Pierre Benoit

Pierre_Benoit_1932

Benoit being received into the Académie française, 1932

Pierre Benoit (1886-1962) was a distinguished French writer (elected to the French Academy in 1932), who wrote a number of novels with science-fictional or fantastic themes. The most famous (the only one discussed in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) is L’Atlantide (translated by Arthur Chambers as The Queen of Atlantis in 1920, and filmed several times). It features Queen Antinea, who rules over the survivors of Atlantis in the midst of the Sahara; she has the habit of seducing white males and then killing them and preserving their bodies (by turning them into statues), as revenge against what whites have done to Africa. His romances often featured striking women, characterised as either bacchantes or Amazons, who use their power to dominate men. The Lofficiers (354) regard other novels as noteworthy: La Chaussée des Géants (The Giants’ Path, 1922), Le Puit de Jacob (Jacob’s Well, 1925), Le Roi Lépreux (The Leper King, 1927) and Le Soleil de Minuit (The Midnight Sun, 1930), and mention several others: L’Oubliée (The Forgotten Woman, 1922); L’Homme qui était trop grand (The Man Who Was Too Tall, 1936); Lunegarde (1942); L’Oiseau des runes (The Rune Bird, 1947); Les Agriates (1950); La Sainte Vehme (1954); Ville Perdue (Lost City, 1954); and Montsalvat (1957).

He was born in Albi, to the son of a career military officer, and followed his father when he was posted to Tunisia and Algeria (which gave him some of the local colour for L’Atlantide). He did his military service in Algeria, and then returned to France to do a law degree at Montpellier. He attended lectures by both Charles Maurras and Maurice Barrès, both of them prominent right-wing nationalists. He became a civil servant, and briefly served in the Great War (see War Experiences).

After the Armistice, he founded an association called “Le Bassin de Radoub”, which proposed a prize for the worst book of the year. The winner of the prize in the first year was presented with a ticket back to the country where he was born, and a letter requesting that he did not return. In the second year the prize went to a collective work: the Treaty of Versailles.

Before the war, Benoit had published poetry, but in 1918 published his first novel Kœnigsmark, which was very successful. L’Atlantide came the following year, and with the support of Maurice Barrès, it won the Grand Prix from the Académie française. From then on Benoit published about one novel a year. He travelled widely, partly in order to gain local colour for his novels: in 1923 he travelled through Turkey, and interviewed Kemal Ataturk. Between 1923 and 1938, and again between 1947 and 1953, he travelled as reporter for several papers, and went to the Far East and Iran (1926027), to Australia and Tahiti (1928), Tunisia (1931), Lebanon (1932) and so on.

Despite his political leanings, he was not an active supporter of the Vichy regime after the German invasion of 1940. However, he did maintain close relations with the German occupiers, and after the Liberation was imprisoned (between September 1944 and April 1945). Despite his collaboration, he was still a renowned writer after the Second World War. When the famous paperback series Le Livre de Poche was inaugurated, his Kœnigsmark was the first volume. His wife died in 1960, and his last novel, Les Amours mortes (1961), was dedicated to her memory.

For the above I have used Wikipedia, and Wikipédia, and also Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier, French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction (Jefferson NC and London: McFarland, 2000).

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