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.
Throughout his working life in Paris Daudet never lost his almost umbilical attachment to Provence. These tales of that region are characterised by a tenderness and delicacy, a wistfulness and wry humour, which give moving substance to his claim that to invent, for him, was to remember.
In the literary tradition of Rabelais, Cervantes, and Swift, this story is told in that blend of satire and sympathy that only genius can compound, and the reader becomes genuinely fond of these two Don Quixotes of Ideas. Apart from being a new translation, this edition includes Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas.