Sunday, December 6, 2009

RE: Edgar Allan Poe's First Book Sells for Record Price

A rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's first book has sold for $662,500, smashing the previous record price for American literature.

That is a pretty good price. It's higher than the $67,823.19 (US) reportedly paid for a first edition of the classic novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist (which makes a great "stocking stuffer").

Of course, Arsole Fantüme is French. But, like the Poe collection, it is horror. It is also beautifully and compellingly written. But you should read it and judge for yourself.


Why did he buy this...


...When he could have, theoretically, gotten ten of these?

Friday, October 9, 2009

'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' Trailer: Heath Ledger in an Arsole Fantüme Mask

Heath Ledger's character in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," the new film directed by Terry Gilliam, is wearing an Arsole Fantüme "jester mask":



Here's a detail from an illustration from the original novel:



I've already written about how one of the film's stars, Johnny Depp, has been rumored to be trying to get an Arsole Fantüme film made-- and I have no doubt that Gilliam knows about the tawdry classic. Now, thanks to this film, we might get a glimpse as to what a movie version of the character might look.

The novel is available for purchase here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Roman Polanski-Inspired Art from Death Gush Artist Troy Louden!

Troy Louden, creator of that great Death Gush artwork, has sent along a link to his latest work, a painting of film director Roman Polanksi. It can be viewed at his deviantart page, which is here. Or you can view it below:


Champagne and Quaalude by ~TroyJunior on deviantART

Two words come to mind when I look at this artwork. Oh my.

Interestingly, there were rumors that Roman Polanski wanted to make a film version of Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist (the book can be purchased here) in 1974, but he decided against it because he believed the book was too decadent.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where Shooting Stars Come From



I have heard rumors that one of the sequels to "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist" sent the mad enemist into space. Perhaps the designers of space toilets have read that book?

"Everything that comes out of your body gets pulled down into the toilet by the air."

Marcel Maurice and Pierre could not have said it any better.

Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist can be purchased here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coffee Enemas in Australia: Arsole Fantüme Would Be Proud

A Health Minister in Australia, John Hill, is warning people about unregistered doctors offering "quack therapy," including coffee enemas:

Mr Hill today announced the State Government would adopt the recommendations of a parliamentary committee examined therapies being offered by unregistered doctors.

These included offering to cure cancer through the use of "organic coffee enemas" and another practitioner who claimed to be able to cure cancer through "vaginal blowing".
...
"These people are scum and I am determined to do whatever we can to make sure they can no longer practise in this state."

Good for him, calling these exploiters of human misery "scum." I'd like to recommend he read the novel "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist," which will offer him some insight into the mind of the mad enemist.


Coffee is for drinking, not for enemas.

Picture source.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More from Death Gush, and Some Strange Enema Drawings; Also, Was Kurt Cobain an Arsole Fan?

I got another email from EneMetal music pioneer Gareth Lower, of Death Gush fame.

an old friend of mine is has pasted up some old drawings he made for DEATH GUSH back in the day, they're on deviant art .com, you should take a look as they pertain very directly to Arsole Fantüme, this guy can draw but never was into what i asking for, well youll see.

meanwhile i'm still looking for recordings of DEATH GUSH so you can hear more than the rehearsal tapes, and so here i go back into the attic to look one more time, avoid the black widows and enhale more desert dust and all the rest, gareth

First of all, Gareth, I repeat what I said earlier- I can't wait to hear some Death Gush music, and I look forward to what you've got to offer.

I had to do some searching, but I found the pictures to which Gareth referred in his email here. I asked the artist, Troy Louden, if he would mind my posting the images to this blog, as they do pertain to Arsole Fantüme, as Gareth stated. Troy graciously agreed, and so here are the four drawings. In the first, Batman is getting an umbrella enema from the Penguin. In the second, Yogi Bear receives a picnic basket enema from Ranger Smith. In the third, a hapless Smurf is getting an enema from Gargamel, while dead smurfs hang from the ceiling from what appears to be their intestines. In the fourth, which is my personal favorite, the Hamburglar has hooked Grimace up to a milkshake machine, and is giving him a milkshake enema. Gross and hilarious stuff- perfectly in keeping with the tone of the novel, Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist!


Batman and Penguin Enema by ~TroyJunior on deviantART


Yogi Bear + Ranger Smith Enema by ~TroyJunior on deviantART


Gargamel Smurf Enema by ~TroyJunior on deviantART


Hamburglar and Grimace enema by ~TroyJunior on deviantART

The artwork was clearly designed to promote Gareth's band, Death Gush. It's only too bad the band didn't take off in the late-90s, when these drawings were originally done. Perhaps the novel would have found greater fame a full decade earlier!

I find it interesting that a band could be inspired by a novel about (among other things) a French super villain who murders by enema. But Death Gush apparently wasn't the first band to be inspired in this way; at least, if indirect influence is taken into account. Kurt Cobain's first band was called Fecal Matter, and their songs "Sound of Dentage" and "Blather's Log" almost sound like they could have been inspired by Arsole Fantüme.

Was visionary musician Kurt Cobain a fan of Arsole?

This theory is given further credence by the fact that King Buzzo was Fecal Matter's bassist. King Buzzo, a founding member of the Melvins, was also a founder of the band Fantomas, which was inspired by the French literary supervillain of the same name, who was himself inspired by Arsole Fantüme! It hardly seems unlikely that King Buzzo would be aware of Arsole.

The great King Buzzo- another fan of Arsole?

Arsole Fantüme's stretch is long indeed, and infects the worlds of art, literature, film, and music! Finding these connections has been exciting, and keeping this blog has been a real revelation!

ARSOLE FANTüME LIVES!

Kurt Cobain pic source.
King Buzzo pic source.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

David Černý - Arsole Fantüme Fan?

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a profile on the Czech artist David Černý, the "bad boy of the eastern European art world... a wiry, floppy-haired 41-year-old who resembles Mick Jagger... who once considered getting silicon breast implants and walking around Prague naked “to see how people would react.”

The entire profile is interesting and well worth reading in full, but this paragraph in particular caught my eye:

He has painted a Soviet tank pink, depicted Prague’s heroic 10th-century King Wenceslas riding a dead, upside down horse and lampooned the incendiary, right-wing Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, by displaying a caricature of him inside a giant fiberglass anus.

Being from Eastern Europe, and a bit of a prankster, it hardly seems impossible that Mr. Černý would not have been aware of Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist. Perhaps he was even inspired by Arsole's literary antics. Look at this photo of the "giant fiberglass anus" sculpture, and you be the judge:


Who can forget the classic scene in the novel (Chapter 23, "The Unfortunate Orifice"), in which an Arsole victim is made to be a gruesome part of a water-spraying art installation?

Apparently, the body had been suspended within the installation for some time, and most everyone had thought it was part of the artwork. It was the small that had finally caused complaints. When an observer was heard to comment, "This stinks," a near scandal erupted until it was clarified that he meant it literally stunk- it smelled of human waste and decay.

David Černý- Arsole Fantüme fan? I think it's safe to say, "Yes!"

Order Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist here.

Fiberglass anus sculpture pic source.

"The Human Kite" -Another Short Story by the Authors of "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist"

Two days ago, I received in the mail an envelope from France. I opened it and discovered within photocopies of two manuscript pages consisting of the following the short story by the authors of the novel “Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist.” Along with this treasure was a note, the details of which I’ve been asked not to divulge. Suffice it to say that there is an underground network of “FOAs” (“Fans of Arsole”), and I now find myself firmly in its ranks, and charged with getting as much of their work as possible translated into English.

Written in 1914, “La Kite Humain” was probably the last short story that Marcel Maurice and Pierre wrote together before their death. It is significantly lighter in tone than the previous short story I translated on this blog, “The Devil in the Ass,” but it is clearly the work of the same nimble and brilliant minds.

THE HUMAN KITE
By Marcel Maurice and Pierre
Translation © 2009 Ricky Sprague

Kay and I lived together in a small but tastefully furnished one bedroom apartment in the beautiful and overpriced city of Paris. We were both happy and content, save for some unsatisfying dealings with our landlord, the sneering, handlebar-moustached cad named Monsieur Tawdry.

