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CAT Book Club: Who is Marcel Schwob?

Supplemental material as you begin reading Schwob’s Imaginary Lives and The Children’s Crusade. #TheCATBookClub

Marcel Schwob (1867–1905) was a scholar of startling breadth and an incomparable storyteller. A secret influence on generations of writers, from Guillaume Apollinaire and Jorge Luis Borges to Roberto Bolaño, Schwob was as versed in the street slang of medieval thieves as he was in the poetry of Walt Whitman. His allegiances were to Rabelais and François Villon, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe. Paul Valéry and Alfred Jarry both dedicated their first books to him, and in doing so paid tribute to the author who could evoke both the intellect of Leonardo da Vinci and the anarchy of Ubu Roi. He was also the uncle of Lucy Schwob, better remembered today as the Surrealist photographer Claude Cahun.

Still, Schwob has remained relatively unknown in the U.S., partly because translations of his work were hard to come by until more recently. Luckily, in the last several years, Wakefield Press has published several books by Schwob, generating a cult following of the obscure French writer who inspired Borges and Bolaño.

In the words of Stephen Sparks:

The history of literature is, of course, strewn with the neglected, the misunderstood, the forgotten, the never fully realized, and minor figures more influential than renowned. If one were to draw a Venn diagram comprised of each of these categories, Marcel Schwob, along with a handful of others, would be at the heart of their intersections. But how, one despairs, can a man praised so highly during his own life fall completely by the wayside posthumously, as if it was his vitality alone that kept him from obscurity? Unlike many forgotten writers, especially those aligned with movements, Schwob’s preoccupations were not too narrow in scope. He has not aged poorly or grown musty with time. Why, then, has it been his fate to suffer near total effacement? Read more.

Join translators Chris Clarke and Kit Schluter in an overdue celebration of the beguiling French writer Marcel Schwob, a cult phenomenon who secretly influenced a generation of writers from Guillaume Apollinaire and Jorge Luis Borges to Roberto Bolaño.