Book Review: Stories to Read by Candlelight
Illustration by Erin-Claire Barrow
Stories to Read by Candlelight is a collection of eight short stories written by Jean Lorrain a 19th century French poet and novelist working within the school of symbolism and a dedicated disciple of "dandyism". Symbolism was a late 19th century literary and art movement in Europe. According to The Art Story Symbolism suggested ideas through symbolic form.
Symbolists could take the ineffable, such as dreams and visions, and give it form.
The particular copy that I read was translated by Patricia Worth who has translated several French authors, which have been published in literary magazines.
Reading this collection is a bit like sitting with a great grandparent, rather fond of their sherry, and listening to them tell slightly strange stories from their childhood. The writing style is quaintly old fashioned. This is to be expected as the stories were written in the 1890s. Patricia Worth has done a marvellous job of keeping the old world quality of the stories. Jean Lorrain, the author has a florid way of describing scenes and stories from his childhood imbuing them with surreal imagination that adds to the ghost story feel.
The stories share ideas on morals and behaviour in an odd, but effective manner. Lorrain speaks of death, habit, greed, gluttony, hidden loves, intolerance, and compassion for others. The storytelling is shaped by, seen through the lens of the authors apparent dandyism.
A dandy is commonly described as someone, usually male, who places a lot of importance on outward appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies (wikipedia). Merriam Webster defines dandyism as "a literary and artistic style of the latter part of the 19th century marked by artificiality and excessive refinement."
I would say these short stories are an excellent example of the two movements. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them: the style and quirkiness of the storytelling was a nice change to modern storytelling and gives the reader insight into a lost time. Worth's ability to share Jean Lorrain's literary talent with us, keeping true to form while translating into contemporary language is a delight. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
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