Frederic Mistral

Frederic Mistral, who stole my beard, the bastard!

THE LAUREATE: On Wikipedia and the Nobel site

WHAT I’M READING: Mirielle, I guess

REVIEW: When I complain about translators, Mistral’s work is exactly what I have in mind. For a long time, I was dreading the slog through three hundred and fifty pages of rhyming stanzas. I read two of the twelve books (organized, of course, after Vergil’s Aeneid) and I felt so sick of it that I was ready to give up on Mistral as unreadable. Then, I had the idea of finding a different translation, and I lucked out and found out that I almost missed a charming little story. I’ll link the Google Book editions when I’m on a real computer.

So, Mirelle (or, non-frenchified, Mireio) is about a girl who falls in love with a boy. Mireio, the girl, is the daughter of a comfortable landowner, and Vincen, the boy, is the son of the local basketweaver. This is a huge social difference, and Mireio’s father isn’t going to put up with that nonsense – he didn’t spend forty years in the navy (!) for his only daughter to marry a landless tramp! Unfortunately for him, his blindness to Vincen’s virtues ends up driving Mireio to run away and die. If nothing else, Mireio feels very medieval: folklore and popular Christian beliefs blend seamlessly with the local customs and small-scale action of the main plot. Frederic Mistral was a linguist in a time when linguistics was a hardcore discipline and he modernized the study of Provencal almost single-handedly; I have little doubt that he could have easily created a realistic story in the manner of Henry James or Fyodor Dostoevsky, so this fairly simplistic plot was a deliberate aesthetic choice. I approve.

RECOMMENDED: Yeah, I would recommend this. It’s not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but, again, it is charming. And free. Go for it.

WHAT’S NEXT: Eugenio Montale


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