Our Lady of the Flowers

ISBN: 1596541369
ISBN 13: 9781596541368
By: Jean Genet

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About this book

Jean Genet's seminal Our Lady Of The Flowers (1943) is generally considered to be his finest fictional work. The first draft was written while Genet was incarcerated in a French prison; when the manuscript was discovered and destroyed by officials, Genet, still a prisoner, immediately set about writing it again. It isn't difficult to understand how and why Genet was able to reproduce the novel under such circumstances, because Our Lady Of The Flowers is nothing less than a mythic recreation of Genet's past and then - present history. Combining memories with facts, fantasies, speculations, irrational dreams, tender emotion, empathy, and philosophical insights, Genet probably made his isolation bearable by retreating into a world not only of his own making, but one over which he had total control.

Reader's Thoughts


An odd but truly beautiful book. The casual, preoccupied way in which Genet relates the deeds of Divine, Our Lady & Co. is a gesture of pure ego, and while as a reader I found myself at times wishing for more structure, more "story" from the narrative, there is comfort in knowing that little occurs in the book without it expressly pleasing Genet at the moment of its construction. This is true to the point that he entreats us to fill in our own blanks in the story when it displeases him to do so:"I leave you free to imagine any dialogue you please. Choose whatever may charm you. Have it, if you like, that they hear the voice of the blood, or that they fall in love at first sight... Conceive the wildest improbabilities. Have it that the depths of their beings are thrilled at accosting each other in slang. Tangle them suddenly in a swift embrace or a brotherly kiss. Do whatever you like."Despite being disconcerting, this moment of ego has a charm that despite its selfishness endears the reader to it and makes him or her feel almost accomplice to Genet in completion of the work. The sketched out, moment-to-moment nature of the book (I here removed the word "story" because it feels at times an inaccurate descriptor) and its tendency to flit to whatever will most excite its author, sometimes at the expense of what might further interest its reader, makes it an imperfect one, but one perfectly in keeping with its author's principles of what is good and beautiful. A 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


It's the only Jean Genet I had read from the start till the end and manage to understand what Genet wanted to express. Before I read Our Lady of the Flowers, I had tried The Thief's Journal, but I simply have no idea what the book is about. Luckily I have better luck with Our Lady of the Flowers.Our Lady is a complicated book, with reality, dreams and fantasies hopelessly tangled together. And to be honest, I don't think I fully understand this book. This book has a great deal to do about sex, desire, cruelty, crime and punishment, imprisonment and freedom, etc. More confusing still, is that I found Genet's ideas to be both religious and anti-religion at the same time. The most fascinating and daring part about Genet's writing is how he manged to turn everything, every value and belief upside down. Plus I'm touched by Genet's way of expressing the ideas that "death and murder is the final sacrifice for love" etc.Reading Genet's novels are always like losing yourself in a maze, but it's a maze which worthies getting lost in; though I understand not everyone can enjoy Genet's writing.


