Pierre Louÿs, Jeune Homme de Lettres
Ridge, Daniel Carl
This study provides a sociological and material reading of the early life and work of the French poet and novelist Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925). As a “jeune homme de lettres” coming of age in the early 1890s, Louÿs is a member of what historians have named as the “Second Generation Symbolists.” This generation came of age in the shadow of the Parnassian, Decadent and Symbolist schools of poetry which not only defined late nineteenth-century literary and artistic aesthetics, but also the etiquette and behavior which shaped the prevailing literary cultural scene. The following study analyzes the ways in which Louÿs consciously affected his own behavior and manipulated the material aesthetics of clothing, objects, and space in order to succeed in this highly-codified cultural world. Further, Louÿs’ literary material production is studied in the context of his relationships with established literary masters such as Stéphane Mallarmé and José-Maria de Heredia, and with peers such as André Gide, Paul Valéry, and Jean de Tinan. The work is separated into two parts. Part one focuses on Louÿs’ penetration of this literary world and covers his life chronologically from 1889 to 1896, that is, from his teenage years to the great success of his first novel Aphrodite at age twenty-five. Part Two explores three themes essential to the social and material structure of Louÿs’ literary life: Louÿs in the French tradition of literary dandyism (as outlined in the works of Balzac, Barbey D’Aurevilly, and Charles Baudelaire); Louÿs’ manipulation of the painted and photographic portrait; and finally, his homosocial and heterosexual relationships as expressed in letters, journals, and private erotic writings.