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A French chambermaid, who has served in Paris, in the houses of the nobility, the bourgeois, and professional people, finally enters the service of a rich couple living in the country, and there begins to keep a diary. In describing the events of her daily life and the people about her, she is frequently reminded of episodes in her past, and digresses to relate them. Thus her diary becomes a piquant panorama of social life and institutions. It is a terrific social exposure, a grim social satire, crammed with humor, bitterness, and truth. It has been described by a French critic as "an attempt to show that nearly all the masters are low-lived wretches, and that nearly all the servants are as near like them as they know how to be."
A CHAMBERMAID'S DIARY
Translated from the French by
BENJ. R. TUCKER
Benj. R. Tucker, Publisher
By Benj. R. Tucker.
MONSIEUR OCTAVE MIRBEAU.
I offer you my sincere apology for mutilating your brave and admirable work. In publishing it in English, I have omitted certain portions, much against my inclination. Perhaps you, who live in a land that enjoys a greater freedom of the press than we know in the United States, will wonder why I was forced to do this. Let me, then, explain to you that the men whose ugly souls your Célestine does not hesitate to lay bare are types, to a greater or less extent, of most of the men whom we place in our halls of legislation to make our laws, in our halls of administration to execute them, and in our halls of so-called justice to interpret and enforce them, and that among the laws which they have made are some, aimed ostensibly at the suppression of obscene literature, that are really intended to protect from exposure their own obscene lives and those of others of their ilk, and to protect from attack the social evils and political institutions upon which they thrive. These lawless law-givers hope, by obscuring the sufficiently sharp line that divides the vulgar appeal to eroticism from the earnest narrative of the honest thinker and the truthful picture of the conscientious artist, to brand both with tho same condemnation, and thus secure immunity for those who, by all the various forms of exploitation, deal, as Célestine bluntly says, in human meat. This is why it is unsafe to publish in the English language those portions of her diary which I have omitted. But, if, as I hope and believe, the portions that are here printed shall do something to change the public opinion that sanctions the claim of these law-givers to legislative power, I am sure that you will excuse a liberty which under other circumstances would be an inexcusable act of vandalism.
BENJ. R. TUCKER.
MONSIEUR JULES HURET.
My dear friend:
For two reasons, very strong and very precise, it is my wish to inscribe your name at the head of these pages. First, that you may know how dear your name is to me. Second, — and I say it with a tranquil pride,—because you will like this book. And you will like it, in spite of all its faults, because it is a book free from hypocrisy, because it portrays life, life as you and I understand it. I have always in my mind's eye, my dear Huret, many of the faces, so strangely human, which you have arrayed in procession in a long series of social and literary studies. They haunt me. It is because no one better than you, and more profoundly than you, has felt, when surveying these human masqueraders, how sad and how comical a thing it is to be a man. May you find again in these pages that sadness which makes lofty souls laugh, that comicality which makes them weep.
The book that I publish under this title, "A Chambermaid's Diary," was really written by Mlle. Célestine R—————. chambermaid. When I was asked to revise the manuscript, to correct it, and to rewrite some parts of it, I refused at first, thinking, not without reason, that, just as it was, in all its disorder, this diary had a certain originality, a special savor, and that I could only render it commonplace by putting into it anything of myself. But Mlle. Célestine R————— was very pretty. She insisted. I finally yielded, for, after all, I am a man.
I confess that I was wrong. In doing this work which she asked of me, — that is, in adding here and there some accents to this book, — I am very much afraid that I have impaired its somewhat corrosive grace, diminished its sad power, and, above all, substituted simple literature for the emotion and life which these pages contained.
I say this to answer in advance the objections which certain grave and learned, and how noble, critics will not fail to raise.