All the Sad Clowns: On Francis Carco’s Novel “Perversity”




Love’s Betrayal, or the Perverse Inception of the Book

I WAS READING my way through Jean Rhys recently when I came upon the curious fact that, early in her career, she had translated Francis Carco’s 1925 novel Perversité from French into English. Ford Madox Ford, Rhys’s mentor and lover (she was living with Ford and his wife Stella Bowen in Paris), had arranged the project as a way for her to earn money. She was impoverished; her husband was in prison for embezzlement — this was decades before her literary apotheosis with Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). Yet inexplicably, when the book appeared, Ford was billed as the translator.

Ford insisted this was a mistake on the part of the publisher, Pascal Covici, and that he had not intended to take the credit. But there has always been a suspicion that Ford and Covici colluded to suppress the unknown Rhys’s name in order to promote the book. The first edition flyleaf blurb reads:

Ford Madox Ford is discriminating; he does not trade in glittering generalities. So, when he called Perversity a second Madame Bovary, he was not talking hokum. Of course, Mr. Ford is the translator and well — he may feel a bit indulgent. Not a bit of it! Indefatigable man of letters that he is, he ranged through modern French literature until he happened onto Perversity. “By Jove, this must be translated.” So he went to it, and at length wrought a translation as admirable in its way as his works of creation are in theirs.

The whole thing was a mess. Ford protested. Perhaps out of guilt (he did have a disagreeable habit of patronizing young female writers in more ways than one), he quietly paid Rhys the money she was owed for the work when Covici failed to pony up. But the relationship between Ford and Rhys soured (not the least because Stella Bowen refused to relinquish Ford). Rhys’s first novel, Quartet (1928), fictionalized the sordid details. A taste for portraying sordid scenes and misogyny was something Carco and Rhys shared. There is a legend that, years later, Ford and Rhys met by chance in a Paris bistro: she walked up to his table and slapped him.

This lurid anecdote has had a distracting effect on the book’s reputation, an effect only compounded by Perversity’s subsequent publishing history. The novel languished, little noticed, until revived by Avon Books as a mass market paperback in 1950, with a sultry and disheveled young woman leaning against a lamppost on the cover. (It is perhaps the only pulp fiction ever printed with a prominent pull quote from The Nation.) A few years later, Berkeley Books brought out another mass market edition, with yet another sultry young woman reclining on an unmade bed, cigarette in hand, wearing a black velvet choker and nylons with garter clasp showing (the blurb read: “A Strange Woman — A Stranger Love”). To make matters worse, Berkeley issued other Carco titles in the same format, with equally racy cover art and suggestive one-word titles: Frenzy, Depravity, Infamy. The effect was to mark the novel as sub-literary genre fiction — and a dubious footnote to the career of one of the great female novelists of the 20th century.

Perversité Versus Perversity: The Jean Rhys Effect 

Beneath its noir reputation and sleazy cover art, Perversity is a psychological horror story of frustrated desire leading to murder. What astonishes the reader is the novel’s headlong narrative, the crisp precision of Carco’s style, the use of symbol and reverie to advance the plot, the explosively compulsive characters, and the atmospheric detail. No doubt Ford admired it for its stylistic and thematic affinities with his own work — what he called literary impressionism — and its ironic detachment, characteristic of the French moderns as epitomized by Flaubert and de Maupassant.

Jean Rhys’s contribution is, as always with translation, a matter of debate. She seems to have translated Carco’s French much as he wrote it, with a literalness that sometimes renders the English awkward, as if she were trying to imitate French syntax instead of writing good English. She doesn’t translate the French exclamations: for example, “Bédame!” and “Nom de dieu!” There are several songs in the text, which she also leaves in French. They are marching songs and cabaret songs in slang, difficult to replicate in another language, but left as they are, they provide little but a certain je ne sais quoi of Frenchness. When Rhys doesn’t think the English reader will get the irony, she adds a parenthetical translation of a prostitute’s name: “Belle-Amour (Sweet-Love).” She bowdlerizes Carco here and there: “le rouge pissera” becomes “the red stuff will run.” This is a good example of the sort of awkward English Rhys can come up with, but the phrase, though odd, performs its structural function — reiterating the blood/red pattern that weaves through the book.

