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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Les Enfants Terribles (The Holy Terrors)(1929) by Jean Cocteau


Les Enfants Terribles is both a 1929 novel by Jean Cocteau and a 1950 film directed by Jean Pierre Melville, but adapted by Jean Cocteau.  Nicole Stephane played Elisabeth and Edouard Dermithe plays her brother Paul, here in the famous bathtub scene.


Les Enfants Terribles (The Holy Terrors)
 by Jean Cocteau
p. 1929
Translated by Rosamund Lehmann
Published by New Directions in 1930

  Here is another proto-existentialist work that represents the French take on the themes of the American Lost Generation and generally predicts the self-obsessed youth culture of the mid to late 20th century. Cocteau also made Les Enfants Terribles into a memorable film with French Auteur Jean Pierre Melville, in 1950, giving it a second life with a new generation of fans.  The "story" concerns orphaned twins Paul and Elisabeth, who exist in a kind of narcotic haze (with actual narcotics.)  Their mom dies of a lack of a will to live, a wealthy uncle looks after them, Elisabeth becomes a fashion model.   All this incident happens with little reference to any world outside the book- Les Enfants Terribles could be adapted to a 2014 Los Angeles setting (or New York, or London) with little or no effort.

    Les Enfants Terribles contains line drawings by the author, the New Directions paperback I read was 200 pages but actual text filled maybe only 150 pages or so, with blank pages on the back of the pages with line illustrations.   One category of books from the 1001 Books project is "books I wished I'd known about in college."  Les Enfants Terribles is just the gift for that literature major you are dating in college, but doesn't have much resonance for someone living a productive life.  Cocteau certainly knows how to evoke "langueur."

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