I was seated, reading a Le Figaro “Drama In Real Life” from 1909, involving the twin scourges of drinking and syphilis, when Kay walked into the room brandishing a letter.

“My Expensive, we’ve been invited to be in this year’s big parade. Do you want to go?” she said, excitedly.

“Of course,” I said, because I knew it would make her happy.

“Okay, but there is one catch,” she said, placing the letter in my hands. As I read, I visualized the author, our landlord, snarling as he wrote, pausing every so often to rub his hands together in a parody of menace (the letter was unsigned, but in his unmistakable chicken-scratch).

After reading the letter, I looked up at Kay and said, “’The Human Kite’? That sounds terrible!”

“Yes, it sounds terrible,” she said. “But it might also be a lot of fun, if you look at it the right way.”

I started to say something witty, like, “Indeed; from the ground,” but I decided against it and simply said, “You’re right; let’s do it!”

The next week, Kay and I were seated upon the Human Kite’s crossbar. The Human Kite itself was a large aeroglider attached by a long cable to one of the parade floats. (“City of Paris Youth Organization Supports The Wonders of Kiting.”) We were approximately 10 metres above the ground, but our vertigo made it appear at least 15 metres. Kay turned to me and said, “You know, if this were an aeroplane, I’d be very disturbed right now, but I have to say this Human Kite is most enjoyable!” as we waved to spectators along the parade route.

Monsieur Tawdry watched us from a darkened corner, twirling his ebon moustache. His expression became angry as he muttered, “I can’t believe it! They’re actually having fun!” (He had expected, and not unreasonably that because of our vertigo, the experience would terrify us.) “Well, I’ll show them!”

He crouch-walked beside the floats, and surreptitiously climbed into the bottom of the Paris Youth Organization float. Using a long wrench, he dis-attached the cable that anchored the Human Kite to the float, and Kay and I soared off into the welkin, away from the parade, eventually flying south and floating to a beautiful tropical beach with white sands and clear, blue-green water. But everyone was standing on the shore, their bodies showing agitation.

“Why isn’t anyone in the water, when the water looks so clear and inviting?” I asked.

Kay pointed and said, “I think that might be the reason!”

I followed the imaginary line that extended from the tip of her beautiful finger out into the ocean and I saw the huge, great white shark that had been menacing the beach-goers.

We started to lose altitude, since neither of us had any idea of how to operate the Human Kite, and it was obvious that we were going to land in the ocean. Since there was no hope for us, and we were going down anyway, we shifted our bodies in an attempt angle the Kite so that we would hit the shark. As we hit the water, the hard, sharp-pointed front of the Kite’s frame hit the shark in the head, killing it instantly.

Cheers erupted from the beach-bound crowd as they ran splashing back into the water; arms flailing, faces happy. The owner of the luxurious beachside hotel, whose son had been eaten by the shark a week before, gave us a free room for a week.

The next day Kay and I decided to finally make our romantic partnership legal, and we were married. Our unusual story was picked up by the wire news services.

Back in our hometown of Paris, Monsieur Tawdry was sitting in his setee, no doubt feeling smug about having done away with his best tenants. As he flipped through the newspaper he came upon the story about Kay and me killing the shark and then marrying, and this triggered in him a mild heart attack.

When we returned home after our weeklong honeymoon and visited Monsieur Tawdry in the hospital, he explained, “I used to hate you two, so much so that when I saw your joyful story in the paper I actually had a heart attack. Then, when they brought me here to the hospital, they found that suffered from an unusual number of ailments heretofore unknown to me. For this reason, I’m sorry I hated you; I had no reason to, and I’m sorry I dis-attached your Human Kite from the float...”

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re just glad you’re alright, and that the doctors caught all of those things that were wrong with you in time to cure them all!”

Monsieur Tawdry said, “And I want you to be in the big parade next year, too, only next time I won’t put you in the Human Kite!”

“Actually,” Kay said, “the Human Kite was a lot of fun!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind riding in that thing again!” I added.

The heart string galvanometer to which Monsieur Tawdry had been attached began to beep rapidly. As the nurse walked in to administer drugs to calm his racing heart, Kay and I laughed the laugh of two young, attractive lovers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

NY Times Book Review Refuses to Review "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist"

My translation of the classic French novel "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist" has been out for nearly a full month, and thus far, the New York Times Book Review has refused to run a review. It's time to inundate the editors with scabrous and vituperative emails.

What are they afraid of?

Early Review: Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" is not Nearly as Good as "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist"

Taking place over a period of 12 hours, Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" is a book that is full of twists and surprises. One of the surprises is that the book is not nearly as exciting and compelling as "The Da Vinci Code," and if you've already read that book, you can skip this one. One of the twists is that it does not contain a single enema murder.

I could bore you with the details of the novel's story, but instead I would like to recommend to anyone who is on the fence about buying Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon opus that they instead purchase the first novel in the compelling "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist" series. It is fast-paced, with surprising twists and turns, religious cults, conspiracies, zombies, locked room mystery, social commentary, police procedural, French history, coming of age drama, spirits, music, psychiatry, a poodle, and of course, enema murder.

For those who are looking for breathless suspense, action, and surprising twists, "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist" is the book to choose.

In every category, it is the superior to Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." This is in no way meant to be a criticism of Dan Brown, or of his novel. Brown is a fine author. But why buy "The Lost Symbol," when you could buy "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist"?

Quick review: It's decent, but not as good as "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist."

Lost Symbol pic source.
Arsole Fantüme pic source.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist Cracks the Top 50 at amazon.com!

That headline is so misleading, someone from the mainstream media could have written it! The great and disturbing novel, "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist," is ranked #44 in amazon.com's Books -> Entertainment -> Humor -> Parodies category! It's ahead of Dave Barry for crying out loud, and just behind James Lileks's "Gallery of Regrettable Food" (a good book that I own), and "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings," a Tyler Perry book I do not own!


Congratulations to me on this seemingly important achievement!

Oh, and of course congratulations to Marcel Maurice and Pierre. And-- Arsole Fantüme!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Would Arsole Fantüme Have Eaten in a Toilet-Themed Restaurant?

No, he would not. He eschews the toilet, as readers of his novel are aware. But in Taiwan, there is a toilet-themed restaurant called The Merton Restaurant, where diners can enjoy food from miniature toilets.

Yawn. Wake me for the enema-themed restaurant.



UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Look at Constipation and Stomach Ailments in Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"

In my ongoing research on obscure fantastic French literature, I often spend time reading long-forgotten books and journals. Recently, I was reading an issue of something called "The Journal of French Literature," from 1984. The article was on Jules Verne's classic novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Seas," and entitled "The Nautilus as Body." The author, Dr. Alexandre Figuier, shows how Nemo's famous underwater vessel is a stand-in for the human body, and the descriptions of its actions are descriptions of the "physical functions" of those on board.

While reading the article, I found a passage that would be of particular interest to fans of Arsole Fantüme. The author discusses the bowel movements, constipation, and stomach upset that would be experienced by those forced by Captain Nemo to live upon the Nautilus, and eat only seafood.

I've scanned the two pages, but because the journal was so cheaply produced, the pages are a bit blurry, so I've gone ahead and typed the relevant paragraphs into this blog post. This purely for historical/research purposes. There was no copyright notice in the journal itself, so if Dr. Figuier is out there and comes upon this, I hope he will take this in the spirit in which it's intended:


FROM "THE NAUTILUS AS BODY," A LOOK AT CONSTIPATION AND STOMACH AILMENTS IN JULES VERNE'S "20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA"

It seems difficult to believe that Verne, who spends so much time and effort explaining the fantastic mechanisms of the amazing Nautilus, and moreover spends as many pages detailing the all seafood diet that Dr. Arronax et. al. are forced to ingest, would not spend at least as much time detailing the physical effects of the change of diet and surroundings upon the conscripted men.

