21 December 2014

François-Paul Alibert: Le Fils de Loth (2002)

François-Paul Alibert (1873–1953) was a poet and a journalist who was born and buried in Carcassonne.

His erotic gay novel Le Supplice d'une queue (lit. 'The Torture of a Dick') was published and sold under the counter in 1930–31 in a print run of only ninety copies by René Bonnel in the same volume as Hugo Marsan's Le Jeu de l'amour et de la nécessité (lit. 'The Game of Love and Necessity', and an obvious pun on Marivaux's play Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard).

Alibert's second (gay) novel – Une Couronne de Pines (lit. 'A Crown of Cocks') with a print run again of about one hundred – was confiscated by the police.

His third novel – Le Fils de Loth (lit. 'Lot's Son') – was called 'the most audacious' of Alibert's works by Joë Bousquet (1897–1950), who is perhaps Carcassonne's most famous poet. The above scan is the first edition, meaning that it took about seventy years to be published. That was by Musardine, and it has an Introduction by Emmanuel Pierrat and a Preface by Didier Eribon. The cover illustration is from Ils, dessins érotiques de Jean Cocteau (Annie Guédras, Le Pré aux clercs, 1998).

Le Fils de Loth takes as its subject not simply male homosexual love, but also gay incestuous love. At the beginning of the book Alibert uses a quotation from André Gide's Nouvelles Nourritures, in which he speaks of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt and Lot then sleeping with his daughters. Didier Eribon says that this could almost be seen as Alibert cocking an advance snook at the 'psychoanalytical vulgate' of judging homosexuality as a reversal of the Oedipus story: the male child dreaming of sleeping with his father and seeing his mother as a rival.

On first appearances it seems odd that this boundary-breaking book should come not from the literary centre of Paris but from the small town of Carcassonne, tucked away in the south-west of France. But then, there was a long correspondence between Gide and Alibert which lasted from 1907 to 1950: Didier suggests that Alibert was tempted to go beyond boundaries both because that is just what Gide had done with L'Immoraliste, and because of Alibert's taste for Helleno-Latin culture.

Le Fils de Loth begins with the young lovers Roland and André enjoying each other by the sea and Roland asking who initiated André into the art of love. André says that it was his father, and so begins a long explanation with only occasional interruptions.

Every attempt is made to make André's incestuous relationship very natural, wished for, chosen, non-exploitative. From the time that the seven-year-old boy shares a bed with his father when the mother is away and he enjoys his father's rugged masculinity and he is excited by his father's morning glory he knows that there is a power he must discover, although his father Édouard feel something is not right and they sleep alone afterwards, even though nothing of an overt sexual nature has actually happened.

André has never had any interest in girls but is particularly sexually excited by his father. When years later father and son sleep in separate beds Édouard – when he believes André is sleeping – has a tremendous wank (I don't think the word 'masturbate' is ever used), and André knows that he is having this effect on his father. But neither can express their feelings for each other.

It remains for Édouard's friend Michel to play Cupid and bring the fifteen-year-old André sexually together with his father, and the lovers have a number of days of unbridled passion, with full descriptions of many of their activities.

In the end André dies of meningitis, the nameless mother dies, Édouard is living with Michel, and the reader wonders what to make of all this. It wouldn't have been possible to publish this book in the 1930s, and although now pretty much anything of a sexual nature goes in terms of the written word the fact remains that even though André is a more than willing partner and even instigates a number of things sexually, this is still parental abuse of a child.

As Eribon states, and I translate: 'This book will again ask the eternal question: is everything possible in literature? How far can you go?' He also says that Alibert took it upon himself to push the boundaries back, and I think that's the best way to view the book: as a curiosity, a literary experiment.

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