These sorts of choices are generally thought of as signs of a weak translator, someone trying to sell the novel for its faux Frenchness. But I think that Rhys was reaching for a more complex effect — an awkwardness, a strangeness, an alien hybridity that she sensed in the French original. Both Rhys and Carco were outsiders in the Paris milieu, both were children of distant tropical imperial outposts (Carco was born in New Caledonia), both were strangers adept at distinguishing between the glittering surface of social discourse and the sordid undercurrents. It makes sense to me that Rhys picked up on the intentional distortions of the novel’s psychological syntax — the retracted sentences, the amputated thoughts, the oneiric substitutions — and tried to replicate them in her translation. This fits with the show-don’t-tell impressionism that characterized Ford’s modernist aesthetic.

Other choices Rhys made strengthened the novel and demonstrated her knowledge of form. Most importantly, she accentuated the patterns. For example, Carco uses “ombre” and “tenebre,” which Rhys renders throughout as “shadow.” Carco’s “aux yeux noirs et cernés” becomes Rhys’s “shadowed black eyes,” another bit of awkward English syntax. The structural effect, however, is to clarify and emphasize a pattern using the single English word “shadow” where Carco uses different words in French. The shadow pattern is essential to the atmospherics of the story.

The biggest change Rhys made was to break Carco’s 22 chapters into four sections with subtitles. There are no section divisions in the French novel. Rhys thus forced a structural logic onto Carco’s text. Of course, it was already there, but she exposed it, rendered it explicit. The section titles are: “The Thin Partition” (chapters 1–6), “Student in Sin” (7–15), “The Room Downstairs” (16–20), and “Portrait of the Love Merchant” (21–22). Each title is shrewdly tied to a central element of the specific chapters. Taken together, they testify to Rhys’s ability to abstract a text’s internal structure and embody it in an image. Once again, her goal seems to have been to render explicit what was implicit and to emphasize underlying structure.

The rightness of Ford’s intuition in bringing Rhys into the frame becomes abundantly clear when you consider that both Carco and Rhys wrote books about gender hierarchy and exploitation — about the patriarchy on meth. Carco wrote about prostitutes and pimps, where sex is business and men brutalize women in plain sight. Rhys dealt with a different group of women — a politer but no less dependent class, manipulated and entrapped by suave, wealthy men in tweeds. In fact, Perversity is very much a Jean Rhys novel except that it’s the male negative to her female positive. Rhys would have written the story from the point of view of Irma, the prostitute who’s shot to death on the last page.

The Simple Story

Perversity tells a simple story. A hero is in love with a woman but cannot tell her (in part because he doesn’t even know it himself); he is content to live nearby. A suitor enters the picture and sweeps the woman off her feet. He treats her badly, but she accepts him anyway, and the hero is forced to watch. Only then does he begin to realize what his feelings truly are. The hero buys a gun with which to shoot the bad lover but grows timid and confused and shoots the woman instead. It’s a parable of gender and moral codes. The woman is not allowed to choose the man she wants. If a man doesn’t agree with a woman’s choice, he has to kill her.

This is the basic story, almost a folktale, that Carco orchestrates into a novel. The writer’s genius is to elaborate this basic tale by adding situational details, atmosphere, characterization, and devices of delay and recursion such as extra story lines, rhyming action, image patterns, set-piece scenes, and thematic passages. The milieu is 1920s Paris, specifically a neighborhood along Boulevard de Grenelle near La Motte-Picquet Métro station. All the female characters are prostitutes. Being a prostitute is a job. The bad lover is a pimp and a sadistic bully named Bébert. The hero, Emile, is a dim-witted, cowardly, and unlikable office clerk with a thin yellow moustache and a falsetto voice. The woman he desires is his sister, Irma, a prostitute. The fact that Irma is his sister is the reason he can’t admit his love to her or even to himself.

The surface plot, the spine of the story, involves a series of repetitive steps. Emile rouses himself again and again to defy Bébert, and Bébert duly thrashes him. There are three beatings, each worse than the last, with a fourth clash prefigured but deflected onto Irma. And then there are rhyming beatings: Bébert beats Irma twice and Emile beats another prostitute named Belle-Amour multiple times. There are also three murders: one in the past, one imagined, and finally Irma’s. Interspersed among the beatings are periods of relative calm in which the three main characters try to establish a modus vivendi. Inevitably, Emile’s (passive, cowardly) defiance triggers Bébert’s temper and the cycle repeats.

