January 14, 2011

Pierre Loti : the sweet bitterness of a sailing traveler

Julien Viaud alias Pierre Loti (1850-1923), born in Rochefort, came from a Protestant family. Attracted by the sea, he decided, at the age of thirteen, to sail across oceans, like his elder brother, Gustave, a navy surgeon. Two years later, Gustave died in the Straits of Malacca. Viaud family encountered then some serious financial difficulties. In 1866, Julien moved to Paris to prepare his entrance to Naval school. Brilliant student, he was received in 1867 and admitted to the Borda, a school ship in the Brest roads. Two years later, appointed midshipman, he took on board on the Jean Bart. His travels led him to Algeria, Turkey, Brazil, in the East, the United States and Canada ...
From the countries he visited, Loti showed a special affection for Tahiti which was first photographed by Gustave. There, he found his author's pseudonym, Loti, name of a tropical flower. In Constantinople, he lived a tragic passion with Hatice, a woman who belonged to the harem of a local dignitary. In the East, he signed a marriage contract with a young Japanese nicknamed Madame Chrysanthème, whom story is related in the eponymous novel published in 1887. It was his first great success, after An Iceland Fisherman. The same year, back in France, he married the daughter of a notable family from Bordeaux, who will give him a first son. He had, a few years later, another line of descent with Crucita, a Basque woman. In 1891, he was elected to the French Academy, against Emile Zola.
Sailing author, Loti forwards with simplicity and delicacy his traveler's impressions. But beyond the pleasant aspect of his work, always emerges a kind of sadness, anxiety which makes him more than just an exotic novelist. The man himself is more complex, fiendish that the one depicted in biographies. He also enjoyed, according to contemporaries allusions, compagny of men. His physical appearance dawns the ambiguity of the character. Gabriel-Louis Pringué met him in 1913 at a luncheon organized by the  Princess Alice of Monaco at the Chateau Haut-Buisson and wrote (in 30 ans de dîners en ville, éd. Adam, 1948) :
Loti had his face made up with rose and wore, to gain size, heeled stilts. In his strangely face shined admirable aquamarine eyes, with a mysterious depth veiled with concern. That distant look, as if lost in a dream, was unsettling. He spoke little, but when he narrated, he did it with a colorful and inimitable poetry that recalled his books whom prestigious charm belongs to eternity.
(source : Wikipédia)

Currently, the librairie Loliée offers :
  • LOTI (Pierre). La Mort de Philae. Paris, Calmann-Lévy, s.d. [1908], in-12, original covers, half morocco binding (Léon Lapersonne). First edition. Copy dedicated from the author to the french painter and writer Georges Cain (1856-1919).
  • LOTI (Pierre). Correspondance inédite. 1865-1904. Publié par sa nièce Madame Nadine Duvignau et N. Serban, professeur à la faculté de Jassy. Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1929, in-12, original covers, half morocco binding. First edition. One of the 25 first copies on imperial Japan paper. 
  • FOUJITA - LOTI (Pierre). Madame Chrysanthème. Soixante illustrations originales en couleurs de Foujita. Paris, Éditions Excelsior, 1926, in-4. Deluxe edition with  60 illustrations in colors by Foujita. One of the 425 copies on Arches paper.