EROTIC AND ECCLESIASTICAL ATTRIBUTIONS (THE NUN)
PREFACES TO THE NUN by COMTE D’IRANCY
By Patrick J Kearney & Alexis Lykiard
The golden age of clandestine French erotica publishing is generally located from the mid-1920’s through the 1930’s, although a case could be made for the twenty years between 1860 to 1880. In the latter period, publishers like Auguste Poulet-Malassis and Jules Gay were producing reprints of important works from earlier times in fine, limited editions. This tradition was taken up again after WWI, but with a difference. Publishers like Maurice Duflou and Rene Bonnel saw their books as works of art as a whole. Whether their texts were reprints of eighteenth or nineteenth century erotic classics, as was often the case with Duflou, or the avant-garde and surrealist erotica favoured by Bonnel, the volumes they published were unified, artistic creations. Typography, choice of illustration, paper, all were part of the overall design. The markets for these books were wealthy collectors who could afford this sort of thing, and no expense was spared.
Following WWII, the situation changed dramatically. In addition to the more general ennuis of postwar austerity, the brothels were closed in April 1946, allegedly at the insistence of Madame de Gaulle following a campaign by Marthe Richard, and censorship became endemic. When erotic books were published, the results were plain and utilitarian, and often unattractive.
One of the earliest players in the field was Jean-Jacques Pauvert, whose maiden clandestine effort was an edition in three volumes of Sade’s 120 Journées de Sodome, published early in 1948. But his inexperience showed, and there is evidence – such as an editorial note at the conclusion of vol. 2 – that the conditions under which the book was printed gave rise to a number of textual blunders. Later, his edition of Georges Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil (‘Burgos,’ 1941 [c. 1950]) had the last section, Réminiscences, comprising pp. -127, printed in a smaller typeface than the rest of the book because, apparently, Pauvert didn’t order enough paper for the job. Pauvert’s sub-rosa activities didn’t last long, however, and he published less than ten books in this fashion, the bulk of them being reprints of texts by Apollinaire, Bataille, Aragon and Pierre Louÿs. His one original publication was L’Anglais Décrit dans le Chateau Fermé (‘Oxford & Cambridge,’ 1953), André Pieyre De Mandiargues’ strange excursion into sado-masochism. Pauvert’s subsequent career as publisher was entirely above board, although it was marked by a number of courageous tilts at censorship, such as his OEuvres complètes of Sade and, most famously, Histoire d’O.
One might also mention L’Enfer du Sexe (1971), a strange publication by Pauvert in which he included an essay of his own on the evils of censorship followed by a pornographic novel written by a presumably pseudonymous ‘Youl Belhomme.’ It was a deliberate attempt to stir things up with the authorities for in the opening paragraph of his essay Pauvert wrote: L’Enfer du Sexe est un petit roman pornographique écrit très vite, pour gagner de l’argent, par un auteur débutant qui ne prétend pas au génie, ni même à une grande maîtrise de sa langue. Si je le mets tel quel en circulation, sous mon nom, c’est pour protester à ma manière, c’est pour attirer l’attention. Sur quoi, contre quoi ?
Eric Losfeld, the original publisher of the work translated here for the first time, was a horse of a different colour altogether. It’s difficult to say whether Losfeld and Pauvert were rivals exactly, since despite their beginnings in clandestine publishing, their approach to it was quite dissimilar. Sarane Alexandrian, who does see the pair as rivals, summed up the differences rather well: “Jean-Jacques Pauvert… a eu une carrière bien différente, mais non moins intérresante. Losfeld fut un surréalist editeur, Pauvert un éditeur du surréalism; voilà ce qui les distingue.”1
Losfeld gives a good indication of his surrealist approach to life early in his memoirs. When on his military service in the 1930’s, he writes to Adolf Hitler:
Monsieur, Je suis un soldat belge qui s’ennuie dans une ville de garnison qui s’appelle Namur. Je vous en rends personnallement responsible. En consequence, j’ai l’honneur de vous declarer la guerre.2
There is no record of what reply, if any, was received from Berlin.