Emile’s relationship with Belle-Amour is a separate story line, a tangent made to cohere within the novel structure by its repetition of certain elements of the main plot. Belle-Amour is an alcoholic prostitute who is in love with Emile but never tells him. When Emile realizes the hold he has over her, he makes her his victim, has sex with her, and beats her, thus neatly inverting his role on the surface plot, where he is the mute lover and Bébert’s victim (Bébert and Emile are variants of the same character, both with perverse attachments to giving and receiving pain). In other words, Emile’s relationship with Belle-Amour deploys the same narrative syntagms — mute love, prostitution, bullying, and beatings — as the main plot, only organized differently.

What Lurks Beneath, the Masked Plot

But Perversity’s intense power, its aura of dark mystery and inscrutable horror, depends largely on Carco’s use of a covert or masked plot that is keyed to a fact he leaves almost entirely out of the novel: Emile’s secret desire for his sister. From the outset, Emile’s incestuous longings are suppressed; they are presented as a riddle all the characters, including Emile himself, attempt to solve: “[S]ometimes he watched her while she dressed, with sad vacant eyes. He stared at her as an animal stares at things and people. What could he be thinking of?” In fact, he never does admit this desire, never acts on it directly; the masked plot advances along a series of denials, deferrals, and substitutions. As the novel progresses, Emile’s control of his fragile ego degrades, and his incestuous yearnings float closer to the surface in a series of scenes: 1) a waking dream in which Irma is replaced by the image of another prostitute named Denyse; 2) a dialogue scene in which Irma and Emile confess their unhappiness, and Emile all but admits his feelings; and 3) a scene with the two of them riding a merry-go-round holding hands, as they had once done in childhood.

The waking dream is typical of Emile’s semi-conscious (in stylistic terms, impressionistic) way of thinking. He is in bed recovering from Bébert’s second brutal assault, listening to Irma move about in her room next door. He longs for her sympathy, for some feminine attention. “He was like a child, longing for caresses because it is sick and must stay in bed.” Then he imagines her getting dressed, lacing up her boots, “with a feeling that he dared not analyze.” Dreamy “presences” begin to substitute themselves for Irma in his reverie. At first, she fades into a generalized female, and then, all at once, “What was this? It was Denyse who was in the room talking to him.” He sees Denyse undressing, washing before sex, sees her painted lips and breasts, then suddenly he awakes shouting Irma’s name.

The impeded confessional scene with Irma occurs near the novel’s close, just after Irma discovers Emile’s horrific relationship with Belle-Amour. Both characters now at rock bottom, they start to talk. In a passage of gorgeously halting dialogue, Emile seems to fall just short of declaring his feelings, feelings that Irma might reciprocate. “If only we had once talked as we are talking now,” says Irma. But Emile restrains himself, not the least because he’s afraid she will tell Bébert. “No,” he groaned, “I can’t explain now, that’s enough. What more can we say? It won’t change us.” She pleads with him. Trust me, she says. But he demurs, and suddenly becomes enraged, nearly hysterical: “[H]e reproached Irma with wishing to torment him, and tear him to pieces like the others did.”

Finally, in a moment of reprieve in the penultimate chapter, Bébert abandons Irma for another prostitute. Emile and Irma fall back into their old routine. He counts the days of the pimp’s absence, thinking that, on the ninth day, “he would at last be able to rejoice freely and perhaps to show it.” But when that day at last arrives, Bébert returns. The three go out to celebrate, Emile unwillingly, and stumble upon the merry-go-round. Irma climbs on and Emile, riding beside her, grasps her hand, refusing to let it go:

An unutterable sadness seized him, contracted his throat. He held out his hand to Irma, and Irma took it, pressing it as she used to do when he had lifted her on this same merry-go-round, and stayed by her side so that she would not be frightened. […] Was Irma not having the same illusion? Emile did not dare to ask her. But now it was he who held her hand, pressed it strongly, and did not wish to let it go.

This is the closest thing to an expression of love in the book and one of two moments in which Emile is marginally redeemed. The incestuous element softens and achieves a desperate and insidious innocence. But the reader needs to remember that this is Emile thinking; and naturally, he feels innocent.

Five pages later, he murders Irma.