In fact, Verne does this very thing, in the 20th chapter of part one, “Torres Strait.” However, he does this with typical Victorian discretion. Verne sets it up by having Conseil discuss Ned Land:

“He is a positive spirit with an imperious stomach. Looking at fish and constantly eating them is not enough for him. The lack of wine, bread, and meat does not suit a pure Anglo-Saxon accustomed to steaks, and who appreciates his glass of brandy or gin!”
As we have already seen, the glass of brandy or gin is a reference to digestion. The “imperious stomach” of a one accustomed to eating steak and drinking gin might be expected to behave in a wholly different manner after months of nothing but fish and seaweed.

THE BOWELS AFFECTED

When the Nautilus comes upon the coral reef where Captain Cook’s ship was nearly sunk, Dr. Arronax confides “I very much wanted to visit this 360-league long reef, against which a permanently squally sea breaks with terrible intensity like rolls of thunder.”

The language with which Dr. Arronax expresses this sentiment is out of place with his other descriptions of the undersea world-- the prose has an almost poetic intensity in its description of discomfort. Why, for instance, would Dr. Arronax be so interested in visiting a “permanently squally sea,” after so many descriptions of the languid sea that came before? The answer is that, in this passage, Dr. Arronax is describing the sensations of his own bowels, after a diet of sea-food. With the very next sentence, the Nautilus leaves the coral reef, and plunges further into the depths of the sea, and Dr. Arronax “had to be content with the various specimens of fish brought up by our nets.”

The “squally” stomach breaking with terrible intensity will find no respite. There is plenty of food-- all of it of the stomach--churning variety.

It gets worse for the new residents of the Nautilus, as it ventures further into the Strait:

Around the Nautilus the sea was boiling furiously. The current... was breaking over the coral tips emerging here and there.

“A bad sea!” said Ned.

“Very bad,” I answered, “and not at all suited to a vessel like the Nautilus.”

We have already seen how the Nautilus represents the human body. Here, it is Dr. Arronax admitting that his bowel movements have been unsatisfactory. When the Nautilus runs aground, Dr. Arronax is describing constipation.

We had gone aground at high tide in a sea where the tides are not large, and unfortunate circumstance for the chances of refloating the Nautilus. So solidly constructed was the ship, however, that its hull was not damaged in any way. But if it could neither sink or be holed, it ran a high risk of remaining stuck on the reefs forever, in which case Captain Nemo’s submarine vessel was done for.

The submarine vessel remains aground, of course, until Dr. Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land take a dinghy to dry land, where, according to Ned Land,

“We’re going to eat meat, and what meat: real game! Not bread I tell you! I don’t say that fish is a bad thing, but you can have too much of it, and a piece of fresh venison grilled on glowing coals will make a nice change from our usual fare.”

After the men have spent “a few days on land,” the tide again rises, and the Nautilus is finally able to “refloat.” Their constipation is over, bowels having returned to a form of normalcy, and their journey upon the Nautilus continues apace.

SEXUALITY ON THE NAUTILUS

A submarine full of only men, and the leader of them a solitary and quite mad man indeed, is a submarine of lonely nights of desperate companionship. Again, Verne was bound by the strictures of Victorian mores, and was able to explore the themes implied in only the vaguest of

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Death Gush: EneMetal Music Inspired by Arsole Fantüme

Recently I came into contact with another FOA ("Fan of Arsole") named Gareth Lower, who once had a band that performed songs inspired by the classic novel "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist." He sent some lyrics for a song he wrote called "Feculent Harvest," which was attached to the following email he graciously agreed to allow me to post here:

Dear Mr. Sprague,

I have recently discoveredf that you've translated Arsole Fantume into english, I wanted to reach out and introduce myself since I had heard of this book long ago and based a heavy metal band off of it's contents, for years my brother and I went through many trial and tribluations (and some bar fights) while trying to keep this band Death Gush alive, I hope that translating and publishing your book about Arsole was easier than trying to sing songs about him and his message, let me tell you, no one wanted to hear it back then. I am hoping that since your book is out now that there will be a new interest in Marcel Maurice and the other guy's work and possibly of Death Gush too.

I've got this old lyric sheet from maybe 1998 and thought I'd send it to you so that you can see that we're on the same page, if you will. This is the unfinished version but the only one I could find, it's a long story.

Let me know what you think.

EneMetal Rawk!

Best, Gareth Lower
I have never heard the term "EneMetal Rawk" before, but I am extremely excited to hear what it's all about! Gareth has promised to send along any audio he finds, and any songs he creates in the future. If these notes "from maybe 1998" are any indication, we're in for some really compelling music.

"I reap the feculent harvest
Tilling the dark night soil..."


I have a feeling Arsole would approve.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Edward Gorey Drawing of Dr. Termite and Perdita


I found this great picture of what appears to be Dr. Termite and Perdita from the novel "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist" as drawn by the late, great Edward Gorey. It apparently appeared in a copy of "Look" magazine in the late 1960s.

From the original source posting:

All the Gorey drawings intrigued me, but this one probably most of all. I was haunted by the mysterious "Dr. T." What was he a doctor of? What did the "T" stand for? Why did he always carry a poodle with him? And, why was he wearing what appeared to be a mask?


I've gotten a lot of emails from people saying I've unfairly neglected discussing the psychiatrist who wears a veil because, as he claims, his features are so disturbing they might frighten his patients. It's true that Dr. Termite is one of the more intriguing characters in the book, with his eccentricities, his inscrutable hypnotic skills with "therapeutic speech," and his devotion to his "faithful companion," the poodle bitch called Perdita. I suppose at some point I should go through and more thoroughly introduce all the characters, but anyone who's read the novel knows that it's full to bursting with odd personalities, and it's difficult to do justice to all of them.

Of course, Dr. Termite might actually be Arsole Fantüme, in disguise. The book is full of characters who are clearly not who they appear, and are clearly hiding behind masks. Or veils. As Inspector Lefévre says, "His ability to change his appearance and elude capture means that he could be anyone, at any time!"

Regarding the Gorey drawing: I have never seen this image before, but looking at it now, it's clear to see that it was inspired by the character Dr. Termite. It shouldn't be a surprise that Gorey would have been aware of the macabre and unusual "Arsole Fantüme," considering he wrote the introduction to Ballantine's 1987 reissue of the second "Fantomas" novel, under the title "The Silent Executioner."

Anyway, this is a great find, and I appreciate being able to post it here.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Edward Gorey Dr. Termite and Perdita pic source.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Killed Mozart?

Reuters reports on another ridiculous theory as to what killed the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

The death of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of 35 may have been caused by complications stemming from strep throat, according to a Dutch study published on Monday. Since the composer's death in 1791, there have been various theories about the cause of his untimely end, from intentional poisoning, to rheumatic fever, to trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by eating raw or undercooked pork.


Clearly, the author of the story is conflating one of the famous composer's works, the opera la morte da streptococcal, with an actual cause of death. This is especially ludicrous given the fact that, per my own research, the author of the canon Leck mich im Arsch was probably killed by enema.


Mozart is the most famous person ever to die by enema.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Mozart pic source.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Tobacco Smoke Enema



It's almost as if the stars are in alignment for the reappearance of the Arsole Fantüme ("He Murders By Enema!") novel. The above email has been making the rounds recently (and forwarded to me a couple of times now) showing a tobacco enema kit.

Of course, Arsole Fantüme doesn't use a tobacco enema in the novel- his ingredients are much, much worse!

Wikipedia has more about the tobacco enema, as you might expect:

To physicians of the time, the appropriate treatment for "apparent death" was warmth and stimulation. For this purpose, artificial respiration and the blowing of smoke into the lungs or the rectum were thought to be interchangeably useful. The smoke enema was considered the most potent method, however, due to the warming and stimulating properties associated with tobacco in the pharmacopoeia of the period. At the turn of the 19th century, tobacco smoke enemas had become an established practice in Western medicine, considered by Humane Societies to be as important as artificial respiration.


That is pretty amazing. But that might be why Arsole Fantüme doesn't use the tobacco smoke enema- it's too well-established in the medical community.

