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200 × 130 × 15 mm
224 pages
35 illustrations
10 Sep 2018
Critical Lives

Pierre Loti Richard M. Berrong

Few authors have led lives as interesting as the French novelist and travel writer Pierre Loti (1850–1923) – nor have they worked harder to make it appear even more romantic than it already was. As a career officer in the French navy, Loti participated in expeditions that took him to places that even today seem exotic to Westerners. For four decades he published a series of novels, travelogues and autobiographical narratives, some of which went through hundreds of editions in France and were translated into dozens of languages around the world.

With financial and artistic success came notoriety, which Loti delighted in enhancing by staging elaborate costume balls – to which he invited the photographic press. He was also sought out by some of the artistically inclined royalty of the day, including Princess Alice of Monaco and Queen Elizabeth of Romania, and the beloved actress Sarah Bernhardt had him write plays for her.

His notoriety hurt his standing as a serious author in his last years, but it takes nothing away from the best work of a writer whom Henry James hailed as a ‘remarkable genius’. Willa Cather confessed that she ‘would swoon with joy if anyone saw traces of Loti in her work’. The extravagances of his often very public private life make his biography as astonishing as his art.

‘Wonderfully illustrated . . . For all the documentation of this extremely well-researched and absorbing book, Loti remains a sphinx – a poignant sphinx, though Berrong certainly accomplishes what he says, in the last line, is his purpose in writing it: to get us to read Loti.’ — Andrew Holleran, The Gay and Lesbian Review

‘this is an excellent account of Loti’s dramatic life, highly readable and almost rollicking; it should certainly attract new readers to his relatively neglected oeuvre.’ — French Studies

‘This beautifully illustrated thirteen-chapter biography chronologically retraces the life and genesis of the works of French author and world traveller Julien Viaud, known as Pierre Loti . . . Richard M. Berrong’s biography synthesizes the rich and varied artistic, professional and personal lives of (Julien) Viaud and his literary alter ego (Pierre) Loti. This meticulously documented and well-written biography highlights the complex imbrication of personal life (arranged marriages, numerous love affairs), Impressionist art (as illustrated in Iceland Fisherman, 1866 and Madame Chrysanthemum, 1883) and his oeuvre, as mirrored in Loti’s diary, travelogues, autobiographical fiction and novels, in particular his four bestsellers . . . This comprehensive biography would be of interest to historians, art historians, French and Francophone literature scholars and instructors, Comparative Literature scholars, as well as to a general Anglophone readership that is more likely to be unfamiliar with this decidedly iconic French author.’ — French History

‘Richard Berrong does not dwell on Loti’s eccentricities or detail his many adventures, but uses his life and personas to define his originality as a public personality and make the case for seeing him as a very considerable writer. His assessment is generous and his brief illustrated book a most useful introduction to an author who once carried all before him.’ — TLS

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Richard M. Berrong is professor of French literature at Kent State University. He is the author of two previous books on Loti, Putting Monet and Rembrandt into Words: Pierre Loti’s Recreation and Theorization of Claude Monet’s Impressionism and Rembrandt’s Landscapes in Literature (2013) and In Love with a Handsome Sailor: The Novels of Pierre Loti and the Emergence of Gay Male Identity (2003).

Note on Texts and Abbreviations


1 The Idyllic Years (1850–65)
2 Times of Crisis, Times of Decision (1865–6)
3 Paris in the 1860s
4 In the Navy (1867–77)
5 A Successful Author – and Alter-ego – Is Born (1877–81)
6 The Writer Becomes a Self-conscious Artist (1882–6)
7 Art, Memory and the Use of One to Highlight the Other (1886–90)
8 Life at the Top (1891–1900)
9 A Feminist in Spite of Himself? (1900–1906)
10 Loti the Turkophile (1907–14)
11 Diplomat and War Correspondent (1914–18)
12 Last Years (1919–23)
13 Life after Death (1923–?)

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Photo Acknowledgements