Jean Genet: Our Lady of the Flowers

introduction by Jean- Paul Sartre, Panther Books, 1973 (1968), original French title: Notre Dame des Fleurs (first published by L'Arbalete, 1943)

* 1910, Paris, France, † 1986, Paris, France

Charge: theft and prostitution

The exact time in and place of prison is unknown. The figure given here is only guessed.

Genet's first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers (1942), was written in prison over an extended time since his manuscripts were constantly confiscated by prison officials.
Jean-Paul Sartre writes in his introduction: "French prison authorities, convinced that "work is freedom," give the inmates paper from which they are required to make bags. It was on this brown paper that Genet wrote, in pencil, Our Lady of the Flowers. One day, while the prisoners were marching in the yard, a turnkey entered the cell, noticed the manuscript, took it away, and burned it. Genet began again. Why? For whom? There was small chance of his keeping the work until its release, and even less of getting it printed. If, against all likelihood, he succeeded, the book was bound to be banned; it would be confiscated and scrapped. Yet he wrote on, he persisted in writing. Nothing in the world mattered to him except those sheets of brown paper which a match could reduce to ashes.", p.9

The very circumstances of the story highlight Genet's sexual identity: Our Lady is narrated by a masturbating prisoner who tells us that the characters he describes are products of his erotic fantasies conceived under the hot wool blanket of his bed...
Jean-Paul Sartre writes in his introduction:"One is bored in a cell; boredom makes for amorousness. Genet masturbates; this is an act of defiance, a willful perversion of the sexual act; it is also, quite simply, an idiosyncrasy. The operation condenses the drifting reveries, which now congeal and disintegrate int eh release of pleasure. No wonder Our Lady horrifies people: it is the epic of masturbation.", p.10

Other prison writings by the author:

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