Wikipedia's also got some great pictures:



Of course you're encouraged to check out the novel for sale here. And also why not check out the rest of this blog for more Arsole information?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Devil in the Ass- A Story By Arsole Fantüme Authors Marcel Maurice and Pierre

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Arsole Fantüme Gentleman Immoralist authors Marcel Maurice and Pierre wrote more than one story about enemas. One such story, published in 1900, was called “The Devil in the Ass,” and it featured a character called “Deacon Struckshonne,” who also used an enemata. As a recent email correspondent wrote to me (see the link above):

It was published in a collection called “The Misery of Religion,” which was limited to a mere 500 copies, very few of which still exist (the scans are from my own personal copy). In it, you will find some similarities with “Arsole Fantüme.”


He sent me scans of the story, and I’ve recently completed the translation from the French. It does indeed bear some similarities with the Arsole Fantüme book, and not merely because it features an enema. Fans of the book will doubtless be delighted by the opportunity to read the story here:

THE DEVIL IN THE ASS
By Marcel Maurice and Pierre
Translation by and © 2009 Ricky Sprague

The nunnery at Sang de Madre was ensconced within the verdant green of the outer Flaneur countryside. Within the vaulted walls did the occupants diligently carry out the services of the Most Holy Church of the Most Holy of Holies, displaying while so doing an agreeableness of spirit that was inspirational to those townspeople who did not spit upon the nuns, or laugh at them, when they made their twice-monthly journeys into town for supplies, and to sell crucifxes they made from the fingers of lepers.

It was not long after returning from one such pilgrimage that the Lady Abbess and one of the Sisters, Emma, encountered a man standing outside the nunnery. He carried with him a large, patched bag, and wore upon his person the clothing of a man of the church, a bishop or a deacon, and his countenance was one of quiet and deep contemplation such as one would expect from a man contemplating the holiest of holies. Upon hearing the footsteps of the two women, he turned, and smiled at them. He had nearly all his teeth, and his skin was covered in only a few sores. He smelled of lilac oil and milk left in the refreshing sun.

“You are clearly not a beggar,” the Lady Abbess said, taking in his appearance.

“I thank you for the compliment,” the man replied. “I am a man of the church. A holy man. I am called Deacon Struckshonne.” He extended his hand, the skin of which was rough and calloused.

The Lady Abbess introduced herself, then said, “And this is Sister Emma, the youngest of my charges.”

Sister Emma, whose youthful rose was still very much in bloom, indeed almost painfully overripe, felt the soft, pure alabaster white of her skin turn blood crimson when she took the Deacon’s hand. A most adorable creature. He told her how delighted he was to meet two such lovely and holy women. Sister Emma laughed.

“I am here on a long journey across France,” the Deacon said. “I had hoped that I might take a few days respite here, before continuing on to Saint Pierre.”

“We have ample room for you, Deacon,” the Lady Abbess replied. “Of course I need not remind such a man as you that your quarters shall be away from the Sisters’.”

“Of course,” the Deacon said, smiling and bowing.

Sister Emma could not contain her giddiness, and a few explosive chuckles escaped her mouth before the Lady Abbess slapped her across the cheek. The resultant surprise caused her body to convulse slightly, and she gently touched the red imprint that the Lady Abbess’ fingers had left upon her cheek.

Sister Emma had not spent a night within the same structure as a man since she was a child. She had lived with her father and step-mother until the time when her father passed away, and her step-mother had given her the option of becoming either a prostitute, or a nun. Having failed the prostitution exam, she went to the nunnery. That had been fourteen years before, and now she was seventeen.

Lying there in the mild and humble comfort of her own straw cot, she could not help but to think of the Deacon’s rough-hewn body. Of the creases that lined his face like a map of a city; of the harsh whiskers that lightly decorated his chin; of the leathery skin burnished by years of exposure to the sun.

She could not help herself- she thought of what it would feel like to have his whiskers raking against her own supple flesh. She wondered what that skin would feel like, as she stroked it gently with her own small, delicate hands. She wondered what the creases of his face would taste like, as she licked him.

Soon, the desire she felt was so strong that she could see before her face the clear image of her own alabaster-skinned body beneath his tawny, muscled body, engaged in acts that she had only heard about in scandalous whispers. The bodies rocked back and forth like two boats riding different currents, for Sister Emma, in her charming näivete, did not know what members of the opposite sex did to one another when they succumbed to temptation. She knew that she had a slit between her legs, but for her it was for nothing more than urination and the monthly gift.

This was partly why she’d failed her prostitution exam.

As Deacon Struckshonne happened to be walking by her room at that moment- having gotten lost in an attempt to find a proper room in which to pray- he gently pressed open the door of Sister Emma’s room. So transfixed was she by the image she saw floating above her head that she did not hear the creaking of the door, as it creaked open.

Nor did she hear the gasp Deacon Struckshonne let out, as he bore witness to the very image that had so transfixed her. They both watched those bodies rock back and forth, in the manner of a child’s seesaw or rocking horse.

“Sure that is not what you believe goes on between men and women!” Deacon Struckshonne gasped, as he fully entered the room and closed the door behind him.

“The Lady Abbess will hear us!” Sister Emma declared, her body tingling with excitement as she saw the body of the man in her room. He was dressed in a long tatty silk shirt that exposed the dangling head of his Deacon wand.

He shook his head. “She’ll not hear,” he declared, inching closer to her, “if you’ll allow me to instruct you quietly.” And as he moved closer, Sister Emma observed that the head of his wand disappeared under his shirt, and as it did so, the bottom of his shirt pointed at her, briefly, then fell back down against his skin.

“As you are a Deacon, I’ll not refuse the offer of instruction,” Sister Emma declared, as the Deacon removed from her bed the burlap bag she used as a blanket.

He climbed on top of her and immediately showed her the other use to which the slit between her legs could be put. She began to enjoy it so much that she let out whooping squeals of delight that roused the entire nunnery. All its residents crowded around her door- those nearest watched, mouths agape.

Finally, the Lady Abbess pushed her way to the front of the crowd and into Sister Emma’s room. “What is the meaning of this?” she cried out, scandal in her voice.

“Give me a moment, and I shall explain,” the Deacon declared. After a few more seconds his body shuddered, and he rolled off of Sister Emma’s body. Yawning, he told the Lady Abbess, “This is worse than I thought.”

“What mean you?” asked the Lady Abbess.

“She is full of the devil,” the Deacon said. “You see, when I passed by her door on my way to offer prayers, I saw her in here, an image of lust projected above her head. I knew right away that it was the devil seeking to tempt me. So, I allowed him to think that I was being tempted, and I engaged in the act of copulation with her-”

At this, the nuns gasped collectively.

The Deacon raised his hand. “I assure you, I engaged in this act merely in an attempt to trick the devil.”

The nuns made sounds of relief.

“However, I fear that I was unable to pump the devil from Sister Emma’s sweet, innocent, taut body. For that reason, more drastic measures must be taken.”

“May I say something?” Sister Emma asked, having finally caught her breath.

“No!” the Lady Abbess scowled. Her gaze returned to Deacon Struckshonne. “Continue.”

“I have a kit that I always carry with me, in my bag. I will most assuredly drive out the devil.” In preparation, he gave the Lady Abbess inStruckshonne, and told her to bring Sister Emma, along with three other of the most trusted nuns, and meet him in the room in which the sisters did the most reflection in the Most Holy Church of the Most Holy of Holies.

Having misunderstood the Deacon’s instructions, the sisters brought Sister Emma to the Refectory. This was of no consequence, as the Deacon finally found them. He instructed the four sisters to each take hold of one of Sister Emma’s limbs, with one at each of Sister Emma’s wrists and ankles, and hold her face down on the refection slab.

From his bag, Deacon Struckshonne removed a metal cylinder with a long rubberized tube on one end, and a plunger on the other. “She will put up some resistance,” the Deacon said. And indeed, as if to illustrate his point, Sister Emma gave a sharp cry of pain and her body attempted to shift to the side as he placed his finger between the two cheeks of her buttocks and applied to the spot a lubricant of roughly the same consistency as saliva. “The devil will fight us,” the Deacon continued. “Be ready.”

“Always are we ready to fight the devil,” replied the Lady Abbess, holding on to Sister Emma’s right ankle, and watching attentively.

