Camille Lemonnier, the Man of Scandals
Camille Lemonnier, a Belgian French-language writer, was born and died in Ixelles, a municipality of Brussels. He brought life to the literary and artistic worlds. He was a novelist, storyteller, playwright and art critic. Recognised equally in both Brussels and Paris as a sacred "Marshal of Belgian Letters" by his contemporaries, he was a successful and scandalous author at the turn of the century. Today, he is all but forgotten.
Nevertheless, he explored the world of art through over seventy volumes. He tried his hand at stories for children and at speculative fiction. He depicted the torments of man in love and sweet bliss in “Le Petit homme de Dieu” (the Little Man of God). He recounted the deterioration of both the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie and the vigour of a poacher. This motley collection, to say the least, still carried some consistency. It fully explored a language bathed in neologisms, rare terms and words specific to dialects, which often overpowered the flow of the story.
His most prominent work is without a doubt "Un Mâle" (A Male), an unconventional text that earned him the title the "Belgian Zola". When the novel was first released in 1881, it provoked a full-fledged scandal, specifically amongst traditional and Catholic circles, due to its pornographic nature. In his novel "Un Mâle", Camille Lemonnier explored the consequences of passionate love. It tells the story of the poacher Cachaprès who, since his childhood, ran wild in the forest like a savage beast up until the day he saw the beautiful female farmer, Germaine. For the first time, Cachaprès experienced love, a raw love, wild yet sincere, and Germaine allowed herself to be moved by the passionate outburst of this frightening male. She gave in. Then she became tired and sought to break away, but the poacher watched over his love with a jealous fury until death. It is a timeless story, the timeless tragedy of love.
In novels such as "Le Possédé" (The Possessed), "La Fin des Bourgeois" (The End of the Upper Classes) and "L'Homme en Amour" (The Man in Love), Lemonnier related more to the so-called "decadent" trend, represented in France by J.-K. Huysmans, Peladan, Lorrain and Rachilde. The preciosity of his style, his obsession with the theme of the femme fatale, his neurosis and his perversion can be considered an original contribution to the decadent aesthetic.
In 1905, he published "La Vie belge" (Belgian Life) and two years before his death, "Une vie d'écrivain" (A Writer's Life), his autobiography. In his works, Lemonnier paid tribute to his native land, wishing to present the life and culture of his country to the reader. Stefan Zweig paid him a tribute which understood his nature. "Nature granted him instincts of strange profoundness, which communicated using every primordial instinct in life, which felt every animalistic chill, every shiver, every appetite, every fertility, every energy unleashed in the uncountable multitude of living organisms".
To better know the work and life of this writer and of his art contemporaries and friends, a visit to his museum will prove interesting. https://www.brusselsmuseums.be/en/museums/camille-lemonnier-museum.