The Torture Garden – Octave Mirbeau

Book: The Torture Garden – Octave Mirbeau
Status: Read

I came across this book on my usual literary hopscotch, leaping from one author to another. I had read that Kafka’s ‘In The Penal Colony’ was probably inspired by this book, ‘The Torture Garden’. After reading it I agree that it probably was. While Kafka compared part of the death of the condemned man to a religious epiphany, Mirbeau explores the comparisons and links between death and decay, and sex, love and life.
This book isn’t exactly as harsh as a modern book would be (this book was written in 1898), but nevertheless it’s not for everyone. Therefore I probably won’t quote the harsher passages of the book – or if I do, I will warn beforehand.
I really enjoyed this book though, it’s pure decadence!
The first portion I will quote is from the first section titled “Frontispiece” in which a group of men are debating the nature of murder. This leads onto a man telling his story of a torture garden.
I’ve had to cut a lot out of here, there are some fantastic passages but much to long to quote! So anything with (…) means I’ve cut something out! So.. I’ll start with the wonderful dedication..

“To the priests, the soldiers, the judges, to those people who educate, instruct and govern men, I dedicate these pages of Murder and Blood.”

“’This is not an aberration of my mind, but I cannot take a step without bumping into murder, without seeing it flaming beneath eyelids, without sensing it’s mysterious contact in hands extended to me… Last Sunday I went to a village that was celebrating it’s patron saint. In the public square decorated with leaves and floral arches and adorned with flags, every type of amusement familiar to popular celebrations had been assembled… And, under the paternal eyes of the authorities, a crowd of perfectly decent folk were having fun.
(……. )The festive crowd were drawn towards other pleasures. They used rifles and pistols, or simply the good ole crossbow, to shoot at targets representing human faces. (… )
Everywhere, under tents and in small illuminated booths, were simulacra of deaths, parodies of massacres, and portrayals of hecatombs, and how happy these perfectly decent folk were!
(…..)Then they make these figures gesticulate and move. An ingenious mechanism enables them to walk along happily or to flee in terror. (…. )
Some even assume a pathetic or pleading attitude. They seem to be saying, “Have mercy!… Don’t kill me!… “ It is exquisite to feel that you are about to kill things that move, advance, suffer and implore! Just to aim a rifle or pistol at them seems to bring the taste of warm blood to your mouth!”

“’You are talking openly about thugs and peasants who, I’ll concede, continually have murder on their minds..  But you can’t possibly apply the same observations to, for example, “Cultivated minds“, “refined natures” or worldly individuals whose existences are calculated in accordance with triumphs over primitive instinct and the strange persistence of atavism.’
Our philosopher replied vigorously:
‘Wait a minute!…What are the hobbies and favourite pleasures of those you call, my dear friend, “cultivated minds and refined natures“? Fencing, duelling, violent sports, abominable pigeon shooting, bullfights, varied manifestations of patriotism, hunting… In reality all such activity merely represents regressions towards a time of ancient barbarism when man’s moral culture – if one may say so – was similar to that of the wild beasts he pursued.’”

“’Can I believe that the ignominious ugliness of this man could have alone determined such a gesture and such an action? No, it had a more profound cause that I remain unaware of.. I rose softly and approached the sleeper, hands apart, but also clenched and intense, as though about to perform a strangling..’
With this word,  being a storyteller alert to dramatic effect, he paused. Then, with evident self-satisfaction, continued:
‘In spite of my rather feeble appearance, I am bestowed with uncommon strength, exceptional suppleness of muscle, and an extraordinary grip. And, at that moment, a strange warmth increased the dynamism of my bodily faculties tenfold.. My hands, all on their own, made for this man’s neck – all on their own I assure you – ardent and terrible. I felt a lightness within me, an elasticity, a rush of nervous energy, something like the powerful rapture of sexual pleasure.. Yes, there’s no better comparison to what I felt than that.. At the moment that my hands were about to tighten, in a rigid vice-like grip, upon this greasy neck, the man woke up…’”

Taken from ‘ The Torture Garden’ by Octave Mirbeau, translated by Michael Richardson
Available to Amazon UK:


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