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three pairs of lovers with space



Gustave Flaubert (1821-80) was an influential French novelist, often considered the leading exponent of literary realism in France. From 1849 to 1851, he went on a long voyage abroad, staying in Egypt from November 1849 to July 1850, when he was aged 27 to 28. He was accompanied by his friend Maxime Du Camp, an already-experienced traveller who encouraged him to make the journey.

Flaubert in Egypt is a translation by Francis Steegmuller of Flaubert’s travel notes and letters written while in Egypt, first published in 1979.  Presented here from the Penguin edition (London, 1996) is everything of Greek love interest, including a reference to it in a letter sent a little later from Constantinople.

All the letters quoted from here were addressed to his close friend Louis Bouilhet, described by Steegmuller as “a quiet unpublished poet of slender means who had abandoned medical studies and was earning his living as a tutor in Rouen.”

III  First Days in Cairo

Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet

Cairo, Saturday night, 10 o’clock
1 December 1849

The next morning we arrived in Egypt … we had scarcely set foot on shore when Max, the old lecher, got excited over a negress who was drawing water at the fountain. He is just as excited by little negro boys. By whom is he not excited? Or rather by what?

V In Cairo

Flaubert in youth

Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet

Cairo, 15 January 1850

Speaking of bardashes, this is what I know about them. Here it is quite accepted. One admits one’s sodomy, and it is spoken of at table in the hotel. Sometimes you do a bit of denying, and then everybody teases you and you end up confessing. Traveling as we are for educational purposes, and charged with a mission by the government, we have considered it our duty to indulge in this form of ejaculation. So far the occasion has not presented itself. We continue to seek it, however. It’s at the baths that such things take place. You reserve the bath for yourself (five francs including masseurs, pipe, coffee, sheet and towel) and you skewer your lad in one of the rooms. Be informed, furthermore, that all the bath-boys are bardashes. The final masseurs, the ones who come to rub you when all the rest is done, are usually quite nice young boys. We had our eye on one in an establishment very near our hotel. I reserved the bath exclusively for myself. I went, and the rascal was away that day!

VI  Up the Nile to Wadi Halfa

From Flaubert’s Travel Notes

Sunday, 24 March. Palm Sunday. [Second excursion to Gebel Abusir.]

I had with me a little raïs of about fourteen, Mohammed; he is yellow-skinned, a silver earring in his left ear. He rowed strongly and gracefully, shouted, and as we rode the currents he led everybody singing; his arms were charmingly modelled, with firm young biceps. He had slipped his arm out of its sleeve, so that on his entire right side he was as though draped, with his left side and part of his belly uncovered. Slender waist. Folds on his belly that rose and fell as he leaned forward on his oar. His voice was vibrant as he sang: ‘El naby, el naby’ [‘The Prophet, the Prophet’]. He was a child of the water, of the tropical sun, of the free life, full of distinction and nobility. And full of childish courtesy – gave me dates and lifted the end of my blanket that was trailing in the water.

X  Last Weeks in Egypt

Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet

Between Girga and Assiut
2 June 1850

By the way, you asked me if I consummated that business at the baths. Yes – and on a pockmarked young rascal wearing a white turban. It made me laugh, that’s all. But I’ll be at it again. To be done well, an experiment must be repeated.

Editor’s Epilogue

Loved-boy with long hair of the Near East by Elveo

Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet

14 November 1850

We walked through (no more than that) the street of the male brothels. We saw bardashes buying sugared almonds, doubtless with money earned by their arses: the anus was about to supply the stomach with the nourishment the latter usually furnishes the former. From ground-floor rooms came the shrill sound of violins: they were dancing the romaïque (these young boys are ordinarily Greeks: they wear their hair very long).

Appendix.  ‘The Crew of the Cange by Maxime Du Camp’

The cange referred to is the one in which Du Camp and Flaubert had travelled up the Nile, so the Mohammed described here was the boy of 14 earlier described by Flaubert.

Khalil. Former bardash. He did, in fact, have a charming behind, which we often saw when he jumped into the water with the other sailors.

Mohammed, whom Gustave called Narcisse because he resembled a servant of that name he had once had. Very hard worker, especially when the boat was aground. The strand of hair he let row at his occiput was very long.

Aouadallah. Kennausi’s brother, whom we took on as a deck-boy at Thebes out of charity. He had been robbed of everything he had, money and clothes, by the raïs he had last worked for. Quite nice-looking despite being pockmarked; was probably Bury’s bardash.[1]

Patras, 10 February ’51.


[1] Mehemet Bury was the ship’s mate, aged about forty, also described by Du Camp.




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