Reading Things We Lost in the Fire

A double entry for the Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction and Uncanny in Translation series.

First things first: “Adela’s House” is the best haunted house story I’ve ever read. It’s eerie and dark, enigmatic, and just a little bit bloody. Like most great ghost stories, it starts out in a quirky but fundamentally prosaic world and just…goes sideways. Real sideways. I love it, and for this story alone, I’d recommend Things We Lost in the Fire.

Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez
Things We Lost in the Fire, by Mariana Enriquez. Translator Megan McDowell

But the rest of this collection, by Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell) is nothing to ignore, either. I sought her work out after seeing her featured in a BBC special on women ghost story writers, but not all the stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are supernatural. Rather than a “ghost story writer,” I lean towards calling her a “writer of the macabre.” The stories in this collection, supernatural or not, are all uncanny, dark, “weird” in the sense that the VanderMeers use the term, and sometimes outright horror. Whatever you choose to call them, they are compelling and unsettling, and a really great read.

Since Enriquez is based in Buenos Aires, it’s almost a given that she gets compared to the Argentine magical realists. While Enriquez’s stories have some of the ambiguous qualities of magical realism, I don’t see them as being in that tradition, myself. Sometimes her writing does remind me of Silvina Ocampo, in that there is a sort of cold-eyed clarity, almost cruelty, in the way those particular stories present their protagonists and their world.

I’d also say that Enriquez is in the tradition of an earlier Argentine writer, Juana Manuela Gorriti; they both use the supernatural and the gothic to grapple with Argentine history, particularly in the aftermath of dictatorial regimes.

Some favorite stories of mine: “Adela’s House” of course. “An Invocation of the Big Eared Runt” tells of a tour guide on a Buenos Aires “murder tour” who begins to get some interesting–and pertinent–visions. “End of Term” and “No Flesh Over Our Bones” are both creepy and disturbing, in different ways.

The horror elements of “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” are, well, pretty horrible, but the relationship elements are disturbing, too. “Under the Water” filters Lovecraftian elements through a Buenos Aires lens. “Things We Lost in the Fire” examines how ideology can sometimes be much harder on the followers than on the leaders.

According to the translator, of all of Enriquez’s fiction, Things We Lost in the Fire is the work that “most employs the tools of realism”– I guess it says something about literary attitudes towards genre, that we have to wait for a relatively “realistic” work to get a translation. I would love to read more of Enriquez’s macabre tales, and I believe she has another collection coming out in translation early next year. I’m looking forward to it. But in the meantime, do check this collection out.

Recommended.

The Uncanny in Translation: Iginio Ugo Tarchetti

As if I didn’t have enough to do, a new series: The Uncanny in Translation! Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I have an interest in non-Anglophone weird fiction. In this series, I plan to share interesting works in translation that I come across, which are possibly less well-known to English language readers.

348px Tarchetti Paolina 1875 page 5 crop
Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1839 – 1869)
Source: Wikimedia

First up: Fantastic Tales (Racconti Fantastici),  by nineteeth century Italian author Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1839 – 1869), translated by Lawrence Venuti. According to the book cover, Tarchetti was “the first Italian writer to experiment with the gothic style,” and is “often compared to Edgar Allan Poe.” He was part of the Scapigliatura movement in Italian literature, a sort of anti-bourgeois, anti-establishment movement influenced by German Romanticism, French bohemians, Baudelaire — and Poe.

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Some Recent Faustianish Posts

Just an update on some recent(ish) posts to my other blogs. By coincidence, both posts relate to the theme of Faustian bargains, so they go rather well together.

Over on Ephemera, here’s the latest of my Emilia Pardo Bazán translations. This is from a few months ago, but I got distracted by Pedro Escamilla and Dark Tales Sleuth, so I never announced the translation here.

Faust, Rembrandt, c 1652
Faust, by Rembrandt (c. 1652).
Source: WikiArt
  • The Spell (El conjuro): A philospher performs an incantation of the last day of the year, in hopes of summoning a being that can grant his desire.

