First published in French in 1892 and never before translated fully into English, The King in the Golden Mask gathers 21 of Marcel Schwob's cruelest and most erudite tales. Melding the fantastic with historical fiction, these stories describe moments of unexplained violence both historical and imaginary, often blending the two through Schwob's collaging of primary source documents into fiction. Brimming with murder, suicide, royal leprosy and medieval witchcraft, Schwob's stories portray clergymen furtively attending medieval sabbaths, Protestant galley slaves laboring under the persecution of Louis XIV and dice-tumbling sons of Florentine noblemen wandering Europe at the height of the 1374 plague. These writings are of such hallucinatory detail and linguistic specificity that the reader is left wondering whether they aren't newly unearthed historical documents. To read Schwob is to encounter human history in its most scintillating form as it comes into contact with this unparalleled imagination.
The secret influence on generations of writers, from Guillaume Apollinaire and Jorge Luis Borges to Roberto Bolaño and J. Rodolfo Wilcock, Marcel Schwob (1867-1905) was as versed in the street slang of medieval thieves as he was in the poetry of Whitman (whom he translated into French). Paul Valéry and Alfred Jarry both dedicated their first books to him, and in doing so paid tribute to the man who could evoke both the intellect of Leonardo da Vinci and the anarchy of Ubu Roi.
Kit Schluter's translation from the French is superb, and he provides a thoughtful afterword.--Martin Billheimer "Counterpunch " Schwob disbelieved in originality--everything had been said, had been done--but he trusted in the creative spirit. His stories both draw on historical sources and forfeit narrative by instead acknowledging that thieves, pirates, street urchins and prisoners are equally cursed to be human, and to be human is to indulge in casual cruelty. This confluence is unexpected, even jarring. Indeed, the mystery and inexplicability of the stories often result in something profoundly moving.--Tristan Foster "Music & Literature "