OCTAVE MIRBEAU’S LA 628-E8
AN EXPRESSION OF EUROPE’S DIVERSITY
Aleksandra Gruzinska, Ph.D.
School of International Letters and Cultures
Arizona State University
The year 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Octave Mirbeau’s La 628-E8, the first “novel” ever written on the automobile. In 1907 the industry was in its beginning stages of production. The expertly assembled machine by a French engineer, Fernand Charron, was registered as 628-E8. It allowed Mirbeau to travel with much greater speed than was true before the advent of the car and he covered a much wider territory in less time. His car whisked him through the countries stretching along the Rhine River, the waterway artery that fed and still feeds life-giving oxygen to adjoining nations and their governments. These countries have played a key role in shaping socially, politically, geographically and culturally modern Europe.
Forgotten for over half a century like Mirbeau’s other decadent avant-garde works, La 628-E8 (1907) is being rediscovered by a new generation of readers and scholars who will meet this coming September 2007 in Strasbourg, for the fourth international Mirbeau colloquium with the exclusive purpose of discussing the novel’s European Odyssey. Considered by some critics to be a travelogue rather than a novel, the work takes us through the various cultures that feed upon the Rhine. On one hand it poses the question to what extent Europe’s diversity is due to the assimilation of foreign cultures within Europe. On the other hand, we explore in La 628-E8 the identities of the various European countries bordering the Rhine River and their place in Europe’s diverse patchwork quilt.