Bruges-la-Morte (French; The Dead [City of] Bruges) is a short novel by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, first published in 1892. The novel is notable for two reasons, it was the archetypal Symbolist novel, and was the first work of fiction illustrated with photographs.
It tells the story of Hugues Viane, a widower overcome with grief, who takes refuge in Bruges where he lives among the relics of his former wife - her clothes, her letters, a length of her hair - rarely leaving his house. However he becomes obsessed with a dancer he sees at the opera Robert le diable who bears a likeness to his dead wife. He courts her, but in time he comes to see she is very different, coarser, and their relationship ends in tragedy.
Bruges-la-Morte is a Symbolist novel, perhaps the Symbolist novel, according to critic James Gardner. The book is notable for its poetic evocation of the decaying city and for its innovative form. It is very modern (as in modernism) in the sense nothing much happens. It falls within the camp of realist symbolism.
Rodenbach interspersed his text with dozens of black-and-white photographs of Bruges. It is believed to be the first work of fiction illustrated with photographs.
Adaptions and influences
The novel influenced many later writers, including W.G. Sebald. The plot of the book may also have influenced the French crime novel D'entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac, which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Vertigo in 1958.
- James Gardner. "Incarnating the World Within ", Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2011.
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