Our Lady of the Flowers

by Jean Genet

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Characters Discussed

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Our Lady of the Flowers

Our Lady of the Flowers, a convicted murderer. In real life, he was Adrien Baillon, born on December 19, 1920, and executed on February 2, 1939. In the story, he is identified by the titular sobriquet, by his real name, and as an imaginary extension of “Maurice Pilorge,” the name given him by the author in an earlier poem and retained as the name of the person to whose memory the novel is dedicated. As a character in the story, he is loved by Divine, Seck Gorgui, and others, is affectionately called Danie, and is engaged in drug dealing with Marchetti. The details of his trial and execution are orchestrated in the narrative to coincide with the accounts of the deaths of Alberto and Divine. Like all the male characters in the novel, he is homosexual.

Jean Genet

Jean Genet (zhah[n] zheh-NAY), the thirty-year-old author and narrator of the story, serving time at Fresnes Prison in cell 426, where, by contemplating newspaper photographs attached to the wall, he creates character roles for the men photographed. His imaginative assignment of these roles to himself and his fellow inmates serves to stimulate his erections, enabling him to masturbate, and to provide the substance of the story. The main role that he creates for himself is Louis Culafroy, a boy reared in the countryside who goes to Paris and becomes a transvestite male prostitute known as Divine. Our Lady of the Flowers, Alberto, and Marchetti are also, in part, confections of his own psychic identity.

Divine

Divine (dee-VEEN), the dominant persona of Jean Genet, his coeval. “She” loves Darling Daintyfoot and Seck Gorgui and is jealous of Our Lady of the Flowers. “She” dies of consumption. Divine is the personification of Genet’s quest for sainthood.

Louis Culafroy

Louis Culafroy (lwee kew-lah-FRWAH), Divine/Genet as a boy. His mother is Ernestine, the widow of a man who committed suicide. Like Genet’s actual mother, Gabrielle, who abandoned him at his birth, Ernestine has little use for Culafroy. Like Genet, who, as a public ward, was reared by country people, Culafroy grows up in a rural area.

Darling Daintyfoot

Darling Daintyfoot, or Mignon-les-Petits-Pieds (mee-YOH[N]-lay-ptee-PYEH), a pimp whose character is fashioned from the impressions Genet retained of a blond Corsican boy named Roger and whose persona includes the identity of Paul Garcia and projects the identity of Marchetti. Darling’s physical description matches Genet’s in many respects: five feet, nine inches tall; weight of 165 pounds; oval face with blond hair, blue-green eyes, perfect teeth, and a straight nose; and “almost as young as Divine.” His arrest for shoplifting is detailed in the story.

Seck Gorgui

Seck Gorgui (gohr-GEE), also known as Negro Angel Sun, or in French, le nègre Ange Soleil (leh nehgr ahnzh soh-LAY); his real name is Clément Village (klay-MEH[N] vee-YAHZH). Negro Angel Sun, Genet’s fellow inmate, has killed his mistress, a Dutch woman named Sonia. Gorgui is cast as a lover of Divine and of Our Lady of the Flowers.

Marchetti

Marchetti (mahr-SHEH-tee), a thirty-year-old, handsome, blond Corsican, blended by the narrator with Roger, the Corsican (who is Darling Daintyfoot). He is presented as a drug pusher who leads Our Lady of the Flowers astray. He may be considered to be a personification of Divine’s jealousy when Our Lady of the Flowers comes between “her” and Seck Gorgui during the time that the three are living together.

Alberto

Alberto, a country boy loved by Louis Culafroy. He dies from a stab...

(This entire section contains 847 words.)

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wound to his eye. When Culafroy confesses to Solange that he prefers Alberto to her, she responds, “You like him?” When Mimosa II tells Divine that she finds Our Lady of the Flowers attractive, Divine responds, “She pleases you?” (referring to Our Lady of the Flowers in the feminine). These reflexive incidents tie Alberto, Culafroy/Divine, and Our Lady of the Flowers into a unit in ways that are amplified by the concert of their deaths: In very short order, and in lyrical continuity, the narrator offers accounts of the death of Alberto (from the wound received in what appears to have been a quarrel over a girl), Our Lady of the Flowers (under the guillotine), and Divine (from tuberculosis).

Mimosa II

Mimosa II, a bitchy queen who is Roger’s “woman.” In actuality, “she” is Genet’s fellow inmate René Hirsch.

Solange

Solange (soh-LAHNZH), a country girl attracted to Louis Culafroy, who rejects her, when he realizes that he is homosexual, in favor of Alberto.

Gabriel Archangel

Gabriel Archangel, a persona given to a downed German pilot named Weidmann, whose picture adorned a wall of Genet’s cell.

Lady-Apple

Lady-Apple, or Pomme d’Api (puhm dah-PEE), an inmate who, in actuality, was Eugène Marceau.

First Communion

First Communion, an inmate who, in actuality, was Antoine Berthollet.

Mimosa I

Mimosa I, an inmate who, like Lady-Apple and First Communion, is among the numerous homosexuals mentioned by sobriquet in the story.

Ernestine

Ernestine, the mother of Louis Culafroy. She corresponds in many respects to Genet’s real mother, Gabrielle.

The Characters

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All the characters in Our Lady of the Flowers are seen through the perspective of the narrator, who is Genet himself or a version of himself. Perspective is not a strong enough term, for the narrator states that his characters are his own fantasies, which he develops for his own onanistic purposes. The fractured narrative which results is interwoven with the narrator’s own prison experiences, past and present. All the other major characters, then, are primarily versions of himself.

This fact is especially true of the book’s central figure, Divine. From the unhappy childhood and borderline murderous mother to the vagabond adolescence, the background for Divine’s character is artfully modeled on Genet’s own. Divine’s true uniqueness, on the other hand, lies in her ability to transform reality by living a willed fantasy. Her transformation into a woman is at every moment subject to external abuse and pressure from a hostile society. Nevertheless, she is somehow able to transcend these impossibilities and bring not only a sort of poetry into her world but also a kind of love.

Darling is the male fantasy counterpart to Divine—that is, he is the desired male figure that the narrator creates to be Divine’s lover so the narrator can enjoy him vicariously. Darling’s key attributes are all external: his physique, his manner of smoking a cigarette, even his bodily functions. He has little interior development and little personality other than a sovereign disdain for the morality of normal society. This disdain and the actions it allows him to perform contribute to the heroic aspect which his physical beauty suggests.

Our Lady is the most enigmatic character in the book. He is so young that he seems to undertake the most serious actions with a sublime lack of reflection. In fact, that combination of murderous action with a blank interior state accounts for what the narrator terms his glory. Our Lady is the type in the book for other killers known by the narrator in prison. His sublime indifference and blind courage are part of the mystery of the assassin that Genet wishes to explore in the book.

The rest of the characters in the book serve primarily to give depth to the past and inner experience of Divine. From her childhood as Lou Culafroy, these include her mother, Ernestine, who will be truly happy only when Lou is dead; Alberto, the snake catcher, who first shows Lou the physical aspect of love; and the young Solange, Lou’s only experience with a woman. Seck Gorgui, the black pimp, and Gabriel, a young French soldier, are Divine’s other important lovers. Mimosa is her primary rival and, with the other queens, serves to establish the atmosphere and milieu in which Divine lives.

Bibliography

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Coe, Richard. The Vision of Jean Genet, 1968.

Knapp, Bettina. Jean Genet, 1968.

MacMahon, Joseph. The Imagination of Jean Genet, 1963.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Introduction to Our Lady of the Flowers, 1963.

Thody, Philip. Jean Genet: A Study of His Novels, 1968.

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