Reviewing Orpheus : essays on the cinema and art of Jean Cocteau

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Richard , « Two Tombeaux to Oscar Wilde: Jean Cocteau’s Le Portrait surnaturel de Dorian Gray and Raymond Laurent’s essay on Wildean aesthetics, A bilingual presentation of the texts edited and translated by Emily Eells », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 74 Automne | 2011, 265-268.

The cover image of Two Tombeaux To Oscar Wilde is a pen-and-ink drawing by Jean Cocteau of a young male figure looking into the full-length mirrored front of what appears to be a wardrobe. As in some seventeenth-century vanitas paintings, the discrepancy between the figure and its reflection plays with our perception: here the reflection looks directly out at the viewer, as if it has become a portrait, or a separate human being. This suggestion of splitting evokes The Picture of Dorian Gray, where the painting becomes an animate object reflecting its subject’s soul. It also serves as a fitting emblem for Two Tombeaux To Oscar Wilde, which contains early works by two young French writers exploring their ideas of aesthetics and identity through their engagement with Wilde. Cocteau wrote his stage adaptation of Dorian Gray in 1908 at the age of 18, in collaboration with his friend and lover Jacques Renaud, but it was first published posthumously in 1978 and has never been performed. The little-known poet and critic Raymond Laurent (1886-1908) wrote his essay on Wilde at a similarly precocious age before his untimely death at the age of 21; it too was first published posthumously, in the volume Etudes Anglaises (1910), which also contains chapters on Coleridge, Pater and the Pre-Raphaelites. In an informative and engaging introductory essay, Emily Eells argues that both works can be seen as tombeaux in the sense of homages to Wilde, personal responses to a writer who had exerted a profound influence on their authors. Cocteau and Laurent were too young to have known Wilde during his lifetime, but they belonged to the subsequent generation of gay artists for whom Wilde was synonymous not only with aestheticism and homosexuality, but with the conflation of the two; in Eells’s term, “with aestheticism as an occult expression of homoeroticism”, with its connotations of concealment, secrecy and esotericism.

ONE of the most wide-ranging artists of the 20th century, the playwright, painter, essayist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau redefined the term eclectic.

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