Jean Ferry’s “Bourgenew & Co.” in Subtropics #16

June 28th, 2013 § 0 comments

Subtropics Issue 16

Subtropics Issue 16 (Spring/Summer 2013) is now available, and my contribution to it can be read in its entirety online: a translation of Jean Ferry’s story “La Maison Bourgenew,” first published in the August 1953 issue of La (Nouvelle) Nouvelle Revue Française, the eighth issue of the august Gallimard house organ’s postwar resumption under the editorship of Jean Paulhan. As can be seen from the cover below, that issue was a litany of interesting names: playwright Paul Claudel, novelist Jean Giono, poet Jean Follain, an essay by Maurice Blanchot, reviews by Michel Butor and Roger Nimier, André Pieyre de Mandiargues (in his capacity as regular chronicler), and Pierre Leyris’ classic feats of translation: Gerard Manley Hopkins in French (“faucon-Phaeton” for “dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon” remains a personal favorite).

NRF - Bourgenew

Old issues can be such a grab bag of goodies. Here’s hoping Subtropics #16 will age just as well. All my thanks to David Leavitt and the Subtropics team at UF Gainesville, where I have been blessed with being a fairly regular contributor. This marks my fourth translation to appear in its pages since Bernard Quiriny’s “A Guide to Famous Stabbings” (still available in its entirety online) in early 2010 (Issue 9 Winter/Spring 2010), followed by Paul Willems’ “Cherepish” (Issue 13 Winter 2012) and Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s “Final Residence” (Issue 14 Spring/Summer 2012).

I owe my title for Ferry’s story “La Maison Bourgenew” to Simon Watson Taylor, who in his 1968 anthology French Writing Today published the only other translation of the story in English (his own). Watson Taylor (1923-2005) was an English actor and the secretary of the British Surrealist Group, who edited the English language surrealist review Free Union. He translated Breton’s nonfiction and plays by Boris Vian, as well as works by Artaud, Louis Aragon, and Alfred Jarry. He also co-edited, with Roger Shattuck, the  famous May-June 1960 special issue of Barney Rosset’s Evergreen Review devoted to ’Pataphysics.


In his memoirs, Taylor refers to Ferry as a friend. Standing on the shoulders of Watson Taylor’s freeflowing version, I can only hope to have brought my own slightly different sensibility to it.

I think of Ferry’s tale as a take on Shangri-La. It’s one of the two more fully standalone tales he ever wrote, ones that feel like full-fledged stories in a more traditional sense, rather than sketches—the other being the oft-anthologized “The Society Tiger.” In 1991, Claude Andrieux adapted the story into a prizewinning short film (his first), which can also be watched online, though do yourself a favor—read the story first.

Should Ferry’s name seem familiar, he has been my next big project (see the Forthcoming link in the left sidebar). So far, besides Subtropics, I’ve published his work in Weird Fiction Review and The Coffin Factory, with forthcoming pieces in Anomalous (#9), Birkensnake (#6), and elsewhere. Ferry (1906-1974) was something of a 20th century touche-à-tout, on the fringes of France’s great literary schools: ’Pataphysician, Surrealist, Oulipian, fantasist.  A career screenwriter, best known for his collaborations with Clouzot, Buñuel, Louis Malle, and Georges Franju, he was also considered, in his day, the greatest specialist in the works of Proust’s neighbor, Raymond Roussel.

Jean Paulhan published Ferry’s only book of prose fiction, The Conductor, in 1953 at Gallimard. Recently brought back into print by Éditions Finitude, it will be published in English for the first time by Wakefield Press this fall in my translation. There’s a bit more recent good news about this book that I’m not able to share yet, so… stay tuned!

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