Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2005

Publication Title

South Central Review : The Journal of the South Central Modern Language Association. Special Issue: Natalie Barney and Her Circle


When Pierre Louÿs published his Chansons de Bilitis in 1894, he dedicated the volume of prose poems, which he claimed to have translated from the Greek, to "Young Girls of the Future Society." He portrayed his Bilitis as a contemporary of Sappho's whose life story, described in the three parts of the Chansons, takes her from deflowered shepherdess, to lesbian lover, to courtesan. More than a literary hoax or a collection of erotic poems, his Bilitis songs became the inspiration for a young Sapphic writer who embodied those girls of the future to whom Louÿs had dedicated his work, Natalie Clifford Barney. This young American writer, who wrote uniquely in French, sought Louÿs's help in editing her own Greek dialogues, which she dedicated to him. Although many aspects of Louÿs's Bilitis songs resonate with Barney's lesbian writing, his poems leave out a vital component central to the Parisian lesbian community Barney frequented, and the lesbian lifestyle she cultivated as she became a renowned salon hostess—writing. Louÿs's "translations" actually showcase his own talents as a writer, and his erotic poems were probably meant to be appreciated by a male audience of readers. Despite Louÿs's disregard of the lesbian as writer in his Bilitis "translations," Barney cultivated a connection with him that built on the success of his Bilitis songs in order to promote her own Sapphic vision in which lesbian love and writing are intimately connected.