This was a fascinating little Gothic novel, ripe with eerie poetic melancholy and described as “the” Symbolist novel. It tells the tale of a widower (Hughes) who moves to Bruges after his young wife’s death only to become enchanted and obsessed with a young dancer (Jane) who resembles his dead wife:
“So complete was his hallucination that it banished all consciousness of treachery to the woman that he had adored. No fleeting shadow of skepticism disturbed the blissfulness of his illusion.”
The prose is lyrical and beautiful and I found myself loving so much of the writing and getting caught up in the often heavy-handed repetitions of how death-like the city was. In one scene, Bruges is described by its “drizzling rain, the forsaken streets, the desolate canals, the pervasion of winter, [and] the carillon announcing the death of the hours.” There were many further references to the “dead town” or “dirgeful town;” the entire book hinged on this oozing gloominess.
I liked many of the Gothic references, including a few Catholic chapels, religious ceremonies, his cult-like obsession with both his dead wife (he has a shrine of her stuff, including strands of her blonde hair), and some supernatural elements. One of my favorite quotes:
“Occasionally he speculated as to what awaited him in the future, living as he did under the shadow of the supernatural, but the intoxication of the resemblance of Jane to his dead wife again recurred to divert his reflections, strengthened by the influence of the passion for analogy which led to identifying himself with the dead town.”
There are scenes where Hughes walks to his house near the quays, thinking and rambling, which reminded me of Romantic Gothic characters walking in the moors (like in Wuthering Heights or Return of the Native); although quays are man-made docks or wharfs, they lined the canal that Hughes walked along and I felt there was a similar allusion to the meditative connection with nature.
Overall I loved this, and it had a great and symbolic ending that wasn’t too obvious but looking back makes a lot of sense. I will probably buy this in print so I can underline all the beautifully poetic prose.