** spoiler alert ** In Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers we are given a firsthand look into the world of masturbation, anal sex, and bowel functions. Genet transforms the sounds, images and smells of these experiences through the use of poetic language to the point where we could forget that we are reading about the profane and fringe world of prisoners, pimps, prostitutes, thieves and drug dealers.The narrator celebrates masturbation and raises it to an art form in the multiple descriptions of his time spent pleasuring himself. Genet takes the reader through the journey of elation but then quickly drops the reader into depravity. Genet’s word choices evoke images and sounds of bird wings flapping instead of hands grasped around penises trying desperately to achieve orgasm when “He strokes it through the sheet, gently at first, with the lightness of a fluttering bird” (Genet 120). The narration quickly descends into the profane when the narrator “Discharges into the toothless mouth of the strangled old man” (Genet, 120). These manic descriptions are what challenge the reader and give the story its depth. We are on the wings of a bird and then we are the toothless mouth of a strangled old man.The sexual relations and male genitalia are described creatively and with great power. Using descriptors like the “shying” horse and the whinnies of a centaur, Genet provides the audio and image to a powerful sexual experience. Genet uses this animal story to describe Gabriel and Divine’s intercourse. Gabriel dominates Divine, “with his usual fury” as all of her sexual partners do, in this passage: Gabriel had acquired such virtuosity that he was able, though remaining motionless himself, to make his tool quiver like a shying horse. He forced with his usual fury and felt his potency so intensely that – with his nose and throat - he whinnied with victory, so impetuously that Divine thought he was penetrating her with his whole centaur body. She swooned with love like a nymph on a tree.” (Genet 150)Even basic bodily functions like flatulence get a rich treatment from Genet’s narrator. As a prisoner, the narrator revels in the simple pleasure of swear words and farts described as “words of argot which stream from pimps’ lips as his farts (pearls) stream from Darling’s downy behind.“ (Genet 242) In these words Genet calls argot (profanity) farts and then in turn describes the farts as “pearls” from a “downy behind.” In the narrator’s world there is nothing about the male form or what is emitted from it that cannot be painted with a loving brush stroke.. It is these kinds of prose that transport the reader to lovely heights then drop the reader down as they realize what is being described to them.In conclusion, Genet uses multiple sensory experiences to loving transport his narrator from fringes of society partaking in activities many would consider to be “dirty” to a world of centaurs, nymphs, pearls, and fluttering birds. This is where the reader experiences the divine

Autumn Christian

A bewitching and hypnotic novel from Jean Genet, the first draf of which was written when he was in prison. Like most of his works, Our Lady of the Flowers has a fragmented plot. It's centered around a murderer, a pimp, and a queen, in a netherworld in which murder is highly erotic and alluring and evil is regarded as sensuous and good. This novels pummels the readers with beautiful and vile imagery, a story within a story that breaks the fourth wall as we follow Jean Genet (who tells us himself the story is only written for masturbatory purposes) in prison, dreaming of luxury and secret worlds. I preferred "The Thief's Journal" over this one, but definitely worth picking up.

John Tipper

Jean Genet was a French professional criminal during the 20th century. An abandoned child, he lived for a while in an orphanage and then dropped out of school to become a homosexual prostitute, a petty thief and had a stint in the French Foreign LegionHe wrote this novel entirely in prison. Divine, a homosexual, is the central character, who dies early on in the narrative. It is difficult to say what the novel is precisely "about", since the prose is poetic and disjointed. Genet fantasizes a lot about Divine and other men while engaging in masturbation, which seems to be how he handles his solitude. The improvised, poetic nature of the writing was a major influence on the Beat Writers of the fifties, particularly Kerouac and Burroughs. There have been many prison writers down through the ages, but most critics consider Genet the most influential. A tough guy gay sociopath, he delights in breaking norms, going against the grain and questioning morality and even reality itself.This novel is worth reading if for no other reason than it gives one a window into the mind of a sociopath.


