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Posted August 18, 2014
Our Lady of The Flowers - Notre Dame des Fleurs - by Gene Genet,
Our Lady of The Flowers - Notre Dame des Fleurs - by Gene Genet, translated from the French by Bernard FrechtmanWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This is Gene Genet best known novel. It was written in 1942 while he was incarcerated in the Fresnes Prison. Genet wrote it on sheets of brown paper which prison authorities provided to prisoners - with the intention that they would make bags of it. As recounted by Jean-Paul Sartre in his foreword to "Our Lady of the Flowers", a prison guard discovered that the prisoner Genet had been making this "unauthorized" use of the paper, confiscated the manuscript and burned it. Undaunted, Genet wrote it all over again. The second version survived and Genet took it with him when leaving the prison.
The novel is, basically, his way to pass time while being incarcerated. Genet would collect pictures cut from the magazines and newspapers and then create erotic stories of these people so that he would be aroused and then masturbate. Because incarceration diminishes your senses, Genet uses all of them to achieve stimulation and orgasm: "The odor of prison is an odor of urine, formaldehyde, and paint. I have recognized it in all the prisons of Europe, and I recognize that this odor would finally be the odor of my destiny."
Narrated mostly from the first point of view by Genet himself, the stories are highly erotic, often explicitly sexual, filled with all kind of fetishes and are spun to assist his masturbation. Jean-Paul Sartre called it in the introduction "the epic of masturbation".
The novel tells the story of Divine, a drag queen who, when the novel opens, has died of tuberculosis and been canonized as a result. "I shall speak to you about Divine, mixing masculine and feminine as my mood dictates, and if, in the course of the tale, I shall have to refer to a woman, I shall manage, I shall find an expedient, a good device, to avoid any confusion." Therefore, Divine is Louis Culafroy when Genet refers to him as a male. Divine lives in an attic room overlooking Montmartre cemetery, which she shares with various lovers, the most important of whom is a pimp called Darling Daintyfoot. "Divine and Darling. To my mind they are the ideal pair of lovers. From my evil-smelling hole, beneath the coarse wool of the covers, with my nose in the sweat and my eyes wide open, alone with them,
I see them."
One day Darling brings home a 16 y/o hoodlum and murderer, dubbed Our Lady of the Flowers. Our Lady is none other than Adrien Baillon. Baillon was arrested, tried, and executed. Death and ecstasy accompany the acts of every character, as Genet makes betrayal the highest moral value, murder an act of virtue and sexual appeal. The book was dedicated to Maurice Pilorge, who murdered his lover Escudero.
The book was first published anonymously by Robert Denoël and Paul Morihien at the end of 1943. The first printing was designed for sale to well-to-do collectors of erotica; it circulated by private sales lists and under the counter. But Genet never intended his work as mere pornography and later excised more graphic passages.
This is a difficult read, mainly because the anecdotes are either told from the third person point of view of the characters, or Genet's first person point of view. Sometimes the characters have female names, and other times, they have male names. As in many books of the absurd - there is no timeline. The narrator will jump back to Divine's (Louis Culafroy) youth and then to the present: the only way you can tell is by the name used. Culafroy is for Divine's youth, Divine is for the present. Even though the book is sold as "erotic," I found this not to be the case. It does deal with fetishes and violence - among them a certain propensity for fecal fetishes and violence - from sexual assault all the way to murder. Apparently these were the ones that would turn Mr. Genet on.
If you read it, you'll need an open mind....
Posted June 3, 2013
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