The Salt Smugglers:
History of the Abbé de Bucquoy

Gérard de Nerval

translated from the French by Richard Sieburth
Archipelago Books 2009 [1850]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
Serialised in a French newspaper in 1850 as Les faux saulniers, The Salt Smugglers was written in the context of a ban on serial novels. So one of its strands is a meta-fictional attempt to prove, to potential censors, that it is not a novel. The narrator, supposedly writing letters to the newspaper editor, engages in an amusing attempt to argue that everything he writes is true, or at least was found in an archive somewhere.

Among other bits and pieces we are presented with: an apparently autobiographical account of research for a work on the Abbé de Bucquoy, including an extended bibliographic quest for a book seen in passing in Frankfurt; a story found in police records from the 18th century; the romantic tale of the Abbé's great aunt and her elopement and subsequent adventures; elements of a travel guide to the Senlis area to the north of Paris; and accounts of the Abbé's escapes from various prisons, including the Bastille. It's not clear how much, if any, of this is factual, but that is of course the intent.

The Salt Smugglers is rambling and episodic — "an ephemeral journalistic performance addressed to the political topicalities of the ailing Second Republic" — but still an appealing amusement. Brief endnotes explain references that might be unclear to the modern reader and a nice twelve page postscript by translator Richard Sieburth explains the broader biographical and historical context, helping to make Nerval's work a window onto the political and literary culture of mid-nineteenth century France, for those that want more than entertainment.

January 2014

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%T The Salt Smugglers
%S History of the Abbé de Bucquoy
%A Nerval, Gérard de
%M French
%F Sieburth, Richard
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2009 [1850]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780980033069
%P 147pp