Chaste Lovers

Count d’Orgel’s Ball

by Raymond Radiguet, translated by Annapaola Cancogni, foreword by Jean Cocteau
Eridanos Press, 174 pp., $11.00 (paper)

Raymond Radiguet became famous as an infant prodigy who died young—a cross between Chatterton and Rimbaud. He was born in 1903, the eldest of seven children. His father, Maurice Radiguet, was a well-known cartoonist. The family lived in an outer suburb of Paris on the banks of the Marne. One can imagine them against an Impressionist background of river, willows, row boats. Raymond liked to lie in a boat moored to the bank, reading the French classics. He preferred it to the Lycée Charlemagne in Paris, which he rarely bothered to attend. He was as cool as can be. His sensible father decided to educate him at home. He also got him to deliver his cartoons to the editorial offices of the Intransigeant. The poet André Salmon worked there, and Raymond took an opportunity to show him his own poems. Salmon was impressed. He helped the boy to get some of them published in papers and magazines, found him small journalistic assignments, and introduced him to Max Jacob. Max Jacob was impressed too, and introduced him to Jean Cocteau.

Cocteau was not only impressed: he fell in love. He was exactly twice Radiguet’s age, which was fifteen. The year before, Radiguet had had an affair with a young married woman whose husband was at the front. It would not be true to say that he now became inseparable from Cocteau; he was too independent. But they went everywhere together, and Radiguet was soon a regular member of Cocteau’s set which included Jean and Valentine Hugo, Paul Morand, Tristan Tzara, Anna de Noailles, Picasso, Juan Gris, and Modigliani (Radiguet went to bed with his mistress, Beatrice Hastings), as well as the musicians Satie, Poulenc, and Auric. He composed texts for their music, and helped Cocteau put together the four issues of Le Coq, a magazine intended to be an anti-Dada manifesto. He was present at the opening of Cocteau’s ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit, and a habitué of the bar named after it. He and Cocteau sloped off there for a quick drink during Proust’s funeral procession. In his life of Cocteau Francis Steegmuller called the chapter on this period “Inventing the Twenties.” Radiguet was one of the inventors.

In 1920, when Radiguet was seventeen, Bernard Grasset published a collection of his poems, Les Joues en feu. In 1921 he began to write his first novel, Le Diable au corps. He kept rewriting it until January 1923. Grasset launched it in the spring with a volume of publicity such as had never been deployed before. A lot of critics were irritated, though today the hype would seem quite normal. Le Diable won the Prix du Nouveau Monde: Cocteau was one of the judges. Radiguet was already busy on Le Bal du comte d’Orgel which appeared in 1924. He had meanwhile died of typhoid, in December 1923.

In 1947 Claude Autant-Lara made an enormously successful film of Le Diable. A star, Gérard Philipe, played the …

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