“Count d’Orgel’s Ball” by Raymond Radiguet (1924) – 160 pages
Raymond Radiguet wrote only two novellas during his short life, “The Devil in his Flesh” and “Count d’Orgel’s Ball”. Some famous writers have died young, but none younger than Radiguet who died at the age of twenty in 1923 of typhoid fever.
“Count d’Orgel’s Ball” is a novella about the idle, idle rich. They spend the time before noon of each day meticulously dressing for their teas, their exquisite drawing room parties, their ballroom dances which extend long into the night. Radiguet’s world is at the pinnacle of French High Society. These fashionable people’s idea of a summer vacation is spending two months in Venice with their entourages.
Early on in the novel Radiguet throws in a few witticisms that give the book an Oscar Wilde vibe.
“The unconscious actions of a pure soul are even more strange than vice’s schemes.”
Yet “Count d’Orgel’s Ball” manages to tell a real story. Most of Oscar Wilde’s plays and stories, except for “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, seem like weak glue to hold his famous delightful witticisms together. On that one occasion, ‘Dorian Gray’, Wilde managed to produce real literature.
Although “Count d’Orgel’s Ball” is the story of the love affair of young man Francois with Mahaut, the wife of Count d’Orgel, never has a story of extra-marital love been so innocent. From the moment Francois meets Mahaut, he falls hopelessly, romantically in love with her. Mahaut gradually realizes to her horror she is as much in love with Francois as he is with her. All of this love making takes place in the presence of the amiable husband, Count d’Orgel. One small point for me was that the husband Count d’Orgel’s first name was Anne. A man named Anne kind of threw me for a loop.
The romance between Francois and Mahaut never comes close to being consummated, but even the touching of arms, a kiss, or a glance between the two lovers is given heightened significance. In this three-way love affair, all parties are excruciatingly civilized.
I found “Count d’Orgel’s Ball’ a nice readable amusing novella, but I would not rank it as highly as the novels of Francois Mauriac such as “The Desert of Love”, “Flesh and Blood”, or “The Knot of Vipers” which were also written around the 1920s. If only Raymond Radiguet would have been given more time to develop his talents,