Wednesday, August 4, 2010

“Unhappy Man!”: Reviewing “Clarimonde”

Title: Clarimonde
Author: Theophile Gautier
Reader: Joy Chan
Genre: Gothic Horror
Length: 1 hour and 23 minutes
Location: Recording hosted by Librivox. It is in the public domain.

A young novice, poised upon the threshold of his ordination, glances up from his prayers, glimpses the face of the beautiful Clarimonde, and is hopelessly ensorcelled. He hungers after her, even as he vows himself to the priesthood, and as he leaves the ceremony, Clarimonde catches him by the hand and cries, “Unhappy man, unhappy man, what hast thou done?” For he is not alone in yearning; she has understood his hunger, and returns it.

The priest cannot escape the thought of Clarimonde. And so when he is given a chance to revoke his vows and become her lover, he seizes it.

Consequences be damned.

Final Verdict: 2 out of 5. This tale is simply and straightforwardly told: innocence faces temptation, and innocence prevails. There are vampires, holy water, and stakes. In a word, “Clarimonde” is early literary Gothic. No twists, no embellishments, just a good, old-fashioned clash of virtue versus the supernatural.

Listening to and reading early Gothic always requires some mental readjustments on my part—there’s no use in being irritated by the priest’s obsessive catalogue of Clarimonde’s charms—absorbed at a glance—because… well… it’s Gothic. Early Gothic. It’s supposed to be excessive and sound as if it takes itself seriously. (Does it?) That is what (can) be so charming about the genre.

"Clarimonde" is certainly excessive (and a bit more promiscuous than I was expecting. There was nothing explicit, but Clarimonde’s reputation suffers dreadfully in the mouths of her detractors). There isn’t a great deal of substance to the story, and the protagonist is—understandably—given to sanctimonious posturing and expressions of horror that story does not warrant. It makes for a light, amusing listen.

I enjoyed the reader, Joy Chan. Her voice is pleasant on the ear, and I loved the line of French that she narrated. But a grating burst of noise substituted for the dash in phrases such as, “the priest of — parish,” or “in the year 17—” It startled me rather badly the first time I heard it, and I never grew used to it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that premise has me interested in this! I haven't read many (or any :P) gothic horror, although I love the horror genre. Wouldn't hurt for me to try this, because Librivox is freee! :)