TARTARIN IN THE ALPS

Alphonse Daudet,(1840-1897)

Costacalde the gunsmith is a wry, yellowish, feral sort of person, eager to be nominated to the presidency of the Alpine Club.  The current president, long-time resident of Tarascon in southern France is Tartarin, the famous lion-hunter and mountain climber, noted for his ascent of the local hills, some 600′ high.  In order to enhance his social standing and prove himself worthy of being re-elected to the post of president, Tartarin has vowed to conquer the Swiss Alps.

With several associates, he entrains for Lucerne and after a frolicking night of riotous celebration, sets out to conquer Mt. Rigi.  Ignoring the cog railway that takes tourists to the top, Tartarin vows to climb it solo.  He’s so inflated by his success that he dreams of furthering his stature by attempting the Jungfrau, a much more ambitious project with considerable objective difficulties.  As a result of a conversation with an old friend and guide, Jules Bompard, Tartarin has come to the conclusion that the entire Swiss locality is just a business run by the authorities:  the mountains are under corporate control, the hotels have been built to a Disney-like standard, the guides are actors, and finally, that no dangers lurk in the vast glacial slopes and crevasses of the alpine peaks.  So it was with cheerful and insouciant mien that at two o’clock one morning he follows his guides up the lower slopes onto the glacier, cutting steps and blithely ascending the vertiginous cliffs.

Until the little group falls into a hidden crevasse.  With one guide clutching the rope on the slippery surface, Tartarin and the other guide dangle helplessly in space, waiting for the instantaneous demise that surely looms.  Except that Tartarin knows that it’s all just part of the game devised by the business owners and so he experiences no fear whatsoever.  The lower guide manages to cut a few steps in the ice wall, and they haul Tartarin out of the frigid mausoleum, while he makes wise-cracks and joshes with his rescuers.  They finally reach the top of the mountain and after an uneventful descent they return to the hotel to receive the plaudits of their anxious comrades.

Still living in his dream world, Tartarin decides to climb Mt. Blanc.  He and his friends take the train to Chamonix, hire guides and arise at midnight to begin the ascent.  The weather turns ugly, however, and most of the party turns back.  But Tartarin and his friend, roped together, continue to climb until they are trapped in an avalanche.  Swept down the mountain, they cross a sharp salient that severs the rope, so Tartarin falls down the steep slope on one side and Gompard plummets down the other.

Back in Tarascon, Costacalde is just about to be elected president, when (spoiler ahead) who should nonchalantly appear, but Tartarin.  After a miserable night on the mountain, both he and his friend survived the fall and made their ways separately back to Tarascon.  So naturally he’s re-elected and Costacalde slinks off to sulk in his shop.

I’m not positive about Daudet’s intentions in writing this book the way he did, but i have a feeling that he was trying to say something about reality and how most human beings deal with it:  that most of us create our own little worlds and are quite unconscious of the actuality that hangs over us.  And i think his satirical approach often brushes the border of sarcasm, indicating that he had some negative reactions about the Parisien society he lived in.  It was a very funny book in spots, and I thought it was better than the work that preceded it,  Tartarin of Tarascon, in which he travels to Algeria to shoot a lion.  It’s certainly not a monument to deathless prose, but it’s entertaining and humorous.

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16 thoughts on “TARTARIN IN THE ALPS”

  1. Daudet? Hmm… Another name with which I’m not familiar. I doubt that I would care much for reading about a yellowish, feral fellow …. still, it’s an entertaining romp to read about your reading excursions ….

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    1. Costacalde wasn’t actually referred to very much: he was just the sort of foil that the plot was instigated by… the ridiculous adventures of Tartarin were the main focus… there’s a third book describing his feats but i haven’t yet been able to locate it… this was just the second…

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  2. Great review. I love your plot descriptions. This sounds entertaining and humorous. I also like the themes that you suggested. I am not sure if it is most people, but so many folks do live in their own self – constructed bubbles.

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    1. thanks, Brian… as usual, there was a whole lot more detail in the book than what i mentioned… the group was thrown into Chillon prison at one point, Chillon being the castle on lake Geneva in which Byron, Shelley and someone else i can’t recall the name of, met. and there was a long episode having to do with William Tell and the apple… Daudet’s most familiar book was his “Letters from a Windmill”, a delightful collection of essays describing the Provence area…

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  3. My goodness! What an adventure. Made me chuckle to think of it all. I like your idea of its meaning…we all live in a bubble. So true at times. I’m out of breath reading about the feral yellow fellow in your review. Hope you find the third one. Abebooks.com?

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    1. i haven’t discovered the name of it yet: it’s a collection of short stories i think… the photos of your trip were just spectacular… i can’t tell you how much we enjoyed them; glad you got home safe…

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  4. A humorous romp in the Alps with social comment. Sounds somewhat good though I have a fear of heights. One question: there were no Disney parks in the 1800s. Was that your insertion of a comparison?

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    1. sometimes i get cursed with overly vivid simile’s and metaphors; when they seem pleasant i just toss them in… sort of like seeing apples on a cherry tree haha…

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  5. I can’t decide whether these obscure books are so interesting or it’s the way you write about them. This sounds like a really good book and I know it’s free somewhere because you read it. 🙂 I also like your personal evaluation at the end. I will now see if this story is free on Kindle.

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      1. i’ve never tried downloading anything from Kindle, although i have one… i use it to download from other sources; Amazon seems too confusing and replete with unknown pitfalls… sometime maybe i’ll conquer my reluctance and give it a shot… or not…

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  6. lol! the book(s) really are pretty funny, although i admit it’s a rather dated sort of humor… Daudet has his own type of attraction prose-wise… his style is simple on the surface, but he almost always has a purpose and/or an underlying message that he’s trying to get across… that makes the books interesting on two levels, possibly more… but to each his own: not many, perhaps, would consider Tartarin worthy of attention in today’s super-complex world, although, imo, he really does have something to say that’s applicable to the human condition at any time in history… tx for the comment, Carol… always appreciated…

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