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Our Lady of the Flowers

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  5,366 ratings  ·  278 reviews
Jean Genet's seminal Our Lady Of The Flowers (1943) is generally considered to be his finest fictional work. The first draft was written while Genet was incarcerated in a French prison; when the manuscript was discovered and destroyed by officials, Genet, still a prisoner, immediately set about writing it again. It isn't difficult to understand how and why Genet was able t ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published December 1st 2004 by (first published 1943)
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Alex There is no clearly distinguished line between fantasy and reality, it's like his lucid sex dream we're being let in on.…moreThere is no clearly distinguished line between fantasy and reality, it's like his lucid sex dream we're being let in on.(less)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: erotica, the-french
“The despondency that follows makes me feel somewhat like a shipwrecked man who spies a sail, sees himself saved, and suddenly remembers that the lens of his spyglass has a flaw, a blurred spot -- the sail he has seen.”

 photo Un_Chant_DAmour_zpsa96a90cf.jpg

I think everybody who tries to write a review about Our Lady of the Flowers starts out confounded, befuddled, muddled as to where to start because for one thing Genet's writing style has jumbled up the coherent, organized part of your brain.

I was fortunate that the edition I
Nothing if not hypnotic. Genet's prose is entirely unpredictable and he does something here I wouldn't have thought possible or feasible or even desirable. He takes all these Parisian homosexuals (his word), some of them evildoers -- murderers, thieves, prostitutes, assorted toughs -- though not necessarily evil people, it's just that like all of us they are capable of evil and from time to time actually commit it -- and he raises them to near saintly levels. That's how big his empathy is. It's ...more
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2020
Surreal and erotic, Genet’s semi-autobiographical debut novel unfolds in a series of loosely linked vignettes, sketching the lurid exploits of a small group of queer sex workers, pimps, and murderers, who alternately feud and fall in love with each other. In hallucinatory prose the incarcerated author-narrator fends off boredom and seeks pleasure by imagining ever-more baroque misadventures for his cast of characters. The work’s upturning of bourgeois morality isn’t much shocking anymore, but th ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: inverts; perverts; onanists; aesthetes; kids who have a vivid imaginative life, or who wish they did
They should give Jean Genet a kids show. You know, like Sesame Street and Barney and whatever they have now -- Dora the Explorer? Jean could teach the kids outdated pimp argot instead of Spanish! But the language thing would be extra; the reason Genet gets a kids show is that the message of this book is the same as those shows': this message being the glorious imperative to use your imagination.

"Use your imagination!" When you think about it, it's a bit strange that there's such an emphasis on t
Vit Babenco
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Prison isn’t a resort. Prison isn’t a paradise. So Jean Genet resides in the world of his obscene and sinful fantasies…
What is involved for me who is making up this story? In reviewing my life, in tracing its course, I fill my cell with the pleasure of being what for want of a trifle I failed to be, recapturing, so that I may hurl myself into them as into dark pits, those moments when I strayed through the trap-ridden compartments of a subterranean sky. Slowly displacing volumes of fetid air, c
Feb 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
It's been weeks now, and I've been trying to figure out something, anything to say about this novel. Oh, I liked it—very much so, as my rating surely indicates—but I keep circling around and around it, desperately searching for the detail upon which to structure and make sense of my reactions. I have to admit I still haven't found it, though there's plenty that could be rhapsodized over—the cruel beauty, the unexpected possibility of transcendence, the influential, still-avant garde style. But n ...more
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Jean Genet, the author, is serving time in 1940s Paris, and whilst awaiting sentencing begins to write, all sorts, on the back of brown paper bags: and voila: Our Lady of the Flowers is born. He would have used hundreds of these brown bags though: how did he ever get them.

Genet writes to assist his masturbation (niiice), and cobbles together a patchwork quilt of personal reminiscences, fantasy, autobiographical sense data, general musings and various story threads of unascertainable veracity.

Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french, fiction
Beware: expressionist contents
(In case you didn't know what to expect from me)

Lots of questions here.
Uncomfortable ones.
The sort of questions you'd rather ignore, pretending not to know the answers already - at least your answers, the only ones that truly matter.
Pretending you haven't been wondering all the time.
Pretending you're still able to pretend.

