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LAST COPY: Octave Mirbeau THE TORTURE GARDEN Rare Hardback

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Only 100 printed! Beautiful, Evocative Photography. This gorgeous hardback w/ dust jacket limited edition was once described as the “most sickening work of art of the nineteenth century!” Long out of print, Octave Mirbeau’s macabre classic (1899) features a corrupt Frenchman and an insatiably cruel Englishwoman…who meet and then frequent a fantastic 19th century Chinese garden where torture is practiced as an art form. The fascinating, horrific narrative slithers deep into the human spirit, uncovering murderous proclivities and demented desires. Lavish, loving detail of description. Introduction, biography and bibliography. ONLY 100 PRINTED – RARE. NOT IN STORES.

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The Torture Garden, written by Octave Mirbeau in 1899, is one of the most extreme books ever to be published. Ostensibly dealing with the theme of torture as a refined art form in China, and depicting a dissolute bureaucrat led by an extraordinary woman into the depths of depravity, this is an absolute black humor critique of the values of Western Civilization with its duplicitous rules of social conduct and political power-brokering. A totally contemporary indictment of corruption in government, this work also lays bare the politics of the conservative scientific establishment and the evil inherent in bureaucracy. Additionally, the Colonialist mentality with its brutish institutionalized killings of natives and animals is vividly contrasted with the exquisite tortures of the garden.

“Extraordinary. I loved the illustrations, done with all the sophistication I take for granted from RE/Search, with their strange washed-out light and postures that might be out of some 1930s novel.” — J.G. Ballard

1 review for LAST COPY: Octave Mirbeau THE TORTURE GARDEN Rare Hardback

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    ” …sadistic spectacle as apocalyptic celebration of human potential…A work as chilling as it is seductive.”

    — The Daily Californian

    ” Here is a novel that is hot with the fever of ecstatic, prohibited joys, as cruel as a thumbscrew and as luxuriant as an Oriental tapestry. This exotic story of Clara and her insatiable desire for the perverse and the forbidden has been hailed by the critics.”

    — Charles Hanson Towne

    ” …daydreams in which sexual images are mixed nightmarishly with images of horror.”

    — Edmund Wilson

    ” Mirbeau, massing his words in viscous passages, creates a literary equivalent to the moist greasy substance of the victim’s muscle, fat and bone.”

    — Paper

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The Torture Garden Excerpt: Tortures

“. . . There are tortures wherever there are men. I can’t do anything about it, my baby, and I try to adjust myself to it and enjoy it, for blood is a precious auxiliary of desire. It’s the wine of love.” With the tip of her parasol, she traced some naively indecent figures in the sand, and she said:

“I’m sure you think the Chinese crueller than we. No . . . Not at all! We English? Ah, don’t mention it! And you French? In your Algeria, in the confines of the desert, I saw this: One day some soldiers captured some Arabs; poor Arabs who had committed no other crime than to try to escape the brutality of their conquerors. The Colonel commanded them to be put to death immediately, without an inquiry, without a trial. And this is what happened: There were thirty of them. They dug thirty holes in the sand, and they buried them up to their necks, naked, with their heads shaved, in the noonday sun. So they wouldn’t die too fast they watered them from time to time, like cabbages. At the end of an hour their eyelids were swollen, their eyes bulged from their sockets, their swollen tongues filled their mouths, which gaped frightfully, and their skin cracked and roasted on their skulls. It was unimaginative, I assure you, and even devoid of terror—those thirty dead heads, sticking out of the sand like shapeless rocks! And we! It’s still worse! Ah, I remember the strange sensation I felt when, at Kandy, the gloomy former capital of Ceylon, I went up the steps of the temple where the English had stupidly, without torture, slaughtered the little Modeliar princes who, legends tell us, were so charming . . . Like those skillfully made Chinese ikons, with so hieratically calm and pure a grace, and their golden halos and their long hands pressed together. I felt that what had happened there—on those sacred steps, still uncleansed of that blood by eighty years of violent possession—was something more horrible than a human massacre; the destruction of a precious, touching and innocent beauty. The traces of that double European barbarity may be found at every step you take on the ancestral soil of that suffering and always mysterious India. The boulevards of Calcutta, the cool Himalayan villas in Darjeeling, the tribades of Benares and the sumptuous homes of the contractors in Bombay have not been able to efface the impression of mourning and death left everywhere by the atrocity of unskillful massacre, vandalism and senseless destruction. To the contrary, they accentuate it. No matter in what place it appears, civilization displays that face which bears the double imprint of sterile blood and ruins forever dead . . .

Excerpt: “Pearls”

I looked at Clara. Divinely calm and pretty, naked in a transparent tunic of yellow silk, she was languidly stretched out on a tiger skin. Her head lay among the cushions, and with her hands, loaded with rings, she played with a long wisp of her flowing hair. A Laos dog with red hair slept beside her, its muzzle resting on her thigh and a paw upon her breast.


