Margaret Drabble at The New Statesman:
Fleur Jaeggy is multi-lingual and has also worked as a translator. Swiss by birth, born in Zurich in 1940 into an upper-class family, she writes in Italian, but she has also translated into Italian Thomas De Quincey’s The Last Days of Immanuel Kant and Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives.
In These Possible Lives (2017, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor) she offers three very short biographical sketches of Keats, De Quincey, and the fin-de-siècle symbolist orientalist Jewish Parisian Schwob. Schwob is a character best known to me, bizarrely, as a kind friend to Arnold Bennett in his lonely Paris days; more pertinently, he was a friend of Stéphane Mallarmé and Alfred Jarry, and is said to have influenced Borges. Her three subjects are loosely linked by opium, by malady, by a delectatio morosa or morbid delight, and her essays are prose poems rather than factual narrations. She does not give facts or dates, but tells us of Wordsworth’s habit of cutting the pages of books with a butter knife, of De Quincey’s nightmares, of Schwob’s love for a tubercular working-class girl and her dolls, of Keats begging “in a lucid delirium” for more laudanum. Their hallucinatory intensity and heightened language recall the prose poems of Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris, with their invocations of wine and hashish, their pose of le poète maudit.