Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Frenchman Who Wrote Westerns

From Shannon Selin:
In August 1854, Gustave Aimard married Adèle Lucie Damoreau, a “lyrical artist.” They had at least one child, a daughter. Aimard started writing adventure stories based on his experiences. He produced novels at an impressive pace. He wrote at least 78 of them, many of which first appeared as newspaper serials. His books – early versions of the “Western” genre – were translated into English and other languages and became extremely popular. European readers had an appetite for tales about the New World.
He knew of Indian life and Indian customs first-hand; and his comments upon America, though not profound, evidently met with the approval of the many Frenchmen who read his stories. … [S]ome of the heroes of Aimard are actual persons, and his scenes are drawn from his own experiences on prairie and desert. … Under the name of Valentine Guillois, the author himself appears in many of his romances; and a number of other characters were probably drawn from direct personal observation. With some startling exceptions, the author is substantially true to the geography, the flora, and the fauna of the countries he uses as backgrounds. He takes endless pains to explain all the old customs, rites, and ceremonies introduced, and asserts in footnotes that he had witnessed certain horrible scenes he uses, such as one man’s cutting out the tongue of another. …
If the reader wants Indian fights, he can find them in every novel. If he is interested in highwaymen, pirates, spies, he will find an abundance of them. Wars of the whites are there. So are duels with knives, single combats with revolvers or with rifles; combats against apparently insuperable odds; sleeping draughts, abductions, scores of them; white women in the power of Indians; fathers banishing their sons; lynch law; a mother trying to sell her daughter, whom she does not recognize, into prostitution; an insulted father throwing a young man’s present to his daughter, consisting of $150,000 in gold, to the beggars outside his window; the ‘wake’ of a four-year-old child put on a chair in his best clothes with a crown of flowers on his head, and surrounded by drunken men and women; horrific secret societies, such as the revolutionary Dark Hearts of Chile, with passwords, solemn meetings, and oaths resembling those of the Ku Klux or a college fraternity; a maiden buried alive in the lowest vault of a convent in Mexico; a man buried up to his armpits…and left to starve on the desert; terrible avalanches that block the way of travelers over the Andes and leave them suspended over gorges of unknown depth; mountain storms in the Rockies that convert the country into a raging sea; prairie fires; battles with cougars by day and night – these are only samples of the thrills provided by Aimard. (1)
The books were criticized for their repetitiveness, as well as for a lack of realistic characters.
His novels presented a curious and, when his mind was fresh, a picturesque mixture of the styles of Eugène Sue and Fenimore Cooper. But as he wrote too fast to observe carefully the world in which we live, and to reflect upon it; he entirely depended upon mere impressions and his imagination. Novel after novel was turned off in rapid succession. There was never any time for the mind to lie fallow. Those qualities with which he was liberally gifted became impoverished. The intellect ran in unchanging channels, and there was a terrible sameness in about fifty of the…works of fiction that he wrote. (2)
Among Aimard’s most popular books were The Trappers of Arkansas (1858) and The Gypsies of the Sea (1865). His series about the Texas war of independence consisted of The Border Rifles (1861), The Freebooters (1861) and The White Scalper (1861). Gustave Aimard opened The Border Rifles with a lament on the plight of Native Americans. (Read more.)

1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I wonder how much he influenced Karl May (those of Karl May which were Westerns) ...