The Power of Montage, or the Suite of Disconnected Events

That merry-go-round is a symbol, of course, beautifully prepared in the preceding pages in what the narrator calls a “suite of disconnected events” — technically, a montage. This is very late in the novel, following Emile’s scene of impeded confession with Irma. After Irma goes off to work, Emile wanders alone along Boulevard de Grenelle in the rain, dazzled by the crowds, lights, and sounds of a street fair, all rendered in lavish atmospheric detail. His aimless odyssey takes him through a series of tableaux, impressions that become symbolic as he reconstitutes them in memory. This process is a key aspect of Ford’s theory of literary impressionism. An impression is not just something perceived but is an image packaged subjectively with associated memories and emotions. An image is not what it is but what we think it is — hence, a symbol; and we dwell in a world of symbols, not real things.

Step by step, Carco fills Emile’s mind with a chain of images, associations, and emotions that lead him ineluctably toward Irma’s murder: 1) he watches Irma solicit a drunken American sailor; 2) he’s dragged into the Aux Belles Poules brothel and offered sex by a blowsy prostitute; 3) he stumbles onto a merry-go-round that reminds him of his childhood with Irma; 4) at a café called Pierrot (the sad clown of the commedia dell’arte), he converses with a young man who intends to shoot his lover for leaving him; and 5) Bébert suddenly appears, with a new mistress on his arm, pressuring Emile not to betray him.

The street fair is like a moral diorama, an allegory of Emile’s situation. The juxtaposition of a soliciting Irma with the bedraggled whores of Aux Belles Poules alters his perspective: “now that he has seen her at work,” she barely ranks above the degraded women who so disgust him. Then he notices the little merry-go-round just closing for the night, and he recalls a similar ride at Belleville in his youth. “He saw himself at the age when he had hoisted his little sister onto an identical merry-go-round.” The memory fills him “with a great uneasiness, a great disturbance, an emotion at once sweet and bitter and heart-rending.” The old man operating the ride touches him on the shoulder and utters the fateful words: “Hé ben my little man, you’ll have to go away, it’s all over.” These words recur and resonate, manifesting some hidden meaning for Emile.

He stumbles into the café Pierrot where a young man pulls out a revolver with which he plans to murder his mistress for having the temerity to leave him for a better man. The young man is Bébert’s twin, a bully who lives off his girlfriend’s earnings and beats her. But the girl has found someone who respects her and wants to marry her; she wants to be happy. Emile can almost understand her point of view; he struggles to say so. Briefly, the conversation erupts into a dialogue on happiness and love, but Emile keeps imagining the bloody murder scene. Just at that moment, his nemesis Bébert appears with a new lover. Bébert threatens Emile: “I warn you, it will be so much the worse for you” if he tells Irma.

Out on the street, Emile rehearses the entire sequence of scenes in his mind, beginning with the merry-go-round:

Five minutes afterwards Emile was outside. He understood nothing of this suite of disconnected events, he cursed them, and was wondering what he should do next when he saw under the arch of the Métro the little merry-go-round in front of which he had stopped. This put the finishing touch to his bewilderment. He remembered the emotion he had felt standing there listening to the music, then the old man who had approached him to say: “Well then, my little man…”

“Yes,” he thought stupidly, “it is all over.”

He recalls Irma and Belle-Amour in the same instant and passes quickly on to the scene in the café Pierrot. “The conversation he had had with the young man now acted morbidly on him, pursued him.” It seems “so natural and inevitable” that the young man’s lover should die from a gunshot. Emile imagines her blood once more and recalls his own blood draining from the wounds Bébert inflicted on him earlier — all this blood, of course, pointing ahead to Irma’s shooting. Then his mind returns to Bébert whose demonic presence insidiously inflects every aspect of these events. The chapter ends: “He felt Bébert’s influence surrounding him, and it frightened him and made him unable to escape.”

The merry-go-round image, now a complex symbol of childhood innocence, love, and unalloyed happiness shaded with abrupt endings, blood, murder, and degraded women, returns in the penultimate chapter when Irma and Emile achieve their one moment of grace, riding rabbits (the ride features not horses but rabbits) round and around, holding hands as they once did as children.

Love, Happiness, and the Sad Clowns

Emile spends large chunks of the novel in reverie and reflection, compulsive emotional dialectics that look like thoughts but are inherently irrational and self-destructive. These reveries are also the novel’s main platform for thematic elaboration, the meta-commentary that guides the reader through the book. How do the characters see their world? What obscure sentiments motivate their actions? What larger meaning can we extract from them?

