France, 20th Century
Les Onze Mille Verges (1907?) and L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque nationale (1913) by Guillaume Apollinaire
The most famous pornographic novel by the French writer Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), Les Onze Mille Verges [The Eleven Thousand Rods] recounts the shameless odyssey of the debauched aristocrat Mony Vibescu (the “Hospodar”) and his fellow rakes across the highways of Europe. Through the depiction of the unmanageable lust of the characters, the author explores the whole spectrum of human sexuality and depravity: sadism, masochism, vampirism, urophilia/undinism, scatophilia, bestiality, pedophilia (among others). The title “onze mille verges” is a nearly-homonymic pun on the Christian legend of the “onze mille vierges”—a group of holy virgins who accompanied Saint Ursula and became martyrs after being slaughtered and beheaded by the Huns. Indeed, in French, the word “verge” can refer either to a rod or to the male sexual organ. The volume exhibited here is the first edition of the novel clandestinely published in Paris by Elias Gaucher, probably in 1907. One of the most important French poets of the early twentieth century, Apollinaire was also a bibliographer who established, in collaboration with Fernand Fleuret (1883-1945) and Louis Perceau (1883-1942), the first comprehensive catalogue of L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque nationale (1913), that is the “private case collection” of the National Library of France, where are stored all the forbidden books not accessible to the general public. In this function, Apollinaire played a decisive role in the rediscovery of licentious books from past centuries, notably the works of Sade.
Manuel de civilité by Pierre Louÿs and Martin Van Maele (1930s?)
The Manuel de civilité, a parodic “handbook of good manners” for young girls, written by Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925) and illustrated by Martin Van Maele (1863-1926), offers indecent advice for use in educational establishments. The author mocks every institution, prescribing rules for etiquette in church, at school, or at home. Although the imprint reads Brussels, 1919 as the place and year of publication, the book was probably issued in the 1930s in Paris, since the author’s heirs only discovered his erotic manuscripts after his death in 1925. The Manuel de civilité was one of the first of numerous licentious works by Louÿs to be published clandestinely. This edition, printed in 400 copies, was reserved for subscribers and not for sale. The book was condemned in a series of trials by the Criminal Court of the Seine, France, on December 18, 1951, October 3, 1953, and May 14, 1954. The copy exhibited here (no 316) was seized by U.S. Customs in New York on April 19, 1951, and released to the Kinsey Institute on March 1, 1958, following the Federal Court case “United States v. 31 Photographs.”
Vers libres by Raymond Radiguet and Rojan (1936?)
In his “free verses,” the young prodigy Raymond Radiguet (1903-23), author of the acclaimed novel Le Diable au corps [The Devil in the Flesh] (1923), often mingles innocence and inchoate sexuality. The pornographic poems depict young girls who lose their virginity, indulge in Sapphic behavior in public, or are suggestively chastised by older men. The first, posthumous edition of the collection was clandestinely published by René Bonnel, in 1926, that is, three years after Radiguet’s death. The edition exhibited here, illustrated with thirty-two lascivious drawings watercolored by Feodor Rojankovsky (better known under the pseudonym Rojan, 1891-1970), was issued sometime between 1936 and 1939. Radiguet’s authorship of the poems was contested by his family and friends, including Jean Cocteau, and the writer’s true identity remained shrouded in mystery for many years. The family acknowledged that Radiguet had indeed penned these verses only after Cocteau’s death. This volume was seized by U.S. Customs on August 2, 1951, and released to the Kinsey Institute on March 1, 1958, following the Federal Court case United States v. 31 Photographs.
Histoire de l’œil by Georges Bataille and Hans Bellmer (1947)
The first work of fiction published by Georges Bataille (1897-1862), Histoire de l’œil [Story of the Eye] chronicles the sexual escapades and misbehavior of a nameless uninhibited teenage narrator, his main lover Simone, an English voyeur, and a suicidal mentally-ill sixteen-year-old girl called Marcelle. One of the episodes describes the murder of a seduced Spanish priest who is strangled after reaching sexual climax with Simone. His eye is then inserted into sundry cavities, hence the title. The first edition of the book was published, under the pseudonym of Lord Auch, by René Bonnel in 1928. The “new version” exhibited here, illustrated with six etchings by the German artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975), was edited by the writer and publisher Alain Gheerbrant in 1947 (in spite of the date indicated on the title-page). A later edition, clandestinely published in 1951 in Paris, was condemned by the Criminal Court of the Seine, France, on May 8, 1951. The first edition to be issued under the author’s real name was published in the late 1960s, after Bataille’s death, by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, notable for also publishing the works of the Marquis de Sade.
Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet and Jean Cocteau (1947)
Written in 1946, the novel Querelle de Brest [Quarrel of Brest] by the transgressive French writer Jean Genet (1910-1986) presents the depraved actions of the attractive bisexual sailor, thief, traitor, drug dealer, and murderer Georges (Jo) Querelle in the port city of Brest, Britany. The first edition of the novel was clandestinely published by Paul Morihien in 525 copies (the copy No. 323 is exhibited here), illustrated with 29 explicit drawings, most of which homoerotic, by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). The book was prosecuted for affront to public decency (“outrages aux bonnes mœurs”) by the Criminal Court of the Seine, France, on July 3, 1954, and cleared of charges on procedural grounds on April 24, 1956.