Raymond Radiguet’s 1923 novel Le diable au corps is the story of a young married woman, Marthe, who has an affair with sixteen-year-old François while her husband is away fighting at the front, and it provoked scandal in a country that had just been through World War I. Though Radiguet denied it, it was established later that the story was in large part autobiographical; by that time, however, the young man was dead, lost to typhoid at just twenty years old.
It is a remarkable work for such a young writer, its central theme being that of hard-hearted sexual gratification in the midst of a chaotic world where everything may end at a moment’s notice. The novel struck a resounding cultural chord, both when it was published and again, tellingly at the end of the Second World War, when the 1948 film of the book was released, starring Micheline Presle as Marthe and Gérard Philipe as François.
It is highly likely that Editions de l’Odéon commissioned Suzanne Ballivet’s twenty illustrations for Le diable au corps as a direct result of the success of the film, and her illustrations accurately portray the youth of the protagonists, as well as Marthe’s determination and François’ relative aloofness.
Radiguet’s Le diable au corps is not to be confused with the much earlier erotic novel with the same title by Andrea de Nerciat, published in 1803.
The Odéon edition was produced in a run of 603 copies, of which 30 de luxe copies included an additional set of the prints in black and white.