Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) was a master of literature, poetry, theatre and film. In his unsigned autobiography Le livre blanc he acknowledged that he recognized his love of youths when at a very young age he first saw a fresh farm boy bathing naked, and fainted in an ecstasy of joy and fear at the sight of his penis in the midst of its dark patch of pubic hair. Cocteau speculated that his father, who killed himself at the age of forty-nine, had suppressed homosexual inclinations and never understood the uneasiness at the root of his personality. At the Grand Condorcet school in 1903 Cocteau fell in love with Pierre Dargelos, the thirteen-year-old school vamp, who had "the beauty of an animal . . . that insolent beauty which is only heightened by filth." Shortly afterwards, Cocteau was expelled for "disciplinary reasons," but the image of Dargelos haunts Les Enfants terribles and his first film Le Sang d'un Poete (Blood of a Poet) (1930). He was sent to another school, but absconded for the port of Marseilles, where he indulged in drugs (he was a life-long opium eater) and sexual affairs with sailors and rough trade. Around 1906 he joined the circle of youths patronized by Edouard de Max, flamboyant aesthete and actor in Paris. When he accompanied Max to a costume ball in 1907 as an oriental princess, with his hair dyed red and in ringlets, a ring on every finger and toe, and a train embroidered with pearls, he was rebuked by Sarah Bernhardt: "If I were your mother, I would send you home to bed." It was through Max that Cocteau's first books of poetry were published, and he was introduced to the powerful literary and theatrical worlds. By 1917 Cocteau was friends with Proust, Gide, Stravinsky, Picasso, Diaghilev and Nijinsky, and was now famous enough to have his own young protégés. His first lover was Raymond Radiguet, fifteen when they met in 1918, with whom he had a passionate affair until Radiguet's death from typhoid in December 1923. After a year's solace in opium, Cocteau acquired a succession of young lovers from 1925 onwards, mostly eighteen-year-old blonds, who would live with him for periods of two or three years before being succeeded by another reincarnation of Radiguet. Le Livre Blanc first appeared in 1928, then was reissued in 1930 with powerful erotic drawings by Cocteau. Its descriptions of sex with working-class young men are extraordinarily erotic even in our own jaded age, and it quickly became a gay underground classic. But it is essentially a "white paper" on injustice, an early sexual-political analysis of how guilt and shame are internalized in response to the homophobia of peer groups and the agents of social oppression such as teachers: "My misfortunes are due to a society which condemns anything out of the ordinary as a crime and forces us to reform our natural inclinations." The first half of the book documents the dynamics of self-oppression, for example how the narrator pretends to share the heterosexual enthusiasms of his school friends and thus "began to falsify my nature," leading to affairs with women. The second half of the book is an affirmation of homosexuality, when he realizes he has taken a wrong turning and "vowed that I would not get lost again." But it also shows how most gay relationships during this period were "doomed to failure" because of self-loathing and social injustice. The book concludes with a bitter sarcasm upon the Christian church, when the narrator "confesses" to the Abbé "I am happy but in a way that the Church and the world disapprove of" and is rejected: "I thought how admirable was the economy of God. It gives love when one lacks it, and, in order to avoid a pleonism of the heart, refuses it to those who have it." The last pages are swamped by self-pity, but nevertheless express one of the key sentiments that prompted the Gay Liberation movement: "I will not agree to be tolerated. This damages my love of love and of liberty." Cocteau's major relationship later in life was with Jean Marais, the young actor for whom he had written the role of the son in Les Parents terribles (1938). He had met Marais the previous year, when Marais was twenty-four years old. He was a very beautiful young man, and at the beginning of his career was cast in several roles primarily because of his physique; he became a successful film star (he is the very attractive Beast in Cocteau's film La Belle et la bête, 1946) and theatre director (he continues to direct Cocteau's plays). He and Cocteau lived together until 1947, when they both found other young protégés, but they remained friends throughout life. From the late 1950s Cocteau, the Enfant Terrible of the French literary establishment, was heaped with honors, became a member of L'Academy Fançaise and was elected The Prince of Poets. The following letters to Marais – here translated into English for the first time – cover their initial romance and their decision to live together.

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