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The Belgian poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach was born in 1855 in the prosperous commercial town of Tournai. But it was the becalmed and eclipsed towns of the former Low Countries, those "melancholic widows of medieval Communes" as he would put it in an essay — Ypres, Furnes, Courtrai, Audenarde, above all Bruges — that he would fondle and embalm in his fiction.

In his early twenties Rodenbach published poems in Belgian magazines, and his first collection, Le Foyer et les champs, appeared in 1877. While mingling in Catholic literary circles and attending various salons, he went through the motions of pursuing a legal career. He read law at the University of Ghent and went to the bar there, before moving briefly to Paris where he made a number of important literary friendships. Writing to his friend Emile Verhaeren, Rodenbach identified this brief initial period of residence in Paris as a moment of sudden, and perhaps mildly unnatural, literary flourishing:

As for producing literature in Belgium, in my view it is impossible. Our nation is above all positivistic and material. It won't hear a word of poetry . . . Whereas in Paris, one lives at twice the pace, one is in a hothouse, and suddenly the sap rises and thought flowers.

Returning to Belgium in 1879, he lived first in Ghent and then in Brussels, where for a while he was a partner in a law firm. But in 1886 Rodenbach renounced the law, and devoted himself fully to a life of writing. Two years later, in 1888, he settled in Paris, married, and became the Parisian correspondent for the Journal de Bruxelles and the Belgian correspondent for Le Figaro. Four years later he published his most famous work, Bruges-la-Morte (1892); it was the most successful Parisian publication of that year. Rodenbach's health, however, began to fail. In 1895 he suffered a serious chest infection, and in 1898 he died of typhlitis.

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