Synopses & Reviews
Jean Genet's first, and arguably greatest, novel was written while he was in prison. As Sartre recounts in his introduction, Genet penned this work on the brown paper which inmates were supposed to use to fold bags as a form of occupational therapy. The masterpiece he managed to produce under those difficult conditions is a lyrical portrait of the criminal underground of Paris and the thieves, murderers and pimps who occupied it. Genet approached this world through his protagonist, Divine, a male transvestite prostitute.
In the world of Our Lady of the Flowers, moral conventions are turned on their head. Sinners are portrayed as saints and when evil is not celebrated outright, it is at least viewed with a benign indifference. Whether one finds Genet's work shocking or thrilling, the novel remains almost as revolutionary today as when it was first published in 1943 in a limited edition, thanks to the help of one its earliest admirers, Jean Cocteau.
"A cry of rapture and horror...the purest lyrical genius." The New York Times
"A matchless contemporary classic....Like Ulysses in its own day, so creatively formidable that any comment on its merit becomes at once presumptuous." Terry Southern
"Genet has taken a tabooed subject and created a world that is out of this world. He is a magician, an enchanter of the first order." Richard Wright
"Only a handful of twentieth century writers, such as Kafka and Proust, have as important, as authoritative, as irrevocable a voice and style." Susan Sontag
"Incredible, appalling, thrilling, disturbing, offbeat, eloquent, violently crude, yet compelling. Reflects, as no other book of our time, the lower depths of human existence." Boston Herald
"Elegiac elegance, alternately muted, languorous, vituperative, tender, glamorous, bitchy, lush, mockingly feminine, 'high camp,' overripe, vigorous, rigorous, exalted....A remarkable achievement." The New York Times Book Review
Our Lady of the Flowers, which is often considered to be Genet's masterpiece, was written entirely in the solitude of a prison cell. The exceptional value of the work lies in its ambiguity.
About the Author
The infamous playwright, poet, novelist, and criminal, Jean Genet, was born December 19th, 1910, in France. Genet's mother, who was a young prostitute at the time of his birth, gave him up for adoption to a provincial family. By the age of fifteen, for repeated misdemeanors, Genet was incarcerated for three years, after which he joined the French Foreign Legion. He was dishonorably discharged for "lewd acts", henceforth spending the next several years traveling around Europe, at times as a prostitute. In 1937 he came to Paris, where again he was arrested and imprisoned for vagabondage. It was in prison, though, that Genet personally funded his first novel Our Lady of the Flowers (1944). After being released from prison, Genet sought out the avant-garde writer, Jean Cocteau, who was impressed by Genet's work, and even petitioned the French president, along with Jean-Paul Sartre, to exonerate Genet, after being faced with a life sentence. Genet became associated with the Theatre of Cruelty, which his most famous pieces became associated with, for example, The Maids (1949), Deathwatch (1949), The Balcony (1956), and The Blacks (1958). Other celebrated works of Genet include the novel, A Thief's Journal (1949), about his experiences in prison, and The Screens (1963), a biting political play about the Algerian War of Independence. Genet died of throat cancer in 1986.