Wicked Angels is the English translation of the 1955 French classic Les Mauvais Anges, a literary novel with a fierce love at its center. Laced with brutality and madness, it brings together Pierre and Gerard, two adolescent cousins. The work itself, penned when Jourdan was seventeen, was banned for 30 years because of its “subversive” subject matter.
The story functions on two similarly poetic levels. The first is narrated by Pierre, the other by his lover. Both boys are as beautiful and passionate as they are imperfect; Pierre is jealous, sadistic, loving, and reserved while Gerard is charming, masochistic, playful, and vain. Together, they create a salacious bond that propels them toward self-destruction; an end that has all the markings of self-actualization.
At its most basic level, the novel serves as a sensory progression through the early stages of infatuation. As such, it offers an almost philosophical dissection of lust and love. Pierre and Gerard are both aware of how dispossessing the state they’re in is, and both rebel in their own ways.
Much of the self-inflicted torture within the story comes from the artistry of Jourdan’s language. Its painful drag brings the idyll of the countryside setting to life, contrasting the boys’ skin-bound storm against nature’s quiet beauty. And so, a sort of two-fold tension is achieved.
Even the narrative refuses to stay linear, using the drowsy summer air to disguise the chaos that slips into the boys’ emotional and physical unraveling. The scenes retracing their history together jump around in time, mimicking the very irrationality and unpredictability of feeling.
Naturally, dealing with love, an emotion that renders language insufficient, leads to a see-saw of expression; a tyrannical inability to voice the sentiment shredding the body. As a result, Jourdan’s prose — while bewitching — hovers at a level of exultation that tenderizes the psyche, proving overwhelming at times. And yet, it lends a tenderness to the work’s eroticism.
There’s a collision of force and submission, love and pain, violence and desire. They feed off each other, creating a cycle of self-condemnation. The savagery the boys commit is often shocking, especially when it oversteps the boundary of their united body.
One memorable example is Gerard’s massacre of a hen house. The detail coating the scarlet scene is outmatched only by the frenzy with which one boy stems the tide of madness in the other.
An ominous air sneaks between the folds of the idyll from this moment onwards. Thrumming softly enough to infiltrate the subconscious, it is nevertheless marked by bursts of brutality — often directed inwards. As a result, what at first seems like a precursor to André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name soon bares an edge of hysteria; one that hones the story’s complexity.
Seduced by the metaphysical, both Pierre and Gerard recognize the way emotion seals them in the other’s body. As a result, they seek to lay claim to the parts of themselves lodged in the other, while also subduing those that are explicitly foreign.
Sex turns into a journey within, stripping physicality of its sweep. But this line can only be crossed when force overpowers will, which leads to a unique blend of pleasure and agony. For Pierre and Gerard, adoration demands humiliation.
From this, sadomasochism emerges. Jourdan approaches it from a uniquely familiar standpoint, allowing passion and tacit consent to reap fulfillment from possessiveness. However, in line with the ferocity of their feelings, the boys’ control over their impulses slips. The tragic end that awaits them is betrayed at numerous points, and acknowledged with startling self-awareness.
The idea of being unable to halt that which is already in motion gives WICKED ANGELS its haunting appeal. Though they’re only about seventeen, both Pierre and Gerard appear older, worn down by the understanding of their eventual undoing.
From this, we get an exceptional tale of Romeo and Romeo, a tantalizing push against every known limitation. No other work encapsulates the rage of young love better, or more viscerally.
It gains momentum with every turn of the page, taking apart both the vanity of youth — the unlimited seed of desire — and the fantasy of death. It does so with a tactile depiction of both the unsightly beauty of love and its “caressing violence”.
Overall, Wicked Angels presents a titillating union with the world, the ultimate dissolution of the self. It’s as lyrical as it is gripping, as succulent as it is self-devouring; a jewel worthy of being unearthed.
Wicked Angels can be read here (Internet Archive) free of charge. The title has been changed to Two.