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introduction On Writing Biography In which the author pays a visit to Périgueux and makes a detour to Galveston It is early July, and I am sitting in a café in Périgueux, Rachilde’s hometown , after a sudden summer thunderstorm. I am drenched. The clouds blow away as suddenly as they came, the swallows resume their spiraling antics, and I contemplate my predicament. I have just come from a fruitless search at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Périgueux, where I have been looking for L’Exposition sans chemise: Lanterne périgourdine hebdomadaire, a rare journal of the 1880s produced by a local group of avant-garde writers and one of the first periodicals with literary pretensions to which Rachilde contributed. Rachilde used many pseudonyms (other than that of “Rachilde”) and probably wrote under yet another one in L’Exposition sans chemise so I am not even sure what I might learn from this publication, but I feel a need to look at everything just in case. Perhaps it would reveal something about the transition from writer of regional color “à la Ponson du Terrail” to self-consciously artistic writer of the decadent movement. Perhaps it would reveal more about the somewhat mysterious and enigmatic figure of Léo d’Orfer (Marius Pouget), who seems to have been an early love interest. But I will probably never know because the municipal library has the only copy of this rare journal, and no one seems able to locate it for me. This story of dead ends has been a recurring motif during this trip. The helpful conservateur with whom I had been corresponding before my trip has recently taken another job in another area. His replacement is not unsympathetic and wants to help, but he does not seem really to know what is in the collection, at least this part of it. In addition, the municipal library is open only during limited hours, so in the meantime I have been to the regional archives—the “archives départementales”— where I hope to trace some members of Rachilde’s family through records of births, marriages, and deaths. I have also been told to contact Pierre Pommarède, a priest and local historian who has been working on the same subject, or so I am told by helpful archivists. They give me his address, but I am not surprised to learn that he is out of town. Moreover , the archives themselves, I discover, will close in two days for the annual holiday. I panic. I should have thought of this, I think; everyone knows that things close in France in August. Of course, had it been August , I might have anticipated this, but it is only the beginning of July. Nevertheless, I am embarrassed that it did not occur to me to check this detail (you can never be too sure, and, besides, I know that libraries sometimes close at odd times in France, even large bureaucratic offices like regional archives). My own shortcomings as a researcher seem all too obvious and all but drive me to despair. Getting soaked in the sudden downpour seems merely to offer divine confirmation. Each individual check on my progress drives home the point that is becoming increasingly clear: this trip is not working out as I had planned. Before these failures, I had not been aware that I had even had expectations, but, like so many other things, they began to make their existence felt only when they failed to be realized. As I dry off in the café, I begin to think about what it was The Cathedral of Saint-Front in Périgueux. Reprinted from Pommarède, Périgueux oublié. that I had expected to accomplish during this week in Périgueux. Somehow I had gradually evolved a fantasy of what this trip would bring, and realizing what a simplistic wish fulfillment it was now made me wonder how I could have been so naive. Without quite being aware of it, I had imagined that I would arrive in this backwater of the Midi and casually strike up a conversation with the patron of the local café. The conversation would eventually turn to the purpose of my visit, and I would smile and confess that actually I was not a tourist but that I was researching the life of one of Périgueux’s forgotten daughters, Rachilde; perhaps the patron had heard of her? This B-movie fantasy would continue...


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