Finally, Deacon Struckshonne placed the end of the rubber tubing into the spot he’d lubricated, and there escaped from Sister Emma’s lips a sigh of pain. Then, as he depressed the plunger of the device- slowly, so as not to rupture any of the Sister’s delicate internal mechanisms- the sigh became louder, growing in intensity like the caterwauling of the emotionally insane.

“No!” Sister Emma cried out.

“This is for your own good!” Deacon Struckshonne declared. So devoted to his work was he that he had not taken the time to change his clothes- he still wore nothing more than the long tatty silk shirt. So intent was he upon rescuing the poor girl that the Lady Abbess saw that this tatty silk shirt was pointing in her direction.

What was first expressed from the spot between Sister Emma’s cheeks was nothing more than the common scatological items one might expect to see from such a process. The Lady Abbess noted in particular that Sister Emma seemed to have difficulty completely digesting corn. Then, suddenly and startlingly, the entire structure seemed to shake, and a voice loud and booming cried out.

It came from Sister Emma’s body- but not from her mouth! Rather, the sound was expelled from her buttocks! And then, astonishment filled the spectators as a creature with the thighs and feet of a goat, and the upper torso and head of a scandalous man, emerged from the very spot from which the sound had emanated!

“Get thee gone, devil!” Deacon Struckshonne shouted at the foul creature. A strong wind howled all around them, and the sisters struggled to remain standing, even as they continued to hold fast to Sister Emma’s wrists and ankles.

“Ha, ha!” the devil of Sister Emma’s buttocks laughed. “It seems no matter where I go, Deacon Struckshonne gets me in the end!” He again laughed, a cold, mirthless laugh that chilled them all to the bone, and in a whiff of brimstone, he was gone.

The Deacon nodded to the sisters, and they released Sister Emma. He approached her, rolling her over onto her back, and gently wiping the hair away from her sweat-soaked forehead. “You are safe now, my child,” he said.

“What happened to me?” she asked, shakily.

“You had the devil in you. But he’s gone, now.”

“Thank you,” she said, gratefully.

“You tested me,” he said- not to her, but to the devil. “She was a tempting subject. But I will not rest until you’re caught.”

The Lady Abbess took Sister Emma in her arms and held her tight. “My child,” she said, “I am so sorry that you’ve suffered like this.” She applied tender kisses to her face and lips. “No longer shall you be forced to eat corn.”

The next day, the truly holy Deacon Struckshonne was back on the road. The devil was again on the loose, and he was the only one with the proper tools to fight him.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yes, Thomas Pynchon Has a New Novel Out Today- No, it Does Not Feature an Enema Murderer



Thomas Pynchon is a famous American author responsible for many famous and great novels, such as The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow. His latest novel, Inherent Vice, was published today. It's a sort of crime novel set in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

However- it does not have a character who murders people by enema. It does not feature reanimated corpses. There are no occultists. There are no psychiatrists who hypnotize people with therapeutic speech. It does not take place in France in 1901. It does not weave all these elements together into an explosive story that leaves the reader gasping for mercy.


Thomas Pynchon has not allowed anyone to take his photo in years. Could it be that he's too embarrassed that he never wrote a novel about an enema murderer?

No, if you're looking for a novel that combines all those elements, you will have to look to Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist. Read it, and shudder! And laugh!


UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Inherent Vice pic source.
Thomas Pynchon pic source.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist Now Available from amazon.com!


You can find the novel by clicking here. Or you can click the button I've helpfully placed on the right side of the screen.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Arsole Fantüme cover art, and presale available!

Here is the cover art for the translation of Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, that classic French horror/crime fantastique litteraire, long considered and/or feared "lost."



We took the original Falîco artwork to create something that I think has an appropriately "sickening" feel. This is, after all, a novel about a man who murders by enema.

The book is available for presale here. Or, you can wait a few more days and order it from amazon.com.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Reader from France Writes in- And, Two New Arsole Fantüme Scans!

A couple of days ago I received the following email from a reader in France, who also happens to be a big Arsole Fantüme fan. I asked the author if he’d mind my sharing it with you, and he said no, but asked that his name be withheld. I honor that request, and translate it from French:

Noble Ricky,

Greetings from the home of Arsole Fantüme! I was very much excited to stumble on your blog entries. This strange character has been unjustly neglected for too long, even here in France. Perhaps your English translation will bring some publicity to the book. It is one of the weirdest I’ve ever read.

You mentioned that you’re doing your translation work from scans of photocopies of the original novel, published in 1901. I don’t know if your photocopies included either of the drawings of Arsole Fantüme in action, but in case you don’t have them, I’m attaching scans. They were drawn by someone who signed his work “Falîco.” Good luck trying to find out anything about him. I can’t! For all I know, the Arsole drawings were all he ever did.

I’m also attaching scans of a short story the authors, Marcel Maurice and Pierre, wrote together called “The Devil In The Ass” (you have mentioned this story on your blog- it is the one in which a deacon drives the devil out of a nun by giving her an enema). It was published in a collection called The Misery of Religion, which was limited to a mere 500 copies, very few of which still exist (the scans are from my own personal copy). In it, you will find some similarities with “Arsole Fantüme.”

Please keep me posted on your progress with the translation- I will happily buy a copy when it is published. Any friend of Arsole is a friend to me!

Best,


Of course I was overjoyed to get this email. I had photocopies of the drawings, but these high-resolution scans look absolutely beautiful, and I’m so glad to have them. Also, I can’t believe that I have a new Marcel Maurice and Pierre story to translate! Perhaps I’ll put this up on the blog- it’s hilarious.

But speaking of “Falîco”- in a strange bit of synchronicity, I just happen to have been recently reading Fantastique Littéraire, which had the following in an essay by the authors of “Vertigo,” (“The Living and the Dead”), “Diabolique,” and “Eyes Without a Face,” Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac:

“Our most secret inspirations are most certainly the mysterious Marcel Maurice and Pierre, who lived and wrote together in the early part of this century. Their only published novel, Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, was like a mythical treasure that we spent years searching for. When we finally found it, we feared to read it, worried that it would not live up to the expectations set forth in our minds.

“We need not have worried! This is a book of wonderful imagination and ingenuity, in which anything can- and does- happen. The sense of wild abandon that the book creates is perfectly captured by the strange and tawdry illustrations by 'Falîco,' which was, according to legend, the pen name of one of Maurice’s and Pierre’s 'wives.' Their living arrangement was quite modern and open.”


So, the creator of these strange illustrations was a woman who had a romantic relationship with both authors (at least according to Boileau and Narcejac). The mystery of the authors' lives deepens!




UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Little History of Arsole

The voice laughed, and the feculent sound echoed throughout the room. “I wear a mask,” it said. “A jester’s mask. I carry an enemata. There are those who call me- Arsole Fantüme!”


Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist is the greatest novel you’ve never heard of. It was first published in France in the Spring of 1901 by La Presse à Sensation, with its authors envisioning it as the first of an open-ended series that would follow the exploits of the evil Gentleman Immoralist, and the efforts of law-enforcement groups, psychiatric organizations, and religious cults to stop him. The authors, Marcel Maurice and Pierre, were so enthusiastic about the character that they actually completed five novels in the series before the first was published.

Unfortunately, the first book published would be the last published. The general malaise that greeted the novel was soon followed by violent anger, protests, and, worst of all, returns. Eventually, the publisher was forced to buy back most of the copies, which were then pulped. Its records in regards to the novel and the character were expunged. Today, it is nearly impossible to locate a copy, and only the most obsessive fans of littéraire fantastique have even heard of the book. Only a handful of modern readers have had the opportunity to read it.

Until now.

This roiling witch’s cauldron of a novel features outrageous characters including psychiatrists who use “therapeautic speech” to hypnotize people into doing their bidding, occultists who raise the undead and command discarnated spirits from “Otherwhere,” and policemen who keep professional mistresses and occasionally find crimes to be “too heinous to investigate.” There are also bizarre concepts such as the externalization of thoughts known as “ideoplasty,” music used as a weapon, shadowy organizations charged with running hospitals and law enforcement, a recipe for a dish that’s so good that someone might be willing to kill for it, and a disastrous trip in which a ship’s crew is forced to eat rope and sails to survive.

