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Review – Gamiani, or Two Nights of Excess by Alfred de Musset

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It’s a pretty little book. Tiny, really. I got it at the Strand before the troubles began. 

It is said that this little novella is about Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen name George Sand. She was a prolific writer in Paris in the early 1800s, who used a masculine pen name and often dressed in masculine clothes, even though it was illegal at the time. Sand was well known as a bisexual. Musset and Sands had a somewhat famous affair.

The story, written around 1833, is narrated by a rather bombastic Parisian man intoxicated by a worldly Italian countess named Gamiani. He stalks her at a party at her home, following her back to her bed chamber and hiding in her closet.

A young girl is brought to the countess’s chambers, similar to the innocents in de Sade’s stories or Fanny Hill, or the likes. “No more than fifteen,” is her given age. The countess pounces on the girl, seducing her and forcing her into various sexual deeds. In the middle of this, the narrator jumps out of the closet, completely naked, and pounces on the two of them. While they are surprised, they eventually agree to his company.

What comes next, so to speak, is the usual fare for these sorts of tales. We switch back and forth from the three of them in bed to each telling stories about their other sexual deeds. Most of which involved rape, torture, enslavement, bestiality, and so on, usually in monasteries or nunneries.

It’s hard to know how much of this book to be shocked by because it seems to have been written primarily to shock. It is very much in the spirit of de Sade, though the characters are far less overtly sadistic. It’s a somewhat silly tale, and the more grotesque the stories within the story get, the more ridiculous the whole thing seems. 

It also lacks the nihilistic hedonism of de Sade. Musset seems like a half-hearted nihilist who is writing something transgressive and amusing to play with and spit in the eye of the conservatives of the day.

Not to give anything away, but like de Sade, there is a dark ending. Innocence lost can never be regained or forgiven, after all.

If you want something like de Sade, but far less intense and something you can read in one sitting, this is an amusing tale.

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