In The Land Of Pain (Anglais) Relié – 23 mai 2002
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“These are [Daudet’s] notes from underground. They include . . . ruminations on fear and fraud, and sharp observations of the healthy. But much of the book—and the book’s force—lies in the patient’s flailing search for a language to match his suffering.” —The New Yorker
--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
Présentation de l'éditeur
Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) was one of the most popular nineteenth-century French novelists, whose work radiated humour and good cheer. What few except those close to him knew was that for his entire adult life he suffered from syphilis, a disease both unmentionable and incurable at the time. What even fewer knew was that for the last dozen years of his life he kept an intimate notebook in which he recorded the inevitable development and terrifying effects of the disease. He described the often alarming treatments he took in the desperate attempt to defeat the disease, and wrote with comic zest about life in the spa-towns to which he was sent for a cure.
Even for a time when we are more openly confessional about illness, Daudet remains exemplary and instructive, both in his lucid self-examination and in his amused stoicism. In the Land of Pain was first published by Daudet's widow in 1931. Julian Barnes brings us the first English translation of this surprising, touching, and at times brutal masterpiece.
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Daudet's weapon in his decade long struggle with his pain were his notebooks, which were filled with precise description and irony. (He finally died at age 57.) This sounds like a recipe for self-absorption, but there is very little ego in this book. Daudet approached his pain almost as a puzzle to be solved, not as an invitation for people to feel sorry for him. Barnes provides descriptions of Daudet's gallant response to his illness. Barnes quotes Philip Larkin: "courage is not frightening the others" and Daudet seems to have believed that as well. He was haunted by the thought of burdening his devoted wife and children, but agrees that his family responsibilities actually help him cope.
The effort of writing seems to have been cathartic for Daudet, and the reader is filled with a similar feeling of cheerfulness at having faced things squarely. Daudet had little use for religion: but at one point he admits that most people are not made happy by either good fortune or good health. He sighs, "all we lack is a sense of the divine." He carried on anyway, and this small, grim book may also help you too, in a way more sentimental books can't
Julian Barnes' translation is excellent - footnotes are provided that identify people, places, medicines that are unfamilar. Two short essays on Daudet and syphlis complete the book.
While this book may not appear to be high on the to-be-read-list, it deserves a place near the top.
Other works in the same genre include Montaigne's long essay "Of Experience" and Tolstoy's novelette THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH. Somehow we would all like to think that we will escape pain and die softly like a snowflake evaporating in pure air. If we were all Zen masters, we could die like the sages in Yoel Hoffmann's brilliant collection, JAPANESE DEATH POEMS:
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight --
Thus I return to the source.
-- Gesshu Soko (d. 1696)
Though not well known to English-speaking readers, Alphone Daudet was considered one of the greatest French novelists of the late 19th century. A full forty years before his death, he contracted syphilis around the age of 17. Around the age of 40, Daudet's illness reached the tertiary stage; and he was bedeviled by a symphony of pain that attacked his various organs, sometimes with brief remissions before new and more awful symptoms appeared.
It is ironical that, were he alive today, Daudet would be cured by antibiotics; and Montaigne's kidney stones, possibly by medications, possibly by a routine surgery.
British novelist Julian Barnes edited this collection of fragments. It takes only a couple of hours to read, but I guarantee that this book will leave echoes in your mind about the battles you yourself may face as you reach the endgame.
"I only know one thing, and that is to shout to my children, 'Long live life!' But it is so hard to do, while I am ripped apart by pain."
Daudet contracted syphilis at the age of seventeen, and at the time, there was no cure. By the early 1880's he was in the tertiary (final) stage of the disease, which in his case took the form of "tabes dorsalis,' which translates literally as "wasting away of the back." It is a form of neurosyphilis which attacks the spinal cord and column and is one of the slowest and most excruciatingly painful ways that a person can die.
I was interested in this book because my grandfather also died of syphilis. I never knew him - even my father barely remembers him because he was only a child when my grandfather was institutionalized due to his illness. From what few records exists, it seems he may have suffered from the same form as Daudet, as he also had blindness and ataxia. So reading this book felt like a way to connect with my unknown and long-dead grandfather.
It is easy to see why Daudet was so much-loved both as an author and a human being - a friend and a family man. Although known for his philandering (one wonders how he justified marriage and fatherhood, much less a series of love affairs, knowing full well that he had a fatal sexually-transmitted disease), his great love for his wife and children is evident. Not wanting them to suffer too, he exhibited an incredibly rigorous self-control in hiding his pain from his family. (We know this from the many notes written by his friends that are included in the book.) Instead, he channeled his expressions of suffering into his writing. The planned book was to be a journal of the progression of Daudet's pain and his journey into death.
Even unfinished and unedited, and concerning such a difficult and ugly subject, these writings are surprisingly poetic and beautiful. It makes me want to read some of his finished works, and wonder why - although highly popular at the time - they are mostly forgotten today.
The book also includes some important background information about the life and personality of Alphonse Daudet and about the medical manifestations of the disease of syphilis.
Quotes from In The Land of Pain:
"Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him. Everyone will get used to it except me."
"The walks I used to take around this land of pain. Could still find it in myself to laugh. Lunches. La Bellocquiére. Seen it all again in my mind's eye. Villemagne and the Pont-du-Diable. Felt like crying. I remember what Caoudal said: 'And to think that I shall come to regret all this!'"
"Exchange between the bachelor and the married man. The problem of jealousy, when a man is no longer a man and becomes unable to defend his hearth and home."
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