Author: Octave Mirbeau
Octave Mirbeau (16 February 1848 – 16 February 1917) was a French journalist, art critic, travel writer, pamphleteer, novelist, and playwright, who achieved celebrity in Europe and great success among the public, while still appealing to the literary and artistic avant-garde. His work has been translated into thirty languages.
After his debut in journalism in the service of the Bonapartists and his debut in literature when he worked as a ghostwriter, Mirbeau began to publish under his own name. Thereafter, he wrote in order to express his own ethical principles and aesthetic values. A supporter of the anarchist cause (cf. La Grève des électeurs) and fervent supporter of Alfred Dreyfus Mirbeau embodied the intellectual who involved himself in civic issues. Independent of all parties, Mirbeau believed that one's primary duty was to remain lucid.
As an art critic, he campaigned on behalf of the “great gods nearest to his heart”: he sang the praises of Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Auguste Renoir, Félix Vallotton, and Pierre Bonnard, and was an early advocate of Vincent van Gogh, Camille Claudel, Aristide Maillol, and Maurice Utrillo (cf. his Combats esthétiques, 1993).
After authoring ten ghostwritten novels, he made his own literary debut with Le Calvaire (Calvary, 1886), in which writing allowed him to overcome the traumatic effects of his devastating liaison with the ill-reputed Judith Vinmer, renamed Juliette Roux in the novel.
Mirbeau then underwent a grave existential and literary crisis, yet during this time, he still published in serial form a pre-existentialist novel about the artist’s fate, Dans le ciel (In the Sky), introducing the figure of a painter (Lucien), directly modeled on Van Gogh. In the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair — which exacerbated Mirbeau's pessimism— he published two novels judged to be scandalous by self-styled paragons of virtue: Le Jardin des supplices (Torture Garden (1899) and Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid) (1900), then Les Vingt et un Jours d'un neurasthénique (The twenty one days of a neurasthenic person) (1901). In these works, Mirbeau unsettled traditional novelistic conventions, practicing the technique of collage, transgressing the code of verisimilitude and fictional credibility, and defying the hypocritical rules of propriety.
In his last two novels, La 628-E8 (1907) – including La Mort de Balzac – and Dingo (1913), he strayed ever further from realism, giving free rein to fantasy elements and casting his car and his own dog as heroes. Because of the indeterminacy of their genre affiliation, these last Mirbeau stories show how completely he had broken with the conventions of realist fiction.