** spoiler alert ** Jean Genet's seminal Our Lady Of The Flowers (1943) is generally considered to be his finest fictional work. The first draft was written while Genet was incarcerated in a French prison; when the manuscript was discovered and destroyed by officials, Genet, still a prisoner, immediately set about writing it again. It isn't difficult to understand how and why Genet was able to reproduce the novel under such circumstances, because Our Lady Of The Flowers is nothing less than a mythic recreation of Genet's past and then - present history. Combining memories with facts, fantasies, speculations, irrational dreams, tender emotion, empathy, and philosophical insights, Genet probably made his isolation bearable by retreating into a world not only of his own making, but one over which he had total control.The imprisoned narrator "Jean," who may or may not be identical with the author, masturbates regularly; like a perpetual motion machine, his fantasies fuel his writing and his writing spurs on his fantasies in turn. Nothing illustrates this more than the brief scene in which self - sustaining "Jean" describes his Tiamat.... Legs thrown over shoulders, "Jean" is not only the serpent that eats its tail but becomes a small, circular, self - imbibing universe all his own. A motto attributed to the alchemists could be the narrator's own: "Every man his own wife."Though the narrative is not the primary focus of this or any of Genet's novels, most responsible critics have failed to remark on the fact that the narrative of Our Lady Of The Flowers is the least compelling of any found in his five major novels. Our Lady Of The Flowers, does, however, lay the basic groundwork for the novels to come: The Miracle Of The Rose, Funeral Rites, Querelle, and The Thief's Journal (all written between 1944 and 1948).While Our Lady Of The Flowers is Genet's only novel to feature a predominantly effeminate homosexual man (Divine, who is at least partially a transvestite) as its protagonist ("Our Lady Of The Flowers," a virile young thug, is a secondary character), most of the other elements of the book will be very familiar to those who have read the balance of his fiction. Transvestites and transvestite figures abound, as do handsome, amoral, and homosexual or bisexual "toughs," jokes and extended vignettes concerned with lice, flatulence, constipation, and feces, mordant examinations of manhood and the criminal's code of honor, obsession with personal power through emotional betrayal, the long vagabond road to "sainthood," theft, masochistic love, prostitution, and vivid examples of the way in which physical desire and sexuality secretly and subtly fuel, in Genet's view, almost every aspect of life. As in portions of his other novels, the characters here, even the swaggering, virile young men, are known among their friends by fey pet names like "Darling Daintyfoot," "Mimosa," and "Our Lady of the Flowers," which are intended to be simultaneously affectionate and mocking. To further confuse, Divine is referred to as a "he" and referred to his surname during his youth and as a "she" and "Divine" in maturity. As in the Miracle of the Rose and Funeral Rites, characters mesh into one another, exchange identities, and move backward and forward through time at the narrator's whim. Both "Jean" and the individual characters fuse their own and each other's personalities together as needed, and all occasionally lose control of this process: but Jean Genet, master puppeteer, never does.Genet's readers are probably aware of the existence of haughty establishment critics who pretentiously embrace Genet's work but nonetheless treat it like something best held at the end of a very long stick. "Evil" is the word most commonly used to describe Genet's fiction by stuffy, anxious middlebrow critics who, while distressingly stimulated by his work, feel duty - bound to officially decry its potential for pernicious influence. Many artists are said to create a "moral universe" within the body of their work; Genet is one of the few that actually does, though his is a mirror universe where amorality reigns. Genet's world is so exclusively concerned with flea - ridden prostitutes, child murderers who don't wipe themselves, handsome pimps who eat what they scratch out of their noses, [prostitutes] with rotting teeth, strutting, uneducated alpha male hustlers, and masochistic sodomites -- bourgeois emblems of horror all -- that the question of "evil" as such in Genet's work becomes obsolete.While Genet loves and personally glorifies his memories, fictional recreations and their outcast lifestyles, he never objectively condones their actions to his audience. In all of his novels, Genet finds beauty, suffering, and vulnerability - humanity - in everyone, thus setting a far better example than his hypocritical reviewers. There is as much "evil" in Genet's books as there is represented by any typical novel's reality principle (for example, all of Genet's characters reveal more humanity and innate dignity than the crass, vacuous crowd Nick Carraway falls in with in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby) or, for that matter, as there is in the lives of those unstable, morally - confused critics who are simply too cowardly to recognize the world as the diverse, dangerous, devouring, and unstable place that it is. If Our Lady Of The Flowers proves anything, it's that fifty years after its initial publication, the book is still effectively upsetting the wormy apple carts Genet intended it to.From the standpoint of Jung's psychological types, Genet's feeling and sensation functions probably predominated in both his life and his writing. However, his thinking and intuition functions were clearly constellated as well, giving Our Lady Of The Flowers and the masterpieces that followed it unmatched macrocosmic perceptiveness, poetic resonance, and gripping, all - inclusive dramatic power. Like alchemical "totality" the hermaphrodite, a shaman, or a legitimate Christian saint, mystic Genet seems to have written from a state of undifferentiated consciousness and enjoyed a state of perpetual participation mystique with life.