These passages are scattered throughout the book, but some are especially significant. Irma’s first orgasm with Bébert, overheard by Emile through the thin partition between bedrooms, triggers the first thematic passage. It begins with questions: “Then she sometimes found pleasure? Emile felt humiliated at the idea. And with whom? He was curious about the unknown man.” Pondering the mysterious lover, he is led to the disturbing admission that he himself had never given a woman an orgasm, which in turn leads to memories of his two wives. Then:

Women were a detestable lot. […] He sincerely felt that the best way of dealing with women was to carefully avoid them, to keep them at a proper distance. […] And from that experience had come his need to live alone, to avoid people[.] […] At any rate he was left in peace; and that was all he wanted. All his unhappiness had been caused by those two beings[.] […] And now, just as he had hoped to arrange some possible sort of existence, Irma had interfered and reopened the whole question.

The question left hanging here is no less than the question of love.

The second major thematic passage extends the reflection. This occurs a few pages later, the first time Emile encounters Belle-Amour in the street. She is unaccountably gracious to him. Bemused, he escapes up the stairs, then drops into reverie. Just as in the previous example, his reflections begin in surprise — something in Belle-Amour’s behavior has shifted the ground — then segue into a series of questions. “A novel emotion. Pleasure, discontent? He could not define it.” Then he becomes suspicious. Why had she insisted? What was her plan? “What did she want from him, after all? The innocent.”

Suddenly, it occurs to Emile that the old prostitute is in love with him. He wriggles with anxious laughter because the “thought of love was too painful.” It triggers his fear of public embarrassment, then terrible memories, “the ridicule, the shame, the daily and nightly despair […] the dreadful moments he had known with his second wife.” As he recalls her recriminations and the horrid pleasure he took in tormenting her, the passage slices deep into the emotional marrow of Emile’s most intimate relations:

What? Was that all love was? Emile closed his eyes. Yes he had loved her, perhaps cherished her, but in his fashion, with the diseased wish to torment and be odious to her. He could not love otherwise. That was his nature. […] [H]e was conscious of being the author of all his misery, he saw his fault everywhere and measured its extent, and abrupt and painful change took place in him. He no longer wished to find excuses for himself, but he tried on the contrary to reach by secret roads the innermost depths of his heart, the better to tear himself to pieces.

The last phrase is horrific in the way it leaves Emile locked inside the awful cage of his own personality, almost understanding it without being able to alter it, ineluctably bound by self-hatred to the pain/pleasure axis that defines the emotional dynamics — and the dark misogyny — of the novel’s two main male characters. This is the way Emile loves.

In passages such as these, Carco opens up the thematics of novel, reaching beyond the cage of abuse, sadism, and predation to the universal subject of love. All the plots in Perversity turn on defective love: Irma loves Bébert, but he is abusive and unfaithful; Belle-Amour loves Emile, but she is beneath him and he abuses her; Emile loves Irma, but she is his sister. At this stage, Carco hasn’t said what he thinks love is, how a loving relationship might progress, except by implication. By posing the question “Was that all love was?” Emile has obliquely yet powerfully inserted into the story an ethical and emotional dimension that glimmers behind all the surface action.

The last thematic passage is the liveliest and most bizarre: the set-piece scene in the café Pierrot. It reads like a Samuel Beckett sketch. Emile walks into the café by chance. The man seated next to him starts up a conversation about beer yeast, a health drink that is a Pierrot specialty. “It purifies the blood.” The young man says he’s decided to shoot his faithless mistress, then kill himself. He shows Emile his revolver. From another pocket, he pulls out a sheaf of papers, including a suicide note and a letter from the mistress. They read the letter, then talk of women, happiness, and love. Given everything that’s gone before, it’s an extraordinary conversation.

To get the full effect, it’s important to note that Emile has been described as unhappy multiple times. In their confessional scene together, he and Irma bond over their mutual unhappiness, the immediate cause of which is Bébert, who beats Irma, betrays her, and spends her money. The reader is meant to juxtapose Irma’s situation with the words of the mistress’s letter and the conversation that follows:           

[W]ith Albert my life is safer than with you [the letter reads]. And he manages to make himself respected, Albert. He is just to everyone, serious, always polite. He is a reasonable man. He has promised to marry me. You never managed to make me happy or you didn’t want to. I understand that you only cared for my money and that as long as you could get it out of me […], it was all the same to you how I earned it.

