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The Vengeance of the Oval Portrait and Other Stories

by Gabriel de Lautrec
adapted by Brian Stableford

Short Stories
The undisputed masterpiece of Gabriel de Lautrec (1867-1938), THE VENGEANCE OF THE OVAL PORTRAIT, which borrows its title from Edgar Allan Poe, is a collection of 28 stories at the crossroads of horror, fantasy and science fiction. Its singular inspiration owes as much to the author's predilection for dark humor, Grand Guignol and the mixing of genres, as it does to the influence of alcohol and hashish, which he used regularly.

De Lautrec was a disciple of Alphonse Allais and the winner of the 1920 Humorists' Award. While he hid behind a smiling mask, his troubled personality is on display in this series of mysterious and thrilling tales. Reviewers have compared them variedly to Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells and Maurice Renard.

The Vengeance of the Oval Portrait (collection, 1922)
The Vengeance of the Oval Portrait
Sonia's Soul
The Burial of Olasryck
The Spell
The Green Jar
The Story of the Diligence
Number Thirteen
The Amorous Queen
Fragment of a Tale of the Future
The Wall
The Three Companions
The Warning
The Red Diamond
The Vestal
In the Next World
A Macabre Wager
The Evocation
Alice's Story
A Family Matter
Monsieur Ciboire, Innkeeper
Eulogy to the Moon
Polar Terror
The Lover of Death
The Old Demon of Leprosy
The Talisman

Selections from Poems in Prose (Poèmes en prose, 1898)
Glorious Action
Empedocles' Sandal
Latin Symbolism
The Shadow
The Mourners

Selections from Stories of Tom Joe (Les Histoires de Tom Joë, 1920)
The Haunted Château; or, The Adulterous Virgin
Monsieur House
The Submarine Airplane
Voyage to the Moon
The Lost Reflection
A Cubist Tale

Introduction & Notes by Brian Stableford

Published by Black Coat Press in May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61227-009-8

Review by Glenn Russell

If you like Poe you will love Lautrec, December 27, 2013 (revised July 3, 2014)

Brian Stableford writes an eight page introduction giving us all the cultural, historical and literary context we need to gain an appreciation for the life and times of Gabriel de Lautrec (1867-1938), a French decadent/symbolist/fantasy writer much influenced by his friend and mentor, Alphonse Allais, and also by Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe.

Each of these forty-five highly provocative short tales (most about five pages long) will give you a baroque mind-blowing experience. We encounter bizarre events, deeply twisted psychological states and surreal worlds. If you like Poe you will love de Lautrec. For the purposes of this review and to provide a small taste, here are some quotes from four of the tales with my brief comments:

The Vengeance of the Oval Portrait
This tale takes place in Medieval Portugal, a tale having a fairy-tale quality as in ‘There once was a king’, a tale where one Don Arias Alilaya had a father who abducted a beautiful young dancer named Juana. When the father spent too many of his days out hunting, Juana became bored and took a lover. After discovering Juana’s infidelity, the father arranged a mortal combat with the lover. However, prior to the time of combat, Juana slipped a drug into the father’s drink; the effect was such that Juana’s lover was able to kill the father. Don Arias made his return to the castle in time to see the lover plunge a sword into his father’s throat, and, in an act of revenge, killed the lover. Observing these happenings and frightened for her life, Juana flees. Don Arias reacts by expelling all woman from his kingdom.

Lonely, lovesick for a woman, Don Arias lives a monkish life for months. One day he discovers an oval portrait of a beautiful woman and falls madly in love with the portrait, so madly in love he takes extraordinary steps to bring the portrait to life. We read, “He consulted old grimoires and learned the formulas of incantation. All day and all night liturgical prayers rose up in the bedroom transformed into a temple, addressed to the idol who smiled ironically and insouciantly, seemingly awaiting the moment when it would please her to emerge from her colored exile.”

Rather than spoiling the tale by giving away the ending, let me just say that Gabriel de Lautrec provides a supernatural twist, the image of which will stick with a reader for some time. One further note: although not included in this collection, de Lautrec also wrote stories for children. Many of tales in 'The Vengeance of the Oval Portrait' are straightforward, accessible and have a magic, childlike quality most appealing.

The Warning
A young woman beckons Reverend P.W. Morrow to the home of a gravely ill gentleman who needs to make his peace with God. “She was still young, and appeared to belong to the best society, but her clothes were slightly old-fashioned, and her fixed gaze has something distant about it.” The reverend goes but is met by a servant who wonders if the man of God is really a practical joker or a madman. Why does the servant think such a thing? Rather than saying anything further, let me simply note there are several rather intriguing and unexpected twists in this unforgettable tale that will prompt multiple re-readings.

A Macabre Wager
An older doctor reflects on stories told by students, usually involving much drinking and a fair share of hell-raising, but there is one story he is compelled to relate, a ghastly story of a headstrong, arrogant student having the upmost faith that reason conquers all fear. We read, “To convince us, moreover, he gladly agreed to lock himself in the dissection room that night, where the cadaver of a young woman was on the wooden table, having been brought in that very morning, and to drive a dozen nails into the edge of a table with a hammer, as the amphitheater clock sounded the twelve strokes of midnight.” I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending but please keep in mind Lautrec’s favorite author wrote The Raven and The Black Cat.

A Cubist Tale
Put aside all thoughts of straight-forward linear storytelling as you read this tale. Lautrec anticipates the automatic writing and surrealism of Guillaume Apollinaire and others with such sentences as, “Meanwhile, the crocodiles were advancing in silence, holding puce silk umbrellas over their heads with firm hands in order not to moisten their crushed velvet stocking-tops and Russian leather boots with their hypocritical tears.” and “Cutting through the canvas background, even though it represented a delightful Watteau landscape, an obscene triangle appeared at the biconvex window of the giant anteater.” Keep in mind Lautrec regularly used hashish. Toward the end of the tale, the author pens what will become one of my all-time favorite lines: “He remained pensive momentarily, listening to the hairs of his beard grow.”


The Brian Stableford Website