A ‘flip book’ featuring two classic novels about drugs and decadence, translated from French by John Baxter: Morphine, a rollicking novel about a handsome cavalry officer who introduces morphine to the aristocrats of 1889 Paris ... and sleeps his way through town; and My Lady Opium, a fevered tour through the romantic and mysterious world of opium at the turn of the 20th century.
Paris, 1889. The main characters are a wealthy and aristocratic military officer named Count Raymond de Pontaillac, his opera singer mistress, and a young marquis and his wife, who live on a sprawling country estate. However, Pontaillac’saddiction to morphine infects all of them, bringing all of them into contact with a world of sleazy pharmacists, lesbian doctors, and abortionists. The book offers an interesting sidelight on pre-World War I France. Morphinewas first published in Paris in 1891, though it was reprinted repeatedly in cheaper editions over the next twenty years. However it’s been out of print since about 1914. There has never been an English translation, until now.
My Lady Opium
“No one except opium-smokers ever will know what a nightmare is. ”Farrerewas only 28 when My Lady Opium appeared in 1904 under the title Fuméed’Opium. It isn’t so much a novel as a collection of 17 episodes, linked only in that all involve opium. Some are short stories with elements of fantasy, horror, or eroticism. One adds an unexpected postscript to the story of Faust and his deal with the devil. Another describes a naval battle of the 17th century won by a cowardly captain who finds courage in opium. Others claim to re-tell Japanese or Chinese legends about the origins of the drug. The final five supposedly refer to the author’s own experience. Above all, Farrere, like all writers about opium, dwelt on the aphrodisiac effect of the drug, which supposedly drove women to a sexual frenzy.
About the Authors
JEAN-LOUIS DUBUT DE LAFOREST (1853-1902) was the belle epoque’s most popular and prolific writer of thrillers. A journalist, novelist, political writer and also author of two stage comedies, Dubut de Laforest came from the rural Dordogne area of central France. He took his law degree in the southerncity of Bordeaux, then became a police prosecutor, a job he left in 1882 to join the newspaper Le Figaro. He soon earned more fame and money writing sensational novels, exploiting crime, sex and drugs, which he turned out at breakneck speed. In the last 14 years of his life, he wrote dozens, including Le Gaga (1886), which was prosecutedas an offence against morals.
CLAUDE FARRERE (1876 -1957) won the first Prix Goncourt ever awarded in 1905. Born in Lyon, France, Farrere served as an officer in the French navy, stationed in the waters around France’s colonies in what would become Vietnam. A prolific writer, Farrere was elected to the prestigious AcadémieFrançaise in 1935.