The Importance of Being Peyrefitte
Guide (Boston, Massachusetts), May 2002
here's a coincidence - in November 2000, the 93-year-old Roger Peyrefitte
died in France - a century to the very month that Oscar Wilde threw off his
own mortal coils in that same country. Both were inveterate gossipers,
raconteurs, and poseurs. Men of noted sartorial elegance, adherents of the
good life, they strutted the streets and the salons of respectable society,
firing fusillades of sometimes dubious taste and egotistical bon
mots (Oscar declared nothing but his genius; Roger claimed he was
one of only two true humanists left in France). They were both bisexuals who
advocated passionate romantic relationships between older and younger males,
while often pursuing their partners in the gutter - and getting caught.
here the comparison fades. While Oscar claimed to have put his genius into his
life, Roger spent 50 years painstakingly inscribing his into books. During
Wilde's lifetime, the "love that dare not speak its name" was almost
exactly that. In contrast Peyrefitte trumpeted it from the Parisian rooftops.
From there, he swooped down Zeus-like on often-willing Ganymedes, gathering
them from the hillsides of Greece, Taormina, and La Touraine, the dingy
cinemas of Naples, Rome, and Paris, and the beaches and squares of colonized
north Africa. Surprisingly, Peyrefitte never ended up in court on either sex
or libel charges, though he was several times arrested. On such occasions, he
would shamelessly flash his credentials as an ex-diplomat, or drop evocative
names (a distant cousin was the Gaullist minister of Education, Alain
the publication in 1944 of his first book Special
Friendships, Peyrefitte at 37 became an overnight sensation,
winning the prestigious Prix Theophraste-Renaudoux, and just missing the Prix
Goncourt itself. This eloquent and gripping account of the passion between an
older and younger schoolboy - violently thwarted by the creepy Father de
Trennes, himself secretly in lust for the younger 13-year-old - has surely
never been bettered, though scores have tried. Friendships
was based on his Peyrefitte's own experiences at a Catholic college, and
triangular, intergenerational emotional relationships were to become the
template for some of his most affecting output.
the early 1950s until the '70s, Roger mercilessly trounced or satirized, in
turn, the old French royal family (The
Prince's Person), lubricious, scheming Catholic clergy (The
Keys of Saint Peter), the freemasons (Les
fils de la lumiere) and the diplomatic corps (Les
Ambassades and La Fin des
Ambassades). Both anti-semitism and J. Paul Getty were targeted in The Jews, followed by the French nation as a whole (Des
Francais) and then the USA (Ironically Les
Americains was the only work for which he had to issue a public
apology thanks to libel action by that formidable gay icon, Marlene Dietrich).
Peyrefitte was also crafting slimmer, somewhat less tendentious, profiles of
then little-known homosexual personages. He claimed - with some
justification - to have rediscovered the erotic photography of Baron von
Gloeden (Les Amours Singulieres
published in 1949). He also brought to wide public attention the escapades of
another Mediterranean sexual refugee, Count Jacques Adelsward de Fersen, the
"Exile of Capri." Most intriguingly, he took up cudgels for Fernand
Legros, one of the richest men of the postwar years, Legros allowed Peyrefitte
to depict him (in Tableaux de chasse)
as an arms merchant, spy, art dealer (possibly forger?) and collector of
exquisite teenage males. It was murky territory with which Roger was familiar,
and he trod it with a firm step.
he turned 70, Peyrefitte had established himself as one of Europe's leading
literary hitmen. In particular there seemed no limit to his gay "outings."
These included a Vatican-load of popes and cardinals, the famous Club
Mediteranee (who but Peyrefittee would dare reveal that this was originally a
group of boy-loving "sex tourists"?) and numerous closeted
contemporaries. One was the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammerskjold (who
apparently enjoyed vistiing the Egyptian oasis of Siwa, where man-boy
marriages were celebrated until quite recently). Another was Prince Philip (allegedly
enamoured of his male secretary, before he hitched up to the Queen of England).
A third was the renowed novelist Julien Green. It was familiar knowledge Green
was gay... but a lover of young
boys? It took Peyrefitte to record how Julien once masqueraded as a
"Monsieur Simon," en route
to purchase sensual portraits of handsome Boy Scouts, from the atelier of
German photographer Karl Egermeier.
more than 30 years, Roger turned his pen to recycling almost any "revelation."
Some proved sound, but others were little more than "purple pap." It
began to show. True, he had helped launch the serious gay journal Arcadie,
while Gai Pied (a magazine now
sorely missed) took a surprising shine to him and his work. But Roy,
published in 1979, and Peyrefitte's attempt to satirize Hollywood morals
through the eyes of a 13-year-old gay prostitute fornicating with the elite of
Bel Air, hardly rose above a masturbatory fantasy. The master of schlock had
become increasingly out-of-touch if not sympathy with active gay movements.
