November 13, 2015
Spurl Editions enters the dark world of translated lit with My Suicide
by Chad Felix
Spurl Editions, a new independent publisher specializing in photography and “literature that is dark, eccentric, obscure, or unexpected,” released their first book earlier this month—LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84 by John Brian King, a collection of black-and-white images circa early-80s L.A.
The press will foray into the literary realm with My Suicide, a long essay from previously untranslated Swiss writer Henri Roorda. Roorda was born to anarchist parents in 1870. After his father was deemed a person non grata by the Dutch government, the family relocated to Switzerland, where his parents met and befriended the anarchists Peter Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus. In Switzerland, Roorda worked as a teacher, and wrote a progressive critique of the European educational structure (Le Pédagogue n’aime pas les enfants). He was also known for writing under the name Balthasar, and penned a number of humor columns for Swiss newspapers.
Roorda committed suicide in 1925, leaving behind a short note addressed to a friend. The note was titled Mon Suicide. Translated from the French by Eva Richter, My Suicide is the author’s account of his “joyful pessimism.” An excerpt of the work published in Asymptote reveals the work to be a wry, self-aware affair. In the essay’s opening, Roorda writes:
After thinking it over, I believe that the expression “joyful pessimism” could make some buyers hesitate. They will not understand. My Suicide is a more tempting title. The public has a pronounced taste for melodrama.
I would like for my suicide to bring a little money to my creditors. So I thought I should go and see Fritz, the owner of the Grand Café. I wanted to say, “Announce a conference on suicide by Balthasar in the newspapers, and add in bold type, ‘The speaker will commit suicide at the end of the conference.’ Then, in smaller letters, ‘Seats for 20 fr., 10 fr., 5 fr., and 2 fr.’ (The price of drinks will be triple.) I am sure we will have a crowd.
My Suicide will be available for free from the publisher in PDF and EPUB formats on November 18th. No print edition has been announced.
According to the American Literary Translators Association, Spurl Editions will follow My Suicide with the release of another translation in Spring 2016: Monsieur de Bougrelon by Jean Lorrain. Lorrain, born in 1855, was openly gay and unabashedly addicted to ether, and accordingly, no stranger to controversy. His book Monsieur follows an eccentric dandy through the glorious whorehouses and sailor bars of Amsterdam. The novel, though originally written in 1897, will be appearing in English for the first time.
Suffice it to say, this is an exciting start for Spurl Editions, and good news for the world of literary translation.
Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.