La Morte amoureuse  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

La Morte amoureuse (1836) is a short story of the supernatural by Théophile Gautier published in La Chronique de Paris in 1836. The story of a a priest receives nocturnal visitations from a female vampire. La Morte Amoureuse has been translated as The Dead in Love and is available in Joan Kessler's Demons of the Night (1995).

Contents

Plot summary

The story opens with the elderly Romauld recounting a strange adventure during his youth. The day of his ordination many years ago, he saw a beautiful young woman in the church. He heard her voice promising to love him and to make him happier than he would be in Paradise, if he would just leave the church. However, he was in the middle of his vows, and before he knew it, he had finished the ceremony. As he left the church, a cold hand grasped his arm and he heard a woman say "what have you done!" When he turned around, she had disappeared. On his way back to the seminary, he was greeted by a page who gives him a card reading, "Clarimonde, Palace Concini."

He continued his studies, but he was plagued by the memory of Clarimonde and regretted taking his vows. Finally, he was notified of his new parish in the country. As he was leaving town with Sérapion, an older priest who mentored him, he looks back on the town, which was covered in shadow with the exception of a golden palace on a hill. He asked Sérapion about the palace, and Sérapion answered that it was the Palace Concini, where Clarimonde the courtesan lived. He told Roumauld that it was a place of great debauchery.

Romauld lived quietly in the country, pining over Clarimonde, for an indefinite period of time. One night, a man on horseback arrived asking the priest to come quickly and offer last rights to his mistress. Romauld went to a mysterious castle in the country where he saw Clarimonde dead. In his grief, he kissed her, and his kiss brought her back to life.

He woke up three days later at his home, and his maid told him that he had been brought back by the same horseman with which he left. After that, he had fallen into a fever and remained unconscious. Romauld believed that all that had passed with Clarimonde had been a dream; but a few days later, she appeared to him in his room. She looked dead, but beautiful, and she told him to prepare for a trip.

The second night, she returned, but she looked vibrant and alive. The two of them went to Venice and lived together. During the day, Romauld performed his duties as priest, and at night, he was Seignior Romauld of Venice. One night, he refused to take the sleeping draught that Clarimonde offered him each evening, and he realized that she was drinking his blood while he slept. However, Romauld admitted that he would have gladly given all his blood for her.

Eventually, this life took its toll on Romauld, and Sérapion began to suspect what was happening. Sérapion took Romauld to Clarimonde's tomb and revealed her body, miraculously preserved thanks to Romauld's blood. Sérapion poured holy water on Clarimonde's corpse, and she turned to dust.

Back in the present, Romauld tells his audience that this was the greatest regret of his life and suggests that his listeners never look at a woman, lest they meet the same fate.

Characters

  • Romauld, a young priest who falls in love with Clarimond
  • Clarimond, a courtesan who is revealed to be a vampire
  • Sérapion, a priest who discourages Romauld's relationship

Analysis and Significance

Colors and Orientalism

Gautier originally wanted to be a painter, having studied under Louis Rioult. However, Gautier was dismissed in 1829, and he began to write fiction instead. His friend Gérard de Nerval, also a famous writer, introduced him to Eugène Delacroix in 1830.

Delacroix was a leader in the French Romantic school who was instrumental in bringing Orientalism to France, and had a creative influence on Gautier. Gautier gives homage to Delacroix in the opening sentence of his La Morte Amoureuse when he compares Romauld's dream life to a "normal life of Sardanapalus." This is an allusion to Delacroix's painting "La Mort de Sardanapale" (English: "The Death of Sardanapale"), considered to be a masterwork of both Delacroix and his movement.

The references to Orientalism in the story are numerous. Gautier uses colors associated with Orientalism throughout his work: red, green, white, silver, and gold. Each of these colors are the foundation of a symbolism of colors in La Morte Amoureuse. This is particularly notable in the descriptions of Clarimonde, with her green eyes, her red lips (with red drops of blood), her white skin, her silver voice, her green and gold traveling gown, etc.

Excerpt

They used to say that she was a ghoul, a female vampire; but I believe she was none other than Beelzebub himself." --page 18
BROTHER, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange and terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely dare even now to disturb the ashes of that memory. To you I can refuse nothing; but I should not relate such a tale to any less experienced mind. So strange were the circumstances of my story, that I can scarcely believe myself to have ever actually been a party to them. For more than three years I remained the victim of a most singular and diabolical illusion. Poor country priest though I was, I led every night in a dream— would to God it had been all a dream!— a most worldly life, a damning life, a life of a Sardanapalus. One single look too freely cast upon a woman well-nigh caused me to lose my soul; but finally by the grace of God and the assistance of my patron saint, I succeeded in casting out the evil spirit that possessed me. My daily life was long interwoven with a nocturnal life of a totally different character. By day I was a priest of the Lord, occupied with prayer and sacred things; by night, from the instant that I closed my eyes I became a young nobleman, a fine connoisseur in women, dogs, and horses; gambling, drinking, and blaspheming; and when I awoke at early daybreak, it seemed to me, on the other hand, that I had been sleeping, and had only dreamed that I was a priest. Of this somnambulistic life there now remains to me only the recollection of certain scenes and words which I cannot banish from my memory; but although I never actually left the walls of my presbytery, one would think to hear me speak that I were a man who, weary of all worldly pleasures, had become a religious, seeking to end a tempestuous life in the service of God, rather than an humble seminarist who has grown old in this obscure curacy, situated in the depths of the woods and even isolated from the life of the century. --page 1




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