Nik Kane

Jean Genet writes some of the most beautiful, unforgettable prose about some of the most off-putting subject matter. I could not continue, yet I could not stop. I wonder what could have been if he chose to write about nobler universal human themes rather than just shit, cocks, cum, and queers.


in an excellent introductory essay Sartre calls this book the "masturbation epic." and so it is. Genet in prison writing to excite himself. violence and blue-eyed killers conflated with the sacred, flowers and churches.

Michael Cross

grit and down and fleshy veils and veils . . .


Unique erotica, like no other book ever written. A convict in a French prison posts glamorous magazine pics of men on his cell wall and daydreams sex fantasies of them intermingled with fantasies of his fellow inmates. This is no gay porn Walter Mitty, though; you find yourself inhabiting an alternate universe much like Kenneth Anger’s short films made during the same period (World War II Nineteen Forties). Read this and feel your head explode!

Robert Swanger

The manifestation of sexual depravity realizes itself when exposed by incarceration. Imprisoned by its own existence and learned definition, the protagonist's sexuality is acted out in grotesque craving and fulfillment made possible by a lifetime of repression. A must for those intrigued by the abstract mystery of sex and its revelation about the unconscious, but for me a bit too abstract for my taste.

Jerome K

I read a friend's copy of this. I didn't know much about Genet when I read it. His prose is florid to say the least. This novel and Miracle Of The Rose, which are two of my favourite Genet works, is about life in and out (but mostly in) prisons, with a strong homoerotic subtext. Probably the best novel about gay fantasy/life prison life. Todd Haynes's movie Poison used some references from Miracle I think. I was very impressionable at the time so yeah it definitely fired up my imagination. LOL.


