Low Res Scan: Weird Fiction in France: A Showcase Anthology of Its Origins and Development, ed. and trans. Brian Stableford, 2020.
This anthology is mostly composed of stories three to four pages long though there is one novel and a novella. The “showcase” designation means it serves as sort of a sampler of Black Coat Press offerings since most of these works were previously published by them.
“Introduction”, Brian Stableford — Stableford traces the development of weird fiction in France, dubbed contes fantastiques, back to the manifestations of the Romantic movement there. Romanticism, in opposition to the Age of Enlightenment, emphasized mystery and emotion. Romanticism started in Germany but had different manifestations there. There was also an English version of the movement. French Romanticism was influenced by fey stories written by aristocrats as well as medieval romances and folklore, and France had a deeper tradition of fantastic fiction to draw on than England and the German states.
But there was some cross influences. French Romantics admired E. T. A. Hoffmann, Ann Radcliffe’s gothics, and Lord Byron. But it was Byron’s one-time doctor, John Polidori, that had the biggest influence. His The Vampyre was adapted into a stage play, and vampires were prominent much earlier in French literature than English. French Romantic works tended to be more frivilous and playful than their earnest and gloomy German counterparts.
In 1830, Charles Nodier published a famous essay, “The Fantastic in Literature”, which explained why, after the Ages of Reason and Enlightement, supernatural stories would be popular:
When religions . . . shaken in their foundations, no longer speak to the imagination, or only bring confused notions to is, obscured . . . by an anxious skepticism, it is necessary that the faculty of producing the marvelous with which nature has endowed it is exercised in a more vulgar genre of creation, more appropriate to the needs of a materialized intelligence . . . The apparition of fables recommences at the moment when the empire ends of the real or conventional verities that lend a residue of soul to the wornout mechanism of civilization.
In an 1832 essay, Nodier proposed three types of weird story: intrusions of the fantastic into everyday life, strange events that can’t be explained, and stories where the weirdness can be rationally explained or can be supernatural. The third type was by far the most common in French weird fiction and in this book. That theme was also aided by some pecularities of France: the widespread interest in Mesmerism, the examination of mental illness by several doctors who wrote about their findings (thus leading to the popular “asylum novel”), and the romanticism of French writers around the use of hallucinogenic drugs.Continue reading