“Omphale”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed by LibraryThing’s Deep Ones. In case you wondering why you don’t get one of these every week, it’s because, usually, I’ve already reviewed the story on this blog or, rarely, I couldn’t get a hold of the story.

Review: “Omphale: A Rococo Story”, Théophile Gautier, 1834. 

As you might expect from Gautier, this story has a lot of description and a fairly simple and wry plot. 

The narrator describes his uncle’s very rundown garden and dilapidated guest house. He’s staying with his uncle until he decides what career he wants to pursue. Well, actually, he knows he wants to be a writer, but he’s not about to tell his uncle that. His uncle hates writers.

The narrator is young, attractive, and he likes the guest house. Inside it is a tapestry of an oddly posed Hercules and a charmingly depicted Omphale who, in mythology, was required to be Hercules’ mistress for a year.

While he is undressing one night, it almost seems like Omphale’s eyes move. Another night, he looks at the tapestry. Omphale has moved. He puts his head under the covers and falls asleep. 

He has a strange dream in which Omphale comes off the tapestry. She helpfully explains that, while that’s unnatural, she’s not a devil. She’s the Marchioness de T___. After she was married, the marquis (the narrator’s uncle) had the tapestry made for her apartments. (It’s unclear if she was married to the narrator’s uncle.) It’s been a long time since anybody else was in the room, and she just liked watching the narrator. She fell in love with him. 

The conversation is interrupted by the sound of a key in the door. Omphale jumps back on the wall. It’s the uncle advising the narrator to pull the bed curtains. Seeing they are open, the narrator realizes that, in fact, he saw Omphale jump from the tapestry. 

The next night, the seventeen-year-old narrator asks about the Hercules on the tapestry. It was based on his uncle. The narrator is heady with love but worries about what his uncle will say. He won’t even notice says Omphale. (It’s unclear if the two have sex.)

(Spoilers ahead)

The next day the uncle shows up with a tapestry-hanger. Given his uncle’s “shrewd and severe expression”, the narrator suspects he knows what’s going on. The tapestry is taken away. (It’s not stated what happened to the Marchioness.) 

When his uncle dies, his house and its furnishings are sold. A long time later, the narrator comes across it in an antique store. A price is agreed on, and the narrator goes off to get the money. 

However, when he cames back, he found an Englishman showed up and offered more money for the tapestry. His first love is gone. 

After all, perhaps it was best that it should have been thus, and that I should preserve this delicious souvenir intact. They say one should never return to a first love, or look at the rose which one admired the evening before.

More of a fantasy than truly weird, it’s a pleasant enough story, a light piece of fantasy.

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