Sinful alien redheads: Roda-soques and Nathalie Borgé

Recognising an urgent need, Barcelona’s excellent Institut Français has undertaken to explain love to the Catalans (translation Googlebotted for style, steam, and speed):

The French Institute of Barcelona proposes every Friday a particular appointment: Parlez me about love. A course on the love well on, but the love with the Frenchwoman… a varied and enthralling program
A little smoothness in a crude world.

Is that Catalonia they’re talking about? More, more:

To speak about love yes, but about love in the French culture. Because, let us acknowledge it, Frenchies are famous for their specificity in love. As for knowknowing if glamour rhyme with always, it is another history. But the stereotype is there and the image of the french to coil romantic and cerebral remains. There is thus a great cultural dimension vision of the report/ratio in love.
As Nathalie Borgé explains it: ” In France for example, the heritage of the 18th century and the light-hearted gallantry is very present. The cinema is particularly revealing of these differences. The vision of the love at Rohmer has nothing to do with that of Almodovar “.

If Ms Borgé had not delegated the teaching to a gentleman called Fabrice, then I would have been there in the front row – not in order to be reminded of Eric Rohmer’s ghastly films, you understand, but to examine Ms Borgé’s physical appearance. Go on, inspect the photo and tell me which femme fatale of Catalan literature she reminds you of when you observe

that copper-red hair, that flesh, curd-white, that skin blemished as if glistened by gilded grain. It seemed to them the stuff of witchcraft that neither the sun nor the chill night air browned that face, that neck, those arms, as they browned everyone’s. But she was so outlandish in everything, devil’s wife that she was!…

That’s right! Ms Borgé is (in a strictly non-litigable sense) a latterday Roda-soques, Roda-soques being the outsider who provides love at a price from a house on the hill and thus destroys Mossèn Llàtzer, rector of the lonely parish of Sant Pau de Montmany, in Raimon CasellasEls sots feréstecs (The Wild Ravines). Els sots feréstecs, first published in book form in Barcelona in 1901, is often described here as the first Catalan modernist novel, but actually seems to me to be a superbly written neo-Gothic passion drama, with its undeveloped characters, twistless plot, and folk-Catholic gloom.

I would suggest that Roda-soques – whose name Ariane kindly suggests one might translate as La Péripatéticienne – is based in part on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Mary Magdalene; I assume that Casellas – who seems to have been a very well-read man – knew that Rossetti’s model, Annie Miller, was a prostitute, and possibly also that a memorial window featuring her was rejected by the Kent vicar who buried Rossetti. What differentiates Casellas from the Pre-Raphaelites, however, is what seems to be an intense fear and loathing of all that is new, foreign, commercial. The following passage, which echoes the words of Saint Paul/Sant Pau in 1 Corinthians 11, has something of the the Fuengirola imam about it:

Who is that, tell me, who is that, that woman from there, who dares to turn up without a hood? Who is this woman who attends mass with her head uncovered? Is it Roda-soques? Is it the prostitute? Is it the whore of Puiggraciós?

I’d better stop there. I’ll return to this book at some stage, but for now I’d like to note that, unlike some, I do not regard working for the French state as the same as being the devil’s whore. Not in the slightest.

I am trying to find – either to purchase or to borrow briefly – a pre-1930 edition of Els sots and the 1924 edition of Alfons Maseras’ Roda-soques: novel·la original, with illustrations by Pere Clapera. Please get in touch if you can help.

Update: this is now the subject of a walk.

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  1. I have read your comments about Casellas’ book.
    Have you written anything else about it?
    I am very interested,

  2. I haven’t. It’s out of copyright so I was thinking way back then of translating it to sell as POD but I never got round to it. The vocabulary is brilliant and I still think it’s a neglected classic.

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