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In the Land of Pain (Vintage Classics) Paperback – March 22, 2016
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From Publishers Weekly
A popular writer in his time and admired by Charles Dickens and Henry James, French novelist, playwright and journalist Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) has been largely forgotten today. According to novelist and essayist Barnes (Something to Declare, etc.), Daudet's work, although considered charming and topical in its heyday, did not have the depth and relevance to transcend its age-with one exception, this small volume, translated into English now for the first time. Basically a loose journal of ideas, metaphors and observations, the book offers a devastating emotional and spiritual portrait of a main in profound physical pain in the tertiary stage of syphilis. Daudet continued to write and publish during his illness, though he experienced bouts of rheumatism and severe fatigue, which progressed on to debilitating "locomotor ataxia (the inability to control one's movements), and finally, paralysis." Daudet's descriptions of his physical ailment are palpably horrifying, and the feelings of isolation and inadequacy that result give readers a new understanding of the psychology of illness. Of the "sheer torture" of his pain, Daudet ultimately concludes that there are no words, "only howls." Words, he says, "only come when everything is over.... They refer only to memory, and are either powerless or untruthful." However inadequate the author may believe his words to have been, the indomitable spirit of life that is conveyed on every one of these pages is Daudet's ultimate triumph. 4 illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
From The New Yorker
Syphilis may lack something of the romantic aura surrounding tuberculosis in literary history, but it was the illness of choice for the French nineteenth century: Flaubert, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Maupassant all suffered from it. Daudet, best known for his light, charming stories of southern France (Barnes judges him a tie for fourth-most important syphilitic), died of it, in 1897. These are his notes from underground. They include a narrative of his treatments (in which the author is hung in the air by the jaw and injected with a solution extracted from guinea pigs), ruminations on fear and fraud, and sharp observations of the healthy. But much of the book—and the book's force—lies in the patient's flailing search for a language to match his suffering. "Tonight, pain in the form of an impish little bird hopping hither and thither," he writes. "The only part of me that's alive is my pain."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Digital edition.
Top customer reviews
They Just Fade Away
But Dying Writers Want Their Say
Before we lay them away
Alphonese Daudet (1840-1897) a famous, wealthy and popular 19th Century French author, had one distinction that he could well have done without: he was a member of the group of literary syphilitics that included Baudelaire, Flaubert and Maupassant. Sexually active from the age of twelve, at 17 he contracted the disease which, when it reached the tertiary stage in 1882, condemned him to lead the last twelve years of his life "in increasing pain and debility." During that time he continued to write fiction, very little of which is considered of consequence today. What has survived are the elements of the book to be called "La Doulou" (from the French word for pain) that would track the progress of his disease. It is this text and his additional notes which Julian Barnes has edited and translated from the French to form "In the Land of Pain."
In his review of "In the Land of Pain" for the New York Times Book Review (Feb. 2, 2003) Richard Eder wrote "Barnes has given Daudet a startling resurrection. . . .He delivers words and, in full and suggestive notes, a context that allow a minor 19th Century storyteller . . .to claim vital recognition from our own, and perhaps every, time." High praise, and, in my opinion, not a bit overblown. I first read "Land of Pain" to help me understand the agony of a friend in the throws of his own pain brought on by a harrowing combination of cancer and osteoporosis exacerbated by frequent bone-breaking falls. As with Daudet's, my friend's pain management programs often seemed to make matters worse, not better.
Daudet wrote with unwavering clarity about his pain. Her are two examples:
"Varieties of Pain. Sometimes on the sole of the foot, an incision, a thin one, hair-thin. Or a penknife stabbing away beneath the big toenail. . . .Rats gnawing at the toes with very sharp teeth."
"Pain finds its way everywhere, into my vision, my feelings, my sense of judgment; it's an infiltration."
At some point, perhaps eighteen months before his death, Dauded abandoned the effort to complete "Le Doulou". Still, to the end, according to Barnes, "he talked about the project, and even answered journalists' questions about its progress."
End note. The introduction, explanations by way of footnotes, and the "Note on Syphilis" with which Barnes concludes the book, add immeasurably to its quality. "In the Land of Pain" deserves a place of honor on the shelf of books which contain their authors' last words to us. For my reviews of three others worthy of your attention, see "Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens, "Ill Fares the Land" by Tony Judt, and "Diaries" by George Orwell. And see also, "The Journal of a Disappointed Man" by W.N.P. Barbellion.
Julian Barnes' translation is excellent - footnotes are provided that identify people, places, medicines that are unfamilar. Two short essays on Daudet and syphlis complete the book.
While this book may not appear to be high on the to-be-read-list, it deserves a place near the top.
Daudet's weapon in his decade long struggle with his pain were his notebooks, which were filled with precise description and irony. (He finally died at age 57.) This sounds like a recipe for self-absorption, but there is very little ego in this book. Daudet approached his pain almost as a puzzle to be solved, not as an invitation for people to feel sorry for him. Barnes provides descriptions of Daudet's gallant response to his illness. Barnes quotes Philip Larkin: "courage is not frightening the others" and Daudet seems to have believed that as well. He was haunted by the thought of burdening his devoted wife and children, but agrees that his family responsibilities actually help him cope.
The effort of writing seems to have been cathartic for Daudet, and the reader is filled with a similar feeling of cheerfulness at having faced things squarely. Daudet had little use for religion: but at one point he admits that most people are not made happy by either good fortune or good health. He sighs, "all we lack is a sense of the divine." He carried on anyway, and this small, grim book may also help you too, in a way more sentimental books can't