Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mont Oriol Part I: up to page 100 of the defective, unprintable PDF

Don't try this at home, kids, but I picked a dissertation topic before I knew if there would be enough sources to swing it. I mean, I did start out with a different vision for the project, one that ultimately wasn't possible because those sources didn't seem to exist. But I really wanted to write about Jewish intermarriage in nineteenth-century French literature, without being entirely sure that there was a heck of a lot of it.

Well, there is, in fact, a heck of a lot of it. A never-ending virtual pile of PDFs. So I learned while doing research in Frahnce and, less glamorously, on Google Books and Gallica. One of my committee-members just pointed me to another, one I'd made a note of but had not realized was top-of-the-pile material: Maupassant's Mont Oriol, which is indeed a find, and which has odd overlaps with, of all things, Into The Gloss. It's all about - OK, not finished yet - the magical power and/or sneaky marketing of French eaux minérales. The French have been spritzing themselves with snake oil since long before Emily Weiss began documenting it.  

The great twist in this novel is that rather than a belle Juive, there's a sweet innocent blonde aristocrat, a woman whose charm apparently consists in having no hormones whatsoever, having not given any thought to love (which we take as a euphemism) despite being 21 years old and two years into her marriage. Her husband is the Juif, and in a shocking turn, his obsession is kesef, moolah, that sort of thing. He has no passion, and thus has failed to awaken the passion of his wife, because women can only become passionate when a man does this.

Early, early on, as this is all presented, we learn that her brother has this friend, and it's like, so that's who she's going to have the affair with, and who'll no doubt impregnate her, because her marriage to the Juif is of course not producing children, because marriages between Jews and Gentiles, according to the pseudoscience governing this literature, cannot. Let me be clear: this book was recommended to me not as compelling literature, or as a guide to living well, but as important for my project, which it most certainly is. Another odd twist - the Juif is described as not laid (as in, French-for-ugly, not as in getting-some), whereas the Gentile love interest is described as laid, at least in the eyes of the vapid protagnonesse. But because this is a crummy novel, there's probably no broader significance to this. The best I can think of is, it's about how manly appeal comes from not being a pretty-boy, something an author bemoaning decadence might conceivably have argued, right?

So. The Juif makes an investment in this French water that comes from the deepest terre itself, meaning that he's  not only pillaged and plundered France via his marriage to a Real-French woman (the thèse of all these stories) and his no doubt usurious loans to his useless-aristocrat brother-in-law, but also the land itself, land owned by some old-timey paysan vinters. I don't know exactly how it'll end, but I don't think either the belle or the Juif will develop a distinct personality of any kind.

Part II, stamina-willing, shall follow.


Petey said...

You might want to get an early start on your preparations for the snake fight portion of your dissertation defense...

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I admit I've seen that before, but it never gets old.

Miss Self-Important said...

I have this problem too, w/ a 16th C. Latin treatise that has not been translated into English since 1607, when English was, needless to say, not standardized. 794 pages of photocopy from the Bodleian that read like this: For albeit that the maister of the family have three hundred wives, as had Salomon King of the Hebrews; and sixe hundred children, as had Hermotimus king of the Parthians by his multitude of wives; or five hundred slaves, as had Crassus; if they bee all under the commaund of one and the same head of the familie, they are neither to be called a people nor a citie, but by the name of a family onely.
Scrappiness one-upmanship.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Love it!

I can't one-up back at you, I'm afraid, because it had been a while since I'd done research, having been at the writing stage for some time, and it's fun to be reading a novel, at least.