Marcel Schwob’s The Book of Monelle

I just finished reading Marcel Schwob’s mesmeric and haunting The Book of Monelle, and I loved it.  So I thought I’d share three things.

1) This quote from the first section of the book, “The Words of Monelle”:

The very desire for the new is merely the hunger of the soul seeking form.

And souls shed past forms as snakes slough their skins.

And the patient collectors of old snakeskins sadden the young snakes, for they hold a magical power over them.

For he who possesses old snakeskins keeps the young snakes from their transformation.

And that is why snakes slough their skins in the verdant trench of a deep thicket; and once a year the young gather in a circle to burn the old skins.

In this way, embody the destructive and formative seasons.

Build your house alone and, alone, burn it to the ground.

Throw no debris behind you; may each put his ruins to use.

Construct nothing in nights past.  Set what you build adrift.

Contemplate new buildings, following the slightest impulse of your soul.

For each new desire, create new gods.

Marcel Schwob, The Book of Monelle, (translated by Kit Schluter, Wakefield Press, 2012, pp. 7-8)

2) A link to an interview with the book’s translator, Kit Schluter, on The Paris Review blog.

3) And a Maurice Prendergast painting completed in 1894, the same year The Book of Monelle was published in its original French.  I think this painting will always remind me of the book, of Monelle, and of Louise, the woman for whom Schwob originally wrote all the pieces and stories that went into the final book.


Maurice Prendergast, Evening Shower, Paris


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