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The Thief

The Thief

by Georges Darien, translated from the French by Jacques Houis, introduction by André Breton

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The Thief is a picture of the sleezy underbelly of the Belle Époque, a broadside fired against the corruptions of power and privilege. Written by the anarchist activist Georges Darien (a pseudonym that can be translated as “Lord Nothing”), it found almost no readers when it came out at the end of the nineteenth century, though Alfred Jarry embraced it as one of his favorite books.

Over the years, however, this picaresque masterpiece with shades of black comedy has found a growing number of admirers, from the surrealist capo dei capi André Breton to Lucy Sante. It is a book of wild, comic, profane energy that, in its luxuriant nihilism, anticipates Céline’s Journey to the End of Night.

Georges Randal is the titular thief, a young Frenchman of good family who, having been deprived of his inheritance by a conniving uncle, takes to a life of crime. Moving between London, Brussels, and Paris, in a world of hookers, drifters and grifters, revolutionaries and politicians, bankers and thieves, he is in a position to reveal modern society in all its teeming corruption.

The thief is no hero. Like everyone else in this decadent society, he is a trafficker and exploiter—and a wounded soul. At least, however, he has the courage of his disaffection, his fury warmed by self-hatred. And he does seem a somewhat distant cousin of Robin Hood, targeting the wealthy and helping the needy when the opportunity arises.

After more than a hundred years, Georges Darien’s vision of our fallen modern world—the inhuman comedy he proposed to set beside Balzac’s human one—seems especially pertinent to our current Gilded Age. Jacques Houis’s new translation is the first ever into English.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681378121
Pages: 400
Publication Date:


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