Hecate: The Adventure of Catherine Crachat: I

Pierre Jean Jouve, Author, Lydia Davis, Translator
Pierre Jean Jouve, Author, Lydia Davis, Translator Marlboro Press $30 (145p) ISBN 978-0-8101-6038-5
Reviewed on: 10/27/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
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Although the melodrama and religious symbolism characteristic of the French surrealists intrude gratuitously in the first of two volumes that chronicle the life of a fictional heroine, avant-garde Catholic poet Jouve (1887-1976) uses haunting descriptions to paint a dark psychological portrait that gradually overshadows his novel's silly plot and philosophical pretensions. When the narrator--beautiful, self-hating Parisian movie star Catherine Crachat (her last name means ""spit"")--spies Pierre Indemini posing for a neighborhood painter, she falls in love with the soulful young man and commences an ethereal affair with him. Yet she promptly, willfully, destroys their intimacy by playing the coquette. Years later in Vienna, Catherine meets Baroness Fanny Felicitas Hohenstein, a bisexual femme fatale who tries to persuade her to take part in a menage a trois with Fanny's current lover--none other than the elusive Pierre. But when a spiritual crisis convinces Pierre that he and Catherine must part, she returns to Paris, where their daily correspondence sustains her until he dies, leaving a stash of unsent letters. In a final attempt to seduce Catherine, Fanny takes the letters, and the two women enter into a struggle to the death. The relationship between Catherine and Fanny is brilliantly drawn and reaches a powerful climax--all the more powerful in comparison to Jouve's tame, rather sappy meditations on (heterosexual) love. First published in 1928, the same year as Georges Bataille's erotic masterpiece The Story of the Eye, part one of Catherine's Adventures has none of that novella's heat, but the better controlled sequel (reviewed below) earns the novel as a whole a place on the shelf next to its celebrated contemporary. (Oct.)
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