06 February 2009

Canada's Olympians (Part I)

The Whip Angels
Selena Warfield [pseud. Diane Bataille]
New York: Olympia Book Society, 1968

Patrick Kearney's authoritative The Paris Olympia Press (2007) tells us that the notorious Parisian publisher of Jean Genet, Samuel Becket and Henry Miller also issued books by three Canadians: Diane Bataille, John Glassco and Jock Carroll.

Little has been written about Diane Bataille, the first to have been published. A shame, really, as the few words that have been set down point to a most extraordinary life. She was born Princess Diane Kotchoubey de Beauharnais on 4 June 1918 in Victoria, the daughter of Prince Eugene Kochoubey de Beauharnais and his wife Helen Pearce. Michel Surya's otherwise thorough biography of the princess's second husband, George Bataille, la morte à l'œvre (1987), errs in recording her birthplace as Vancouver, and covers family history in four unsatifying sentences. We learn, for example, that her Russian father, forced to flee Germany at the onset of the Great War, 'crossed the Atlantic and reached Vancouver'. Elaboraton, please. Sadly, The Whip Angels receives no mention in George Bataille, nor is there any indication that the princess, very much a ghostly figure in the biography, ever wrote so much as a word, never mind a work of pornography.

And The Whip Angels is pornography. A story of a girl's brutal introduction to things sexual, it is not much more than a collection of encounters, each more adventurous, unconventional and graphic than the last. First published in 1955 as part of Olympia's infamous Traveller's Companion Series, it was banned by French authorities the following year.

Alberto Giacometti. Busto de Diane Bataille (detail), 1947.
Trivia: Passing mention of the book is made in Mavis Gallant's second novel, A Fairly Good Time (1970):
'Does he still keep books in the hamper?'
'Only The Whip Angels. We know it by heart...'
Object: As with so many of the titles touched by Maurice Girodias, Olympia's publisher, The Whip Angels has appeared under a number of imprints in a variety of guises. The first edition has the author identified as 'X X X'; Anonymous, Selena Warfield and Diane Bataille's true name have also been used. The 1968 Olympia Press Society edition was published in paperback and as a hardcover.

Access: The British Library has a copy, as does the Library of Congress, but not our own Library and Archives Canada (such an inelegant, awkward name). In fact, it appears that no copies of The Whip Angels are found in any Canadian library, academic or otherwise. The curious will be pleased to learn that used copies abound, and can be had for as little as C$3.50. Very good copy of the rare first edition - only one is currently listed - usually go for over C$500.

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