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 his early childhood.
Radiguet's father was a cartoonist, he grew up during World War I, and life on 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.
He 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 and admiration of legendary French writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who took him on as a protege. Radiguet wrote a book of poetry, Cheeks On Fire, and a play called Pelicans.
However, it was his classic debut novel - written at the age of seventeen - that made him a huge success and an object of controversy. It was called Le Diable au Corps - The Devil in the Flesh (1923).
The story is set on the French home front during World War I. The narrator is a fifteen-year-old boy who tells the tale of his passionate, tragic affair with a young married woman.
The novel opens with the boy striking up a friendship with Marthe Lancombe, a nineteen-year-old woman about to be married. They both share an admiration for the poet Baudelaire. Soon, the boy is skipping 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. Soon, the schoolboy and the lonely young married woman 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 The 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, The 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.
Definitely the most famous film adaptation, it was the first mainstream feature film where a well-known, mainstream actress (Maruschka Detmers) engaged in uncensored hardcore sexual acts on screen..
While reveling in the success of his debut novel, Raymond Radiguet began writing his next book. Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel - Count d'Orgel's Ball (1924) 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 Radiguet never lived to bask in it. Shortly after completing the novel, he contracted typhoid fever. He died in December of 1923 at the age of twenty.
Radiguet's mentor, the great Jean Cocteau, was devastated. While trying to work on his own writing, he plunged into a quagmire of depression and drug addiction. From this despair would come Cocteau's classic novel, Les Enfants Terribles - The Terrible Children (1929).
Meanwhile, Count d'Orgel's Ball and other writings by Radiguet, including a second poetry collection, were published posthumously.
One can only imagine what the young genius Raymond Radiguet may have written, had his life not been tragically cut short.
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 clip from the 1947 French feature film adaptation of Raymond Radiguet's classic novel, The Devil in the Flesh, in French with no subtitles. Enjoy!