Bruges-la-Morte…concerns the fate of Hugues Viane, a widower who has turned to the melancholy, decaying city of Bruges as the ideal location in which to mourn his wife and as a suitable haven for the narcissistic perambulations of his inexorably disturbed spirit. Bruges, the ‘dead city’, becomes the image of his dead wife and thus allows him to endure, to manage the unbearable loss by systematically following its mournful labyrinth of streets and canals in a cyclical promenade of reflection and allusion. The story itself centres around Hugue’s obsession with a young dancer whom he believes is the double of his beloved wife. The consequent drama leads Hugues onto a plank walk of psychological torment and humiliation, culminating in a deranged murder. This is a poet’s novel and is therefore metaphorically dense and visionary in style. It is the ultimate evocation of Rodenbach’s lifelong love affair with the enduring mystery and haunting mortuary atmosphere of Bruges.
Bruges-la-Morte by George Rodenbach (1892) is a short novel portraying the Gothic city of Bruges as silent and melancholy. Upon its release, a cult of Bruges started, making it into the tourist hotspot it still is today. Written in French, there are but a few translations to English. Make sure you get hold of a copy with the original black and white photos of Bruges. You can read the whole book here if you know French.