PIERRE LOTI, Portrait of an Escapist

When Pierre Loti – adulated writer, naval officer, traveller, amateur acrobat and escapist – died in 1923, he was given a state funeral, the only French writer to have received such an honour other than Victor Hugo.

He travelled the South Seas, Asia and the Middle East (his great obsession) and loved with intense passion and freedom wherever he went.

Bohemian, exotic and fiercely romantic; adored and scorned by French society in equal measure, Loti spent his life escaping the constraints of bourgeois France – and in so doing redefined his age.

Lesley Blanch’s biography revived an interest in this “unjustly neglected” French writer and launched reprints of his novels and travel books in France. She said, “He was not just a mawkish and sentimental writer as some think. Remember, people like Henry James and Marcel Proust greatly admired him.”

LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS: “Lesley Blanch is a most congenial biographer for this eccentric man. Every fact about him seems bizarre in itself and ill-assorted with the others, but she never bats an eyelid. She also has the sense of humour her subject lacks, and is very funny without ever being unkind”

PHILIP MANSEL: “In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as a mammoth oeuvre: it is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one escapist writing about another . . . Loti is a man for our time: in an age when globalisation and imperialism have found more insidious forms of control than those known to the French and British Empires, he reminds us that even inside the armed services of the imperial power, dissenters can speak out”

WASHINGTON POST: “Anyone who reads this book will have a marvellous time. Lesley Blanch has written an exceptionally good biography of an exceptionally interesting man. Even if you have never heard of Loti until this minute, even if you never plan to read any of his books, I recommend it to you”

NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: “What makes Loti so extraordinary and this book so enthralling is not that he was an escapist, but that he was an escapologist, getting out of scrapes and away with behaviour that would normally lead to disaster, disgrace, even death. Lesley Blanch is a most congenial biographer for this eccentric man . . . She has a natural sympathy with people who live out their fantasies . . . She also has the sense of humour her subject lacks, and is very funny without ever being unkind”

Read the guest review by Philip Mansel for The BookBlast Diary (Feb, 2015)

Biography. Collins, 1983, illus.
UK edition : BookBlast ePublishing, 2015 PB 278 pages £6.99 ISBN 978-0993092787
French edition translated by Jean Lambert. (OP) Editions du Rocher (2007)