Un pèlerin d'Angkor - Illustré [by Francois de Marliave]

by Pierre Loti

One of the most inspired (and inspirational) travelogues on Angkor in the pioneering times.

Marliave loti un pelerin d angkor p92

Type: e-book

Publisher: Henri Cyral Editeur, Paris.

Edition: ebooksgratuits.com, Oct. 2010

Published: 1930

Author: Pierre Loti

Pages: 140

Language : French

ADB Library Catalog ID: eLOTI2

Dedicated to Paul Doumer, then Governor-General of French Indochina, this referential travelogue to Angkor starts with a childhood recollection -- the images of Angkor from the pages of an old "colonial review" kept by the author's in his youth's "secret museum", and by an anguished appeal to stop sending troops to Indochina -- Loti's elder brother had been killed in Vietnam, and himself served as a French Navy officer at the time.

What makes the book an enduring evocation of the Khmer temples is probably the writer's sincere humility , awed by the mystical splendor of the ruins, by their ongoing significance for Cambodian people (monks are ubiquitous in the ancient temples), and convinced of the ultimate futility of the colonial enterprise. It has been said of Loti that he was a master of "the candid and the melancholic", and these pages prove it. Quite remarkable, out of a body or work in which, according to the great novelist Henry James, "the egotism lives and blooms too, scatters the rarest fragrance and throws out pages like great strange flowers."

Never attempting to grasp the archaeological intricacies of the site, the author relies more on folk tales about the temples, and on his own feelings when he wanders through the ruins or take a nap in one Angkor Wat gallery. Everywhere, "the discreetly mischievous Apsaras smile at me." Almost incidentally, we hear about a trio of French archaeologists camping at Angkor Thom. The author meets them by chance, mentions a brief conversation, and abstains to name them, only adding in a footnote that "l'un d'eux, fils d'un célèbre sculpteur français, n'a pas tardé à y mourir de la fièvre des bois" ["one of them, the son of a renowned French sculptor, was soon to die there from the jungle fever"]: Charles Carpeaux, obviously.

The recounting of his two visits -- the first one in November 1901, when Angkor was still in the Cambodian provinces annexed by the Kingdom of Siam, the second in November 1904 --, culminating with an enchanting evening of Khmer royal dancing at Phnom Penh Royal Palace, remains a literary tour de force, expressing what was, to quote Henry James again, "the pure, essential Loti: poetry in observation, felicity in sadness."

Some views of Angkor Wat and Angkor Wat by Francois de Marliave.
Some views at Phnom Penh Royal Palace by Francois de Marliave

About the illustrator

François Marie Léon de Marliave (10 Oct. 1874, Toulon, France -1953, Draguignan, France) was, like Loti, a French navy officer (captain of 2d class aviso "Brandon") and an artist: 'peintre-voyageur' (traveling visual artist) and illustrator.

His career as an established artist spanned from 1904 to his death in 1953. His first destination was French Indochina, visiting Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1911 and 1920, in order to create preparatory visuals for the Colonial Exhibitions. The material for Loti's book was created during his stay in Angkor in November 1920.

He painted and sketched landscapes and people in India (1930), the Middle East (1933-4), and Algeria (1942-5). After Second World War, he drew inspiration from the landscapes of Provence, as he had a residence in Aix-en-Provence since 1917. Some of his works are kept at Musée d'Orsay, section des arts décoratifs, Paris.

'Danseuses a Phnom Penh", sketch dated 22 Nov 1911 and signed (photo MutualArt)
"Angkor", sketch dated 16 Nov. 1920 and signed (photo MutualArt)

That same year, 1930 -- seven years after Loti's death --, another illustrated edition of A Pilgrim of Angkor was published: Pierre Loti, Un pelerin d'Angkor, Paul Jouve and F L Schmied, Paris, illustrations by Jouve, wood engraving by F.L Schmied. That edition is even more striking, Paul Jouve (1878-1973) being a particularly talented visual artist.

Tags: French literature, travelogue, Angkor Wat, dance, music, Royal Ballet, apsaras, Apsara dance, royal palaces, Cambodian Royal Ballet, King Norodom I

About the Author

Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti [born Louis-Marie-Julien Viaud, "Pierre" being a first name suggested by famous actress Sarah Bernhardt and "Loti" the name of an island flower he found in Tahiti] (14 Jan. 1850, Rochefort, France - 10 June, 1923, Hendaye, France) was a French novelist, travel writer, eccentric art collector, who visited Angkor in 1901 and 1904, when he was already an established author - he had been elected to Académie Française in 1891 -, publishing Un pélerin d'Angkor [A Pilgrim in Angkor] in 1912.

A naval officer serving from 1885 to 1891 on French war ships in China Sea, appointed as ship's captain in 1906, he became an avid traveler with a fondness for "exoticism", vising the Middle and Far East, Oceania, North Africa... His first novel, Aziyadé (1879) - which was later interpreted as the hidden account of an homosexual affair -, was an instant success, and his following books settled him as a popular writer: Le Mariage de Loti [originally titled Rarahu] (1880), Le Roman d'un spahi (1881), Pêcheur d’Islande (1886), Madame Chrysanthème (1887), Reflets sur la sombre route (1889), Le livre de la pitié et de la mort (1890), Ramuntcho (1897), Les Désenchantées (1906), Le Roman d’un enfant (1890), Prime Jeunesse (1919), Un jeune officier pauvre (1923)...

Married to wealthy heiress Jeanne Amélie Blanche Franc de Ferrière -- who eventually left him as he kept a Basque mistress, with whom he had four children --, Loti gathered an astonishing collection of artworks, souvenirs, rarities such as sperm whale teeth, Egyptian cat mummies or Ottoman coffins, part of which is kept at the Maison Pierre Loti museum in Rochefort.

In his foreword to Impressions by Pierre Loti (Archibald Constable & Co., Westminster, 1898), novelist Henry James wrote: "He is extremely unequal and extremely imperfect. He is familiar with both ends of the scale of taste. I am not sure even that on the whole his talent has gained with experience as much as was to have been expected, that his earlier years have not been those in which he was most to endear himself. But these things have made little difference to a reader so committed to an affection.(...) I read and relish him whenever he appears, but his earlier things are those to which I most return. It took some time, in those years, quite to make him out he was so strange a mixture for readers of our tradition. He was a " sailor-man" and yet a poet, a poet and yet a sailorman.(...) He has not been an explorer and is not of that race, but his perception so penetrates that he has only to take me round the corner to give me the sense of exploring. I have been assured that Madame Chrysantheme is as preposterous, as benighted a picture of Japan as if astranger, disembarking at Liverpool, had confined his acquaintance with England to a few weeks spent in disreputable female society in a vulgar suburb of that city. (...) Loti belongs to the precious few who are not afraid of being ridiculous; a condition not in itself perhaps constituting positive wealth, but speedily raised to that value when the naught in question is on the right side of certain other figures. His attitude is that whatever, on the spot and in the connection, he may happen to feel is suggestive, interesting and human, so that his duty with regard to it can only be essentially to utter it. The duty of not being ridiculous is one to which too many travellers of our own race assign the high position that he attributes to right expression, to right expression alone.(...) That is pure, essential Loti -- poetry in observation, felicity in sadness."

Pierre Loti in his house c. 1892.