and marketed as a kind of Gallicized—and hence depraved—Mickey Spillane. Apparently Carco, in his capacity as Katherine Mansfield’s lover, gave her syphilis and perhaps the tuberculosis that killed her. His best work is generally regarded to be his novel Perversité, first published in 1928 and translated into English by Jean Rhys (her lover Ford Madox Ford was wrongfully identified as the translator in the first English edition). No less a luminary than Ford himself described Perversity as “a second Madame Bovary.”
Chapter II of Perversity:
He thought that he was in a place where, notwithstanding Irma’s comings and goings, his comfort would be the first consideration. Then one night, towards midnight, he was awakened by an unusual noise. Emile listened. In La Rouque’s room a man was talking without troubling to lower his voice, and the girl—far from silencing the speaker—answered with animation. Once or twice Emile heard a laugh, and protested by a grunt.
“He chut! chut!” then said Irma, but too late. Emile was awake. He sat up in bed and asked weakly: “Is this noise going on for long?”
Someone answered at once: “No, no, all right.”
“Annoying people!” grumbled Emile. “Keeping people from sleeping!”
He waited, leaning on his elbow, then plunged into the bedclothes and shut his eyes. But he could not sleep. He tossed and turned, and perhaps for the first time began to picture his sister with a stranger—laughing and talking. He had never till the present moment dwelt on the thought of Irma in her room accomplishing her nightly task. But because he had been disturbed in his sleep, Emile confusedly began to imagine the scene which was taking place on the other side of the partition. He was not shocked. He was irritated, filled with ill temper and discontent. Certainly what Irma did was not his business, but why was she making such a noise? It was intolerable. At this time of night Emile did not admit this loud talking. Were they laughing at him? Did they mean to be personally disagreeable to him?
He grumbled: “If it begins again I’ll—”
The idea that they were doing it on purpose was provoking, and he was on the point of telling his sister that she must keep quiet, when a moaning sound, at first almost inaudible, but which grew louder, came from the next room, and Emile knew no more what to think. It was Irma moaning, and to her complaint the creaking of the bed added a cynical and degrading confession.
Then all that had gone before became precise to Emile’s eyes, assailed him with such force that he dared ask himself nothing more. “Ah well,” he thought, “well… well… Surely.” His wrath cooled down, and gave place to a feeling of stupor which increased as Irma’s sighs became more numerous and hoarser. The sounds reached him through the partition, as in a hospital the panting breath of a sick man dreaming can be heard by the helpless person in the next bed. Emile found himself in an exactly similar situation. He was unable to do anything, and could only wait for La Rouque to stop crying out from the next room her detestable and painful pleasure. Then she sometimes found pleasure? Emile felt humiliated at the idea. And with whom? He was curious about the unknown man. What could he be like? It was extraordinary. Emile could not picture him. The more he thought about it the more complex became his imaginings, his brain accumulating a hundred preposterous, grotesque and unlikely details.
Sometimes he told himself that there could be nothing very special about the individual. Sometimes on the contrary, Emile imagined him with striking features and an air which would force every one to notice him. And this idea was a very painful one. It was tormenting, for in order to react he was unconsciously comparing himself and opposing himself to the unknown. Alas! Emile had never given pleasure to a woman. He had done his best. But no! Never! Never to a single one. He had married two indolent and vulgar creatures: one had frankly disliked “the business,” the other had betrayed him the day after his marriage, and in his own house. Women were a detestable lot. Evidently he could have consoled himself with somebody else, but this he did not dream of doing. He thought far too highly of his own modest person to risk another adventure. The girls of the street did not tempt him. As for the women who awaited his choice in the different brothels of the quarter, the thought of them disgusted instead of pleasing him.
He sincerely felt that the best way of dealing with women was to carefully avoid them, to keep them at a proper distance. Once seduced by one of the creatures, what did a male become? A nincompoop. An imbecile. He knew it. He had paid dearly to know it—too dearly for what it was worth. Ou-la-la! Too dearly. Much too dearly… And from that experience had come his need to live alone, to avoid people, to occupy himself with his own comfort, to shut himself up every night at nine o’clock in his room and sleep. People could think what they like about him. So much the better. 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 they were associated in his mind—the dead woman and the unfaithful one. He condemned them both with severity.
And now, just when he hoped to arrange some possible sort of existence, Irma had interfered, and reopened the whole question. Emile felt that he was losing his temper, and if he made an effort to be patient, it was because of an obscure sentiment which he had for this sister, and of which, secretly, he was ashamed. Did La Rouque know that from his room he could hear everything that went on? She certainly did. And this sad certainty increased Emile’s irritation, obliged him to realize that Irma, when she felt so inclined, did not bother about a soul except herself. The whole night passed in this way. The man said something, got up, lay down again. Irma answered him and in her turn go up. The noise of water being poured out of the basin, of bare feet on the floor, succeeded to all the other noises. Then everything began all over again, and Emile meanwhile heard the ticking of his watch hung on the wall and wondered what the time was. He grumbled, agitated. What a night! It seemed to him that it would never end. The blood throbbed in his temples. The nerves knotted themselves in his legs and hands. He stiffened himself in vain, it was impossible to keep still; and when the dawn, a thousand times delayed—so he thought—paled between the shutters, it found him with wide open eyes amongst his disordered sheets, and his coverlet rolled into a ball. Emile got up quickly. He felt broken with fatigue, like those torpid animals whom one can see every morning moving between the shafts of the carts in the Halles is if they were walking in their sleep. He dressed himself, vent into the kitchen, took this shoes. The sink smelt abominably badly. He went back into his room. He acted mechanically, without thinking of what he was doing, an idea, strong, deeply rooted, had taken possession of him: he wished to see and never forget the man who was now sleeping at Irma’s side. This idea was absorbing and paralyzing. He stared at the shoes in his hand for a long time, thinking of the unknown, and telling himself over and over again that now at last he would know what he was like. However he could not quite make up his mind. Something which he could not quite define stopped him, held him back….
Suddenly the clattering of the milkman’s cart, which woke him every morning, sounded from the street. Emile recovered himself. He realized that everything inside him and around him was getting to work again. He placed his shoes under a chair with care, went softly into the passage, opening Irma’s door, approached the bed slowly and looked. The man and the girl were lying asleep. He was stretched out on his back quite naked, his mouth open, one arm thrust under the pillow; she was buried like a dead person under a big eiderdown.
Emile looked closer. The sleeper’s chest was covered with blue tattoo marks. A hand of Fatma and a dagger ornamented the left arm. Emile noticed also near the wrist three stars, cut deeply, and a name—Gilberte. Underneath were the letters P.L.V.
He asked himself what these mysterious letters could mean. He had not the least idea. And after all what did it matter? Emile had eyes only for the man stretched out inert on the bed. His hair was frizzy and he seemed to be small but robust. Emile was going to leave the room when he noticed particularly a long scar on the right side—of rose so pale that it astonished him.