An Anticapitalist in China

Mausolée pour une garce chinois

北方妇女儿童出版社, 1988 (Frédéric Dard, Mausolée pour une garce, originally published as Les Derniers mystères de Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1958)

With thanks to Didier Poiret, Thierry Gautier & Yue Ma,

As its original title suggested (Les Derniers mystères de Paris) the book  whose Chinese cover is shown above was conceived by its author, Frédéric Dard, as a great popular novel in the tradition of Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris. Sue’s was one of the first novels serialised in the French press (it was published in the Journal des Débats between June 1842 and October 1843). Its latent ideologies were vigorously criticised by Karl Marx, who debunked ( in The Holy Family, 1845),  its  paternalist views and  bourgeois moralism.
It is therefore surprising and more than a little ironic that Dard’s homage to Sue,  published in Chinese in 1988 by Northern China Women & Children Publishing House in Chang Chun (in the north-eastern Province of Jilin) should be presented as a criticism of bourgeois society. The novel is prefaced in this edition by a short introduction which frames it ideologically, blaming capitalist worldviews for the corruption and ultimate demise of Agnes, the  “garce” (i.e.  the bitch) of the original title.

1988

 

Her wickedness  is shown to have alienated her both from her friends and from herself; her debasement, the text warns, is a mere reflection of the alienating values of the society in which she lives. Thus, explains the Chinese foreword, “because Agnes committed too many crimes, she lost all her standing and reputation”. The questionable seductions of her life of crime are dispelled by the end of the  novel. In doing so, claims the Chinese publisher, the novel “exposes and criticizes the emptiness and moral bankruptcy of the bourgeois ladies of whom Agnes is an example, and attacks the inherently evil social relationships  in a capitalist society”. Such guidance is deemed sufficient to direct  the reader’s interpretation of the text. Thus the book, although unquestionably a product of western mass-market publishing industries, can still be recommended to Chinese readers.  Especially as its literary quality serves to reinforce its salubrious critical outlook:   “the plot of the novel is surprising, the language fluent, settings and characters are  delicately painted, and the novel is meaningful and thought-provoking”.

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2 comments

  1. This rather different interpretation in the Chinese introduction brings to mind I. A. Richards’ reflections on teaching Tess of the d’Urbervilles in Beijing in the 1920s where, when he read of Tess’s hanging, the students burst into applause because, according to his Chinese students, she had been disrespectful to her father.

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