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Pierre Loti (pseudonym of Julien Viaud), born January 14, 1850 in Rochefort, Charente-Maritimemarker and died June 10, 1923 in Hendayemarker, was a French novelist and naval officer.


Loti's education began in Rochefort. At the age of seventeen he entered the naval school in Brestmarker and studied on Le Borda. He gradually rose in his profession, attaining the rank of captain in 1906. In January 1910 he went on the reserve list.

His pseudonym is said to refer to his extreme shyness and reserve in early life, which made his comrades call him after "le Loti" (lotus), an Indian flower which allegedly loves to blush unseen. Other explanations have been put forth by scholars: for instance, that he acquired the name in Tahitimarker, where he got a sunburn and was called Roti (a red-colored local flower), but couldn't pronounce the "r" so he stuck with "Loti". He was in the habit of claiming that he never read books, saying to the Académie française on the day of his introduction (April 7, 1892), "Loti ne sait pas lire" ("Loti doesn't know how to read"), but testimony from friends says otherwise.

Le Mariage de Loti (1880) was the first book to introduce him to the general reading public. This was followed by Le Roman d'un spahi (1881), a record of the melancholy adventures of a soldier in Senegalmarker. In 1882, Loti issued a collection of four shorter pieces, three stories and a travel piece, under the general title of Fleurs d'ennui (Flowers of Boredom).

In 1883 he entered a wider public spotlight. First, he published the critically acclaimed Mon frère Yves (My Brother Yves), a novel describing the life of a French naval officer (Pierre Loti), and a Breton sailor (Yves Kermadec), described by Edmund Gosse as "one of his most characteristic productions". Second, while serving in Tonkin (northern Vietnam) as a naval officer aboard the ironclad Atalante, Loti published three articles in the newspaper Le Figaro in September and October 1883 about atrocities that occurred during the Battle of Thuan An (20 August 1883), an attack by the French on the Vietnamese coastal defenses of Hue. He was threatened with suspension from the service for this indiscretion, thus gaining wider public notoriety.

In 1886 he published a novel of life among the Breton fisherfolk, called Pêcheur d'Islande (Iceland Fisherman), which Edmund Gosse characterized as "the most popular and finest of all his writings." It shows Loti adapting some of the Impressionist techniques of contemporary painters, especially Monet, to prose, and is a classic of French literature. In 1887 he brought out a volume "of extraordinary merit, which has not received the attention it deserves", Propos d'exil, a series of short studies of exotic places, in his characteristic semi-autobiographic style. Madame Chrysanthème, a novel of Japanese manners that is a precursor to Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon (a combination of narrative and travelog) was published the same year.

In 1890 he published Au Maroc, the record of a journey to Fezmarker in company with a French embassy, and Le Roman d'un enfant (The Story of a Child), a somewhat fictionalized recollection of Loti's childhood that would greatly influence Marcel Proust. A collection of "strangely confidential and sentimental reminiscences", called Le Livre de la pitié et de la mort, (The Book of Pity and Death) was published in 1891.

Loti was on shipboard at the port of Algiersmarker when news reached him of his election, on May 21, 1891, to the Acad√©mie fran√ßaise. In 1892 he published Fant√īme d'orient, a short novel derived from a subsequent trip to Istanbulmarker, less a continuation of Aziyad√© than a commentary on it. He described a visit to the Holy Land in three volumes, The Desert, Jerusalemmarker, and Galilee, (1895‚Äď1896), and wrote a novel, Ramuntcho (1897), a story of contraband runners in the Basquemarker province, which is one of his best writings. In 1898 he collected his later essays as Figures et Choses qui passaient (Passing Figures and Things).

In 1899 and 1900 Loti visited British India, with the view of describing what he saw; the result appeared in 1903 in L'Inde (India (without the English)). During the autumn of 1900 he went to China as part of the international expedition sent to combat the Boxer Rebellion. He described what he saw there after the siege of Beijing in Les Derniers Jours de Pékin (The Last Days of Peking, 1902).

Among his later publications were: La Troisi√®me jeunesse de Mme Prune (The Third Youth of Mrs. Plum, 1905), which resulted from a return visit to Japan and once again hovers between narrative and travelog; Les D√©senchant√©es (The Unawakened, 1906); La Mort de Philae (The Death of Philae, 1908), recounting a trip to Egypt; Judith Renaudin (produced at the Th√©√Ętre Antoine, 1898), a five-act historical play that Loti presented as based on an episode in his family history; and, in collaboration with Emile Vedel, a translation of King Lear, produced at the Th√©√Ętre Antoine in 1904. Les D√©senchant√©es, which concerned women of the Turkish harem, was based like many of Loti's books, on fact. It has, however, become clear that Loti was in fact the victim of a cruel hoax by three prosperous Turkish women.

He produced a play at the Century Theatre in New York City in 1912, The Daughter of Heaven, which had been written several years before in collaboration with Judith Gautier for Sarah Bernhardt.

He died in 1923 at Hendayemarker and was interred on the Île d'Oléronmarker with a state funeral.

