WHO was V. M. Straka? I’ve been acutely interested in this question since I purchased a four-volume set of reissued novels from Straka’s middle period (The Spotted Cat, The Black Nineteen, Washington & Greene, and Hanging the Dead) for two dollars at a garage sale in Ballard in the fall of 2008. While I majored in English at Gonzaga (longer ago than I’d like to admit), I don’t claim to be an expert. These are simply my notes about the lives of some of the major Straka candidates, along with my assessments about the likelihood of each one being the true identity of the mysterious Straka.
Please note that this site is a work in progress and that a complete list of every candidate ever proposed would take years to assemble (especially if you have two kids, a mortgage, and only three weeks of paid vacation a year). I’ve begun with the candidates I think are most plausible and/or most interesting. If you check back here every few weeks, you’ll usually find some new material to read. I welcome all comments, so please feel free to email me at TheLitigationMonkey@gmail.com. At some point in the future, I plan to sort through all of the feedback I get (and any new developments in the field) and assemble a summary of contemporary opinions about the Straka controversy.
I strive for accuracy in all my work, so if you notice any errors, please let me know so I may make corrections. Also, I apologize if some of the language is too faux-academic; I’ve found it enjoyable to write in a professorial tone—so much so that I find myself wondering if I chose the wrong career entirely. That, however, is a discussion better suited to my blog, The Litigation Monkey, which I invite you to visit if you’re interested... Read More...
The Bouchard Prize (or Prix Bouchard) was an honor awarded annually from 1909 to 1912 by the Marie-Hélène Bouchard Society for European Literature for the year’s best work of fiction by a European author. Winners received a cash prize of 50,000 French francs and were fêted throughout the following year at private events hosted by influential families throughout Europe. The Bouchard Society was funded by Hermès Bouchard, owner of the armaments manufacturer Compagnie Générale Bouchard.
Hermès Bouchard established the prize at the urging of his wife, Marie-Hélène, a voracious reader and noted book collector and who served as the chair of the judging committee.
Winners of the prize were: 1909: Latimer Tasse (France) for Il rêve en garance rose 1910: Sigrid Bang (Norway) for Min Kval 1911: Flavio Scagnelli (Italy) for La Mongolfiera d'oro 1912: V. M. Straka (unknown) for Miracle at Braxenholm (declined)
The 1912 award ceremony, held in Chamonix, was disrupted when a capuchin monkey appeared on the dais with a note pinned to its jacket. The note, written by the absent (and now infamous) Straka, stated that the Bouchard Prize and all other literature prizes were anathema to art, treating writers as if they were “dancing monkeys.” (In Straka’s posthumous 1949 novel, Ship of Theseus, editor and translator F. X. Caldeira disputed this account, asserting that the note gave proof that Hermès Bouchard had orchestrated and covered up a massacre of striking workers in the Calais Riot in February 1912.)
According to accounts of the event, Marie-Hélène retrieved the note from the monkey and collapsed on the dais after reading it. It was reported that she had been weakened by a prolonged illness. It is unknown where the monkey came from, what happened to it afterward, and whether it danced on the stage while Mme. Bouchard was attended to.
Marie-Hélène Bouchard committed suicide in October 1912 by leaping from a rooftop in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. Hermès Bouchard was rarely seen in public thereafter, though Compagnie Générale Bouchard continued to thrive, flourishing during World War I by supplying the French and German governments at the same time.
The Society was disbanded, and the prize was discontinued.