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 says, “He was not just a mawkish and sentimental writer as some think. Remember, people like Henry James and Marcel Proust greatly admired him. He wrote beautifully and had very sensuous rhythms. He could also be ghastly grim – Aziyadé, a burning Turkish love story, opens with an execution.

GABRIELLE ANNAN, 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”

LESLEY BLANCH: “It’s awfully easy to say of someone who wears high heels and a painted face that he was a pederast. I think Pierre Loti was everything. He loved men and he loved women and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that one too

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)