Loti was an inveterate collector, and married into the money that helped him support this habit. His house in Rochefort, a remarkable reworking of two adjacent bourgeois row houses, is well preserved as a museum. One elaborately tiled room is an Orientalist fantasia of a mosque, including a small fountain and five ceremoniously draped coffins (with the desiccated bodies inside). Another room evokes a medieval banqueting hall. Loti's own bedroom is rather like a monk's cell, but mixes Christian and Muslim religious artifacts. The courtyard described in The Story of a Child, with the fountain built for him by his older brother, is still there.


Contemporary critic Edmund Gosse gave the following assessment of his work:

At his best Pierre Loti was unquestionably the finest descriptive writer of the day.
In the delicate exactitude with which he reproduced the impression given to his own alert nerves by unfamiliar forms, colors, sounds and perfumes, he was without a rival.
But he was not satisfied with this exterior charm; he desired to blend with it a moral sensibility of the extremest refinement, at once sensual and ethereal.
Many of his best books are long sobs of remorseful memory, so personal, so intimate, that an English reader is amazed to find such depth of feeling compatible with the power of minutely and publicly recording what is felt.
In spite of the beauty and melody and fragrance of Loti's books his mannerisms are apt to pall upon the reader, and his later books of pure description were rather empty.
His greatest successes were gained in the species of confession, half-way between fact and fiction, which he essayed in his earlier books.
When all his limitations, however, have been rehearsed, Pierre Loti remains, in the mechanism of style and cadence, one of the most original and most perfect French writers of the second half of the 19th century.

Critical Reception from the Turks

With regards to Pierre Loti's support for the Turkish Independence War, the Council of Ministers had sent him a gratitude message. In spite of his oriental views he received critical reception from Turkish intellectuals. According to famous communist poet NazńĪm Hikmet he was pitying the sorry state of backward Ottoman Empire. In a 1925 poem named Ňěarlatan Piyer Loti (Charlatan Pierre Loti) he wrote:


  • Aziyad√© (1879)
  • Le Mariage de Loti (originally titled Rarahu (1880)
  • Le Roman d'un Spahi (1881)
  • Fleurs d'Ennui (1882)
  • Mon Fr√®re Yves (1883) (English transl. My Brother Yves)
  • Les Trois Dames de la Kasbah (1884), which first appeared as part of Fleurs d'Ennui.
  • P√™cheur d'Islande (1886) (English transl. An Iceland Fisherman)
  • Madame Chrysanth√®me (1887)
  • Propos d'Exil (1887)
  • Japoneries d'Automne (1889)
  • Au Maroc (1890)
  • Le Roman d'un Enfant (1890)
  • Le Livre de la Piti√© et de la Mort (1891)
  • Fant√īme d'Orient (1892)
  • L'Exil√©e (1893)
  • Matelot (1893)
  • Le D√©sert (1895)
  • J√©rusalem (1895)
  • La Galil√©e (1895)
  • Ramuntcho (1897)
  • Figures et Choses qui passaient (1898)
  • Judith Renaudin (1898)
  • Reflets de la Sombre Route (1899)
  • Les Derniers Jours de P√©kin (1902)
  • L'Inde sans les Anglais (1903)
  • Vers Ispahan (1904)
  • La Troisi√®me Jeunesse de Madame Prune (1905)
  • Les D√©senchant√©es (1906)
  • La Mort de Philae (1909)
  • Le Ch√Ęteau de la Belle au Bois dormant (1910)
  • Un P√®lerin d'Angkor (1912)
  • La Turquie Agonisante (1913) An English translation "Turkey in Agony" was published in the same year
  • La Hy√®ne Enrag√©e (1916)
  • Quelques Aspects du Vertige Mondial (1917)
  • L'Horreur Allemande (1918)
  • Prime Jeunesse (1919)
  • La Mort de Notre Ch√®re France en Orient (1920)
  • Supr√™mes Visions d'Orient (1921), written with the help of his son Samuel Viaud
  • Un Jeune Officier Pauvre (1923, posthumous)
  • Lettres √† Juliette Adam (1924, posthumous)
  • Journal Intime (1878-1885), 2 vol ("Private Diary", 1925‚Äď1929)
  • Correspondence In√©dite (1865-1904, unpublished correspondence, 1929)


  1. This article is derived largely from the Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911) article "Pierre Loti" by Edmund Gosse. Unless otherwise referenced, it is the source used throughout, with citations made for specific quotes by Gosse.
  2. See also Madame Chrysanthème by Messager.
  3. √Ėmer Ko√ß, 'The Cruel Hoaxing of Pierre Loti' Cornucopia, Issue 3, 1992, [1]
  4. Cultural Ministry of Turkey (Turkish)

External links

Official Sources Commentary


  • Lesley Blanch (UK:1982, US:1983). Pierre Loti: Portrait of an Escapist. US: ISBN 978-0151719310 / UK: ISBN 978-0002116497 - paperback re-print as Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic (2004) ISBN 978-1850434290
  • Edmund B. D'Auvergne (2002). Pierre Loti: The Romance of a Great Writer. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1432573942 (paper), ISBN 978-0710308641 (hardcover).

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