THE SUNDAYS OF JEAN DÉZERT
“He thought of life as a waiting room for third-class travelers. From the moment he purchased his ticket, there was nothing left for him to do but watch men pass him by on the platform. An employee would let him know when the train would depart; but he was still clueless as to its final destination.”
Before his death at the age of 27, Jean de La Ville de Mirmont left behind one undisputed classic, self-published a few months before he would meet his fate on the front lines of World War I: an understated, humorous tale of urban alienation that outlines the crushing mediocrity of bureaucratic existence.
Jean Dézert is a young man living in a low-ceiling flat on the Rue du Bac, an office worker employed by the ministry who rounds out his regimented life with snippets of Eastern philosophy, strolls through the city, counting streetlamps—and strangely consumerist efforts at injecting some content into his life by structuring his Sundays through a rigorous use of advertising flyers that take him from saunas to vegetarian restaurants to lectures on sexual hygiene. Eventually his urban divagations lead him, as most lives do, to a romantic dalliance: with a young lady at the Jardin des Plantes. In his mortal boredom, his modernist engagement with the banality of the everyday, and his almost heroic resignation to mediocrity, Jean Dézert emerges as something of a French counterpart to Herman Melville's own rebel bureaucrat, Bartleby the Scrivener. Save that when it comes to being an existential rebel, Jean Dézert goes even further in his will to prefer not to...
“Had he lived, what would we have meant to one another? Would he have had a literary destiny? For the twenty-something de La Ville, just as for the forty-year-old Charles Péguy, the war was quite simply a relief. Yes, it was the most horrible war the world had ever seen, where millions of young men murdered one another, but they also saw it as their destiny’s final terminus, a means to suddenly give their dead-end, onerous lives some heroic meaning.”—François Mauriac
“Jean Dézert is like a brother to me, because of his ability to escape despair by means of emptiness.”—Michel Houellebecq
Jean de La Ville de Mirmont (1886–1914) died at the age of 27 on the WWI battlefront by a shell explosion. He left behind a collection of poetry that would be published posthumously, a collection of short stories, and the novella for which he is remembered, The Sundays of Jean Dézert.
“A neat little novel and character study, and a deceptively rich little tale.”
“Jean Dézert is somewhere between Grand Meaulnes and Richard Linklater in the geography of listlessness.”
“The Sundays is a (proto) existential novella examining everyday and critiquing it for its consumerism and emptiness: there is a lot of flaneur-ish walking around, observing, and reflecting, and it is written as beautifully as aimless wandering Paris streets could be.”
“This quietly captivating novel, self-published in 1914 shortly before the author’s death in the Great War, regularly comes back into print. André Naffis-Sahely has now finely translated it.”