“Mon livre d’heures” by Frans Masereel (1919)

Frans Masereel (1919) Passionate Journey—arriving on the train

Frans Masereel (1919) Passionate Journey—arriving on the train

 

Passionate Journey, or My Book of Hours (French: Mon livre d’heures), is a wordless novel of 1919 by Flemish artist Frans Masereel. The story is told in 167 captionless prints, and is the longest and best-selling of the wordless novels Masereel made. It tells of the experiences of an early 20th-century everyman in a modern city.”

 

Mon livre d'heures - three panels
Mon livre d’heures – three panels

 

Masereel’s medium is the woodcut, and the images are in an emotional, allegorical style inspired by Expressionism. The book followed Masereel’s first wordless novel, 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918); both were published in Switzerland, where Masereel spent much of World War I. German publisher Kurt Wolff released an inexpensive “people’s edition” of the book in Germany with an introduction by German novelist Thomas Mann, and the book went on to sell over 100,000 copies in Europe. Its success encouraged other publishers to print wordless novels, and the genre flourished in the interwar years.

 


Passionate Journey (1919)

The story follows the life of a prototypical early 20th-century everyman after he enters a city. It is by turns comic and tragic: the man is rejected by a prostitute with whom he has fallen in love. He also takes trips to different locales around the world. In the end, the man leaves the city for the woods, raises his arms in praise of nature, and dies. His spirit rises from him, stomps on the heart of his dead body, and waves to the reader as it sets off across the universe.”


 Final page from the wordless novel Passionate Journey (1919) by Flemish artist Frans Masereel.

“Look at these powerful black-and-white figures, their features etched in light and shadow. You will be captivated from beginning to end: from the first pictured showing the train plunging through the dense smoke and bearing the hero toward life, to the very last picture showing the skeleton-faced figure among the stars. Has not this passionate journey had an incomparably deeper and purer impact on you than you have ever felt before?”

Thomas Mann

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