Les Filles du feu  

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"Et puisque vous avez eu l’imprudence de citer un des sonnets composés dans cet état de rêverie supernaturaliste, comme diraient les allemands, il faut que vous les entendiez tous. - Vous les trouverez à la fin du volume. Ils ne sont guère plus obscurs que la métaphysique d’Hegel ou les Mémorables de Swedenborg, et perdraient de leur charme à être expliqués, si la chose était possible, concédez-moi du moins le mérite de l’expression ; - la dernière folie qui me restera probablement, ce sera de me croire poète : c’est à la critique de m’en guérir."

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Les Filles du feu (English: Girls of Fire) is a collection of short stories published by French poet Gérard de Nerval in January 1854, a year before his death. In 1853, Nerval had suffered three nervous breakdowns and spent 5 months in an asylum, and he saw Les Filles du feu as an opportunity to show the public, his friends, and his father that he was neither dead nor crazy.

However, all of the short stories in Les Filles du feu had been previously published: "Angélique" in Les Faux Saulniers (1850), "Sylvie" in La Revue des Deux Mondes (1853), and "Emilie," "Jemmy," "Isis," and "Octavie" in multiple reviews.

Contents

Angélique

Sylvie

Sylvie (Nerval)

Sylvie is a semi-autobiographical tale of a man who is haunted by the memory of three women in his life, all who seem to blend together. The story opens with the narrator at the theatre, where he is in love with an actress named Aurélie. He is suddenly reminded of a memory from childhood, and he experiences a flashback. First, he remembers a festival where he danced with a local girl named Sylvie but was entranced by Adrienne, a young noble (whose resemblance to Aurélie is what brings on the flashback). Adrienne ultimately enters a convent.

As Adrienne is unobtainable, he returns to Sylvie several years later and spends many days with her. As they pass by a monastery, the narrator mentions Adrienne, much to Sylvie's dismay. He returns to Paris.

The narrator comes back again and Sylvie and he spend a day playing dress up at an elderly relative's home. However, nothing comes of this, and the narrator leaves again.

Finally, Sylvie marries someone else, and the narrator pursues Aurélie, the actress, more aggressively. They become close, and the narrator asks her if she ever spent time in a convent, associating her with Adrienne. Ultimately, Aurélie breaks it off with the narrator, and the narrator returns one final time to Sylvie, now a mother. When he asks about Adrienne, Sylvie reveals that she has been dead many years.

Octavie

Octavie tells the story of a narrator who takes a trip to Italie. While he is there, he meets a young English woman and makes a rendez-vous with her. Meanwhile, he visits the home of a local woman, who reminds him of an actress he once knew.

Isis

Isis is an essay on the goddess of love and her many forms over the years.

Corilla

Corilla is a short play.

Emilie

Emilie is the final story in the collection. It tells the story of Desrochers, a French lieutenant serving on the Franco-Prussian border after the Franco-Prussian War. He is wounded in the face, and while he is healing in the hospital, he meets and befriends Emilie, a young Prussian woman, and her aunt. The two fall in love and decide to marry. The night before the civil ceremony, Desrochers tells some fellow soldiers about the first man he killed in duty long ago, in a fort at Bitche. The next day Desrochers, his wife, and her brother Wilhelm leave. At an inn, Wilhelm argues with Desrochers' acquantances about his father's death at the hands of a French soldier at the same fort in Bitche. The soldiers are surprised at how similar Wilhelm's story is to Desrochers'. The next day, Wilhelm asks Desrochers to give him a tour of the fort, and when they get to the spot where Wilhelm's father was killed, Wilhelm accuses Desrochers and challenges him to a duel. Emilie sends a priest to intervene, but Desrochers realizes that he and his wife can never be happy, as he was her father's killer. Desrochers re-enlists and is killed on the front line; Emilie retires to a convent.




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