Freed from words and images, released from books which sleep, spellbound, on library shelves, artistic inspiration remains, in Mirbeau’s novel, on the level of pain that cannot be voiced in words.
Octave Mirbeau would soon rankle bourgeois sensibilities with such fin-de-siècle literary provocations as The Torture Garden (1899) and Diary of a Chambermaid (1900), but in 1892 the French anarchist and litterateur signaled the arrival of modernism with Dans le ciel (In the Sky), an emotionally arresting fictional portrait of a reclusive painter tragically undone by the vaulting, annihilative power of his own ineffable vision. Informed by the author’s active engagement with the late nineteenth-century avant garde, this obscure novel illuminates the Impressionist milieu while presenting a timeless meditation on the bond of friendship and the volatile communion between madness and art.
Originally serialized in the French literary journal L’Echo de Paris between September 1892 and May 1893, In the Sky remained unpublished until 1989 when preeminent Mirbeau scholars Jean-François Nivet and Pierre Michel edited and released the first standalone edition as an unfinished novella. Over a century after its initial publication, Mirbeau’s overlooked classic now appears in English for the first time.
The present text has been faithfully translated by the American novelist Ann Sterzinger with assistance by Mirbeau scholars Robert Ziegler and Claire Nettleton, who also contributes an introduction.