Dévergondages is a wonderful French word, meaning licentiousness or wantonness, and this novel of 1937, almost certainly by Renée Dunan (1892–1936), is a perfect model of a free erotic narrative written by a woman who was a self-proclaimed and active feminist, anarchist, naturist and pacifist. ‘Jean Spaddy’ was just one of several pseudonyms she used for more than fifty books written between 1922 and the late 1930s. At a time when women did not yet have the right to vote in France, Dunan wanted to live her life as a woman by assuming her sexuality freely, and was one of the first women who dared to publish erotic novels. ‘You have to dare to say anything,’ she wrote. ‘Any other sort of morality is imaginary.’ Dévergondages is assumed to be highly autobiographical, its main characters, Alice, Françoise and Clotilde, based on women who were Dunan’s lovers.

Renée Dunan

Irving and Polly Allen, Feodor Rojankovsky’s biographers, believe that his illustrations for Dévergondages were produced at the time the novel was first published, rather than soon before his illustrated version appeared in 1948; it is hard to tell. They have a maturity about them where much of the earlier work has a freer quality, but maybe they do date from before Rojan sailed for America in 1941. We shall never know.

Dévergondages was published in ‘Bruxelles’ (though actually Paris), aux dépens d’un amateur (at the expense of a collector). The numbered edition was limited to 250 copies, each with a loose set of sixteen coloured plates.