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This review is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

ORPHEUS DEFINED Jean Cocteau, Past Tense - The Cocteau Diaries, Volume One, translated by Richard Howard (Hamish Hamilton) £15.00

On 16 July 1951 Cocteau began to keep a journal. He expected it to be published posthumously and even suggested a title, Le Passé défini. The first volume was published by Gallimard in 1983, twenty years after his death, and it was immediately obvious that something of major importance had appeared.

In 1951 Cocteau was sixty-two. He had made the film of Orphée the preceding year. Although still in possession of a house at Milly-la-Forêt outside Paris, he was increasingly to live as a permanent guest on the Côte d'Azur, in Santo Sospir, the home of Francine Weisweiller, a relation of Nicole Stéphane who had dazzingly played Elisabeth in the 1949 film of Les Enfants terribles. Here, in the hard light of the southern coast, he devoted more and more of his creative energy to painting. Picasso lived nearby and Cocteau's cautious admiration of him by no means implied subservience. 'With Stravinsky, with Picasso, I feel at ease. I feel at home.'

Volume One of the diaries goes up to December 1952. During these eighteen months Cocteau finished Bacchus, his play about the Reformation; oversaw its first production at the Marigny; started Journal d'un Inconnu, visited Italy, Greece and Germany; designed tapestries; supervised the revival of Oedipus Rex with Stravinsky; wrote the long poem Le Chiffre sept; made a film about his murals and paintings at Santo Sospir; created the scenario for the ballet La Dame à la licorne for which he also did the ...


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