In Les Anges Mauvais (Wicked Angels), Eric Jourdan took on gay sex, obsessive love between teenagers, and polite society. Written in 1955, Wicked Angels seems like a French version of America’s beat poets: soaring in language, glowing with challenge, rife with ideas and observations about the darker side of the heart, where tenderness is the end result of a good beating.
Gerard and Pierre are cousins on holiday together in the country one summer. They take long walks in the country; they nap by the stream; they sneak out to vandalize the birdhouse on an adjoining estate. They see themselves as united against the devious, soul-sucking world of grown-ups; they each tell the story of their summer in separate narratives, one after the next, and their language is voluptuous, poetic, unrestrained, and vicious. Their fathers are alarmed by the boys’ secretiveness and rebellious antics; the well-bred neighbors bring scandalous gossip about the boys into their own parlor; and meantime, the neighbors’ own sons are comporting themselves with just as coarse brutality, going so far in one scene as to beat, and then gang-rape, Gerard, a development Pierre greets with the words, "Love is violence. I’m jealous of what those guys did to you."
Yes, Gerard and Pierre are sexually involved with one another, but the book’s provocations don’t leave it at that. The boys are so aggressive, so energetic - so young - that they are unable to separate, in judgment or in sentiment, violence from eroticism. They don’t simply wish to caress, fondle, or otherwise enjoy one another in discreet and delicate ways; they wish to make one another bleed, for it’s blood - much more so than semen - that serves as an authentic expression of their bond. They wish, with all the native intensity of adolescence, to wear one another’s skins, to melt into each other - to destroy one another. Their games of bondage and submission start with a belt, then escalate to a riding crop, and finally a horsewhip: they are beyond crazy about each other. Their all-devouring passion is only two short steps away from turning murderous.
Though welts are raised and bruises inflicted, the love shared by the boys is genuine. It’s a wild and destructive sort of love, but that would seem to be part of Jourdan’s premise: this isn’t simply a matter of two dumb kids getting off by indulging a need to go to extremes of physical duress. They are actually somewhat precocious, seeing through the thin put-on of social grace to the black core of the matter. All love contains rage and abuse, and most love relationships devolve, over time, into mutually abusive contests to inflict (and endure) pain. The boys have simply decided that the solution to all that is to dispense with the hollow niceties and go right for the meat of the matter. Rather than dress up their sexual and spiritual connection with romantic frippery, they seek to control sex and love by seizing those things right at the jagged, splintery root, glorying in pain rather than seeking to avoid it.
The word "lyrical" was coined for books such as this - as were words like "revolting," "passionate," and "ferocious." Kisses become bites, and bites become kisses; love and domination become inseparable. "Instinct was my version of logic," Gerard intones feverishly, and later on, "The night was going to teach me just how much more violent love can be than hate, and how the true color of love is blood." Such nice young men! No wonder the ban on this book wasn’t lifted until 1985 - and no wonder it’s earned a place of highest regard among the French literary set.
by Eric Jourdan
Publisher: The Haworth Press. Publication Date: May 1, 2006. Pages: 120. Price: $12.95. Format: Trade Paperback Original. ISBN-13: 978-1-56023-548-4.