Memoirs from Elsinore

Memoirs from Elsinore

Memoirs from Elsinore

Memoirs from Elsinore

Synopsis

This is the first English publication of a major work by one of Belgium's greatest writers - Franz Hellens. As a prime example of his "fantastic realism," this novel takes its narrator-hero, Theophile, through a series of adventures that range from the touchingly down-to-earth to the extravagantly bizarre. With its rich multiplicity of character and incident, as well as a narrative that surprises the reader at every turn, this book is an ideal introduction to a unique, and too long neglected, voice in twentieth-century literature.

Excerpt

At the time of his death at the age of ninety in 1972, Franz Hellens could have looked back over a writing career that had lasted more than sixty years, during which he had produced well over one hundred books, in a bewildering variety of genres—novels, short stories, poetry, essays, plays, art criticism, even a history of the Belgian parliament! He had been on friendly terms with the likes of André Gide, André Malraux, Paul Claudel, Paul Valéry and Maxim Gorky, had had his portrait painted by Modigliani and sculpted by Germaine Richier, and through his work as a critic and as editor of the influential review Le Disque vert, had been somewhere near the center of artistic and literary life in France and Belgium for several decades. I have first editions of some of his works from the 1940s, with the original publicity bands that French publishers like to put around their books, on which he is variously described as “the greatest Belgian novelist” and “a Flemish Dostoevsky”. During the 1950s, some of his friends and colleagues seriously considered nominating him for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Yet since his death, he has been almost completely forgotten, both in his native Belgium and in France, where most of his books were published and where he lived for many years. a mere handful of his works has been reissued by Belgian publishers in recent years. in France, nothing at all is currently in print. Outside these two countries, at least, there has been no change—Franz Hellens is as unknown today as he always was during his lifetime. the present translation of his 1954 novel Mémoires d’Elseneur is, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the first of his books to have been translated into English.

It is a career that can either be regarded as a remarkable example of diligence and fortitude, or as an awful warning to anyone contemplating a career in letters—to do so much, only to disappear into the literary . . .

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