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Prostitute, writer, feminist: Grisélidis Réal

Prostitute, writer, artist, trafficker, convict, feminist: Grisélidis Réal was an eternal cursed lover. Correspondence and interviews make it possible to (re) discover this figure of the literature.

Suggestion for an epitaph: “Grisélidis Réal – Writer, painter, prostitute”. At the cemetery of the Kings in Geneva, one morning in 2005, the croquemort (undertaker) has ticked before engraving these words of fire on the tombstone. Disappeared at the age of 76, the writer with the look of a gypsy would have endured other titles: “little demon of Egypt”, as she was called as a child, later “prostitute artist” in the lowlands of Munich then “revolutionary whore” when, years later, the polemic death knell sounds. An ardent lover, offered to the tortures of love. Loving the madness of men, and perhaps above all his, in the sorrows of the body as in those of writing.

As a foreword to a rich correspondence published for the first time, the publisher Yves Pagès evokes to her the “fucking iconoclast as close as possible to his broken mirror”: a way to introduce from the outset the idea of a woman creature with a scattered and furious self, with a diffracted biography, supernatural in its dark multiplicity, a fortiori here, in these letters addressed to different recipients between 1954 and 1993.

The nature of the exchanges is each time different, depending on whether the epistolary takes on the role of paternal figure, adopted brother or sulphurous lover; because of all these lands also that Grisélidis trodden, born Swiss but raised in Alexandria (his father runs a school there before prematurely dying), soon model student in Geneva can boast of a diploma as decorator. The first burst of letters to Maurice Chappaz, a renowned poet of fifteen years his eldest, almost ignores a marriage to a young painter, then a first child, Igor. Quickly, the machine panics: at the age of 30, Grisélidis is already a mother of four children (of three different men), leading a life of bohemian, good at everything, model for painters…

Love, on the other hand, has already for the hundredth time imprinted its bite in a neck that waited only for this: “I am so happy to be weak, left to my instincts that I feel powerful like planets.”

On the program: to go to Germany to lead the terrible life at the arm of a crazy black American student, a former GI. So much for Grisélidis’ debut as a courtesan, so much for her stay in prison (they imprisoned her in 1963 for drug trafficking). Back in Switzerland, the priced sex does not stop there, and the young woman leaves for a double life as a chicken mother and prostitute.Madonna and pariah: the only solution was to die. Griselidis thinks better: she will write herself. His trash stay in Munich inspired her Black is a color, a bloody story that appeared in 1974 after months of painful gestation: “Stripping to the bone, like that, in front of crowds, it’s terrible.” Since 1969, the young woman has stopped passing, but here she is naked again : “Life is a permanent assassination!” Paradox of writing, both poison and plank of salvation, a necessary curse without which there can be no survival.

“The only love we have left is a silent hyena that gnaws at our guts. Yes, that’s right, writing.”

Life nevertheless reserves a new passion, in the guise of a Tunisian gigolo who declares his flame to her through the bars of a prison. Crazy love, as evidenced by a handful of stunning letters: “Kill me, Hassine. Throw me to the bottom of the well with your gaze, make me capsize with your furious breath, let it tear me apart and ravage me like a fire in the jungle.” At the end of this love: nine years of misfortune.”

Logically, at the end of this crazy life: madness. From an unusual, impure and invigorating life, one can expect her to give birth to a monstress, a living fusion of the artist, the mother and the whore. Grisélidis knows herself on the side of the “cursed”, she who would like “to live like a gypsy” outside moral boundaries, subject to “pious judgments,” to “well-meaning Switzerland”, to “the terrible Judeo-Christian religion and its stinking notion of sin”. This inclination turned into conviction in the 1970s, while the writer again became a whore – this time for ideological reasons – joined the struggle movements of women and prostitutes in Paris.

Griselidis opens her mouth, well. Her interviews with Jean-Luc Hennig, republished for the occasion under the title Grisélidis Courtesan, reveal in a bad tone the out-of-the-box of prostitute life – or if you want a therapist, coach, doctor – to the habits of her clients, listed in her famous “Carnet noir”: a bible of delights “from which she draws to exercise her “art”. While Grisélidis is working on his natural encyclopaedia in La Buffon, a dirty version, his texts take care during this time to erect her as a romantic heroine, fiery and free. ✪