and gold, come back again, but without the radiance of everlasting peace in their visionary eyes. Villiers's creatures are crowned with the tiara of immortality, glittering with symbolical stones, they are aureoled with the effulgence of the ethereal fires of Heaven. The protagonist of L'Amour suprème, whose eyes light with unearthly lustre the way to Heaven, as Helen's eyes in Poe's poem, is a personage more clearly defined than any of Poe's characters, owing to the fact that we see distinctly her ideas about the destinies of mankind. The same may be said of Claire Lenoir, with her presentiment of salvation after the ordeal of life. "Et elle murmura le mot de Lactance. .:" "Pulcher hymnus Dei homo immortalis." Claire Lenoir and Paule de Luçanges are interested in philosophy as Ligeia and Morella; and Akédysséril is lifted by her gift of abstraction above the intelligence of the vulgar; Véra and Paule have the tender affection of Morella and Eleonora; but Akédysséril has the superhuman will, the sphynx-like profile of Ligeia; the sceptre of Indian rubies gleams in her imperious hand with a cruel light. The haunting smile of Berenice is reflected on the wasted visage of Claire, in which the disease works a ghostly appearance not unlike the dismal aspect of Aegeus's betrothed. Claire's husband, Césaire, is a perverse being, with some affinity in his brutal tendencies with the demoniac savages met by Arthur Gordon Pym in the isle of Tsalal; he feels in himself the instincts of a vampyre, he believes in a sombre theory of predestination; it would be difficult to conceive such a personage if we did not consider him as a symbol of matter, just as Aylmer in Hawthorne's Birthmark is the symbol of impious pride. This material tendency is easily detected in Véra, though the ground idea, borrowed from Ligeia and Morella, might appear endowed with a high spirituality; at a closer inspection we soon perceive that here we are far indeed from the purely intellectual, imperishable passion burning in Poe's heroines: Véra and her husband are enslaved to matter, and Villiers has clearly pointed it out at the beginning: "C'étaient deux êtres doués de sens merveilleux, mais exclusivement terrestres".

In Tribulat Bonhomet Villiers uses the demoniac element as a cause of terror, while Poe, except perhaps in The Black Cat, does not

depend upon it as a cause of horror and dread; nevertheless in the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, as it was pointed out before, the idea that the inhabitants of Tsalal are incarnations of demons is shadowed at first and then confirmed by the blackness of the island and the words formed by the hieroglyphs of the labyrinth in the rock; the Ottysors of Villiers's tale may have been suggested by the hellish people conceived by the American writer. Another element of terror used by Villiers and often met with in Poe is the haunting sense of invisible presences; in Véra and in Ligeia the dreamy atmosphere is heavy with a preternatural horror, while the bereaved men wait for the visitation of the dead; in the Intersigne we observe the mystic terror arising from dark forebodings and the sinister prefiguration of death, as in The Fall of the House of Usher. A scientific basis is sometimes employed by these fantastic writers; it is sufficient to recall the principle upon which lies the foundation of A Descent into the Maelström and the observations about the sensitiveness and impressiveness of the retina which form the groundwork of Tribulat Bonhomet.

As regards the landscapes which constitute the background to the ghostly and delicate appearances evoked by the French novelist, we discover unmistakable traces of Poe's influence. In the island described in Tribulat Bonhomet as the dwelling place of the Ottysors, "un de ces vastes îlots, d'aspect désert, sortes de volcaniques blocs de lave qui jaillissent, noirs, à de prodigieuses altitudes, et balancent, dans l'orageux ciel du grand océan équinoxial, d'énormes forêts d'un vert intense", we find a reflection of the isle of Tsalal, in The Narrative of A. G. Pym, though the impression derived from two or three chapters of Poe's novel is here concentrated in a few pages. There is in these writers an inborn taste for sumptuous scenery, as we can see by comparing Véra Akédysséril, La Maison du Bonheur with Ligeia, The Assignation, The Domain of Arnheim, Landor's Cottage. The ideal of the House Beautiful as manifested in La Maison du Bonheur is not widely different from the aesthetic dream described in The Philosophy of Furniture; the feeling of repose, however, only hinted at by Poe, is largely developed and intensified in Villiers's poetic evocation. "La solennité, le silence de cette habitation sont doux et inquiétant comme le crépuscule. The poetry which the American artist has lavished upon his wonderful garden in The Domain of Arnheim, has been bestowed by Villiers



upon the rooms of the magic mansion. Such exquisite and melancholy images as we find in Villiers's prose, images of the strange and nostalgic beauty dreamt by Mallarmé and his disciples, absent from the picture, more gorgeous, more precise and solemn, but less suggestive, of the Landor's Cottage. Though the desire of retirement, the love of solitude, the wish of dreaming away the weary hours among sumptuous surroundings is the source of inspiration both of Poe's sketches and Villiers's tales, the former do not attain the mystery and loveliness of the following passage glistening like a fairy opal among the arabesques of the narrative.

,,Et les sculptures sombres, à l'entour de quelque grand miroir, dont l'eau bleuâtre reflète le scintillement, tout à coup, d'un astre, à travers les vitres, et l'inquiétude du vent, froissant, au dehors, dans l'obscurité, les feuilles du jardin, . . . tout leur parle, autour d'eux, cette langue immémoriale du vieux songe de la vie, qu'ils entendent sans peine."