Even if his readers were too young to remember that he'd worked under the
wartime Vichy regime (though in no sense as a Nazi sympathizer), many couldn't
easily forgive his support for the US assault on Vietnam during the 1970s, or
his distaste for the left-wing views of homosexual liberationists, like Jean
while exposing the weaknesses of others, could Peyrefitte hide his own
prejudices and hypocrisies. A perennial butt was gay Nobel prize winner André
Gide, whose self-revelatory Journals
and other personal writings are among the bravest documents of the 20th
century (and who prophetically announced in 1944 that Special
Friendships would endure indefinitely). Roger dubbed André
"the leader of a sect of which he wasn't a member" meaning Gide
eschewed the buggering of his partners and was attracted primarily to
penurious young Arabs. In reality, Gide's French affairs ran along remarkably
similar and enduring lines to Roger's own. Another target was the pathetic
Professor Robert Achard, a notorius seducer of pre-pubertal boys. Peyrefitte
claimed he himself selected only adolescents
en emoi (sexually aroused youths). But wartime correspondence
between Henry de Montherlant and Peyrefitte (not published until 1983), along
with Roger's highly explicit Propos Secrets
(1977 and 1980), graphically show the younger Roger in salacious positions
with people as young as nine or 11 some of whom were actually introduced to
him by Achard!
Peyrefitte couldn't resist chiding Marcel Proust, for "cross-dressing"
his young male objects of desire in the monumental Remembrance
of Things Past. Yet, in their wartime correspondence, both
Peyrefitte and de Montherlant feminized their many boyish partners, so as to
fool the censors. (The device became demonstrably absurd when describing
pick-ups of young labourers from their place of work, or treating a 14-year
old to a steamy ejaculation in the back stalls!)
we then speak of a Peyrefitte gay legacy, deserving to last another decade
let alone another century? Of his more than 30 books, less than a third have
been published in English and none are still in print. Do they deserve to be?
answer is a qualified "yes." I find it unacceptable that
Peyrefitte's two most deeply-felt works are still without an English edition.
In Notre Amour (1967) he
describes his relationship with Alan-Philippe Malagnac, first met as a 12-year
old choirboy extra during filming of Special
Friendships in 1964. Fourteen years later, the evolution of that
love into a frank, engaging drole de drame
was commemorated in L'enfant de Coeur
Although Peyrefitte protected the young Alan-Philippe by claiming Notre
Amour wast a montage of different affairs, there is no disguising
the passionate, sexual nature of this relationship, nor its reciprocity as
reflected in letters from the beloved. These two works are among the most
significant treatises on pederastie
every penned. And in this very term perhaps lies the key not just to Roger's
personal survival, but his lasting significance in gay social history.
over half a century he managed to reclaim by plundering a vast jumble of
historical and contemporary sources the essence of male-desire-for-male, in
its transcendence of class, national boundaries, fashionable norms, and
chronological age. To Peyrefitte, defending pederastie
was neither the pretext for creating an enclave movement, nor the
self-fulfilling political agenda of any party. On the contrary, it was deeply
and irrevocably embedded in the human condition, and would therefore always
reveal itself whatever the repressions it attracted, however bizarre its
cited here in French have not been published in English.
popular Neapolitan cinemas were, especially on Sundays and holidays when they
were full to bursting, a huge boy brothel. The one opposite the museum had,
close to the front stalls, a double recess in which was a sort of bench, and I
would see there men lying on boys, like on a bed. In the recess opposite,
where you had to stand, I remember once that a young boy in shorts who
couldn't have been more than 12 put his hand under my overcoat to caress me
knowingly, fingering what he ought to finger, and gently tickling what he
needed to tickle: I masturbated him while he gave himself up to these
exercises. As I've recounted in Roy,
perhaps only in California always my reference point since this was, to my
mind, a perpetual term of comparison do I believe you can find boys so young
who've had such experiences.
from Propos Secrets, published
by Albin Michel, Paris, 1980]
are really charming, but get rid of your skateboard." The man took it
himself, to place behind them and in doing so touched - as if by accident
- Roy's crotch. "You're already a young man" he said, tapping the
taut member, "But see the difference," he added, suddenly exhibiting
himself. Roy was entranced by the enormous genitals, illuminated by the moon:
he'd never imagined such a tool. Until then his pleasures had been solitary
ones and he'd never imagined sharing them with a man. But Roy didn't resist
when the man made him grasp the member that attracted him and he allowed his
own trousers to be undone. The cigarettes were stubbed out in the ashtray.
Even less had Roy imagined a mouth kissing his own, then taking possession of
his cock, in order to reveal to him a new pleasureWhen the car stopped not far
from Roy's house, the man kissed him again. "You drive me crazy" he
said, "I hope you'll telephone me soon." "Sorry," said Roy,
"you've only told me your first name."
am Jack Sherman, the police chief of Los Angeles"
from Roy, published by Albin
Michel, Paris, 1979]