The Holy Terrors – Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau was a true Jacques-of-all-trades. Throughout his life and career he garnered both critical and popular acclaim as a filmmaker, playwright, designer, author, and poet. His inner circle of friends and collaborators included Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, Eric Satie, and Marlene Dietrich. Cocteau penned Les Enfants Terribles (1929) during a week of withdrawal from a serious opium addiction. The novel details the maturation of two siblings locked in a persistent game of manipulation and humiliation. Les Enfants Terribles was translated into English under the title The Holy Terrors by Rosamond Lehmann in 1955. Our nineteenth reader discovered the novel as a teenager, and reread it as an undergraduate philosophy student. We talk about the charm inherent in this troubling narrative, Cocteau’s reflections on rebellion and adolescence, and the many influences that inspired this text.

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“I think that the appeal of this book to readers – if you’re not already a fan of surrealism or you’re not already a fan of Cocteau – is to look at adolescence, and to look at things like desire, things like fascination with others, things like manipulation, and…the games that people play with each other. One of the reasons you would want to pick up a book like this is to see, at least on a smaller scale, how we become fascinated with other people, and how that fascination with others occupies a very obsessive place in our mind.”

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