Author: Louis Levy (Tran. by W.C. Bamberger)
Publisher: Wakefield Press
Publication Date: 1910 (2017)
“Don’t believe all the tales your soul whispers to you! Don’t take them at face value before you investigate further…
And keep constant watch on your doubt; make sure that it doesn’t disappear” (127).
Doubt, truth, and reason are at the center of this amazing book from the Danish writer, Louis Levy. Dr. Renard de Montpensier is conducting seances with Kzradock and realizes he holds the key to a mystery. We are then off to a mystery which contains surrealist aspects (a man who lives with his tapeworm), gothic horror (a haunting asylum and a house with faces in the attic windows), and a tough-talking American detective and a smooth French detective. The question is, what is real and what is imagined?
Dr. Renard de Montpensier (he always refers to himself by his full name) struggles as his life gets out of control, but then realizes his relationship with Kzradock “was the struggle between madness and reason” (70). Levy takes us into the mind of the insane and questions was is reasonable and not reasonable. When the patients take over the insane asylum, Dr. Renard de Montpensier goes to intercede. “I knew well the fate of these people, and I understood them. It was as if I looked out on all the worries and suffering of the world” (56).
As the story continues to unfold (and I’m hesitant to spoil the storyline) the question of what constitutes truth and reason are pushed forward. The focus is on doubt.
“Oh, the modern soul is badly in need of help and support…
And is has that help within itself.
It can doubt” (126).
While I’m giving an admittedly thumbnail view I highly recommend reading the novel. It has many elements to offer and is often described as fitting into pulp fiction because of its melodramatic episodes, although that is often part of the gothic horror tradition that I see more at work here. Regardless of how you interpret the novel, the writing is addictive and you will leave challenged on what is real and not real.
Although published in book form in 1910, it was not translated into English until 2017. Why is not clear, but Levy is clearly not a writer who has garnered much attention. He does not even warrant a Wikipedia page! Wakefield Press, the publisher, offers this life synopsis: “Louis Nicolai Levy (1875–1940) was a Danish author, playwright, foreign correspondent, and theater critic who experimented with a wide variety of literary genres, from prose poetry to nursery rhymes to philosophical novels. Though a central literary figure and screenwriter in Copenhagen in the early twentieth century, Levy remains little known today.”
Read the book and make some noise — more attention to him is warranted!