Losfeld began secret publishing about 1949, and openly in 1952 when he established Editions Arcanes. For the following ten years or so his feet were planted firmly in the fields of both clandestine and open publishing. His open publications were certainly avant-garde and included works by Nelly Kaplan, Claude Seignolle, Boris Vian, Francis Picabia, and Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues amongst others.
One the most interesting of these was the first edition of Les Rouilles encagées (1954) by ‘Satyremont’ [Benjamin Peret], illustrated with bizarre phallic drawings by Yves Tanguy. This work was originally to have been part of a sort of surrealist trilogy published in the 1920’s by René Bonnel. Unfortunately, the police, visiting M. Bonnel on account of a different book, discovered the printed sheets of Peret’s work and the trilogy promptly became a duo, comprising Georges Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil and Louis Aragon’s Le Con d’Irène, both published in 1928. How, under the circumstances, Losfeld came into possession of the text is uncertain, although as he knew the author well it seems likely he acquired it from him. And as Peret’s book was originally titled Les Couilles enragées, it seems hardly surprising that Losfeld prudently decided to rename it Les Rouilles encagées when he published his edition.
For obvious reasons, Losfeld’s clandestine activities are less easy to trace. Because of the generally poor quality of post-war printing and the resultant difficulty in matching typographical styles or ‘fingerprints’ to a particular publisher, erotic books published subrosa tended to look similar to each other and it seems likely that books not published by Losfeld have been laid to his credit, and vice versa. The water is muddied even further by the suspicion that Losfeld wasn’t above a bit of piracy.
La Nonne is a strange work. It is very much in the tradition of the French anti-clerical erotica that flourished in 18th century – indeed were it not for the book’s general lack of extreme cruelty, the idea of two young girls entering a convent, the one worldly and ready for anything and the other an innocent, is strongly reminiscent of Sade’s tale of Justine and Juliette. The language likewise has an old-fashioned feel to it; there is humour, and on occasion an interesting emphasis on sexual slang may be noted.
The first edition of La Nonne seems to have been published about 1950. It is a small quarto, unbound in leaves, of 104 unnumbered pages, limited to 250 copies. There are 25 woodcut illustrations, plates and in-text vignettes, ascribed to ‘Pierre Mac.’ The Japanese ‘style’ of these illustrations has led them to be ascribed to Tsugouharu Foujita (1886-1968), an artist who is known to have illustrated erotic books, for example Pybrac (1927) by Pierre Louÿs. ‘Pierre Mac,’ however, is an interesting pseudonym, suggesting as it does Pierre Dumarchey (1883 - 1970), the real name of the author who habitually signed his work ‘Pierre Mac Orlan.’ A prolific writer of adventure stories and humorous tales, Mac Orlan was also deeply immersed in the sub-culture of clandestine erotica. He wrote a number of pornographic novels, many dealing with themes of sado-masochism, and as a fairly talented artist sometimes provided illustrations for his work in this genre.
The authorship of the novel is problematical, and my guess is weakly circumstantial. Its extreme anti-clerical bias points to one of the surrealists, perhaps Benjamin Peret (1899-1959) who, as we have seen, was known to, and published by, Losfeld. Peret was certainly no friend of the Church; indeed, so extreme was his hatred that he is supposed to have attacked priests and nuns on sight, in the street. In addition, his name, amongst others, has been linked to another, even rarer, erotic text in the same genre, La Vie d’un sainte, from the same period and possibly the same publisher.
But La Nonne could equally well have been written by Losfeld himself who was certainly the author of a number of erotic works of varying degrees of eccentricity that he published himself.
Patrick J. Kearney
1 [Sarane]Alexandrian, Histoire de la Litterature erotique, Paris: Seghers, 1989. p. 373.