The house of the Abbé Maucombe oppresses the soul with the gloom of the mansion of Roderick Usher, and there are affinities of infinite pathos, of haunting sadness in these crumbling, desolate, weird buildings; yet the prototype has been engendered in the funereal spleen of the American dreamer. The influence exercised by Leconte de Lisle's Poèmes barbares and Flaubert's Salammbô on the glaring, Indian pomp of Akédysséril, on the "twilight of gems“ glimmering in Souvenirs occultes, blots out the eerie effect produced by passages in Poe; though in A Tale of Ragged Mountains, in Ligeia, in The City in the Sea, in Shadow, Poe did reveal a strong bias towards Eastern magnificence joined with the glacial horror of death.

Another feature characteristic of the art of Poe as well as of the prose of Villiers is a tendency towards the grotesque; in this peculiar mood the world appears strangely changed before the poet's eye; the mystic, beautiful side stands out more luminous and enchanting than to the common observer; but the ugly, deformed side of life. appears by constrast extremely repulsive and whimsical; therefore we had from Poe such a delicate melody as Ulalume and such a rough farce as Epimanes, and from Villiers the scorching satires of Tribulat Bonhomet and Le Tueur de Cygnes, and the lyric splendour of Akédysséril. With Poe Villiers shares the hatred for the quack scientist, who despises with stolid contempt the most refined and mysterious manifestations of art, the purest and noblest emotions of

a sensitive heart;') in Eureka, in Some Words with a Mummy, we find a counterpart to La Maison du Bonheur and Bonhomet.

Notwithstanding that, in fierce sarcasm and bitter jesting, Villiers's style can vie with Poe's, generally, however, he does not attain the limpid flow, the fascinating glamour of his prose; he is unable to produce the striking effects of chiaroscuro, the fantastic play of light and shadow as in some powerful etching, which characterize the form of the American writer; his delicate phrases have rather the charm of the mauve and grey tint of a suggestive pastel. Yet Poe's influence is recognizable in some passages, for example in the apophthegmatic beginning of Vera which recalls the introduction of Berenice, in some sentences,) and, in a synthetic way, in the lyric soaring of the phrase, lifted from the tone of a plain narrative to the pitch of poetry, instinct with a deep pathos, adorned with radiant images. There is a strong affinity in the character of the following extracts, evoking the supreme beauty of the dying year: ..." cette heure des années qui précède le tomber merveilleux de l'automne; à cette heure où, — telle que, sur de riches forêts, après une ondée d'orage, l'étoile du soir, la Mélancolie se lève, illuminant de milles teintes magiques toutes les âmes bien nées." "But one autumnal evening, when the winds lay still in heaven, Morella called me to her bedside. There was a dim mist over all the earth, and a warm glow upon the waters, and, amid the rich October leaves of the forest, a rainbow from the firmament had surely fallen.“

Yet, except in Tribulat Bonhomet, Villiers lacks that peculiar gift of Poe by which, working out his theme into a subtly contrived climax, he succeeds in taking such a firm grip on the reader, urging him breathlessly to the end of the tale, as to the unexpected, beautiful cadence of a strange melody.

1) En sorte que tout le clinquant intellectuel de la Science, toutes les boîtes de jouet dont se paye l'âge mûr de l'Humanité, tous les bondissements désespérés des impersuasives métaphysiques, tout l'hypnotisme d'un Progrès si magnifiquement naturel, éclairé par la providence d'un Dieu révélé, et, sans Lui, d'une vanité si poignante, non, tout cela ne leur paraissait pas aussi sérieux, ni aussi utile, en substance, que le tout simple et natal regard de l'Homme vers le Ciel."

[ocr errors]

2)... les lourd flacons de parfums qu'Elle ne respirerait plus . . .

On the cushion's velvet lining . . .
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

The Raven.

Poe is quoted by Villiers in Souvenirs occultes: "Et il n'y a pas, dans toute la contrée, de château plus chargé de gloire et d'années que mon mélancolique manoir héréditaire." The quotation is from Berenice: "Yet there are no towers in the land more timehonored than my gloomy, gray, hereditary halls." The art of the American poet is alluded to in Tribulat Bonhomet, the high estimate of Villiers being evident in the violent sarcasm with which he brands the incomprehension and self-conceited dulness of the Doctor [p. 110-111]. — [Cf. also the motto prefixed to Véra: "La forme du corps lui est plus essentielle que sa substance", with the motto of Eleonora: "Sub conservatione formae specificae salva anima"; the motto of the Duke of Portland: "Attends-moi là: je ne manquerai pas, certes, de te rejoindre dans ce creux vallon“ [L'Evêque Hall], with the motto of the Assignation: "Stay for me there! I will not fail || To meet thee in that hollow vale" [Henry King, Bishop of Chichester].

Since Villiers de l'Isle-Adam deserves to rank with those masterspirits that modified the course of the Romantic movement, turning it towards spiritualism, and thus bringing about a deep change in the conception of art, Poe's influence is therefore noticeable. as an impulse to give predominance to the spirit over matter, to proclaim the sovereignty of the Idea. To Poe Villiers is indebted both for violent and delicate aesthetic effects, for the ghastly reappearance of Césaire Lenoire, the bitter scorn of Tribulat Bonhomet, the sumptuous, sinister glow of Akédysséril, and the exquisite refinement of La Maison du Bonheur.


Federico Olivero.

« AnteriorContinuar »