‘The Devil in the Flesh’ by Raymond Radiguet tells the semi-autobiographical story of an unnamed narrator who begins a tumultuous love affair at the age of 16 with Marthe, a 19 year old married woman whose husband is away fighting at the front during the First World War. The affair is soon discovered by their families and friends. Naturally, tragedy ensues.
Raymond Radiguet was just 20 years old when he died from typhoid fever in 1923 having written just one play, two short novels and a selection of poetry during his all too brief life. Based on the promise and precocious talent shown in ‘The Devil in the Flesh’ written between the ages of 16 and 18, Radiguet could easily have gone on to be just as well known as other French literary masters had he lived.
Although ‘The Devil in the Flesh’ is short enough to be read in one sitting, I personally found it to be quite intense and so I read it in several very brief stages. The writing in ‘The Devil in the Flesh’ is brilliant (and credit here must also go to the translator). Having been through a similar experience himself, Radiguet pitches the obsessive emotions of the narrator perfectly as the story hurtles towards its devastating conclusion. The war itself is barely mentioned as the entire focus is on the affair which is described with a curious mix of detachment and candidness.
The themes of the book might be considered less controversial today than they were in France in 1923 when the book was first published but the story itself is still just as powerful. ‘The Devil in the Flesh’ is a lost classic and I am surprised that it isn’t more well known.