The Alley of Fireflies and Other Stories, by Raymond Roussel

The Alley of Fireflies and Other Stories, by Raymond Roussel

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Translated from the French by Mark Ford.

Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) is one of the most distinctive and compelling French writers of the twentieth century, yet many aspects of Roussel's life remain shrouded in mystery. An extremely wealthy and always exquisitely dressed homosexual dandy, Roussel was also a compulsive writer. Despite the strangeness of his work, he was convinced that it would make him as popular as Victor Hugo or Shakespeare. His suicide at the age of 56 was in part prompted by the continual disappointment of his hopes for fame.

The full extent of Roussel's writing only became clear in 1989 when a trunk was unearthed in a furniture warehouse containing a vast trove of his manuscripts. The most exciting discoveries were the full draft of Locus Solus (over twice as long as the published version) and the typescript of what would have been his third novel, The Alley of Fireflies, which is translated here for the first time into English by the leading Roussel scholar, Mark Ford. Ford has also translated two haunting extracts from the drafts of Locus Solus, and versions of two of the young Roussel's most intriguing short stories, Chiquenaude and Among the Blacks.

Roussel's work was vociferously championed by Surrealist writers and painters such as André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalì, and later proved a significant influence on Oulipians (particularly Georges Perec), on nouveaux romanciers like Alain Robbe-Grillet, as well as on John Ashbery and Harry Mathews, who named their pioneering magazine of the 1960s Locus Solus, after Roussel's second novel.

 

Genius in its pure state. - Jean Cocteau

The President of the Republic of Dreams.Louis Aragon

He who pointed the way.Marcel Duchamp

It is true that there is hidden in Roussel something so strong, so ominous, and so pregnant with the darkness of “infinite spaces”... that one feels the need for some sort of protective equipment when one reads him.  – John Ashbery

Things, words, vision and death, the sun and language make a unique form... Roussel, in some way, has defined its geometry.Michael Foucault

 

Raymond Roussel was born in Paris in 1877 and died in Palermo in 1933. He is best known for his novels Impressions of Africa (1910) and Locus Solus (1914), and for his posthumously published account of his peculiar compositional techniques, How I Wrote Certain of My Books (1935).

 

Mark Ford is the author of Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (2000), and of four collections of poetry: Landlocked (1992), Soft Sift (2001), Six Children (2011), and Enter, Fleeing (2018). His translation of Roussel’s final long poem, New Impressions of Africa (1932), was published in 2011. He teaches in the English Department at University College London.