Cover image for In the land of pain
In the land of pain
Daudet, Alphonse, 1840-1897.
Uniform Title:
Doulou. English
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, [2002]

Physical Description:
xv, 87 pages : portrait ; 19 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PQ2216.Z5 A15 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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As Julian Barnes writes in the introduction to his superb translation of Alphonse Daudet's La Doulou, the mostly forgotten writer nowadays "ate at the top literary table" during his lifetime (1840--1897). Henry James described him as "the happiest novelist" and "the most charming story-teller" of his day. Yet if Daudet dined in the highest company, he was also "a member of a less enviable nineteenth-century French club: that of literary syphilitics." In the Land of Pain--notes toward a book never written--is his timelessly resonant response to the disease. In quick, sharp, unflinching strokes of his pen, Daudet wrote about his symptoms ("This is me: the one-man-band of pain") and his treatments ("Mor-phine nights . . . thick black waves, sleepless on the surface of life, the void beneath"); about his fears and reflections ("Pain, you must be everything for me. Let me find in you all those foreign lands you will not let me visit. Be my philosophy, be my science"); his impressions of the patients, himself included, and their strange life at curative baths and spas ("Russians, both men and women, go into the baths naked . . . Alarm among the Southerners"); and about the "clever way in which death cuts us down, but makes it look like just a thinning-out." Given Barnes's crystalline translation, these notes comprise a record--at once shattering and lighthearted, haunting and beguiling--of both the banal and the transformative experience of physical suffering, and a testament to the complex resiliency of the human spirit.

Author Notes

Novelist and short-story writer Alphonse Daudet was born on May 13, 1840 in Nimes, France. At the age of 14, he wrote his first novel. He worked as a teacher in Alais, a journalist in Paris, and as a private secretary for Duke de Morny from 1861 to 1865. He married fellow writer Julia Allard in 1867. He enlisted in the army during the Franco-Prussian war. He is primarily remembered for his sentimental tales of provincial life in the south of France. His novel Fromont the Younger and Risler the Elder won an award from the Academie Francaise. He died on December 16, 1897 in Paris.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Acclaimed novelist Barnes describes French writer Daudet (1840^-97) as having been "substantially forgotten," but in his day, Daudet counted among his circle Flaubert, Dickens, James, Zola, Turgenev, and the Goncourt brothers, and was widely admired as a "sunny humorist and clear stylist." He was also one of the "literary syphilitics," stricken with a form called tabes dorsalis, a horrifically painful affliction that impaired motion and eventually brought on paralysis. A generous and philosophical man, Daudet faced his ever-increasing pain and debility with remarkable courage and kindness to others. Grateful to remain sound of mind, he found some comfort in writing about his struggle, making the keenly observant and vital notes that comprise this remarkable, impressionistic, and life-affirming memoir. Daudet's gifts for vivid description, sharp humor, penetrating reflection, and lithe storytelling were irrepressible, and his account of his derailed life from "the day Pain entered" onward, a text rediscovered and superbly translated by Barnes, is deeply affecting testimony to the radiance of the soul even as the body turns to "stone which feels pain." Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A popular writer in his time and admired by Charles Dickens and Henry James, French novelist, playwright and journalist Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) has been largely forgotten today. According to novelist and essayist Barnes (Something to Declare, etc.), Daudet's work, although considered charming and topical in its heyday, did not have the depth and relevance to transcend its age-with one exception, this small volume, translated into English now for the first time. Basically a loose journal of ideas, metaphors and observations, the book offers a devastating emotional and spiritual portrait of a main in profound physical pain in the tertiary stage of syphilis. Daudet continued to write and publish during his illness, though he experienced bouts of rheumatism and severe fatigue, which progressed on to debilitating "locomotor ataxia (the inability to control one's movements), and finally, paralysis." Daudet's descriptions of his physical ailment are palpably horrifying, and the feelings of isolation and inadequacy that result give readers a new understanding of the psychology of illness. Of the "sheer torture" of his pain, Daudet ultimately concludes that there are no words, "only howls." Words, he says, "only come when everything is over.... They refer only to memory, and are either powerless or untruthful." However inadequate the author may believe his words to have been, the indomitable spirit of life that is conveyed on every one of these pages is Daudet's ultimate triumph. 4 illus. (Jan. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

While largely forgotten today, Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) was, in his time, a popular and prolific novelist and playwright who befriended Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola and counted Dickens and Henry James among his admirers. Daudet suffered from the effects of tertiary syphilis, which produced profound pain and neurological dysfunction while leaving his mind unimpaired, and he chronicled his pain in a series of notes and sketches titled La Doulou ("pain"), which he had hoped to work into a larger exploration of the nature of pain and suffering. While this never materialized, his notes, marked by a striking clarity, insight, and objectivity, were subsequently published by his son. Novelist Barnes discovered Daudet while working on Flaubert's Parrot. His translation is fluent, including a biographic sketch in his introduction and detailed notes that explain allusion and alternative accounts. An important supplement to the discourse on disease and pain by Susan Sontag, Arthur Kleinman, and David B. Morris though mostly of interest to specialists in 19th-century literature; recommended for academic libraries.-T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.