And at the center of all the madness is the dark criminal for whom goodness and decency are forms of constipation, Arsole Fantüme.

*

Just who is Arsole Fantüme? He is a “Gentleman Immoralist.” He commits heinous acts of perversity with panache and flair. He has an almost supernatural ability to conceive of and execute spectacular crimes that defy logic and description. He is a master of disguise, a master chemist, a master of the occult, and a master of evil.

But that is not what sets him apart. There are plenty of masters of evil. Arsole is different because his most favored means of dispatching his victims is by enema. Whether filling his victims with a simple poisonous solution, or using his enemata with such force that he ruptures his victim’s viscera, Arsole is a master of pain. At first blush, it might appear comical to be done away with in such way- and there is certainly an element of comedy to the dastardly proceedings within the novel’s pages. But eventually, one begins to see the torture to be caused by such a method of death.

It helps that the method becomes increasingly gruesome as the novel progresses. The final murders in particular are among the most disgusting and strange ever committed to paper, by anyone.

As the novel begins Arsole is met fully formed, yet concealed within the shadows. Having just committed a rather pedestrian (by his standards) murder-by-enema, he captures an “unfortunate thief” who happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and bore witness to the crime. Once his fate is sealed, Arsole seems to slip back into the shadows, as we meet our supporting players.

But- is Arsole one of them? Is he Inspector Lefévre, the investigator sent by “the Main Office” to investigate Arsole’s horrible crimes? Is he Dr. Bouchard, the interim head of the Wierd Institute, the City’s most impressive psychiatric hospital- a place so exclusive that it’s top floor “penthouse suite” doubles an exclusive hotel? Is he the composer and conductor Chaput, who recently installed himself in one of those penthouse suites as part of his effort to renew the vigor of his creativity? Is he the mysterious, veiled Dr. Termite, the man (who is never without his faithful poodle bitch Perdita) sent by “the Association” to assume control of the Wierd Institute? Is he Notta Thot, the five metre tall being from another dimension with the power to incarnate himself anywhere, at any time? Is he Guillaume Possédant, the wealthiest man in the City, and strangely unmoved brother of one of the victims?

Or is he none of these people at all? Perhaps he is nothing more than a feculent whisper in the breeze on the coldest night on earth.

*

The book’s construction suggests a madcap puzzle that, when viewed up close, seems to be nothing more than an anarchic mélange of insanity. However, a pattern does begin to emerge, and that pattern is devilishly simple.

The world is rigged to benefit the Arsole.

Take the city in which the action occurs. The port city is referred to only as “the City,” and it could be anywhere. It’s divided into three distinct sections: An area called “the City proper,” in which reside the most well-to-do citizens; a sort of buffer zone known as “Limbo;” and then there’s area that occupies most of the City, called “the Bottoms.” This rancid quarter of filth and squalor provides a nightmarish backdrop for its citizens, a pathetic lot described in highly vivid terms:

“The denizens of this area were as disgusting and shocking a lot as has ever plagued any patch of earth. They wandered, day and night, in a haze of drunkenness, covered in soot from the sulphur factory that provided the main income for most. For these people, clean clothes were a decadent luxury, so alien as to be unthought-of. Bathing was an activity engaged in the filthy ocean, amongst the dead fish and barnacles that clogged the shore. Any extra sous were spent on drink and drugs, in the vain hope of mental escape. For food, people would eat anything from the all too-plentiful flies, rats, and snakes with whom they shared the streets, to the hair of children, which was considered a delicacy owing to the soft texture granted it by immaturity.”


Even in those areas not so plagued by disturbing poverty and crime, anything is possible. The dead can be raised. Spirits can be summoned. Minds can be clouded. Yet, it is precisely because anything seems possible that Arsole is able to reign with such impunity. One message of the novel is that Arsole sees the world for what it is, and accepts it. For that reason, he thrives.

*

Very little is known of the author’s lives. We know that one of them, Marcel Maurice, was born in 1874. True-crime historians might recognize that as the year that a banker in Dijon named Edouard Fournier killed his wife with an enema that contained a mixture including the black seeds of the highly poisonous Laburnum plant. In a letter, Marcel describes the effect this had on him, declaring, “I believe my morbid interest in the enema as a murder device was informed by my being born in the same year as that horrible crime.”

Marcel Maurice and Pierre (whose last name is unknown) apparently met in 1894. The two became fast friends, with Pierre moving into Marcel’s Paris home within a few weeks, and this living arrangement would continue until both died in 1914. The living arrangement included living with and sharing the company of a number of women. Marcel described them in another letter as, “some single, some married, some beautiful, some homely… Pierre and I both feel a magickal attachment to our ladies.”

The word “magickal” is important. The activities in Marcel’s home caused scandalized talk in Paris, with some believing the two men had a mystical or religious hold over their partners. The women apparently exhibited no signs of being under a spell or of brainwashing (there seems to have been no attempt to prevent the women contacting their families, for instance); nevertheless, their untraditional arrangement was frowned upon.

Marcel’s family was wealthy, and so neither had to work. They spent their free time writing. A few of their stories can occasionally be found in obscure and expensive journals. Some of these stories also prominently featured enemas. In one, a priest seeks to chase the devil out of a nun by giving her an enema. When they turned their attention to the writing of novels, they became fixated on the character of Arsole Fantüme, and all of their novels revolved around him. The ladies with whom they shared their home also had some interest in the character. The two illustrations that decorated the book were provided by one of them, whose real name is unknown to us, but who is credited as “Falíco.”

Marcel and Pierre were murdered by the jealous husband of one of “their ladies.”

*

My own history with the character began back in college. I attended the University of New Mexico, where I audited a few French classes. I was interested in the language primarily because I’d just discovered the works of Arthur Rimbaud, and I wanted to read him in the original. But I knew enough about myself to know I’d never really learn it, so I didn’t actually take the classes for credit.

As part of my “independent study,” I decided I’d try to translate something on my own. Too intimidated to start with poetry, I looked for a prose novel, and I happened to pick at random a book called “Arsole Fantüme, Monsieur de Immoralité.” I had no idea what the book was about; believe me.

It took me about two months to get through the first chapter. Translation is an exhausting business, especially when you really don’t know the language. Also, there was the fact that the book was totally demented, being as it was about a master criminal who murders by enema.

Eventually, I finished the first chapter and then, true to my character, I gave up. The book was never reprinted in English, so I was never really able to tell how well I did. I asked my girlfriend at the time, who knew a little French, to check my work, but she read the translation and said, “That is the stupidest, sickest thing I’ve ever seen,” or words to that effect, and told me to go soak my head.

As a joke, I posted the translated chapter on my blog. To my surprise, in January 2009, I was contacted by someone who said he was the head of something called Obscurinati Publishing. He said he was dedicated to collecting strange and esoteric literature, and he asked me how I’d come to know about Arsole Fantüme, since the book was so incredibly obscure.

We traded a few more emails and got along pretty well. After a couple of weeks of correspondence, he mentioned that he had a copy of “Arsole Fantüme,” and he was thinking about having it translated, in the hopes of publishing it as a limited edition hardcover. Would I be interested in translating it?

Yes, I would. My French was bad, but I’d stumble my way through it.
In March, he sent me a check for about one-quarter of the agreed upon rate for my translation. At that point I had completed the first five chapters (my French was a lot better than it had been back in college, and I was excited).

Then he mentioned that he’d come into possession of manuscript copies of the unpublished sequels, and maybe if the first one did well, he and I could work out some kind of deal for publishing those translations, too. I was now even more excited, with visions of fair compensation dancing in my head.

In late April, he told me that he was killing the project. He was out of money. Without going into too much detail, he was a young guy (mid-20s) who came from a fairly wealthy family, and he wanted to get into publishing weird literature and comics. But the recession has hit him pretty hard, so, no more translation project. He told me to keep the money he’d already paid, as a sort of “kill fee.”

