21 September 2014

Jean Aicard: Maurin des Maures (1908)

A brief pause from the Paris posts as I just happened to be reading this book.

The poet, novelist and playwright Jean Aicard (1848–1921) is perhaps not a name readily associated with the literature of Provence today, as opposed to, say, Alphonse Daudet, Jean Giono, Frédéric Mistral or Marcel Pagnol. In Fanton-Latour's famous painting Un coin de table (1872) of the 'Vilains Bonshommes', the concentration is always on Verlaine and Rimbaud in the foreground, not Aicard at the back.

But Aicard's novel Maurin des Maures was once a very famous novel that was adapted to film. Many of its qualities suit it to the cinema: the action, the scenery, the love interest, the sharply drawn characters, etc.

Maurin des Maures is set in the massif des Maures in southern Provence, and the main character Maurin may be considered as a kind of rival in readers' affections to Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon.

Maurin is a poacher who lives in a primitive home in Provence, but is more often away from it chasing game but not chasing women because they just have a habit of falling into his lap, although he never keeps them there long: he appears to believe that men are naturally polygamous.

Although always in trouble with the police (particularly Sandri), Maurin always manages to escape from them: oddly, there's something of the Arsène Lupin in this illiterate son of Provence who has a great many friends, and whose reputation is known throughout the country.

There's a love interest too: Tonia the Corsican is (far from her own volition) engaged to Santi, although she becomes increasingly in love with Maurin, to the point of tumbling into bed with him and wanting to marry him. But Maurin is not for marriage, and anyway he refuses to stay faithful to a woman – it's not in his nature.

The story – which is in some respects a number of stories loosely held together within the main story, variations on folk tales (such as the flying donkey from Gonfaron), long episodic digressive passages, etc – seems to be leading to a convention conclusion: Tonia is increasingly in Maurin's thoughts, so surely he'll just change his ways and lead the young woman to the altar and stick with her?

Well, at the end it seems otherwise, as Maurin has been shot dead. Or has he? Maybe not: there's a sequel called L'Ilustre Maurin.

Jean Aicard died in Paris but was buried in Toulon.

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