Pierre Louÿs, rescuing the beauty of the world

Graphos and eros, the two great passions of Pierre Louÿs, made him one of the most prolific authors of his time. Probably many of his manuscripts will never be published, and maybe he wrote lot of them for his own pleasure. Alfter having been recognized with books in compliance with fin de siècle taste, he distanced from symbolist and decadent writers in a kind of libertine literature with no strings attached.

EdouardZier illustration for P.Louys Aphrodite
Edouard Zier illustration for P.Louys Aphrodite

His erudition mixed with sense of humor allowed him to send up Parnassian poetry (Les Chansons de Bilitis), or classical refinement (Aphrodite) and even costumbrist novel (La Femme et le pantin), but moving the focus of attention from the formal searches to the dynamics of desire. While these works are still dependent of cliché that stigmatizes women as a cause of man unhappiness, his frank dissection of inherent disorders of sexuality setted a precedent.

Dialogue des courtisanes
Dialogue des courtisanes

Aphrodite‘s preface is almost an apologetic manifest of sexual freedom: he mocks those who say capture the voluptuousness in order to extol the virtue, he rages against the puritanical censorship that prevented the translation of Greek poets or purged their texts, opting instead to acclaim moral philosophers who in fact were the exception not the norm in Antiquity. Also rails against the elaborate artifice of his contemporaries: current writers do not seem to understand the pleasure if it is not surrounded by unworthy rites, or disturbed by stupid satanism (pointing to decadent movement).

Louÿs devoted his life to fight the invasion of ugliness for which the modern world succumbs. He recreated the sensuality of the Mediterranean cultures in dark objects of desire (an Alexandrian courtesan, a flamenco dancer …) to stop the advance of the northern mists (Civilizations are moving to the north, entering the mist, cold, mud .. people in mourning).

Louis Berthomme Saint-André illustr. for Trois Filles de Leur Mére
Louis Berthomme Saint-André illustr. for Trois Filles de Leur Mére

But it was when abandoning those exotic frames when his literature was a revulsive: the parody of nineteenth-century treaties decency (Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles à l’usage des maisons d’éducation), compilations of erotic confidences among women (Dialogue des courtisanes), first person narratives about furtive visits of neighbors sisters that make art of their profession (Trois Filles de Leur Mére).

He explores female sexuality in a way rarely frequented by writers, with such naturalness that reveals the absurdity of all taboo.

In one of his later novels he placed his sex paradise on a remote island where French settlers regain (in contact with natives) the naive and brutal nature of infantile sexuality. L’Île aux dames is almos a theme park of lubricity: eroticism not only permeates social relationships but also pervades street furniture, clothing and culinary specialties. The carnal potlatch caters to all tastes: bestiality, sodomy, lesbianism, incest … Although it remains pure imperialism (a newcomer king establishes the law of free fornication and order the extermination of syphilitics), in the island shall prevail hedonism rather than sexual slavery. A kind of erotic syncretism between French sophistication and local naiff spirit seems to please one and others.

The departure from European customs encourages the suspension of prejudice in favor of a world made at one’s dreams size. We imagine that Pierre Louÿs retired there in spirit to forget 18 barbarian centuries and to enjoy a timeless beauty.

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