Edmund White has written biographies of Jean Genet, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Rimbaud. His memoir The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading will be published in June. (June 2018)


Ecstatic Truth

Julien Gracq

A Dark Stranger

by Julien Gracq, translated from the French by Christopher Moncrieff

Château d’Argol

by Julien Gracq, translated from the French by Louise Varèse
Proust remarked about Stendhal that he may have used rudimentary and banal descriptions but that he lights up when he pinpoints an elevated place, such as Fabrizio del Dongo’s and Julien Sorel’s prisons or the Abbé Blanès’s observatory, in which the characters cast aside their cares and take up a …

Moreau, C’est Nous

Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year

by Peter Brooks
Ford Madox Ford said that one had to read Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education fourteen times in order to fully grasp it; he had memorized whole sections of it. Franz Kafka said it was one of his favorite novels. Not bad for a book that was widely criticized for its heartlessness …

Under a Spell

Jean Delville: The Death of Orpheus, 1893

Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897

an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, June 30–October 4, 2017; and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, October 28, 2017–January 7, 2018
There is something somber, spooky, certainly humorless about the salon originally curated by Joséphin Péladan and now recreated in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Though largely forgotten, this salon of Symbolist painting, sculpture, and graphic and decorative arts was enormously popular in the 1890s and an important step toward the modernist …

The High Wire of Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau with Ricki Soma and Leo Coleman, New York City, 1949; photograph by Philippe Halsman

Jean Cocteau: A Life

by Claude Arnaud, translated from the French by Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell
Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) was a controversial figure, during his life and now. He is the subject of Claude Arnaud’s magisterial and definitive biography, now translated from the French. Cocteau once told of someone placing a chameleon on a piece of plaid to keep it warm; except for the fact that …


The Beats: Pictures of a Legend

Both Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs discovered late in life that making works of art is the way to get money. Literature just doesn’t do it. Speaking engagements pay, but eventually they become tiring—or one exhausts the market. Neither of the two had ever been money-mad, but old age requires a bit of a cushion. Burroughs turned to painting. He would set up paint cans in front of blank canvases and then shoot at them; the splatter was the art. Although these paintings are his best-known artworks, they make up only a small part of his output: he did twenty-four shotgun paintings in 1982 and a few more before he died in 1997. According to his friend James Grauerholz, Burroughs turned out more than 1,500 artworks between 1982 and 1996—including stencils and targets, which were almost all brightly colored abstractions—and had his work exhibited in several museums and more than eighty galleries worldwide. As Ginsberg said:
If you’re famous, you can get away with anything! William Burroughs spent the last ten years painting, and makes a lot more money out of his painting than he does out of his previous writing. If you establish yourself in one field, it’s possible that people then take you seriously in another. Maybe too seriously. I know lots of great photographers who are a lot better than me, who don’t have a big, pretty coffee table book like I have. I’m lucky.

Among Leopards and Princes

A still from Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of The Leopard

A still from Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of The Leopard

Everything in Palermo is slow except the traffic, which is as confusing as a video game and just as fast. But otherwise things pour as slowly as honey from a spoon. My bag was lost for twenty-four hours until a high official of the arts festival I was attending took the matter in hand; then it was found instantly. It had been at the airport all along. I won a nice little literary prize, the Premio Mondello, but I received it only after enduring a two-hour press conference in the morning and a three-hour ceremony in the afternoon, complete with local violinists sawing their way through a Baroque concerto in the beautiful convent cloisters of Palermo’s Galleria D’Arte Moderno. At one point, ten high school students got up to vote for another prize; each delivered a long-winded discorso, a sort of high-tone book report and a preparation for a lifetime of prolixity. That evening there was a banquet for thirty at which every other Sicilian man seemed to be a prince.

The Wood God in Valencia

Vicente Molina Foix is one of those cultured Spaniards who seems more French than Iberian. A distinguished novelist, he knows everything about everything though he’s jokey and not at all pedantic and has the exquisite manners of an old-fashioned French aristocrat (come to think of it during the late Middle Ages there were French Counts of Foix in an independent fiefdom in the Pyranees just north of Aragon). He has written poetry, translated Shakespeare, taught for three years at Oxford, worked as a film critic and published a score of novels; his best known work is El Abrecartas, an epistolary novel that covers the twentieth century in Spain and includes among its many characters the Nobel prizewinning poet Vicente Aleixandre (who late in life was a friend to Molina Foix). There are also letters back and forth from Aleixandre and Lorca.