The protagonist of the tale is referred to as “el pensador” (the thinker) in the original Spanish. I rendered that as “the philospher” in my translation, because it felt better to me in English, and in my opinion still retains the connotations of the original Spanish term.

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Introducing The Dark Tales Sleuth!

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’ve started another blog. Introducing The Dark Tales Sleuth!!

MadelynMack books
Image: From Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, by Hugh C. Weir (1914).
Source: Internet Archive

It started when I came across an old anthology called Evening Tales for the Winter (1856). The first few stories included some interesting gothic tales, some implied to be translated from German; the book looked to be a potential source for good stories to share for Winter Tales season. So I started reading.

I noticed, though, that nothing was attributed: no authors, no translators, no information at all. This annoys me.

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The Stories of Pedro Escamilla

Although he was one of the most prolific Spanish authors of the 19th century, Pedro Escamilla seems little known today, even (as far as I can tell) in Spain. Not even the dates or circumstances of his birth and death are certain; the website Ganso y Pulpo estimates that he was born around 1840 and died around 1890.

Retrato Escamilla
Pedro Escamilla
Source: Ganso y Pulpo

And yet he is said to have published something like 400 stories, 35 or 40 plays, and at least 34 novels. some of them under the pen name Félix X. He was also rumored to have ghost-written works for other authors.

Today, he is probably best remembered (if at all) for his short stories in the fantastic and horror genres, which have been compared to the work of Poe and of Erckmann-Chatrian.

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Tales of the Dead

In 1812, the French geographer Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès anonymously published a collection called Fantasmagoriana, his translations of eight German supernatural tales. Some four years later, Fantasmagoriana found its way into the hands of a group of young people on holiday in a Swiss villa during an unusually cold, wet, summer. With little else to do, they read Fantasmagoriana to pass the time. Among that group were Mary Shelly and John Polidori, who in the course of that summer wrote, respectively, Frankenstein and the The Vampyre, two influential works that shaped the genres of Gothic literature, horror, and in the case of Frankenstein, science fiction as well.

Castle overlooking a river
Castle Overlooking a River, Maxime Lalanne. Source: WikiArt

In 1813, an Englishwoman named Sara Elizabeth Utterson translated five of the tales from Fantasmagoriana into English; she published these five tales, along with an additional story of her own, as Tales of the Dead. And on a cold, gloomy, foggy San Francisco August afternoon (“the coldest winter…”, as Mark Twain wrote), having discovered this little treasure, I curled up under a blanket and started to read.

Tales of the Dead is not just interesting for its influence on Frankenstein and The Vampyre; it’s enjoyable reading on its own, for fans of gothic tales and old-fashioned ghost stories. Fairy tale and folktale lovers will probably enjoy some of the stories here, too.

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Superstition or Supernatural?

Two stories exploring the border between skepticism and belief. Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.

Two more translations! One by Juana Manuela Gorriti, and one by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is a kind of matched pair: two stories about the tension between rational explanations and the desire to believe in the supernatural.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes The sleep of reason produces monsters No 43 from Los Caprichos Google Art Project
The sleep of reason produces monsters, Francisco Goya (1799). Source: Wikimedia

Many marvelous-seeming phenomena in the world are really quite natural; Sir Walter Scott dedicated an entire letter from his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft to debunking ghost stories of this type. One such example is the tale of the dead club president’s ghost, which has a perfectly rational explanation.

As a story, though, the supernatural explanation is far more satisfying. And that may be the case with Gorriti’s and Pardo Bazán’s stories as well.

Enjoy!


Featured Image: Mandrake. Folio 90 Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides (7th century). Source: Wikimedia

Two “Living Vampire” Stories by Braddon and Pardo Bazán

Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.

We tend to think of vampires as revenants, creatures that have come back from the dead and who feast on the living to maintain their existences. But it’s not just the undead who siphon away the life of their prey. Today’s post looks at two stories about such “living vampires”: Mary Elizabeth Braddon‘s “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896), and Emilia Pardo Bazán‘s “Vampiro” (1901).

