May 17, 2009

The Saragossa Manuscript

He spend his days filling the silver sphere that adorns his tea kettle lid.

Still too big.
A bizzare avocation that marks his life’s last three years.


A young Polish aristocrat, Jan Potocki (1761-1815) inherits 18th century treasures. A citizen of the world, he can fluently speak eight languages and, very young, dives into the vortex of travels: aside from Poland and Europe – which is his country - he is fascinated by Turkey and Egypt. In 1805, recommendend by the Russian foreign minister, the Polish prince Adam Czartoryski, he joins a russian expedition in China.

His encyclopaedic education allows him to commit in a series of scientific researches: he either traces the origin of the Slavs in a amazingly’s erudition work entitled Rechearches about Sarmatia (1789-1792) or fly over Warsow into Blanchard’s balloon, accompanying the French scientist along with his Turk servant and his dog Lulu.

Devoted to political intrigue, being a deputy favourable to reforms, he develops an intence political activitie in Poland, in the era of the four year diet ( the Polish parliament). Suspect of affinity to the Jacobines, he is forced to leave Poland for Spain and Morocco, where he arrogantly boasts that he is “the new kingdom’s Suetonius” .


Potocki’s literature work lies under the sign of travel. His real wandering is followed by an imaginary travel. His novel Manuscrit trouve a Saragosse (The Saragossa Manuscript, 1804-1814) is presented as the last fruit of his numerus tours. It is about an initiatory narrative which chronicles the adventures of young officer Alfonse Van Worden. Written in french and translated in polish in the 19th century, this collection of bizarre episodes, some times imaginary, some times philosophical and some times pointing to picaresque, is a frame narrative which’s structure reminds of the arab tales. In the haunted mountains of Sierra Morena, the characters that narrate their stories are often and involuntary drifted in space and time due to mysterious forces, incarnated in two Tunisian beauties, messengers of the night.

The fate reserved for The Saragossa Manuscript stood anything else but common. This large book, divided into 66 days, was brokenly and without the writer’s name published in Saint Petesburg in 1804, and by the first moment was accepted with enthusiasm, and with Alexander Pushkin’s admiration. Then the novel went all around Europe in manuscripts and also anonynous copies. Plagiarists – and among them some not at all inconsiderable writers such as Charles Nodier and Washinton Irving – appropriate some of the episodes and publish them under their name, achieving great commercial success. In this way, the eccentric passions, very close to mysticism, if not even to satanism, that hounted Potocki’s soul, keep fascinating next century’s wide public, eager for “black” novels.

The sphere has at last the desirable dimensions and fits with no difficulty into the barrel of the gun aiming the head.
Count Jan Potocki suicided in November 20, 1815.

"Annick Benoit-Dusausoy & Guy Fontaine: Europeean Literature". Translated by Begemot


Potocki’s novel (to be exact a version of it), was adapted for the big screen by the Polish director Wojciech Has in 1965. It’s about a three hours ( the original version was 182 minutes long) black-and-white film which indends to depict Potocki’s vision. Has keeps the main plot of the story (it would be impossible anyway to attribute the entire book, with it’s endless minor stories embeding into the major ones, and one into the other), the main characters (Alfonse, Velasquez, the Cabalist, Avadoro, Rebecca e.t.c.), and is also faithfull to the novel’s main charasteristics ( it’s frame narrative, the mysticism that colours Potocki’s world, the erotic elements, the humor, the piqaresqe and often grotesque elements). Along with the above, very good actors and Penderecki’s music score contribute to an excellent result. You can easily find and download the film ( the restoration of which was done by Jerry Garcia, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola) with English and Spanish subtitles, through torrents. Begemot has also made an adaptation of the subtitles in Greek, which can be downloaded below.

Το χειρόγραφο της Σαραγόσα_Υπότιτλοι

Update 21-10-2009

Thanks to an anonymous friend, the soundtrack can also be provided. You can find the link to it in the comments area.



paramo said...

this very fine post for that landmark of european literature and its (rare) movie version
plus hard working for creating greek subtitles... it is job far too good for the standards of blogging.
Thanks for showing the way!!

begemot said...

Thank you paramo!

Vinyl Kiosk said...

any idea where the soundtrack can be found?

Anonymous said...


begemot said...

Thank you for sharing/uploading the soundtrack.

the saucer people said...

Some great background information on one of my all time favourite films...its actually astonishing given the calibre of the reviews how little known this film my opinion this was the best thing Jerry Garcia ever did ;)

I have been searching for the soundtrack for years, I knew one day I would blindly stumble across it and that day has now come thanks to La Folie Du Jour!

begemot said...

Yes, actually a film little known, not only given the calibre of the reviews it got, but also of its significance as a piece of art...

A great film and an even greater book, also, we must not forget this...

Sauser People, thank you for your kind words...