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Told in the Mother's Voice: Jean Lorrain's Fairy Tales as Oral Narrative Robert Ziegler Montana Tech Nothing evokes more powerfully the Bachelardian sense of topophilia than Jean Lorrain's image of the nestled child to whom his mother tells a fairy tale. Reverting in his memory to the status of a listener, the storyteller again becomes the boy before the hearth, the dreamer who is transfixed by the embers in the fireplace and whose reveries are incubated by the stove's maternal warmth. Imagining the homeless lashed along by biting winds and blown down hard, paved streets by gusts that snatch at flimsy rags, the writer regresses to the protected nest of childhood, from which he leaves on cozy journeys into the landscapes of old books: "combien il serait doux de pouvoir redescendre le passé, de pouvoir redevenir enfant et, . . . dans la tiédeur des chambres closes, ... de se reprendre au charme des vieux livres d'images, ... et de pouvoir croire encore aux contes!" (Préface, Princesses d'ivoire et d'ivresse 7). Published in 1902, Lorrain's Princesses d'ivoire et d'ivresse is unlike the author's earlier works that had conditioned their reception. The Fecamp native, who escaped the humid greenery of Normandy and electrified Paris with his flamboyant eccentricities, had used literature as an instrument of remunerative publicity, crafting personae to promote the sale of his strange and shocking books. Accomplished scandal-monger, "incarnation of le péril mauve" (McLendon, "Communities" 7), Lorrain belonged to the notorious segments of the society he maligned. In his depictions of the underworld of crime and prostitution (La Maison Philibert), theatre society , the demi-monde (Le Tréteau), the ruthless practices of publishers (Maison pour dames), Lorrain had shown the public its most unflattering public face. With their emphasis on sensationalism and contemporaneity, Lorrain's previous works engage attention as outrageous performances that model the disapproval they are intended to elicit. It is therefore surprising to find Lorrain thinking back to his own childhood, yearning for the days long past when he was the audience himself. In his fairy tales Lorrain's narratives relate the temporal vagueness of their frame to the timeless pleasure afforded listeners who are spellbound by a story. The older the stories he was told in winters past, the younger Lorrain is made to feel by his cherished 165 166Rocky Mountain Review recollections. As tales are aged when buried beneath the years of their retelling, the house in which one hears them recedes more deeply into history, where it is blanketed by snow, which is the frozen dust of time. Snow "met de l'âge dans les souvenirs. . . . Sous la neige la maison est vieille. Il semble que la maison vive en arrière dans les siècles lointains" (Bachelard 53). As the setting for the narrative grows disorienting and remote, the child eases comfortably into "le giron de la maison" (Bachelard 26). The more harrowing and dangerous is the tortured hero's quest, the more firmly anchored is the listener in "[le] pays de l'Enfance Immobile" (Bachelard 25). We are warmer in the house because it is cold outside, says Bachelard (52); Lorrain evokes the fortress of Neighilde, the snow palace within which sleep the winters of the future. Deepening the withdrawal into enclosure, heat and safety are the images that Lorrain gives of livid midnight suns, cold canopies of stars, infinite expanses ofblue ice floes, roaring Hyperborean gales that scour out vaulted, doorless halls, slashing storms of prisms that break in iridescent shards. In his fairy tales Lorrain describes the passage to adulthood as both a journey into emptiness, exposure, and aloneness and as a pretext for returning home where the narrator can pause, can start retelling and reexperiencing the stories dating from his childhood. As the origin ofthe tales that Lorrain first heard as a boy and the sanctuary to which his tired adventurers are drawn, the house as mother's body is the center of Lorrain's narrative, with its hearth that circulates the warmth that enfolds the drowsy listener and with the belly of the kitchen stove in which the uncooked story gestates . The preoccupation of the writer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 165-176
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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