Europe & USA $45 USD Rest of World $45 USD
THE BLACK CUPBOARD
by Claude Seignolle
Cover art: Dvojník by Bohumil Kubišta, 1911
Translation, Preface & Notes: António Monteiro
Publication Date: May 2010
Sewn hardcover, limited to 100 numbered copies, 75 pp with end papers and a full-color frontispiece.
Together with "La ruelle ténébreuse" of Jean Ray, "Le Bahut Noir" (The Black Cupboard) represent some of the most astonishing specimen of French supernaturalism.
Claude Seignolle, born in June, 1917, at Périgueux, South West France, has built a long career, both as a folklorist and a writer. From early childhood he developed an interest in archaeology and ethnology, influenced by the tales he heard from his grandmother, Marie Audebert. Still in his teens he collected extensively the rural traditions, legends, superstitions, etc., of the Hurepoix (North East France) and in 1937 his first book, co-authored by his brother Jacques, is published (Le Folklore du Hurepoix); not long afterwards, in 1945, Claude Seignolle publishes his first novel, Le Rond des Sorciers («The Witches’ Round»).
Along the years he continued to publish extensively on French Folklore (notably the series Contes, récits et légendes des pays de France and also Les évangiles du diable (1964), a collection of rural legends about the Devil). At the same time, the list of his novels and short stories grew to include such acknowledged masterpieces as Marie la Louve (1949), La Malvenue (1952), Le Diable en Sabots (1959), etc.; in addition, Seignolle published a few autobiographical texts (such as Les Loups Verts (1970) and Une Enfance Sorcière (1974)).
In 1998, Claude Seignolle received a knighthood from the Ordre National du Mérite, for his work as ethnographer, and in 2008 the Alfred Verdaguer Prize, from the Académie Française, for his life’s achievements.
His extended experience as a folklorist merges well with Claude Seignolle’s talents as a writer of fiction and in his stories we find a wealth of vampires, werewolves – a recurring theme – and all kinds of demons – not to mention the Devil himself – all put to good use in an ambiance often (but by no means always) reflecting the countryside that the author has roamed incessantly in his searched for the old legends.
The sources for his fiction are readily detectable in his ethnographic explorations. For instance, Marie la Louve is based on a woman who the author actually met and who was believed to have the power to heal wolves’ bites, whereas Le Diable en Sabots recalls a blacksmith he saw at the Hotel du Cheval Blanc at Saint-Montaine. And particularly in his rural tales, the supernatural dos not intrude in everyday life, on the contrary, it is an acknowledged and largely accepted part of everyday life and the anguish is built on people’s perception of the occult forces mingling with their lives and on their attempts to counterbalance them.
Part of the strength Claude Seignolle’s tales – not mentioning the author’s obvious literary qualities – lies on the use of themes and motifs that are deeply rooted in the collective unconscious of his readers, the doings of and pacts with the Devil being one widely explored subject. That is undoubtedly why Jean Ray said of him that “he brings hell into one’s life”.
Le Bahut Noir (The Black Cupboard) (1958), on the other hand, is an urban story which has the old streets and alleys of Paris as background. It is mainly a tale of Man’s fight against his fate and of his powerlessness to overthrow it; but it is also a Faustian story, with a powerful erotic drive. Since Seignolle’s writing so often deals with the lives of the people he met during his long wanderings in the French countryside, the particular concern with the carnal pleasures cannot be thought of as alien to his body of work; folklore, after all, is full of love potions and other means of securing the favours of the desired ones. And it is especially worthy of notice that at a certain point in his career he has also authored Sexie, Éloge de la Nymphomanie (Sexie, Eulogy of Nymphomania) (1998), initially banned as pornographic, clearly marking his interest in describing the actions of men in all their aspects (in a similar vein of depiction of the most basic urges of mankind, he published in 1959 La Gueule (The Mouth), dealing with his souvenirs of World War II and his imprisonment by the Germans.
In Le Bahut Noir (The Black Cupboard) we find Seignolle mastering the several strings of his instrument, in a clever mixture of myth, everyday life, brooding fate and surrealism. And in the end the reader cannot but long for further tales from an author who is such an accomplished narrator and a faithful saver of our collective memory.
The Black Cupboard is a sewn hardcover book of 75 pages with endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 numbered copies. $55 inc. p&p to Europe and USA, $55 to the rest of the world.
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