One of these questions happens to be an existential epitaph comprising all the rest: what would you do if you found yourself alone in a prison
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bitchin
My introduction to masturbation occurred when I was around nine years old. A senior boy shared the secret. At home that afternoon, for the first time I rubbed my little prick and…nothing. All I created was friction, sweat and boredom. It was as though my penis wasn’t ready for what was being asked of it. A few hours later, however, I tried again, and on this occasion something did happen. The tinder started to smoulder; and then it caught fire. A small flame. I blew on it gently, scared in case ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, french, gay-lit
Paris, France during the 40's. Louis Culafroy, a gay boy has come out and named himself Divine. This is his story: his life as a son, male prostitute, thief, swindler, blackmailer and lover. His one true love is a pimp and a beautiful virile man called Darling Daintyfoot. Description of Darling: height, 5 ft. 9 in., weight 165 lbs., oval face, blond hair, blue-green eyes, mat complexion, perfect teeth, straight nose. Divine loves him so much that she worships Darling's cock that she has made a p ...more
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

There are only two real writers among the living Frenchmen: Genet and I.”—Louis-Ferdinand Céline (noted Célinean)

Genet is God.” (Jean-Paul Sartre, noted Sartrean)


What to make of this novel? What can I possibly add to something both as simple as a “children’s tale” yet so slathered in an alchemical mixture of the sacred and profane that their differentiation becomes a thankless, no, useless task? There are some books
Sartre characterizes this text in the introduction as “an epic of masturbation” (2), “only one subject: the pollutions of a prisoner in the darkness of his cell” (3), which presents the primary structural difficulty in interpretation here—the modulation between the moments of the fictive Real metanarrative and the purported Imaginary sub-narratives therein. Sartre also thinks that the text has a “desolate, desert-like aspect” wherein one character, say, “undergoes ascesis in an agony” (11)—overa ...more
Utterly against my expectations, I ended up deeply moved by this work. When I first started reading it, one of my initial reactions was irritation at the apparent gay self-hate manifested in the work through statements like:
…because for the occasion I make myself a male who knows that he really isn’t one.
Or this one:
Our domestic life and the law of our Homes do not resemble your Homes. We love each other without love.
It all just seemed so very The Boys in the Band. It reminded me of a scene
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: solving-for-x, prison
This was hard, but there is an unmistakable art in Genet's writing--a sensuality as it should be: consumed with textures and scents. I got lost and am certain I did not always understand but the book left me impressed with Genet's eye for details, humor, and poetry. Like poetry, it should be read more than once; it's blunted characters and blurred identities fall like sunlight or shadows on whatever you as a reader bring. This is not a celebration of gay or criminal lives, but a perspective that ...more
I remember a febrile, malt liquor-fueled convo in college about the "abject," which I was listening to more than participating in, and a handful of people more sophisticated than myself, most of whom would go on to being professional New Yorkers, talking about how great art occurs when something simultaneously repels and allures (per Kristeva).

This is Genet's metier, and it's probably stronger in Our Lady of the Flowers than anywhere else. This is the sensation of staring at the pair of stained
David M
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hold on, this shit is kinda gay.

I was 17 when I first read Our Lady, and I would never be the same again.

My mind & teenage limbic system simply did not know how to process passages like the following. I thought I literally might explode.

'I know very well that if I were sick, and were cured by a miracle, I would not survive it.'

'July Fourteenth: red, white, and blue everywhere. Divine dresses up in all the other colors, out of consideration for them, because they are disdained.'

'When Mimosa lef
Khashayar Mohammadi
No comments until I have read this once again...
Bernard Frechtman translation

Feb 2015.
It would be more rewarding to re-read bits of A rebours and The Naked Civil Servant, I thought at first. (Genet's descriptions are never so lush as Huysmans', and his gay demi-monde - or full-on underworld - is contemporaneous with Crisp's but, for all the use of Wildean reversal / transvaluation of values, the wit here is rarely as funny.) This might have been another instance of reading a classic too late, when I'd already read so much inspired by it that
Nov 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The best prison novel ever! Well, actually it's a piece of erotica from a genius writer. Jean Genet is one of the greats, because he can express suffering, joyment, and a world that is extremely eroticize. To go into his world is like having a feverish dream and realizing that your world that you work in can not possibly exist. Genet's world is much more real, dirty and very very beautiful. ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2009, fiction
Powerful work with sensual descriptions of even ordinary events. Considering his lack of education (left school at about 12 or so) it's a work of genius, and he is not fettered by conventional uses of narrative. ...more
"Poetry is willful. It is not an abandonment, a free and gratuitous entry by the senses; it is not to be confused with sensuality, but rather, opposing it, it was born, for example, on Saturdays, when, to clean the rooms, housewives put the red velvet chairs, gilded mirrors, and mahogany tables outside, in the nearby meadow."