Even Emile sees reason in her letter. He tries circumspectly to take her side. “You took her sous away? Is that true?” “[S]he wasn’t happy with you. It’s a good reason.” Then this exchange occurs:

“Well, this woman, she wanted to be well considered, respected. She does not hide it from you.” He [Emile] added, as if regretfully: “All women are like that … I know them … they’ve all got it in their heads that they want to be happy.”

“Happy, happy,” repeated the other.

“Well, she says that in her letter.”

“I’ll give her being happy,” said the young man.

He picked up the papers silently and crammed them in a pocket. After which, in a tone of deep disillusion: “Firstly,” he declared, “there is no question of being happy, when one sees what life is. It has no sense — that word — none. It’s sufficient that one loves. Is anyone happy when they are in love? One does not even notice it. It’s later on, that one gets the idea into one’s skull, one is tormented…”

“Yes,” said Emile, “however…”

But the other stopped him.

“You for instance,” he questioned with obvious contempt, “are you happy?”

“I don’t know,” retorted Emile who did not understand what his interlocutor was trying to get at. “It isn’t very important.”

Carco forces so much into this scene: the letter fragment, a voice from outside the main story, not mediated through Emile’s perspective; the strangely halting dialogue, so typical of Emile’s elliptical thoughts and half-admissions throughout; Emile’s sudden and unexpected transformation into a reasonable human being; the obvious paralleling of the young man and his mistress with Bébert and Irma; the unhappy/happy word pattern; and the — again unexpected — insertion of the word “love,” bringing into play, and thus linking, earlier thematic passages. The passage fits together so many structural pieces of the story, moving the reader toward a final synthesis, toward an overarching ethical horizon, though the synthesis here is savagely ironic.

The scene reads like a dialogue with the Devil, but the comic opening should be a clue. Health drinks? Carco juxtaposes two visions of love, two visions of happiness. Emile all but gets the message. A woman wants to be well thought of, respected, safe, and happy. She doesn’t want her money stolen, nor to prostitute herself. It’s absurdly simple, and thinking over the women he has known, Emile, briefly, sees their side of things.

But health drinks? In truth, the mistress’s earnest vision of human happiness reads like lukewarm herbal tea next to Emile’s convulsive torments and the intensely misogynist tribal norms of men like Bébert. The letter is explicitly gendered, marked as woman-thought, in the dialogue. Respecting women, keeping them safe, letting them spend the pennies they earn are sound bourgeois values, but in the milieu along Boulevard de Grenelle, such sentiments have about as much traction as advocating the salvational qualities of wheat grass, weekly cleansings, and yoga.

The world Emile, Bébert, and Irma inhabit is the very essence of toxic masculinity, and they cannot imagine a way out. When a woman starts to talk like this, to prattle on about comfort and safety, the dim-witted men in the book feel the urge to go out and buy guns. The plot, the image patterns, and the thematics of Perversity are wrapped tightly around this single chilling sentence: “‘I’ll give her being happy,’ said the young man.”

The word “happiness” recurs one more time. Bébert has returned from his extracurricular dalliance, and Irma is ecstatic, but her ecstasy requires her to ask no questions and to finance an expensive celebratory night on the town for all three of them.

Then radiant: “Emile, you see. … He’s come back! Bébert! he’s come back … he’s here … with me … No. It’s not possible. … I’m too happy. … Emile, come, make haste … but come. Come quick!”

“Yes, it is too much happiness,” grunted Emile shutting the door.

And thus Emile shuts the door on happiness — which, in this case, happens to be a false happiness. So there are ironies: by shutting the door on happiness, he is also shutting himself inside the narrow universe of pathological desire where he feels most at home. He has already made resolutions. He knows what he wants. He had been counting the days of Bébert’s absence until he and Irma could be truly alone. And yet now Bébert has reappeared.

Failing to kill Bébert, he shoots Irma instead, a final act of displacement and substitution, the explosive climax of the novel’s masked plot:

Irma became livid, stretched out her hands, drew back towards the door but it was too late. The first bullet hit her in the stomach, then another, a third, and she collapsed heavily, whilst Emile emptied his revolver into her body.

 — a furious and despairing gesture that can readily be construed as a diabolical consummation of forbidden love.

¤

Douglas Glover is the author of the novels Elle and The Life and Times of Captain N. His most recent book is The Erotics of Restraint: Essays on Literary Form.

 

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