Jim's Reviews > My Fantoms

My Fantoms by Théophile Gautier
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Nov 01, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 19th-century-lit, france, fantasy-horror, short-stories
Read from November 01 to 04, 2011

I had read other books by Theophile Gautier, but nothing prepared me for this superb collection of fantasy-horror stories entitled My Fantoms, translated by the biographer Richard Holmes. To the extent that it was Holmes's contribution that made the difference, I think I'd like to see him do more translations.

The only thing that threw me for a loop was that Holmes changed the titles of the seven stories from, in some cases, their much better known original titles. It is not until the Bibliographical Note at the very end of My Fantoms that Holmes gives us the original titles. For the sake of reference, here they are:
"The Adolescent" = "Omphale, Histoire Rococo"
"The Priest" originally "La Morte amoureuse"
"The Painter" originally "Onuphrius Wphly, ou Les Vexations fantastiques d'un admirateur d'Hoffman"
"The Opium-Smoker" originally "La Pipe d'opium"
"The Actor" originally "Deux Acteurs pour un rôle"
"The Tourist" originally "Arria Marcella: Souvenir de Pompéi"
"The Poet" originally "Gérard de Nerval"
The last story does not resemble a story at all: Rather, it seems more like a commemorative essay on Gautier's dear departed best friend, Gérard de Nerval, who had hanged himself from a lamppost some years before. Then, as one reads on, the tribute is full of details that Gautier could not possibly have known and which strain the reader's credibility.

By far the best stories are "The Priest" and "The Tourist." It is in the latter story, in which the ruins of Pompeii come back to life just so that the hero, Octavian, could live a love affair with one of the victims of Mount Vesuvius some 1,800 years before. It is in that story that Gautier's most famous quote can be found:
Nothing, in fact, actually dies: everything goes on existing always. No power on earth can obliterate that which has once had being. Every act, every word, every form, every thought, falls into the universal ocean of things, and produces a circle on its surface that goes on enlarging beyond the furthest bounds of eternity.
If you ever find yourself reading the journals of the Goncourt brothers, who knew Gautier well, you would find in him a somewhat bizarre but appealing figure -- one that I hope to know better after reading more of his work.
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