JEAN-CLAUDE FÉRAY, PUBLISHER AND AUTHOR
by an anonymous contributor to this website, 6 December 2022
Jean-Claude Féray (1948-2022) was the man behind French publishing house Quintes-feuilles, which was active in the first two decades of the 21st century. Quintes-feuilles specialised in the subject of Greek love, and Féray’s erudition and energy resulted in signal contributions to literature, history and the arts in this field. At the same time, he did not shy away from astute analyses of contemporary society. His activities were underpinned by an idea of the importance of having the courage of one’s convictions. This he had in spades, a courage happily paired with sophistication, intellectual powers and a very considerable talent as a writer.
Quintes-feuilles began in 2000 as a ‘personal intellectual adventure’, and was not incorporated as a publishing house until 2004. In the twenty-odd years of its existence, however, no fewer than 31 fiction and non-fiction titles appeared from historical and contemporary French authors, translated authors and Féray himself. This is no small achievement for what was essentially a one-person venture, even though any number of people contributed in any number of ways to making Quintes-feuilles a success.
Books published include new, annotated editions of classics in the genre of novels about amitiés particulières (romantic boarding school friendships), such as Amédée Guiard’s Antone Ramon (1913) and Louis Beysson’s Le Secret de Geri (1876), which Féray also published in an English translation by Laetitia Collier as Geri’s Secret. Written by a twenty-year-old, this novel tells of the troubled love between French boy Victor and Italian boy Geri, both boarders in Switzerland.
Féray’s focus wasn’t just on European literature. He published Un amour d’ébène, an annotated French translation of Bom-Crioulo (1895), a novel by Brazilian writer Adolfo Caminha about an escaped slave boy who finds love on the high seas. Another Quintes-feuilles title, L’arcane indien. Récit apocryphe, purports to be a translation of an 18th-century travel account. The alleged author, Indian-born Portuguese cleric Apollinaire, describes his journey to rescue a friend from the Inquisition in Goa; on the way, he develops a deep relationship with 14-year-old Kristoffer, a boy of Danish heritage. Erudite, adventurous and moving, this account deserves an English translation.
Féray himself wrote and published the novel Angkor, une dernière fois under the pseudonym Youri Yaref, described by a reviewer as the best boy-love novel to have appeared so far in the 21st century, as well as the whodunit La Friponnière and the science-fiction novel Dieu lui-même n’en sait rien under the pseudonym Didier Denché. He said about one of his works: “I felt like recording, with some invention and transposition, my personal experience of Cambodia.”
He also published his own non-fiction researches, such as a history of the word pédérastie and its derivations in the French language, and a study of the Greek-love writer Achille Essebac, the ‘novelist of desire’. Under the title L’amour des garçons chez les doriens, he published his own French translation of Die dorische Knabenliebe (Doric boy love) by the German classical philologist Erich Bethe.
Quintes-feuilles further published explorations of the lives of early defenders of same-sex love, such as Éric Simac and Claude François Michéa. A landmark achievement was the appearance of the massive tome (1,040 pages) Boyhood and Adolescence. Ephebophilia, Hebephilia and Paedophilia: A Selective Bibliography. This reference work was compiled by Dutch scholar Will H. L. Ogrinc and came out in 2017, a year before Ogrinc’s death. Bibliophilic devotees of Greek love have not lived life to the full until they have leafed through the rich pages of this monumental work.
In addition to books, Féray released 71 digital bulletins via the Quintes-feuilles website. These bulletins, produced between 2013 and 2021, each comprise some dozen pages of generously illustrated articles on literature, the visual arts, anthropology and other fields, all with a bearing on Greek love. As of the time of writing, December 2022, the website remains online – at https://www.quintes-feuilles.com/ – and the bulletins remain available for download.
Jean-Claude Bernard Féray was born in Mỹ Tho, Vietnam, then called Cochinchina (part of French Indochina), on 29 August 1948. His parents were born in Pondicherry, a coastal region of India that was part of French India. Some of his ancestors had settled there as early as the time of Louis XIV. With the independence of India on the horizon, the French government encouraged its subjects in India to leave for other French colonies. The Férays moved to Cochinchina, which was experiencing rapid economic development even as an independence war was underway. It was here that his father died, in Saigon, just over a year after Jean-Claude’s birth. The family left Asia when Jean-Claude was about seven; he retained wonderful memories of his childhood in what is now Vietnam.
He went to a French secondary school in Freibourg im Breisgau, a town in West Germany near the French border. Here he lived among the children of French military personnel; he had, to his later regret, no contact whatsoever with the German population. In spite of this, he learned German in school during his five years in West Germany, which later allowed him to translate Die dorische Knabenliebe. The tricky bits, he said, were the Greek citations.
Féray was trained as a biochemist and lived and worked in Paris. He spent a large part of his professional life working as an engineer at the Inserm, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research. His native Asia continued to draw him. For three years he studied the Thai language, the tonal complexity of which fascinated him, at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales. Over various summers he taught French in Thailand – first at a boys’ school in Songkhla, then at a girls’ school in Phuket. In addition, he worked for some months in the science department of Burapha University. He was also fond of Cambodia.
In the last period of his life, Féray lived near Le Havre in Normandy and, aside from the intellectual rigours of researching, writing and publishing books and articles, enjoyed gardening. His studious side was ever present: while working out or during other activities that permitted it, he liked listening to audiobooks. With regard to his own aesthetic preferences, he once said: “Although generally I like Northern Europeans best, I can see the beauty of other ethnicities. In the north of India I have seen adolescents of practically perfect appearance, and young Cambodians are often poignantly beautiful.”
In November 2021 he fell gravely ill and was hospitalised. After a stay in a rehabilitation centre, he was able to go home early in 2022 and to resume the halted sale of books via the Quintes-feuilles website. In the summer, however, he was admitted to hospital again and was obliged to put a permanent stop to his publishing activities. He continued to correspond in his final weeks, which were spent in a rehabilitation centre in Cricquebœuf on the Norman coast. Art, history and beauty occupied him until the last, as exemplified by a conversation in late August about a painting in the Rijksmuseum of 17th-century Dutch pastor Philippus Baldaeus and his Sinhalese interpreter Gerrit Mossopotam, who accompanied Baldaeus back from Ceylon to the Netherlands. Féray noted that their expressions and the way the two are depicted suggest that they may have been more than just a clergyman and his translator.
Jean-Claude Féray died in Cricquebœuf on 13 September 2022, aged 74.