“What?” Clara went on, “didn’t you know? Why that’s funny!” All smiles, and stretching like a supple animal, she explained to me:

“It was horrible, my dear! Annie died…died of that frightful scourge called elephantiasis…for everything here is frightful…love…disease…and the flowers! Never have I wept so much, I assure you. I loved her so much–so much! And she was so beautiful!”

She added, with a long and charming sigh:

“Never again will we know the bitter taste of her kisses! It’s a great misfortune!”

“Then it’s really true!” I stammered. “But how did it happen?”


“I don’t know. There are so many mysteries here, so many things that can’t be understood. Both of us often used to go out on the river in the evening. I must tell you that there was a bayadère from Benares, in a flower-boat…a bewitching creature, my dear, whom the priests had taught certain cursed rites of the ancient Brahman cults. Perhaps it was that…or something else. One night when we were returning from the river, Annie complained of violent pains in the head and loins, and the next day her body was all covered with little purple spots. Her skin, rosier and finer than the althaea flower, was hardening–thickening, swelling, and became an ashy grey. Great tumors and monstrous tubercles arose. It was something frightful…”

She twined the golden lock of her hair about her fingers. In his sleep the dog’s paw had slipped along with her silk tunic, entirely uncovering the globe of her breast, whose nipple arose, pink as a young flower.

“Yes, I still wonder sometimes whether or not I’m dreaming,” she said.

“Clara…Clara!” I implored, aghast with horror, “don’t tell me any more. I’d like the image of our divine Annie to remain intact in my memory. What can I do now to dispel this nightmare? Ah, Clara! don’t say any more; or talk to me about Annie when she was beautiful…when she was too beautiful!”

Clara did not listen to me, but continued:

“Annie isolated herself…shut herself up in her house, alone with a Chinese housekeeper who took care of her. She had sent all her women away, and no longer wanted to see anyone…not even me. She summoned the cleverest practitioners of England. In vain, you may be sure. The most celebrated sorcerers of Tibet–those who know the magic words and resuscitate the dead–declared themselves powerless. You never recover from that disease; but you never die of it. It’s frightful! Then she killed herself. A few drops of poison, and that was the end of
the most beautiful of women.”


Terror sealed my lips. I looked at Clara, unable to utter a single word. “I learned from that Chinese woman,” Clara continued, “a really curious detail, which fascinates me. You know how much Annie loved pearls. She owned some incomparable specimens…the most marvelous, I believe, that ever existed. You also remember the almost physical joy, the carnal ecstasy, with which she adorned herself with them. Well, when she was sick that passion became a mania with her…a fury, like love! All day long she loved to touch them, caress them and kiss them; she made cushions of them, necklaces, capes, cloaks. Then this extraordinary thing happened; the pearls died on her skin: first they tarnished, little by little…little by little they grew dim, and no light was reflected in their luster any more and, in a few days, tainted by the disease, they changed into tiny balls of ash. They were dead, dead like people, my darling. Did you know that pearls had souls? I think it’s fascinating and delicious. And since then, I think of it every day.”

The Torture Garden Excerpt: The Cadaver

“Oh, darling! Darling! Darling!” she cried; an exclamation by which she always expressed the intensity of her emotion at the approach of horror, as well as love. And we looked at the cadaver, and with the same horrified motion stretched our necks toward the cadaver, and we could not tear our eyes away from the cadaver.
On its convulsed face, on which all the contracted muscles were outlined, frightful grimaces and hideous angles stood out, the twisted mouth revealing the teeth and gums, mimicked the frightful laugh of a madman, a laugh which death had stiffened, fixed and, so to say, modeled into all the folds of the skin. The two staring eyes darted a sightless glance at us, but their expression of the most terrifying insanity remained, and so prodigiously sneering and so fitfully mad was this stare, that never in the cells of an asylum had I been destined to see its like in the eyes of a living man.

Observing all these muscular displacements in the corpse, all these deviations of the tendons, all these projections of the bones, and on the face, this grin and this dementia of the eyes surviving death, I understood how much more horrible than any other torture must be the agony of a man lying forty-two hours in his bonds under the bell. Neither the dismembering knife, nor the red, burning iron, nor the ripping pincers, nor the wedges which spread the joints, crack the articulations, or split the bones like pieces of wood, can work greater ravages on organs of living flesh and fill the brain with more horror, than this sound of an invisible and immaterial bell, combining in itself all the known instruments of torture, infuriating all the sensitive and thinking parts of an individual at the same time, and fulfilling the office of more than a hundred executioners.

The Torture Garden Excerpt: Robbery and Business

To take something from a person and keep it for oneself: that is robbery. To take something from a person and then turn it over to another in exchange for as much money as you can get: that is business. Robbery is so much more stupid, since it is satisfied with a single, frequently dangerous profit; whereas in business it can be doubled without danger.