LadyDucayne

Both stories have similar structures: young, vulnerable women are “acquired” by an extremely elderly and obscenely rich person–the living vampire–who siphons the life from their victim(s) in order to rejuvenate themselves.

In “Good Lady Ducayne,” the prey is eighteen year old Bella, whose mother was abandoned by Bella’s father. To earn extra money for the family, Bella goes into service. She is hired as a companion by rich old Lady Ducayne, who pays her an incredibly generous salary–and takes her to Italy! If that sounds too good to be true, it is.

  • Read “Good Lady Ducayne” at Project Gutenberg Australia, here.
The Unequal Marriage (Pukirev)
The Unequal Marriage (1862), Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov. Source: Wikimedia

In “Vampiro,” the prey is fifteen year old orphan Inesiña, the parish priest’s niece. Inesiña’s uncle arranges for her to marry seventy-seven year old Don Fortunato, the richest man in the province. The town gossips seem to think Inesiña got a good deal; how long can her husband live? Well….

  • Read my translation of “Vampiro” at the Ephemera blog, here.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Emilia Pardo Bazán

Women’s History Month is over, but my series continues! Today I am featuring one of the major figures of Spanish literature: feminist, novelist, journalist, critic, and profilic short story writer Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Countess of Pardo Bazán. Like George Sand, she is not primarily thought of as a writer of the fantastic [1], but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.

La Esfera-Condesa de Pardo Bazán Gamonal
La condesa de Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) Illustration by Isidro Fernández Fuertes (1921). Source: Wikimedia

According to her page at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, she “is considered the best Spanish woman novelist of the 19th Century and one of the most distinguished writers in [the history of Spanish literature].” In 1916, she became the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university: Chair of Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid.

I hadn’t read her since my undergrad days (I have a minor in Spanish Language Literature, though I remember almost nothing about it now), and she didn’t catch my attention at the time, focused as I was on the Argentine magical realists. I came across her again recently, while flipping through some of my old textbooks and bilingual anthologies, and this time around, her stories struck me, hard. Her writing feels remarkably contemporary in its psychological acuity and feminist outlook; like Quiroga, she sketches perceptive portraits of some of the darker and/or frailer aspects of human nature. While the stories I initially read don’t quite fit into the types of fiction I discuss on this blog, I really wanted to include her in this series, if possible.

Fortunately, a little digging surfaced several pieces that arguably qualify as fantastic or weird. I think I’ll have translation projects for some time to come! For this post, I’ll start with two that are short, but particularly powerful.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Juana Manuela Gorriti

Today’s featured writer is Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), possibly the first published writer of fantasy in Latin America [1].

Juana Manuela Gorriti
Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892).
Source: Wikimedia

During her lifetime, she was also the most widely read woman writer in Latin America [2]. I don’t honestly know how well known she is today, but she definitely deserves attention for (among other things) her contributions to gothic literature. In this post, I’ll talk about some of Gorriti’s gothic pieces, and share a translation of a short ghost story from her later writing.

Juana Manuela Gorriti came from a politically active family in Argentina. Her father, José Ignacio de Gorriti, was a hero of the Argentine war of independence from Spain, and a supporter of the Unitarian faction of Argentine politics [3]. When the opposing Federalist faction overthrew the Unitarian government of Argentina, the Gorriti famiily escaped to Bolivia.

In Bolivia, Juana Manuela met and married Manuel Isidro Belzu, who eventually became President of Bolivia. The marriage was not happy, and Gorriti separated from Belzu and moved to Peru, where she began her literary life.  She started a school, edited journals, and published not only in Peru, but in Chile and Argentina as well. While in Lima, she began to host tertulias, or salons, which were attended by prominent cultural and literary figures of the day, both men and women–especially women, for Gorriti was a feminist and encouraged women to join in the intellectual and political life of their countries.

In 1878 she returned to Argentina, establishing herself in the literary and cultural circles of her native country, while maintaining connections with the (many) notable women writers of the period from all over South America. She died in Buenos Aires in 1892.

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