This Day In Writing History
On June 18th, 1903, the legendary French writer Raymond Radiguet was born. He was born in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, just eight miles away from Paris. Not much is known of Radiguet's early childhood; his father was a cartoonist, he grew up during World War 1, and the climate of the French home front during the Great War influenced his writing. He started drawing and writing poetry at an early age.
At the age of 16, Raymond Radiguet abandoned his studies at a technical school to pursue his interest in literature. He went to Paris and became associated with the Dadaist and Cubist movements in literature and art, and contributed to the magazine Sic, his works appearing alongside those of writers such as Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, and Philippe Soupalt.
The young Radiguet's talent attracted the attention of legendary writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who took him on as a protege. Radiguet wrote a book of poetry, Cheeks On Fire, and a play, Pelicans, but it was his first novel - written at the age of 17 - that made him a huge success and an object of controversy. It was called Devil In The Flesh. The narrator is a 15-year-old boy who tells the tale of his passionate, tragic affair with a young married woman.
Set during World War 1, the novel opens with the boy striking up a friendship with Marthe Lancombe, a 19-year-old woman about to be married. They both share an admiration for the poet Baudelaire. Soon, the boy skips school to help Marthe shop for furniture. Not long after her wedding, Marthe's soldier husband is sent to the front. The boy, smitten with her, sees his opportunity, and soon, the two embark on a passionate, but doomed affair. Marthe becomes pregnant, causing a scandal.
The novel created quite a scandal itself. Critics expressed outrage at the novel's glorification of adultery and depiction of adolescent sexuality, but were soon won over by the author's skillfully crafted narrative, written in a sober and objective style. Raymond Radiguet's prose effectively captures the teenage boy's conflicting emotions - his pride at becoming a man and the pain caused by his lack of maturity and being thrust into a love affair he's really too young to handle.
With the success of Devil In The Flesh, Raymond Radiguet became the talk of Paris. How could this novel have been penned by an author barely older than his teenage protagonist? Radiguet was proclaimed a genius. Although he denied it, Devil In The Flesh was later revealed to be a semi-autobiographical novel based on Radiguet's real-life affair with an older woman.
A feature film adaptation of Devil In The Flesh would prove to be even more controversial than the novel. Italian director Marco Bellocchio's 1986 film was neither the first nor the last adaptation of Raymond Radiguet's novel, but it was definitely the most famous. It was the first mainstream feature film where a well-known, mainstream actress (Maruschka Detmers) engaged in uncensored, unsimulated sexual acts on screen.
While reveling in the success of his debut novel, Radiguet began writing his next book. Count d'Orgel's Ball told the story of a handsome, charming, carefree aristocrat, his wife (the Countess), and his protege, François de Séryeuse. All three characters become ensnared in a web of adultery, deception, and self-deception, culminating in Count d'Orgel's masquerade ball, where the guests wear masks and later reveal their true selves - in more ways than one.
Count d'Orgel's Ball was also acclaimed by critics and readers alike, but Raymond Radiguet never lived to see it. Shortly after completing the novel, he contracted typhoid fever. He died in December of 1923 at the age of twenty. Count d'Orgel's Ball was published posthumously, as well as other writings by Radiguet, including a second book of poetry.
Raymond Radiguet was a genius whose young life was tragically cut short. One can only imagine what he may have written, had he lived.
Quote Of The Day
"Listen to me. I have something terrible to tell you. In three days, I am going to be shot by the soldiers of God." - Raymond Radiguet, spoken to Jean Cocteau shortly before his death.
Today's video features a couple of clips from Le Sange d'un Poete (The Blood of a Poet), the 1930 surrealist masterpiece by Raymond Radiguet's mentor - the legendary writer / filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Enjoy!