„That Obscure Object of Desire“ by Pierre Louÿs

„That Obscure Object of Desire“ is a novel by French writer Pierre Louÿs, first published in 1898. The novel is known for its explicit depictions of sexuality and eroticism, and is often considered one of the most controversial works of French literature.

About the author
About the style
Public reactions
Impact history
Reception by literary critics
Film adaptions
Influence on Art and Culture


“This Obscure Object of Desire” tells the story of an older man named Mathieu who is plagued by an uncontrollable obsession for a younger woman named “B.”. Set in Paris, the novel describes the complicated relationship between Mathieu and “B.”, which is characterized by love, desire, power, obsession, and alienation.

The plot of the novel is episodic and consists of a series of memories and events that Mathieu experienced with “B.”. “B.”is both idealized and devalued by Mathieu, and she repeatedly eludes his advances, reinforcing his obsession and despair. The novel plays with the themes of the unreliability of memories and perceptions, the ambivalence of desire, and the destructive nature of obsessions.

The novel is written in the form of a fictional diary in which Mathias records his sexual fantasies, his desires, and his inability to satisfy his passion.

The plot was inspired by „That Obscure Object of Desire“ Louÿs‘ own experiences and fantasies. It is believed that the protagonist Mathias was modeled by Louÿs himself and that the story was based on his own relationships and unfulfilled desires. The novel was written during a time when erotic literature was gaining popularity in France and at the same time was controversial.

About the author

Pierre Louÿs lived from 1870 to 1925, and was known for his literary work in the field of erotica and was a pioneer of the French decadent movement of the late 19th century. Louÿs is believed to have written the novel „That Obscure Object of Desire“ in the 1890s, although it was not published until 1898. The novel was part of Louÿs‘ work „Les aventures du Roi Pausole“ (The Adventures of King Pausole), which included several erotic novels and short stories.

It is also known that Louÿs was influenced by various artists and writers during his creative period, including the Decadent movement and representatives of Symbolism. Louÿs was known for his sensual writing style and his explicit depictions of sexuality, which are clearly expressed in „That Obscure Object of Desire.“

About the style

“This Obscure Object of Desire” is known for its explicit depictions of sexuality and its psychological portrayal of the relationship between Mathieu and “B.”. The novel also explores the social and cultural dynamics of the time in which it was written, particularly in relation to gender roles, power relations, and the conventions of society.

Louÿs uses the explicit language to illustrate his protagonist’s obsession and desire, while also exploring themes of lust, obsession, and the boundaries of love and desire.

Over the years, the novel has stirred controversy, particularly for its challenge to conventional moral codes. Nevertheless, „That Obscure Object of Desire“ is considered by many to be a significant literary work that has influenced the genre of erotic literature and continues to be of interest to literary and cultural scholars.

It is interesting to note that „That Obscure Object of Desire“ was published posthumously, as Louÿs died shortly before the novel was published in 1925.

Public Reactions

The publication of „That Obscure Object of Desire“ elicited mixed reactions upon its publication in 1898. The novel’s explicit depictions of sexuality and provocative themes led to criticism and controversy. Some readers found the novel scandalous and offensive, while others considered it a significant literary work and an artistic depiction of human desire and obsession.

Impact History

Despite the controversies that accompanied the publication of „That Obscure Object of Desire,“ the novel has developed a remarkable history of impact over the years. Here are some aspects of it:

Influence on erotic literature: „That Obscure Object of Desire“ is often considered a seminal work in erotic literature. Louÿs’s explicit writing style and depiction of sexuality have influenced the genre and have had an impact on other writers, including more well-known writers such as Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller.

Reception by literary critics

Despite the initial controversy, „That Obscure Object of Desire“ was later recognized by literary critics and considered a significant literary work. It was often praised for its artistic depiction of human desire, obsession, and the limits of love and desire.

Film adaptations

“This Obscure Object of Desire” has been filmed several times, with the best known and most popular film adaptation being made in 1977 by Spanish director Luis Buñuel.

Buñuel’s film stays true to the novel in many ways, but also expands the plot and adds Buñuel’s signature surrealist style and black humor. The film depicts the story of Mathieu’s obsession with “B.” in a non-linear fashion, using absurd and dream-like elements to emphasize the psychological dynamics between the two main characters. The film also addresses social and political issues, such as class inequality and sexual taboos.

Buñuel’s film adaptation was critically acclaimed and received numerous awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. The film is often considered a masterpiece of surrealist cinema and is considered one of the most famous adaptations of Louÿs’ novel.

Even before Bunuel there were several film adaptations of the material, but still under the original name of the novel: “La Femme et le Pantin”:
The oldest film adaptation dates back to 1929 by Jacques de Baroncelli en 1929, starring Conchita Montenegro and Raymond Destac. Josef von Sternberg’s “The Devil is a Woman” followed in 1935, with Marlene Dietrich in the role of the adored woman. Then in 1959, another version followed with Brigitte Bardot in the title role, filmed by Julien Duvivier.

Influence on art and culture

„That Obscure Object of Desire“ has also left its mark in other artistic fields, such as visual arts, music and theater. It has been referenced in various artistic works and inspired artists and performers in their creative work.

Overall, „That Obscure Object of Desire“ has a remarkable history of impact, influencing the genre of erotic literature, being recognized in literary criticism, and leaving its mark in other artistic media. It continues to be considered a significant work in French literature and literary history in general.

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