39 Following


Currently reading

Taiga?s True Views: The Language of Landscape Painting in Eighteenth-Century Japan by Melinda Takeuchi (1994-06-01)
Melinda Takeuchi
The History of England, Vol 2
David Hume
The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle
Richard H. Popkin
Cicero: On Moral Ends (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Raphael Woolf, Julia Annas
Das Goldene Vlies: Dramatisches Gedicht in Drei Abteilungen
Franz Grillparzer
Euripides IV: Rhesus / The Suppliant Women / Orestes / Iphigenia in Aulis
Charles R. Walker, Frank William Jones, William Arrowsmith, David Grene, Euripides, Richmond Lattimore
Notes from Underground & The Double
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jesse Coulson
The World of Thought in Ancient China
Benjamin I. Schwartz
The Last Generation of the Roman Republic
Erich S. Gruen
The Legend of Gold and Other Stories
William J. Tyler, Jun Ishikawa, Ishikawa Jun

The Holy Terrors , by Jean Cocteau

Les Enfants terribles - Jean Cocteau

Cette espèce de confort n'influençait guère les enfants, car ils avaient le leur et il n'était pas de ce monde.

(This kind of comfort hardly influenced the children, because they had their own and it wasn't of this world.)


Not of this world, truly. 


Paul and Elisabeth, brother and sister, 14 and 16 years old at the beginning of the story, are an inseparable binary system with a satellite, Gérard, 14, caught fatefully in their gravitational well. Through a series of credible circumstances, Paul and Elisabeth find themselves alone with Gérard (and, towards the end, with Agathe), without close relatives, cloistered in their joint bedroom and falling deeper and deeper into the black hole of obsession, love and cruelty binding them together. From the apparently innocent beginning in a snowball fight to the horrific end some three years later, every step seems perfectly possible, indeed, seems increasingly necessary and fated. A doom had been spoken upon them.


Jean Cocteau's mature prose style is characterized by brevity and precision, by aphorism and energy. Also, usually, by an unmistakable touch of lyric poetry. In Les enfants terribles (1929) he reduces the dosage of poetry significantly in favor of brevity, precision and energy. Though sometimes adopting an ironic distance


Seule à la maison, Elisabeth prenait au coin des meubles ses attitudes hautaines.

(Alone in the house, Elisabeth would strike her haughty poses in the corners of the furniture.)


for some comic relief, Cocteau's prose enters more and more fully into the claustrophobic world of the ripening children, taking the reader with it. Some gestures are made by one or the other to escape this world, but they are made primarily to wound the other, to acquire an advantage, a power over the other, just as Agathe and Gérard are only pawns in their mutual game of love/hate. Whatever gestures are made every day, late every night they re-enter their private world, the only one that really matters. To emphasize the ineluctability of this private world, Cocteau inserts a deus ex machina, Michael, who disturbs that world, and whips him away to Isadora Duncan's death almost immediately. The private world is reinstated in a new location. The doom must be fulfilled.(*)


(*) In his Opium, Cocteau writes that Les enfants terribles was "born in 17 days" during one of his many rehabilitations from opium addiction, when opium's power "to give form to the formless" coincided with the return of his ability and desire to communicate with others (both of which disappeared when he was deep within the power of the opium).