But of course by this time I was hooked. This is one really, truly weird book. I decided I would finish the translation, and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind letting me buy back the copyright on it. He graciously agreed, and I returned the money he’d already paid me.

*

And that is how it came to be that I translated this lost classic. I very much hope that I’ve been able to do it justice, and that readers will come to love it for what it is- an eccentric masterpiece that deserves a much wider audience than it has received up to now.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Doesn't The Hamburglar Kind of Resemble Arsole Fantüme?

Were the creators of the McDonald's fast food restaurant character "The Hamburglar" aware of the "Arsole Fantüme" novel? It's pretty obscure, so we can't know for sure. But what we can see is that, like Arsole Fantüme, The Hamburglar wears a wide-brimmed hat and mask. Also, Hamburglar has a black cloak, not unlike the dark coat favored by Arsole.

Here's a detail from one of the illustrations from the 1901 novel:



And here's a picture of The Hamburglar:



I guess if we ever see The Hamburglar giving Grimace an enema, we'll know for sure if "Arsole Fantüme" was an influence.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Hamburglar pic source.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ARSOLE FANTÜME, GENTLEMAN IMMORALIST- First Chapter

By Marcel Maurice and Pierre, translated by Ricky Sprague
translation © 2009 Ricky Sprague

CHAPTER 1
THE UNFORTUNATE THIEF, JACQUES

Jacques’ step was heavy with dread, his tattered clothing encrusted with dried mud and grime. The man used something to prod him with more force than seemed necessary.

“Keep movin’, ya foul peasant.” The man, dressed in the blue and red uniform that Jacques all too readily recognized as the uniform of a City police officer, had a voice that was animalistic- almost savage.

“You’d think it was me bein’ charged with somethin’,” Jacques said, under his breath.

“Until th’ chief inspector hears your story, I don’t know how we’ll be dealin’ with you!”

In the inky blackness that immediately preceded dawn, Jacques was barely able to see the trampled grass of the ground on which he walked, let alone the decaying farming equipment and skeletal barn they now approached. His muscles ached with each step, a cruel reminder of the cold of the night, and of the long hours spent in a frantic race to escape the fearful thing of nightmares that had chased him.

The policeman, head down, stepped ahead of Jacques and used something he couldn’t quite make out- it might have been a piece of pipe or a musket- to press against the barn door. It moaned open, and Jacques was assaulted by the concentrated smells that Jacques believed common to any farm. The policeman took hold of his arm, and pulled him roughly inside. He forced Jacques to sit at a table and then forced the door closed.

Now all was ominous shadow, and the policeman’s voice came to Jacques as if something disembodied. “Don’t move from that there spot where I seated you,” the policeman said. Then there was the sound of a match being lit, and a spark became visible. The match seemed to float before him as the policeman lit the candle on the center of the table at which Jacques now realized he was seated.

The candle provided just enough illumination that Jacques could see a man sitting across from him, on the other side of the table. The man’s face was covered in murky shadow. As a common thief, Jacques knew the favored attire of Inspectors; the thick tweed coat that gave them a sense of importance, and he could see that his table-mate wore this outfit. Perhaps if the candlelight had been brighter, he might have recognized the Inspector’s face.

“This here’s Jacques,” the policeman said. “He’s a witness.” Then, to Jacques, he said, “Tell the Inspector what you saw!”

Jacques leaned forward slightly and felt the policeman’s hand on his shoulder. “Lean back in your chair an’ relax,” the policeman said, in a tone that sounded almost soothing. “Just relax an’ tell your story.”

Jacques was compelled to follow the policeman’s advice, leaning back and listening to the almost silence that surrounded him. From somewhere in the darkness he could hear the sound of something dripping. It had been nearly a fortnight since the last rain, but surely the water had collected in the gutters and through one of the many gaps in the structure’s walls and ceilings. Indeed, there was damp mustiness all around him. And the smell! It was one of many reasons that Jacques preferred to spend his time in the City. Not even the Bottoms got this bad.

“Can you-all protect me?” Jacques said.

“Just tell us your story,” a voice said. Although Jacques still could not see the Inspector’s face, he knew that the voice belonged to him. It was a full octave higher than the policeman’s, and coming from the inspector’s direction. “If you know anything important, you’ll be taken care of.”

Jacques sighed heavily and decided he’d better tell them everything he knew, if he had any chance of escaping with his life. “Two days ago, I was in the City, when I heard through tha Underground that Mme Possédant had just acquired the Coer de Merde diamond- tha largest diamond in the entire world! Naturally, I conspired to steal it.”

“How did you hear of this information? Be specific.”

“A man dressed in black come in to the Cat and the Fiddle, an’ announced it. I don’t know that anyone else believed him, but I knew it were true.”

“How?”

“'Cause, Mme Possédant is rich! Rich people always have big diamonds like that!”

After a short pause, the voice asked, “Had you ever seen the man in black before?”


“Never!"

“What did he look like?”

“I don’t know!” Jacques’ voice was almost a whine. “He were dressed in black, with glasses and black hair and black moustache and eyebrows.”

“Fine. Continue with your story.”

“I took the train up to her estate at N’t’Pauvre, and I managed to sneak my way past the drunken chambermaid. Oh, she were a pretty one, that chambermaid! I say I actually thought twice about my endeavor-”

“Please don’t get bogged down,” the voice said. “We are losing time.”

Indeed, Jacques now noticed that sunlight was starting to penetrate the gaps in the walls and ceiling, and providing more illumination than the single candle. Still, Jacques could hardly see anything beyond the torso of his table-mate. He noticed now that the Inspector’s arms rested at his sides.

“I snuck meself up to the Mme Possédant’s quarters, an’ when I got to tha door, I heard from within the sounds of either pain or ecstasy, I couldn’t tell which one. All’s I thought was, weren’t it surprising, since most o’ tha upper crust people I ever run across turned out ta be real stale! Hahahaha!” Jacques laughed at his own joke, but neither the policeman nor the inspector seemed to find him amusing.

Jacques looked around, over his left shoulder, then his right, but did not see the policeman anywhere. “Say, is tha policeman what brung me here still about?”

“He is behind you, in the shadows,” the Inspector said, with irritation that Jacques found intimidating. “Now then, continue your story- quickly!”

“Right. Ah, well, anyway, I managed to sneak myself into tha next room over, which happened ta be tha bathroom. Through tha door, which was cracked a bit, I seen tha Mme on the floor, her skirts up over her back and shoulders, and over her was the strangest looking man I ever seen. He had in his right hand this narrow sort of cylinder, with a plunger he operated with his left hand. On tha other end, it had a long rubber nozzle, which ran from the cylinder in his hand to some point behind the Mme’s skirts.

“Then, suddenly, tha Mme screamed out, an’ weren’t no mistakin’ tha sound o’ that scream. It were tha scream o’ death, an then there was this sound of gushin’, an’ tha Mme was surrounded by a chunky pool o’ her own intestinal effluvia! I realized I’d just witnessed her gettin’ murdered by enema!”

“Then what happened? Did you see the face of the man who did it?”

Jacques was suddenly filled with the terror he’d been repressing. “I think he’d been wearing a mask, for there was a jester’s mask, with the long nose, on the floor beside the Mme. I figured it must have been knocked off in the struggle… Oh, I wish he’d still worn the mask, for tha face was tha face o’ pure evil it was…” Jacques leaned forward, only slightly, looking for some sign of sympathy from the Investigator. All he heard was that eerie dripping sound.

“Don’t ask me to disclose no further information! ‘Twas enough ta make even tha stoutest o’ blood veer off an’ scream, terrible-like!”

Jacques frantically searched the Investigator’s face, which he could almost make out, thanks to the increasing light from the rising sun. The face, what he could see of it, was inscrutable.

“Oh, why ya got to do this ta me? He’ll kill me, he will, if he finds out I described ‘im to ya!”

The Inspector’s face was impassive, almost blank.

“Fine!” Jacques screamed, frustrated by the Investigator’s lack of compassion. “His eyes were red as tha blood-reddest sky! His nose were shaped like tha shape o’ pure evil! His mouth was curled up inna snarl, sorta like tha snarl o’ tha most evil animal you ever did see!”

