La Morte Amoureuse

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"La Morte Amoureuse"
Author Théophile Gautier
Country France
Language French
Genre(s) Fantasy short story
Published in La Chronique de Paris
Publication date 1836

"La Morte Amoureuse" (in English: "The Dead Woman in Love") is a short story written by Théophile Gautier and was published in La Chronique de Paris in 1836. It tells the story of a priest named Romuald who falls in love with Clarimonde, a beautiful woman who turns out to be a vampire.

Plot summary[edit]

The story opens with the elderly Romuald recounting a strange adventure during his youth. The day of his ordination many years ago, he saw a beautiful young woman in the church. He heard her voice promising to love him and to make him happier than he would be in Paradise, if he would just leave the church. However, he was in the middle of his vows, and before he knew it, he had finished the ceremony. As he left the church, a cold hand grasped his arm and he heard a woman say "What have you done!". When he turned around, she had disappeared. On his way back to the seminary, he was greeted by a page who gives him a card reading "Clarimonde, Palace Concini".

He continued his studies, but he was plagued by the memory of Clarimonde and regretted taking his vows. Finally, he was notified of his new parish in the country. As he was leaving town with Sérapion, an older priest who mentored him, he looks back on the town, which was covered in shadow with the exception of a golden palace on a hill. He asked Sérapion about the palace, and Sérapion answered that it was the Palace Concini, where Clarimonde the courtesan lived. He told Romuald that it was a place of great debauchery.

Romuald lived quietly in the country, pining over Clarimonde, for an indefinite period of time. One night, a man on horseback arrived asking the priest to come quickly and offer last rites to his mistress. Romuald went to a mysterious castle in the country where he saw Clarimonde dead. In his grief, he kissed her, and his kiss brought her back to life.

He woke up three days later at his home, and his maid told him that he had been brought back by the same horseman with which he left. After that, he had fallen into a fever and remained unconscious. Romuald believed that all that had passed with Clarimonde had been a dream; but a few days later, she appeared to him in his room. She looked dead, but beautiful, and she told him to prepare for a trip.

The second night, she returned, but she looked vibrant and alive. The two of them went to Venice and lived together. During the day, Romuald performed his duties as priest, who believes he dreams about being a sinner and Clarimonde's lover, but at night, he was Signor Romuald of Venice, who dreams about being a priest. Clarimonde gets sick, but after she drinks a few drops of Romuald's blood (he cuts by mistake) she gets healthy again, but Romuald became suspicious. One night, he refused to take the sleeping draught that Clarimonde offered him each evening, and he realized that she was drinking a few drops of his blood while he slept in order to survive. However, Romuald admitted that he would have gladly given all his blood for her.

Eventually, this life took its toll on Romuald, and Sérapion began to suspect what was happening. Sérapion took Romuald to Clarimonde's tomb and revealed her body, miraculously preserved thanks to Romuald's blood. Sérapion poured holy water on Clarimonde's corpse, and she turned to dust. However, she returns that night to reproach Romuald and inform him they will never meet again before vanishing in the wind.

Back in the present, Romuald tells his audience that this was the greatest regret of his life and suggests that his listeners never look at a woman lest they meet the same fate, even as he still misses Clarimonde.

Characters[edit]

  • Romuald, a young priest who falls in love with Clarimonde
  • Clarimonde, a courtesan who is revealed to be a vampire
  • Sérapion, a priest who discourages Romuald's relationship

Analysis and significance[edit]

[original research?]

Colors and Orientalism[edit]

Gautier originally wanted to be a painter, having studied under Louis Rioult. However, Gautier was dismissed in 1829, and he began to write fiction instead. His friend Gérard de Nerval, also a famous writer, introduced him to Eugène Delacroix in 1830.

Delacroix was a leader in the French Romantic school who was instrumental in bringing Orientalism to France, and had a creative influence on Gautier. Gautier gives homage to Delacroix in the opening sentence of his La Morte Amoureuse when he compares Romuald's dream life to a "normal life of Sardanapalus". This is an allusion to Delacroix's painting "La Mort de Sardanapale" (English: "The Death of Sardanapale"), considered to be a masterwork of both Delacroix and his movement.

The references to Orientalism in the story are numerous. Gautier uses colors associated with Orientalism throughout his work: red, green, white, silver and gold. Each of these colors are the foundation of a symbolism of colors in "La Morte amoureuse". This is particularly notable in the descriptions of Clarimonde, with her green eyes, her red lips (with red drops of blood), her white skin, her silver voice, her green and gold traveling gown, etc.

Adaptations[edit]

  • The Vampire Happening (Gebissen wird nur nachts, 1971), a vampire sex comedy made in West Germany, features a subplot with the vampire and "scarlet woman" Clarimonde seducing a monk.
  • "Clarimonde" (1998), an episode written by Gerard Wexler for the TV series The Hunger, is a rather faithful adaptation, but this time Clarimonde is a succubus and old witch, who keeps herself beautiful by sex.
  • Clarimonde is also the name of a myterious woman in the 1907 short story "Die Spinne" by German author Hanns Heinz Ewers. She seems to seduce men into suicide and disappears afterwards.
  • Clarimonde, a new opera by composer Frédéric Chaslin and libretist P. H. Fisher will be an adaptation of Gautier´s story.

External links[edit]