They should give Jean Genet a kids show. You know, like Sesame Street and Barney and whatever they have now -- Dora the Explorer? Jean could teach the kids outdated pimp argot instead of Spanish! But the language thing would be extra; the reason Genet gets a kids show is that the message of this book is the same as those shows': this message being the glorious imperative to use your imagination."Use your imagination!" When you think about it, it's a bit strange that there's such an emphasis on this in media for children, since they already are using their imaginations (or would be, anyway, if they weren't sitting in front of the TV). Since kids imagine things spontaneously without being told, this hysterical, unnecessary urging by the adults putting out TV probably has less to do with the children's edification than with something the adults are missing themselves. Maybe what Ernie and Barney are really saying is, "Use your imagination NOW, kid, because one day real soon, it is going to shrivel up into a flaccid and desiccated and useless old husk, and you will be serving a life sentence in a filthy French prison called Adulthood, surrounded by bedbugs, sociopaths, and the rank stench of shit. And you'll have no recourse then, and no hope for escape."This, then, in the kids' show I'm developing, provides a nice segue into the basics of how capitalism should work. See, adult, you have no imagination; you are incarcerated (so to speak) in the cramped stinking cell that is reality, from which you cannot escape because you no longer possess that once-prized power to use your imagination. Fortunately, you can benefit from the fruits of our neighbor M. Genet's vigorous labor, since he does still have an imagination, and for a nominal fee he will let you use it (and for a couple francs more, you can use something else of his, too).And this is why we read: to get out of our lives. To get out of our cells. Okay, so that's a bit overwrought, but I mean it. We need other people's books because our brains are not enough, and our own imaginations are too feeble to invent worlds that will make ourselves free. See, I bet that would've sounded less cheesy if I'd written it in French! Those bastards really do get away with a lot.Awhile ago I reviewed Jim Thompson on here, and someone on the thread wondered if he'd ever read Proust. The thought of that made my stomach lurch -- of course he didn't! gross! -- but I'm willing to bet Genet read both guys (maybe at the same time), and swallowed them in the same mouthful with no sense of dissonance.I definitely wouldn't recommend this to everyone. It's almost assaultively poetic and gorgeous while incredibly raunchy and scatological, like an overpowering bouquet of gardenias and lilacs with erect penises popping out between the petals, in a cracked crystal vase set on the back of an overflowing toilet. If you think you might be fascinated by a swooningly imaginative, lovely fever dream of a pre-pre-Stonewall, pre-pre-pre-AIDS degenerate homosexual underworld and aesthetic, then this could potentially be a book you'd enjoy. Think pimps, wigs and teacups, thieves, murderers and pearls, boxers and graveyards, news clippings of killers, and a drag ball of queens in stained nineteenth-century gowns.... Think cock after cock after huge erect cock, with paeans to farting and a few trips to Mass. There's a trial. There's a funeral. There's a lot of jacking off! Instead of furry blue monster Grover's "cooperation," M. Genet's neighborhood would emphasize the importance of "la masturbation," an almost diametrically opposite concept but one also essential for the development of young people.If I were a more artistic soul myself, I might try and put together a Geneted-out Sesame Street version, since the pimps and queens would make beautiful muppets, and the animated sequences could really be something. Our Lady of the Flowers doesn't need that, though. It doesn't need me or anyone else; we need it! Truthfully, I think I really did need Our Lady. This is the first book I've read in awhile that actually changed the way that I think; I feel like it gave me a bit of a trepanning, sort of relieved some pressure on the skull and gave my uninteresting organ some more room to breathe. I was really living in the world a bit too much, and now I'm not here if I don't need to be. Genet did remind me that I don't have to stay here, and that if things become too oppressive I can just run off to become a male prostitute and live in a Parisian garret above a cemetery with my Negro and my adolescent psychopath, and a whole lot of drugs and makeup and fake jewels. It's too bad the fascistic policies of public television would likely not allow this glorious message of freedom to be shared with a nation of tots. For now, unfortunately, this book is limited to people who have learned how to read. The good news is, you can probably buy it used for a dollar! Though I might recommend a newer edition than the one I have, which identifies itself on the cover as "A SHATTERING NOVEL OF HUMAN DEPRAVITY," which will make people look at you like you're just reading a bunch of trash. Which you are not. You're just using your imagination!

Jay Cardam

I read this book as a sophomore in High School...sent to me by an older brother at Indiana University. My English Teacher actually let me do my book report on it. (although she made me meet with her first to discuss the book) She was amazing, old-school dragon of a teacher but throughout the year would throw books on my desk at the end of class and tell me..."Read this and come talk to me about it." I don't remember all the books, but the first one...Kingsblood Royal...sticks out in my mind.Our Lady of the Flowers started me on a reading frenzy of like books and French writers...Gide, Genet, Sartre, etc.What impressed me so at the time was the total reversal of the standards and hierarchies I had been taught in middle America. The rawness of Genet's works were instantaneously understood by me, though at the time I had no experience with which to measure it.

Vanessa (V.C.)

Our Lady of the Flowers isn't an easy read. It has a twisted premise and an even more twisted way of when, where, and how it was written. I didn't love this novel, but I didn't hate it either. I was intrigued by the characters and more or less impressed by Genet's writing style, but on the other hand I think Genet's style was also a turn off. He rambles...A LOT. It is pretentious rambling, many times too self-indulgent, so much so that it at times made it difficult to really take this book seriously. At times he is poetic, extremely erotic, but for the most part the narrative just keeps on growing increasingly self-indulgent and just loses focuses on what the hell is actually happening or going on. The plot practically loses itself, but the characters still remain very memorable and sometimes endearing, even if these aren't characters that you can love. For what it is worth, Our Lady of the Flowers is worth reading for the sheer fact that it will be one of the most interesting and "out there" novels that you can ever read. Unfortunately though, at least for me, it is only worth reading just once and only once.

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