By now the light was enough that Jacques was able to make out the Inspector’s face completely. The eyes stared ahead, unmoving, unblinking. There were no movements such as one might expect to see from someone breathing. Behind the Inspector’s chair, Jacques believed he could just barely make out the figure of another person, and he had the chilling thought that the person was the policeman who’d brought him here.

“Have you more to say?” the policeman said, but in the inspector’s voice.

“Please, policeman- something seems to be wrong with tha Inspector-”

The policeman laughed. “You silly fool,” he said. “There’s no policeman here!”

“But- I thought you-”

“I never told you I was a policeman!” the man Jacques believed to be a policeman said, viciously. “You simply assumed that when I handcuffed you and told you I’d place you under arrest if you didn’t submit to our questions!”

Jacques was thinking suddenly with great clarity, as if the illumination provided by the rising sun was burning the fog from his mind. He realized the terrible sound of dripping was coming from directly in front of him, from under the table. But he was too afraid to look.

“Please, sir! I beg of you! Let me go!”

“But you saw my face,” the man said. “Your description of me was perfect. Any officer of the law would be able to spot me.”

Jacques tried to stand, but found he was too terrified to move at all. “I won’t tell no one, I swear-”

“But you just told me, with hardly any prodding at all.”

“No! That was just ‘cause you- you musta hypnotized me, or something!”

More laughter. “If I’d wanted to hypnotize you, I could have! I could have you believe I’m anyone- I could appear to you to be five metres tall, if I wanted!”

Jacques had a pathetic, frantic thought, and leaned forward toward the Inspector. “Please, Inspector, you got to help me! You got to stop him!”

“The Inspector can’t help you,” the voice said. “I’ve already cleaned him out!” He nudged the Inspector’s shoulder, and his body toppled off the chair and onto the floor, accompanied by the sound of a horrible splash.

The Inspector’s body was now lying on the floor, in what Jacques now saw was a chunky pool of his own intestinal effluvia.

Jacques looked up just in time to see the figure of the man he’d believed to be a policeman leaping toward him, tube in hand, and he realized that he himself was about to be murdered by enema.

His scream was something like ecstasy and pain.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

The Arsole Fantüme Films that were Almost Made

A French novel about a psychopathic master criminal who murders people by enema might seem an unlikely source for film material, particularly as early as 1927. Nevertheless, on at least 5 different occasions, “Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist” very nearly made it to the big screen. Below, is a brief overview of aborted Arsole projects.

Tod Browning and Lon Chaney made ten classic films together, including “The Unknown” in 1927. That same year, Browning worked on a script for an Arsole Fantüme adaptation that would have made good use of Chaney’s skills as a makeup artist- the ambitious project would have featured Chaney playing every male character, in disguise, so as to keep the audience confused about Arsole’s true identity. Despite Chaney’s popularity, the funds couldn’t be raised to finance a film that would require such expensive camera effects, and the script was abandoned.



Perhaps the greatest actor of all time, Lon Chaney, was nearly cast as Arsole in a silent film version in 1927. One shudders to think what Chaney's Arsole would have been like.

In 1934, Peter Lorre was cast as Arsole, but script re-writes delayed production on what would have been Lorre’s second English-language film. He ended up taking the role of Dr. Gogol in “Mad Love,” interestingly enough that film was itself based on a strange work of French fiction, Maurice Renard’s “The Hands of Orlac.” Today that film is regarded as something of a classic, although at the time it was a commercial failure. Universal decided not to pursue the Arsole Fantüme property anymore, and the project was forgotten for a few years.

The script was written by Norman Foster, who would later write Lorre’s “Think Fast, Mr. Moto.” According to legend, the script changed Arsole’s method of murder from enema to simple “injection,” although apparently there was some allusion to the fact that those “injections” were going into the victims’ lower ends. This was apparently part of the studio’s problem with the script; but even more than that, was the problem with the source material.

Universal president J. Cheever Cowdin was skeptical that any version of the film, no matter how heavily sanitized, could ever be made. Just having the credit “based on the novel ‘Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist’” would corrupt the film, and cause disastrous protests that the studio couldn’t afford.


Just before he portrayed "Dr. Gogol" in the classic film "Mad Love," Peter Lorre almost had the chance to show off his Arsole.

In 1944, George Sanders appeared as Inspector John Warwick in John Brahm’s film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ classic novel “The Lodger.” During the filming, Sanders discussed possibility of taking a role (it’s unclear if he would have played Arsole) in an adaptation of the novel that Brahm was trying to put together. This, too never came into being. The world was ten years older than when the last adaptation was attempted; nevertheless, the world had not yet caught up with Marcel Maurice’s and Pierre’s vision.

Interestingly, Sanders is said to have dressed as Arsole Fantüme for some infamous Hollywood Halloween parties.


The dapper actor George Sanders is said to have shown off his Arsole at parties. Alas, he never got the chance to put it to film.

Italian horror and fantasy filmmaker Mario Bava put together a script that was the most faithful to the book yet, complete with scenes that would have shown all of the enema murders up to and including the most infamous. His first choice to play Arsole was Patrick McGoohan, who at the time the script was written- 1965- was taking his second turn as the lead in the British television series “Danger Man.” The legend is that when offered the script, McGoohan literally refused even to allow it into his home. Supposedly he said, “I don’t have disinfectant strong enough for that.” Bava reworked his script (which prominently featured the novel’s occult group “the Lunar 13”) into his next film, “Kill, Baby, Kill.”


Patrick McGoohan refused to even consider showing his Arsole.

I doubt if Stanley Kubrick ever considered doing a film version of the novel, but in 1971 his film “A Clockwork Orange” contained a scene in which Alex, portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, wears a mask inspired by the one that Arsole wears in the book (covering the top half of the face, and with a comically yet sinister long nose).


Mysterious filmmaking genius Alejandro Jodorowsky's Arsole would have been a very strange one indeed.

In 1979, Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of the classic “head films” “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” tried to get a version of Arsole Fantüme financed. His cast included Richard Gere as Arsole, and Mick Jagger as Dr. Bouchard (he’d met Jagger during the pre-production on his ill-fated “Dune” project). Jodorowsky’s vision for the film diverged from the novel in a number of ways. For instance, in his version, “the City” would have been an entirely enclosed area which residents could neither enter nor leave, except by the Possédant’s boats, which Guillaume and his sister used exclusively for their import and export business. The implication was that Mme Possédant would have deserved her fate- and Arsole would be seen as a warrior for the commoners against the bourgeoisie (this of course is implied in “the jester/his Renfield” speech in the Bottoms in book’s later chapters).

Because residents of the City had no way of getting in and out, they were plagued by incest, and therefore subject to grave mental and physical defects. The worst of these incest victims who were wealthy were interred in the Wierd Institute. The worst of these victims who were poor residents of “the Bottoms” would have formed a criminal group known as “the Toads”- a nod to the snitch character in the novel.

Jodorowsky’s vision for “the Lunar 13” included having the group be a widely-followed religious organization seeking spiritual answers to the town’s problems. Notta Thot was somewhat re-imagined as an enforcer who attempts to murder anyone who crosses the Lunar 13.

A cast-against-type Richard Gere could have been an Arsole for the ages.

Tim Burton has long acknowledged his affection for Arsole. The line from his “Batman” film, “This town needs an enema!,” uttered by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, was inspired by Arsole’s antics. Recently, both Johnny Depp and Vincent Cassel have been rumored to be possible Arsoles in an adaptation that Burton is looking at trying to get financed. For now, Burton and Depp are working on a version of “Alice in Wonderland,” so if they are to make an “Arsole Fantüme” film, it probably won’t be for some time.


Vincent Cassel has made a career of playing eccentric and deranged characters- he might be a perfect choice for Arsole.


Not to take anything away from Johnny Depp, a talented actor who would also make a convincing Arsole.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Lon Chaney London After Midnight pic source.
Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol pic source.
George Sanders pic source.
Patrick McGoohan pic source.
Alejandro Jodorowsky pic source.
Richard Gere pic source.
Vincent Cassel pic source.
Johnny Depp pic source.