The Horrors of Love, by Jean Dutuord

Rabbi David Wolpe writes to recommend a favorite title that’s now long out of print and largely forgotten: Jean Dutourd’s 1963 novel, Les Horreurs de l’amour, released in English in 1967 as The Horrors of Love. This description of the book and its plot comes from Time magazine’s original review:

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'The Horrors of Love'The Horrors of Love is an often ridiculous, sometimes funny tale of a middle-aged member of the French Chamber of Deputies who becomes tragically involved with his young mistress. At first glance, the story seems to be as obviously and simply French as a pair of lovers sneaking off to a bedsitter in the Square St.-Lambert. Yet it is not only the Gallic spirit that intrigues Dutourd, but the human spirit as well.

The rambling story unfolds in a dialogue between Dutourd and a friend. As they stroll in Paris, they discuss the unhappy case of Edouard Roberti, the 52-year-old Deputy who has been sent to prison for killing his mistress’ brother. It is apparent that Roberti, a respectable, loving father and husband, was all too ordinary—not so much evil as weak, not so much stupid as pitifully vain. By way of examining how it was that such a commonplace, decent man could become trapped in a senseless and sordid mess, Dutourd’s dialogue ranges through all sorts of philosophical detours. Courage and cowardice, honor and honesty, art, letters, manners, politics and morals become way stations as the two friends chat and argue.

This is not the first mention of The Horrors of Love in these pages. In the Los Angeles Times’ 1999 feature, Forgotten Treasures: A Symposium, John Lukacs called it a “stunning exception” to the overall decline of the novel. Lukacs wrote,

One oddity about it is that it is written in the second-person singular; it is a long dialogue between two super-intelligent Frenchmen (both sides of Dutourd’s own character) walking through Paris, ambling in and out restaurants, reconstructing the pride and fall of a Parisian politician who gradually falls in love with his younger mistress and ends up in jail. It is a delicious and profound work of art, from beginning to end. Andre Maurois likened it to Proust; but in some ways it is better than Proust, sprightlier and more imaginative. The language itself is superb.

And in nosing around the Net, I found a third strong thumbs-up from the fine novelist, Diane Johnson, in an issue of Archipelago from a few years back:

My first choice would be Jean Dutourd’s The Horrors of Love, which is translated into English and was published in the sixties. It is an incredible tour de force — a dialogue running to more than 600 pages, between two men who are walking through Paris, talking about the fate of a politician friend of theirs who was brought down by an erotic entanglement. Urbane, wise, humane, funny, even suspenseful — this is a worthy successor, as someone said, to Proust. Dutourd is the greatest living French novelist, and the only witty one since Proust; and before that? Voltaire? Laclos?

Jean DutourdPraise such as this makes me want to hang my head in shame for not having read it yet, even after skipping past used copies in bookstore stacks perhaps a hundred times over the year (I think it was a Literary Guild selection, so there are plenty of cheap used copies out there in the U.S.).

Dutuord, who’s managed to put out nearly a book a year since 1946, is still living and, I assume, writing. His 1950 satirical fantasy, A Dog’s Head, was reissued by the University of Chicago Press as part of its Phoenix Fiction series in 1998 and is still in print. His other novel of that year, Au bon beurre, scenes de la vie sous lâ Occupation, translated as The Best Butter has been called the best French novel to come out of World War Two.

7 thoughts on “The Horrors of Love, by Jean Dutuord

  1. This is a phenomenal wonderful absorbing book. I read every other Dutourd book I could find, and then, because one of his books is all about how much he loves Stendhal, I read all of Stendhal as well. I was just thinking of re reading it — it’s been 15 years or so since the last time, and it’s so wise.

    Two ideas I remember from it, trivial, but they often occur to me as I live. One was, when a young woman marries an older man, she begins to seem older; he does not seem younger.

    Another was that you age in sudden bursts. You go along looking about the same for ten years or so, then there is a period of aging and you hold fast again for another ten years.

    The book is densely full of truisms like these.

  2. Thanks for the comment and yet another strong recommendation. I see that Dutourd is still publishing, releasing in 2008 a collection of newspaper columns from the 1970s titled, La grenade et le suppositoire (oof!), of which La Figaro’s reviewer wrote that, like cognac, “le temps le fortifie et l’épanouit” (tr., it strengthens and blossoms with time).

  3. Hello,
    what a surprise to find your beautiful and so useful website;I love this kind of pages and in general, all the books that talk about books:book-hunting,unfinished masterpieces (“E.Drood”…) and…neglected books! I’m french and, just before reading a large paper copy of “les horreurs de l’amour” (published here by Gallimard in 1963), I wanted to find some reader opinions;it was a kind of delicious surprise to find that the novel was published in english;besides Jean Dutourd is a lover of english-american literature (he translated here “the old man and the sea”, Gallimard too;and a novel of the so-called “memories of Mary Watson”,inspired by the alleged wife of Watson, the dear friend to S.Holmes;novel 1981 and excellent);so all of you gave me the urge to read this novel! Jean Dutourd indeed wrote so many books and I love his essays, literary reviews (this year a new book of critical essays at Flammarion pub.);always witty, well written;Jean Giono, another french literary classic who died in 1970, said the best about “the horrors of love”;this book took 2 years of his life and he’s been almost sick at the end of writing it.
    Dear thanks for your web site,

  4. Merci pour vos comments. Je suis hereux que vous avez trouvé cette website interessant et utile. Visiter encore, s’il vous plaît, et envoie-moi un de vos livres français négligé.

  5. I have not been able to find a copy of the Horrors of Love just yet, but I was intrigued enough by Diane Johnson’s description of Dutourd’s work in her fine little book Into a Paris Quartier that I did find a copy of Dutourd’s Pleche or The Love of Art. It’s a very fine novel, also sadly neglected, and should be read by everyone with an interest in art, in artists and in the human spirit. Dutourd is masterful in his descriptions of human motivations.

  6. Of wolves and dogs (fable): “[I:] . . . We wolves live to be old and gaunt with gleaming eyes and mangy fur. On summer evenings we sit on our backsides on the river banks, pensively watching the dead dogs float by on the current, while nature sings melodies which we alone can hear.
    HE: You don’t appear to have done so badly for a wolf! One of these days you’ll be elected to the Academie and we shall have the pleasure of seeing a wolf in a green coat with gold braid down to the navel and a cocked hat between his velvety ears.
    I: And why not? One of my ancestors disguised himself as a grandmother.” (pp. 195-96)

  7. I’m re-reading the novel after a nearly forty year hiatus. It is all that previous comments describe it as being and is unquestionably Dutourd’s chef d’oeuvre.

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