Georges Rodenbach: The Grave Escape

The tomb of Belgian writer and poet Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898) can be found in the middle of Paris’ famous Père Lachaise Cemetery where his bronze effigy dramatically bursts from the grave.  Born in Tournai, Belguim, Rodenbach was a celebrated symbolist poet and novelist before dying in the French capital at the age of 43 from appendicitis.

Born to a French mother and German Father, Rodenbach had a privileged life, attending school at the prestigious Ghent Sint-Barbara college. He then went on to work as a lawyer for several years, publishing news features as a journalist alongside his legal efforts. He ultimately published eight poetry collections, four novels and many more short stories, plays and wider criticisms.

In 1883, Rodenbach lived in Bruges where his most morose and melancholic work was written. While this was partially influenced by the shadows of the city, the early death of his two sisters would have a lasting effect on the writer and fuelled his literary obsession with mortality. However, in 1888, he married Anna-Maria Urbain (1860-1945) with whom he had one son, Constantin. We can only hope that this brought some much-needed joy into the poet’s life.

Rodenbach’s most famous published work was Bruges-la-Morte (1892), an intense novel that idolised the gloom of the small Flemish towns of his childhood. The story follows a widower unable to process his wife’s death, spending his days surrounded by her possessions and the relics of her existence in typical Romantic, morose poeticism. This mastery of tragic romanticism inspired generations of artists including composer Erich Woldgang Korngold who used the tale as the foundation of his opera, Die tote Stadt (the dead town).

The unsettling likeness of Rosenbach bursting through stone with rose in hand seems incredibly fitting for one so tragically, morbidly romantic.

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