From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pierre Louÿs (December 10, 1870 - June 6, 1925) was a Belgian bibliophile, erotomaniac, poet and novelist, noted for his lesbian themed erotica. His best known works are the literary mystification Songs of Bilitis (1894) which was the inspiration for Bilitis (1977), a softcore film by David Hamilton; and Woman and Puppet (1898), adapted for film by Josef von Sternberg as The Devil is a Woman (1935) and as That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) by Luis Buñuel.
Pierre Louÿs is better known nowadays for his friendships rather than his own poetry: he was one of the composer Claude Debussy's closest friends, he travelled with André Gide, he attended Mallarmé's soirees, and campaigned for Oscar Wilde's release from prison.
Pierre Louÿs was born Pierre Louis on December 10, 1870 in Ghent, Belgium, but moved to France where he would spend the rest of his life. He studied at the Ecole Alsacienne in Paris, and there he developed a close friendship with a future Nobel Prize winner and champion of homosexual rights, André Gide. In the 1890s, he became a friend of the noted English dramatist and homosexual, Oscar Wilde. Although heterosexual, Louys enjoyed entree into homosexual circles.
In 1891, Louÿs helped found a literary review, La Conque, where he proceeded to publish Astarte- an early collection of erotic verse already marked by his distinctive elegance and refinement of style. He followed up in 1894 with another erotic collection in 143 prose poems- Songs of Bilitis (Les Chansons de Bilitis), this time with strong lesbian themes. Some of the poems were tailored as songs for voice and piano, and, in 1897, Louÿs' close friend Claude Debussy composed a musical adaptation. In 1955, one of the first lesbian organizations in America called itself Daughters of Bilitis, and to this day Louÿs' Songs continues to be an important work for lesbians.
In 1896, Louÿs published his first novel, Aphrodite- Ancient Manners (Aphrodite (mœurs antiques)), a depiction of courtesan life in Alexandria. It is considered a mixture of both literary excess and refinement, and, numbering at 350,000 copies, was the best selling work by any living French author in his day.
Louÿs went on to publish Les Aventures du roi Pausole (The Adventures of King Pausole) in 1901, Pervigilium Mortis in 1916, both of them libertine compositions, and Manuel de Civilité (Manual of Etiquette) in 1917, a parody whose obscenity is almost unparalleled even in the long history of French clandestine publishing.
Even while on his deathbed, Pierre Louÿs continued to write delicately obscene verses.
Many erotic artists have illustrated Louÿs' writings. Some of the most renowned have been Louis Icart, Pascal Pia, Marcel Vertès, Rojan, Pierre Leroy, Alméry Lobel Riche, Louis-André Berthommé, Suzanne Ballivet, Édouard Zier, Joseph Kuhn-Régnier, Pierre Lissac, Paul-Emile Bécat, Renée Ringel, Monique Rouver, Génia Minache, Mariette Lydis, Lucio Milandre, J.A. Bresval, Antoine Calbet, Milo Manara, Beresford Egan and Georges Pichard etc. The most famous illustrations for The Songs of Bilitis have been done by Willy Pogany in art deco style for a publication privately circulated by Macy-Masius, New York, in 1926.
- Admirable race, to whom Beauty might appear nude without exciting laughter or false shame!
- Why do love affairs always end miserably?
- The only thing that comes to disappear nobly and beautifully is the sun.
List of works
- 1891: Astarte
- 1894: Les chansons de Bilitis ("The songs of Bilitis")
- 1929: edition including suppressed poems
- 1930: Véritables chansons de Bilitis ("Real songs of Bilitis", probably not by Pierre Louÿs)
- 1896: Aphrodite: mœurs antiques ("Aphrodite: ancient manners")
- 1928: edition including suppressed passages
- 1898: La Femme et le pantin ("Woman and puppet")
- 1901: Les aventures du roi Pausole ("The adventures of King Pausole")
- 1903: Sanguines
- 1906: Archipel ("Archipelago")
- 1916: Pervigilium mortis ("Death watch")
- 1925: Le crépuscule des nymphes ("The twilight of the nymphs")
- 1925: Quatorze images ("Fourteen images")
- 1926: Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles, à l'usage des maisons d'éducation ("Handbook of behaviour for little girls, to be used in educational establishments")
- 1926: Trois Filles de Leur Mére ("Their mother's three daughters")
- 1927: Psyché
- 1927: Pages (selected texts)
- 1927: Douze douzains de dialogues ("Twelve dozen dialogues")
- 1927: Histoire du roi Gonzalve et des douze princesses ("Story of king Gonzalve and the twelve princesses")
- 1927: Poésies érotiques ("Erotic poems")
- 1927: Pybrac
- 1927: Trente-deux quatrains ("Thirty-two quatrains")
- 1933: Au temps des Juges: chants bibliques ("In the time of the Judges: Biblical songs")
- 1933: Contes choisis (selected stories)
- 1938: La femme ("Woman")
- 1945: Stances et derniers vers ("Stanzas and last verses")
- 1948: Le trophée de vulves légendaires ("The trophy of legendary vulvas")
- 1949: Cydalise
- 1988: L'île aux dames ("The island of women")