In ‘The Winter Journey’ the narrator (a young teacher of literature) is browsing in the well-appointed library of a French country house when he comes across a volume called The Winter Journey (Le Voyage d’hiver) edited by one Hugo Venier.
To his astonishment he realises that the book is not, as he at first assumes, an anthology of great French poetry, but rather an unknown and hitherto unidentified source. Published in 1864, it confirms beyond any doubt that the poetic giants of the Belle Époque – Mallarmé, Lautréamont, Verlaine, Rimbaud and many others — all plagiarised their most celebrated lines from Vernier’s compendium.
Everything he thinks he knows about French literature is challenged, and overturned. He decides to find out more about the mysterious Hugo Venier.
But it is September 1939, and the Occupation is about to interrupt his researches. Only after the Liberation is he able to revisit the library and continue his investigations, but . . . but that would be to let the chat out of the sac.
This exhilarating jeu d’espirit is part Derridian, part Borgesian, and entirely Perecian (and if that combination doesn’t snag your immediate attention what are you doing here?) Perec has surprisingly never before featured in A Personal Anthology and I hope that his belated appearance will prompt more readers to enjoy his most frequently re-published work.
‘Le Voyage d’hiver’ was written for inclusion in a publisher’s catalogue and published in 1979. The author died three years later.
In 1992, there appeared the first in a series of twenty more Journeys, prompted by Perec’s original, in which other members of the Oulipo group expanded on the original. A highlight is Jacques Jouet’s ‘Hinterreise’, about a researcher who discovers an early 18th century composer named ‘Ugo Wernier’ who appears to have produced work subsequently plagiarised by Mozart, Bach and Schubert, a story which itself could be said to plagiarise Perec’s.
First published in 1979. Republished in Winter Journeys, Atlas Press, 2013 in a beautiful limited edition with translations by Harry Mathews, John Sturrock and (mainly) Ian Monk. ‘A Winter’s Journey’ was also published separately as a chapbook by Penguin Classics in 1996
Chose by David Collard. David organises Carthorse Orchestra, a weekly online gathering of writers, poets, musicians, performers and other creative types. You can read his full Personal Anthology and other seasonal contributions here.