Georges Rodenbach: "Dreams are keys to escape ourselves"
Born in Tournai on 16 July 1855, illustrating Flemish themes in French language, Georges Rodenbach was the first Belgian writer to be successful in Paris. A few months after he was born, his parents settled in Ghent and Georges lived there during his childhood and adolescence.
He had a distinguished academic career at the Sint-Barbara College where he met and made friends with Emile Verhaeren, before successfully completing a law degree at the University of Ghent. After receiving his doctorate of law, he worked as a lawyer for two years in Brussels. Sent to Paris by his father to continue his studies, Georges Rodenbach assiduously frequented a literary club. It was there where he formed his first Parisian relationships. In 1881, he left the bar to dedicate himself to literature and collaborated on "La Flandre Libérale" and the first edition of "La Jeune Belgique". In 1886, "La Jeunesse Blanche" would make him famous, not only in Belgium but also in France. In 1888, the writer finally settled in Paris.
He penned one of the masterpieces in "fin de siècle" literature, "Bruges-la-morte". This tells the story of Hugues Viane who was overcome with grief on the death of his wife. He takes refuge in Bruges where the stagnant water of the canals match his grief. He wanders through the labyrinthine streets and meets a stranger, a woman whose silhouette, walk and face stun him into silence: Ah! How she looked like the dead woman! He becomes the lover of the young woman who bears a strange resemblance to his dead wife. He then ventures into the maze of appearances, doubles, real and false resemblances and ends up strangling his mistress with a strand of the dead woman's hair. This novel, which combines theories of fantasy with insights of symbolism was first published in the form of a serial in Le Figaro from 4 to 14 February 1892 and in June, as a volume by Flammarion. This masterpiece of symbolism met with great success.
Prior to this, in 1888, he married Anna-Maria Urbain, a Belgian journalist from Frameries. In 1894, he became the first Belgian author to see one of his works, "Le Voile" appear in the repertoire of the Comédie-Française. He was decorated with the Legion of Honour in the same year.
In 1896, he published "Les Views Encloses", a collection of poems inspired by the occultism of Novalis, one of the most eminent representatives of Early German Romanticism, also known as Jena Romanticism. Although ill for many years, he published another masterpiece, also set in Bruges, "Le Carillonneur" (1897), which realistically told of the debates that raged in the city between supporters of the Port of Zeebrugge project and the defenders of a city of art designed for the elite of humanity.
Rodenbach died of appendicitis aged 43 on Christmas Day in 1898. He is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His funerary monument shows the poet coming out of his tomb, a rose in his hand and a Templar cross engraved on the lower part of the tomb.