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|Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923)|
Precocious French writer and poet, whose best-known work is The Devil in the Flesh, a love story between a schoolboy and a young married woman. As Rimbaud had done years before, Raymond Radiguet made his breakthrough as a writer in his adolescence. Radiguet wrote the book before he was nineteen and by twenty he was dead.
"I've never been one to dream. What to others, more gullible, appears to be a dream, to me seems more real than cheese does to a cat, despite the glass lid that covers it. And yet the glass cover is still there." (from The Devil in the Flesh, translated by Christopher Moncrieff)
Raymond Radiguet was born in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés (Seine), a meteorological station some eight miles from Paris. His father was a cartoonist. Almost nothing is known of Radiguet's childhood and education; he grew up during World War I and the home front climate also left traces on his writing. At very early age he started to draw, saying that his father was not the only artist in the family, and write poetry. He did well at school, but while at the Lycée, he lost interest in his lessons and eventually was discovered spending his time reading in his father's boat on the Marne. In 1918 he arrived Paris, where his career was short but astonishing. Both Picasso and Jean Cocteau painted his portrait. Radiguet himself felt uncomfortable of being a child prodigy; at fifteen he pretended he was nineteen. He used a monocle, wore ill-fitting clothes, and shaved his head completely with an oyster-shell.
At the age of 16 Radiguet became a member of Dadaist and Cubist circles, and then a protégé on Cocteau. He had also a number of affairs with women. Along with such writers as Louis Aragon, André Breton, and Philippe Soupault, Radiguet contibuted to the magazine Sic, Radiguet's first book was Les Joues en feu (published 1925), a collection of poems, which he had written at fifteen. It showed influence of the surrealists and their interest in dreams and automatic writing. However, Radiguet was not very interested in the many 'isms' that connected and separated intellectuals during those years, but was drawn to the classic tradition of poetry, especially 18th-century neoclassicism. In 'The Language of the Flowers or the Stars' he wrote: "When summer came, we all went for walks outdoors. We'd count the stars, each of us using his own method. When I counted one too many, I kept silent."
In 1920 Radiguet moved to the fishing village of Carqueiranne, near Toulon, and then to Piquet. There he wrote several poems and started to work on his first novel, Devil in the Flesh. Before the book was published, Cocteau read parts of it at Jean Hugo's studio at the Palais-Royal. Picasso among others was present; but Madame de Beaumont fell asleep during the reading. Four years earlier Apollinaire teased Radiguet: "Don't despair; Monsieur Rimbaud waited until he was seventeen before writing his masterpiece." The book made the author rich and famous. Radiguet's second collection of poems, Devoirs de vacances, came out in 1921. His two-act play Les Pélican was performed in the same year at the Théâtre Michel in Paris. Georges Auric, who had also been a child prodigy, composed music for the play.
Devil in Flesh, a modern version of the Daphnis and Chloë, was first published under the title Cœur vert (Green heart). The work shocked many critics, not because of its undeveloped style, but because they found it hard to accept its bold attitude and the scandalous character of the narrator. Most of the events take place in the northern suburbs of Paris. The protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy. "Each day, after dinner, we went to the station at J-, about two miles from our house, to watch the troop trains go by. We picked bluebells on the way and threw them to the soldiers. Ladies in smocks poured red wine into their canteens, spilling quarts of it on the flower-strewn platform. The whole scene left me with the same impression as a firework display. Never was there so much wasted wine, so many dead flowers."
The narrator takes a day off from attending school in Paris to accompany a nineteen-year-old woman, Martha Lacombe. She is about to be married and shops for furniture. On their first meeting he and Martha find they share a liking for Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Martha's husband is stationed at the front during the First World War. The love affair of the narrator and the woman starts with shy approaches, but develops into violent sensuality, including lovers' quarrels and the immature boy's cruelty. The lovers take a disastrous trip to Paris, where they wander endlessly. Just after the general armistice, Martha dies giving birth to the narrator's child – largely from the effects of being forced to walk through Paris in cold weather. The young man do not have the courage to ask for a hotel room.
Since its publication, Devil in Flesh has fascinated generations of young readers, and like with J.D. Salinger's first novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951), they have identified themselves with the characters. In 1952 an irate reader stepped forward and presented himself as the cuckolded soldier in question. The work has also inspired such filmmakers as Claude Autant-Lara and Marco Belloccio.
Radiguet's last novel, Count Orgel Opens the Ball (1924), was a reminiscent of Mme. De La Fayette's La Princesse de Cléves (1677). The protagonist, François de Séryeuse, falls in love with Countess d'Orgel. Although they never meet in the flesh, the woman feels guilty and confesses her to her husband. François's mother also is drawn to Paris to resolve the situation. Like Radiguet's first young hero, François is not able successfully to break free from home and family. The novel ends as the count passes the matter off lightly. He continues planning costumes and entrances for the masked ball of the novel's title.
It is most likely that Cocteau made more than minor revisions in both of Radiguet's novels, when they spent summer vacations writing side by side. Cocteau said later that his protégé was "torn between the certainty of writing something marvellous and the moodiness of a lazy schoolboy" and by treating him like a schoolboy, he was persuaded to work. Radiguet 's career was short. He caught typhoid fever in Paris in 1923 and died on December 12, 1923, at the age 20. On December 9, he had told Cocteau: "Listen to something terrible. In three days I am going to be shot by God's soldiers."
For further reading: Histoire du roman français depuis 1918 by C.-E. Magny (1959); Introduction to the Devil in the Flesh by A. Huxley (1932); Raymond Radiguet by D. Noakes (1968); Raymond Radiguet by M. Crosland (1976); Raymond Radiguet: A Biographical Study With Selections from His Work by Margaret Crosland (1982); Raymond Radiguet by James P. McNab (1984); Radiguet: L'enfant avec une canne by François Bott (1994); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Raymond Radiguet, ou, La jeunesse contredite by Marie-Christine Movilliat (2000); Raymond Radiguet by Monique Nemer (2002)