It was in this moral atmosphere that in some way or other I grew up and developed entirely alone, with no other text than the daily example of my parents. Among the shopkeeping classes children are generally left to their own devices, for no one has time to bother with their education. They educate themselves as best they can, at the mercy of their own dispositions and the pernicious influences of that environment, which is generally degrading and confined. Spontaneously, and without the need of any outward pressure, I contributed my own portion of emulation or invention to the family swindles. From the age of ten I had no other concept of life than theft, and I was convinced—oh, quite ingenuously I assure you—that to ‘rope people in’ constituted the foundation of all social intercourse.

The Torture Garden Excerpt: Murder

The scientist settled himself once more among the cushions of his armchair, stretched his legs, which were numb from being crossed too long and, his head thrown back, his arms hanging and his stomach soothed by good digestion, puffed smoke-rings at the ceiling:

“Besides,” he continued, “murder is largely self-propagating. Actually, it is not the result of this or that passion, nor is it a pathological form of degeneracy. It is a vital instinct which is in us all—which is in all organized beings and dominates them, just as the genetic instinct. And most of the time it is especially true that these two instincts fuse so well, and are so totally interchangeable, that in some way or other they form a single and identical instinct, so that we no longer may tell which of the two urges us to give life, and which to take it—which is murder, and which love. I have been the confidant of an honorable assassin who killed women, not to rob them, but to ravish them. His trick was to manage things so that his sexual climax coincided exactly with the death-spasm of the woman: ‘At those moments,’ he told me, ‘I imagined I was a God, creating a world!’ “
“Ah,” cried the celebrated writer, “if you are going to seek your examples among professional assassins—”
“Hold on,” the scientist replied, “simply that we are all more or less assassins. I liked to believe that, intellectually, we have all experienced analogous sensations to a lesser degree. We restrain the innate need of murder and attenuate physical violence by giving it a legalized outlet: industry, colonial trade, war, the hunt or antisemitism…

The Torture Garden, written by Octave Mirbeau in 1899, is one of the most extreme books ever to be published. Ostensibly dealing with the theme of torture as a refined art form in China, and depicting a dissolute bureaucrat led by an extraordinary woman into the depths of depravity, this is an absolute black humor critique of the values of Western Civilization with its duplicitous rules of social conduct and political power-brokering. A totally contemporary indictment of corruption in government, this work also lays bare the politics of the conservative scientific establishment and the evil inherent in bureaucracy. Additionally, the Colonialist mentality with its brutish institutionalized killings of natives and animals is vividly contrasted with the exquisite tortures of the garden

The glittering, fantastic Torture Garden itself has all the hallucinatory brightness of a dream straight from the unconscious–that fertile pool nourishing the uninhibited artistic imagination. There seems a direct lineage of descent from the horrific painted visions of Bosch to the written splendors of Mirbeau’s work. Both appear steeped in enigma and allusion, fed from the same inexhaustible springs of diabolical invention that well up from deep within the human psyche–the eternal playground of sex and death

The book offers a rare portrait of a woman of intelligence and sensitivity who progressively reveals greater dimensions of curiosity, courage, honesty and philosophic overview as she relentlessly pursues more complex and challenging experiences. In the process the much-vaunted corruption and worldly wisdom of the European male narrator is unmasked as paltry cowardice and worse still–moral conservatism that is pathetically shallow. His is a petty little soul and hers the soul of a great adventuress.

Written at a time when all authoritarian “laws” of aesthetics and morality were being challenged (and breached) by anarchists, Decadents, Naturalists, Impressionists, and pre-Surrealists, The Torture Garden appended its vision of terminal outrage to the final year of the nineteenth century. The author, Octave Mirbeau (1850–1917) was an exceptional writer who combined intensity of vision with a lifelong commitment to attacking arbitrary, unjust authority. As a journalist Mirbeau railed against conservative art and political opinions as well as hypocritical public figures–which caused him to fight numerous duels. Till the end of his long career as a critic, novelist and playwright he was dedicated to permanent, sardonic, and vociferous rebellion against the status quo. He and his wife, a former actress and herself a luminary of wit and independence, held host to some of the most radical artists and writers of the day, After his death she made their estate a retreat and haven for indigent writers, artists, poets and sculptors possessing dreams and vision but little else.

As a critique of society The Torture Garden is an enduring inspiration: “You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world.”

Solely on the level of literary achievement, The Torture Garden’s beauty of language and imagery ensures our transport into a realm not of this earth. Its recitation of the names of exotic plants and perfumes lures us into an erotic dimension of limitless possibilities, conjured into being by the repressed underside of the human spirit–the reward at the end being the same as in the mythical Garden of Eden: self-knowledge…

Once described as “the most sickening work of art of the nineteenth century,” The Torture Garden is one of the most truly original works ever imagined. Beyond providing a richly poetic experience, it will stimulate anyone interested in the always-contemporary problem of the limits of experience and sensation. As part of the continuing struggle against censorship and especially self-censorship, it will remain a landmark in the fight against all that would suppress the creation of a far freer world.

–V. Vale