Antoine Deléry's biography of Peyrefitte (Roger Peyrefitte - Le sulfureux, H&O Éditions, 2011, 336p, in French) is not the most exciting book around. At least it's a quick read. One of its interests lies in the extensive quotations of Peyrefitte's public letter to François Mauriac after the famous columnist wrote a harsh paper on him after watching a documentary on the movie adaptation of Les amitiés particulières.
The Lettre ouverte à M. François Mauriac, prix Nobel, membre de l'Académie française, published by Arts on May 6th 1964, is nothing other than a public outing of Mauriac (as we would say today), supported by quite graphic allusions, like the mention of some love letters to Cocteau...
Qui êtes-vous mon cher maître? Un écrivain que nous admirons, mais un homme que nous ne pouvons plus supporter. Vous vous êtes impatronisé du rôle officiel de moralisateur, beaucoup moins pour défendre la morale que pour vous punir, aux dépends d’autrui, de votre pendant irresistible à l’immoralité. (Who are you my dear Master? A writer we admire, but a man that we can no longer stand. You have endorsed yourself with the official role of moralizing, much less to defend morality than to punish you, at the expense of others, for your irresistible inclination to immorality.)
Among the abundant book production of Peyrefitte chronicled in the biography, L'exilé de Capri, his fictionalized biography of Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen, the founder of Akademos, the first homosexual journal in France, stands out. After a scandal involving boys in 1903 Fersen has to flee Paris for Capri where he lived until his death in 1923. A sad life. Apparently Peyrefitte's book includes an interesting painting of homosexual Paris in the early 20th century. Deléry claims that after L'exilé Peyrefitte's style will never again display the 'joyous irony and the cheerfulness' that characterized his earlier production.
The last part of the biography is dominated by what Deléry describes as the great love of Peyrefitte's life: Alain-Philippe, a young actor, had a minor role in the movie Les amitiés particulières. They met during a visit of the author to the shooting location. Alain-Philippe was 12 years old. Peyrefitte 57. Irronically, when Alain-Philippe grew up, after causing the financial ruin of Peyrefitte through dubious investments in the show business, he will marry Amanda Lear... Another sad story.
Philippe Jullian's biography of Oscar Wilde, first published in 1961 and recently reissued (Éditions Bartillat, 2011, 430p, in French), is another story. It is not as definitive as Richard Ellman's Oscar Wilde, nor as crisp as Neil McKenna's The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. A very pleasant read, though, with a lively and mastered style. It made me want to read again The Portrait of Dorian Gray, especially in the scholarly edition recently provided by Nicholas Frankel (Harvard University Press, 2011, 296p), which features for the first time Wilde's original text, more explicit on the gay context than the previously known editions... According to Jullian,
Dorian Gray est, en somme, le premier roman pédérastique écrit depuis le Satiricon (...). Il faudra attendre vingts ans, avec la Mort à Venise, de Thomas Mann, pour trouver un beau livre aussi complètement homosexuel. (Dorian Gray is, in short, the first gay novel written since the Satyricon (...). It will take twenty years, with Death in Venise by Thomas Mann, to get a beautiful book, so thoroughly homosexual.)