Jean Genet wrote Our Lady of Flowers whilst in prison. This is an author's personal masturbatory material — shockingly voyeuristic and kinky. A self-objectification for plea
Jun 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: french
Genet is a genious in his sensual descriptions of ruthless men. His attraction to crime and death equals his love for masculine beauty and sex. He wrote this book in jail, and in more than one way, this book released him.
The first time i read it I was about twenty and it actually shook my (literary) world. He was so different from anything I'd read before (and i'd real lots of books before) that I compulsively read and reread it.
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Where Oscar Wilde with The Picture of Dorian Gray or André Gide with The Immoralist stopped, having some pragmatic understanding of ‘proper’ social boundaries, Jean Genet merrily breezed by, all the way to the edges of our humanity, and for many, the most distasteful, repugnant of edges. This tale within a tale, swirling with explicit homoerotic, murderous and scatological themes, was constructed to satisfy the onanistic fantasies of our imprisoned main character, the author, and was written, an ...more
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
I feel silly giving this stars ... it's less a work of art and more the darker parts of a man's living brain. As Sartre says in the intro: "This work of the mind is an organic product. It smells of bowels and sperm and milk."

I liked this description of the pimp: "all and always hot muscle and bush".
Yigal Zur
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
great optimistic work. start with a nightmare. from death into life which is into the art of writing.
Griffin Alexander
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-and-prison
In reviewing my life, in tracing its course, I fill my cell with the pleasure of being what for want of a trifle I failed to be, recapturing, so that I may hurl myself into them as into dark pits, those moments when I strayed through the trap-ridden compartments of a subterranean sky. . .

Unbelievable that we are so lucky as to have this book real and readable in the world.
James Henderson
This free-flowing, poetic novel is a largely autobiographical account of a man's journey through the Parisian underworld. Genet drew the characters after their real-life counterparts, who are mostly homosexuals living on the fringes of society as was Genet himself. Written while he was in prison, it was largely completed in 1942. The book was first published anonymously by Robert Denoël and Paul Morihien at the end of 1943, though only about 30 copies of the first edition were bound in that year ...more
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Face-to-face with the desire to touch.

The book is a gesture I hold between my fingers ... a moan for the sake of a gesture (or is it a death croak, la pètite morte?)

The book is a gesture I hold between my teeth. Gnawing at the wound, mouth-born paroxysms of pain.

I pry the shards from crevasses of molars. Regurgitated, spit-soaked, soured by the sanguine, the little shredded book falls from my mouth into the soil.

Later, a paperwhite blooms beneath the snow.
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Tyler by: Author's Reputation
Shelves: early-gay-lit
The title Our Lady of the Flowers turned me off at first – another self-absorbed piece of trashy drag. But why then did Sartre write a long preface? There lay the key. Sartre had been fleshing out his program of existential psychoanalysis, and then he suddenly found it all here, in the flesh. It’s a rare feat when a novelist breathes life into untested ideas.

Almost every reader has trouble describing this book, no matter how they like it. Now I’ll give it a try. Jean Genet performs here a sort
Oct 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
If asked to name the single greatest book I've read it would be Our Lady of the Flowers. I was introduced to it by a rough trade male hustler in 1975 and it's hard to believe I got past the first page at that time.

This novel purports to tell the story of a circle of pimps and transvestites in 1940's Paris. That, however, is surface, and it is unfortunate that gay and feminist factions have appropriated Our Lady as a kind of political manifesto. Genet himself stated that this was not his aim at
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Jean Genet (1910-1986), poet, novelist, playwright, and political essayist, was one of the most significant French writers of the twentieth century. His work, much of it considered scandalous when it first appeared, is now placed among the classics of modern literature and has been translated and performed throughout the world.

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“My heart's in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand's in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught.” 78 likes
“I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.” 58 likes
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