1855-06-29

JEAN LORRAIN, French journalist, born, (d: 1906); born Paul Duval, Lorrain was a French poet and novelist of the Symbolist school. Lorrain was a dedicated disciple of dandyism, and (for the times) openly Gay. Lorrain wrote a number of collections of verse, including La forêt bleue (1833) and L’ombre ardente, (1897).

He is also remembered for his decadent novels and short stories, such as Monsieur de Phocas (1901) and Histoires des masques (1900), as well as for one of his best novels, Sonyeuse, which he links to portraits exhibited by Antonio de la Gandara in 1893.

The once famous journalist worked only because he had to. He preferred to spend his life sleeping with the sailors along the Paris, Nice and Marseilles waterfronts. “Fucking,” he once wrote, “is basically a sport for idle minds. When you work, it’s good-bye ass!” Although his works are largely forgotten today, they should be revived and vigorously pursued. How can one ignore…I mean, ya gotta love!…an author who, in a fashionable Parisian restaurant, once shouted at the top of his lungs the following couplet: “I spent the night between two fellows from the docks, / who took turns, and cured me of the hots!”

Lorrain’s work often evokes a seamy urban underworld of sodomy, Lesbianism, drug-addiction, and crime. His best novels appeared in his final years. Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897), Monsieur de Phocas (1901), and Le Vice Errant (1902) center on men mired in decadence, vice, and (implicitly) homosexuality; La Maison Philibert (1904) gives a picture of life in a provincial brothel and a panoramic tour of Parisian prostitution and criminality. Most of Lorrain’s income derived from journalism. Beginning in the mid-1880s, he wrote regular columns for a series of mass-circulation newspapers, most notably Le Courrier français, L’Événement, and L’Écho de Paris.

He chronicled Parisian life of the day–the literary, theatrical, and artistic worlds, as well as French society, both high and low–using his savage wit to attack and ridicule many of the era’s leading figures. In the process, he made countless enemies. Edmond de Goncourt wondered in 1895, “What’s Lorrain’s dominant trait? Is it spite or a complete lack of tact?” (Most people thought it the former.) But as Sarah Bernhardt once wrote Lorrain, “inside the abominably depraved being that you are, there beats the heart of a great artist, a genuinely sensitive and tender heart.”