2. Eric Losfeld, Endetté comme une mule, ou la Passion d’éditer, Paris Belfond, 1979, p. 23.
3 Paris: Chez 1'auteur, 16 rue Jacques-Callot, 75006 Paris,2002.
My old friend the gastronomic writer Peter Graham, a French resident since the 1960s, first informed me about Irancy. Alas, I have not so far sampled its produce. Irancy is, I’m told, "a tiny French appellation located around the village of Irancy in Northern Burgundy". It makes red and rosé wines using mainly pinot noir grapes blended with a small amount of two local varieties, César and Tressot. The wines are described as generally pleasant, light and delicate, without being viticulturally aristocratic.
Regarding the author’s chosen pseudonym, the patrician appellation 'Comte d’ Irancy is surely a cheerful bow to his very great predecessor, that anarchic spirit and Surrealist forefather. 'Comte de Lautréamont' (Isidore Ducasse 1846-1870). There are several deliberate echoes or brief pastiches of Les Chants de Maldoror, which - as translator of the latter -I can vouch for, but need not go into here.
More interesting to its new anglophone readers is La Nonne’s dedication, invoking the memory of ‘L’Abbé C’ . L’Abbé C was written by Georges Bataille (1897-1962) sometime between 1945-50, and first published by the Resistance publishing house Les Editions de Minuit in 1950. La Nonne itself - as Patrick Kearney comments in his Introduction to this, the first complete English translation - was published, albeit sub-rosa, around the same time’ we may guess for a variety of reasons that it must have been written by a Parisian friend, acquaintance and/or admirer of Bataille. And Bataille himself is specifically named and commended therein: see page 94 of this edition of La Nonne,
As for L’Abbé C., it was one of the most violently anti-clerical and transgressive works of an author still controversial almost half a century after his death - "the excrement philosopher” , as his ex-friend André Breton dubbed him. L’Abbé C, as sounded in French can suggest a fourfold, typically playful yet singularly relevant pun. Here I hear:  The ABC, i.e. a templet for the use of language, grammar and meaning/s.  The ecclesiastical title of this curious sort of novelistic hero or anti-hero.  ' To fuck her' - not simply kissing! (baiser)  'To lay him low', to abase him (abaisser). Concerning that book’s eponymous priest ‘C’ - Eponine its 'heroine’ , both implicitly and explicitly reveals "how hypocritical he is, and how the provocations of a determined 'slut’ are enough to knock down the abject fraudulence of a false piety,..” (Michel Suriya: Georges Bataille, la mort à l’oeuvre Gallimard 1992).
Determined and sluttish ex-religionists are of course, much in evidence in The Nun while the quite ancient slang meaning of nunnery was, as Hamlet knew, a brothel. As to the heartfelt little disquisition upon the closure of the Parisian brothels in Chapter X - that wretchedly puritanical and prudish milestone which Kearney notes - it may help establish an approximate date for this book.
It will be clear, finally, that our Author is a man of letters as well as of brothels. Towards the end of the last chapter, whose setting is one such long-vanished establishment, there's a final literary joke and clue.. Civilised readers will have savoured Jonathan Swift's extraordinary satirical poem The Lady’s Dressing Room (1730). This 144-line work, observes Swift’s distinguished editor Dr Pat Rogers, "was one of the most popular in Swift’s lifetime”: it went through a whole range of editions in England and Ireland, both in pamphlet form and in the newspaper press. It's also one of the irreverend Dean's wittiest yet most scatological pieces, which surely accounts for its enduring fascination.
And who is present/ed at the end of La Nonne quoting Swift’s poem, in the unlikeliest of literary situations? Who but the alter ego of that same humorous hedonist whose tombstone reads: "Tout ce qu’ il éditait avait le souffle de la liberté"? None other than brothel-frequenting Eric - the massively-endowed, red-haired Eric, anarchic joker and lapsed religionist. I recently received (from Patrick Kearney, no less) a photograph of the doughty and gregarious Eric Losfeld himself; I remarked, with some amusement, Eric L’s unusual sandy-red hair… Did he actually know Bataille? Was he too a philosopher of filth? Readers can speculate upon such matters for themselves: they may even imagine the departed ‘real’ Eric, just like the fictional, Nun one,
"Repeating in his amorous fits,
Various critics and collectors now seem to agree if not absolutely confirm that Losfeld did write La Nonne.[A.L, 2013]”