9 November 2017

Charles-Louis Philippe: Bubu de Montparnasse (1901)

Charles-Louis Philippe was born on 4 August 1874 in Cérilly (Allier) and died in Paris in 1909 at the age of thirty-five. He was born into a very poor family, but became one of the co-founders La Nouvelle Revue française. His novel Bubu de Montparnasse is set in the twilight zones of Paris, its main characters being the pimp Maurice (or Bubu de Montparnasse of the title), his prostitute Berthe, and her respectable client Pierre Hardy.

Berthe is essentially worthy and only dragged into prostitution by her lover Maurice, the pimp who lives off her, degrades her, and in the end more or less kidnaps her back into a life of sexual slavery.

In between, we have Pierre scraping a legal living and meeting Berthe, with whom he has formed an emotional attachment while she is living with her pimp. There is much material filth amongst the moral degradation, living hand to mouth, and syphilis is a major result, even a symbol perhaps, of that mental degradation: Berthe, Pierre and Maurice all contract it. But religion is never really seen as a way out of the impasse, only mentioned as a way out that some people use.

There seem to be few ways of escape from poverty, if indeed any, although apart from the brief respite of a little cheaply and sordidly made money, and of course theft, resulting perhaps in a custodial sentence before a return to the pimp-prostitute-john cycle.

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