25 Images of a Man's Passion
Title page to the original French-language Swiss edition (1918)
|Original title||25 images de la passion d'un homme|
|Pages||25 (recto only)|
25 Images of a Man's Passion, or The Passion of a Man (French: 25 images de la passion d'un homme, 1918), was the first wordless novel by Flemish artist Frans Masereel (1889–1972). The silent story is about a young working-class man who leads a revolt against his employer. The first of dozens of such works by Masereel, the book is considered to be the first wordless novel, a genre that saw its greatest popularity in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Masereel followed the book in 1919 with his best-known work, Passionate Journey.
Masereel had grown up reading revolutionary socialist literature, and expressed his politics in A Man's Passion; the work is also laden with religious imagery, as with the Common Man taking the role of the martyred Christ. It owed its visual style to Expressionism and mediaeval woodcuts. The book was popular, particularly in German editions, which had introductions by writers Max Brod, Hermann Hesse, and Thomas Mann.
Masereel had grown up reading Marxist, socialist, and anarchism works by such writers as Karl Marx and Peter Kropotkin. 25 Images of a Man's Passion tells of a young man who protests injustice against the working class in an industrialized society. The man is born to an unwed mother, struggles to make a living, and drinks and whores with his coworkers. He self-educates himself by reading and talking with his coworkers, and is executed by the authorities for leading a revolt against his employer.
The title and content of the book have biblical resonances with the mediaeval woodcuts from which they draw inspiration. In line with Masereel's politics, the Common Man is martyred instead of Christ; during his trial, Christ on the crucifix shines light upon the man. The cover of the German edition had the main character burdened Christ-like with a crucifix.
Visually, the book owes much to Expressionism, though experts disagree on whether to label Masereel's work Expressionist; critic Lothar Lang finds Masereel's revolutionary politics to set Masereel apart from the Expressionists. Willet finds parallels between the story arc of Masereel's the book and that of Expressionist playwright Ernst Toller's The Transformation[a] (1919), though Masereel's work was the more political—Toller lacked Masereel's commitment to socialism. Socialist themes of the martyrdom of the working class were common in wordless novels; with the city as a backdrop to a worker's struggle against oppression, the book set the tone and themes for future wordless novels by Masereel and other artists, such as the American Lynd Ward.
Printed from twenty-five woodcut blocks, the book was first released in 1918 by Édition de Sablier, a Swiss publishing house of which Masereel was a co-sponsor. It was first offered as a numbered collectors' edition, and followed by trade editions. Kurt Wolff produced an inexpensive German edition (Die Passion eines Menschen) in 1921. The German edition was particularly popular, and its several editions had introductions by writers Max Brod, Hermann Hesse, and Thomas Mann. In the same Expressionistic style, Masereel followed Man's Passion with Passionate Journey[b] (1919), The Sun[c] (1919), Story Without Words[d] (1920), and The Idea[e] (1920).
- Beronä, David A. (2008). Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels. Abrams Books. ISBN 978-0-8109-9469-0.
- Cohen, Martin S. (April 1977). "The Novel in Woodcuts: A Handbook". Journal of Modern Literature (Indiana University Press) 6 (2): 171–195.
- Willett, Perry (2005). "The Cutting Edge of German Expressionism: The Woodcut Novel of Frans Masereel and Its Influences". In Donahue, Neil H. A Companion to the Literature of German Expressionism. Camden House. pp. 111–134. ISBN 978-1-57113-175-1.
- 25 Images of a Man's Passion online at the Frans-Masereel-Foundation website