Monsieur de Phocas by Jean Lorrain, translated by Francis Amery / ISBN 9781912868094 / 270-page paperback from Dedalus European Classics
Monsieur de Phocas ranks with A Rebours as the summation of the French Decadent Movement. Modeled on The Portrait of Dorian Gray, it drips with evil and certainly would have unpublishable in fin-de-siecle England.
"With Ethel's friends, grotesque, aging decadents, Phocas for the first time tastes opium. He experiences the pleasure of absolute degradation, and the double pleasure of being both observer and observed, dominant subject and passive object. As the opium takes effect, the naked Javanese dancers at the orgy vanish in a swirling cloud, to be replaced by a dark lamplit street where two thieves carefully saw at a woman's throat with a delicate knifeblade. From this cruel vision, Phocas soars into dizzy flight from which, suddenly, he plunges to destruction, into oozing depths where clinging vampires suck his blood, until he almost swoons into spasms. The mysterious, vicious double is on the threshold of existence: Phocas sees himself as Giles de Retz in the forest of Tiffauges, haunted by obscene desires."--Jennifer Birkett in Sins of the Fathers
Jean Lorrain (1855-1906) born Alexandre Martin Duval grew up in Fecamp with Guy de Maupassant a near neighbour. When he abandoned his law studies to begin a literary career his father agreed to give him a small allowance on condition he used a pseudonym. He installed himself in Montmartre in 1880. He became a dandy in 1883, the sole disciple of Barbey d'Aurevilly as Remy de Gourmont termed him. The death of his father in 1886 forced him to make his living through journalism. He wrote many novels, plays and poetry but it is Monsieur de Phocas (1901) for which he is best remembered.