Marthe : the story of a whore by Joris Karl Huysmans, Brendan King

By Joris Karl Huysmans, Brendan King

One of many first French novels to take on the topic of prostitution, this tale centres on would-be actress Marthe who lives in a single of the bottom dives in Paris and her finally doomed courting with Leo, a romantic looking for anything to occur of misplaced illusions."

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The duty fireman was at his post and despite being half-dead with the cold his eyes burned as he stared at the under-petticoats of some of the dancers who had strayed into this revue. The stage-manager knocked three times, and the curtain slowly went up, revealing a packed house. Without a doubt, the most interesting spectacle was not what was happening on stage, but in the auditorium. The Bobino theatre*31, known as the ‘Bobinche’, wasn’t, like those of Montparnasse, Grenelle and the other old suburbs of Paris, full of working men who wanted to listen seriously to some dramatic work.

They weren’t so stupid, were they, those couplets! Sure a woman and a brolly, aren’t they the same thing? They both turn on you and let you down in bad weather! Hey, Bourdeau, are you listening? I was just saying I’ve been like a father to her, a noble father who lets her flutter her eyes at all those rich young men, but in front of paupers, in front of down-and-outs like him, a good-for-nothing! zut alors! then I become the serious father,’ and, moved to tears, Ginginet accentuated his soliloquy with a vigorous blow of his fist on the table, sloshing the wine in his glass and splashing his old bald pate with big red drops.

As soon as her song was over the row started up again even more furiously. A painter sitting in the stalls and a student in a red waistcoat perched up in the gods set to with even greater gusto, catcalling and heckling to the immense delight of the audience who were bored to tears by the show. Leaning against one of the flats by the side of the footlights, Marthe was looking into the hall and asking herself which of these young men could have written her the letter, but every eye in the house was fixed on her, and all were inflamed at the sight of her bosom; it was impossible for her to discover among all these admirers the one who had sent her the sonnet.

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