« 28 février 1942 ; 10 heures du matin
[…] Voilà que Pierre s’est introduit dans mon existence, ou moi dans la sienne, ce qui est à peu près la même chose. Je me souviens très mal des premiers jours passés ensemble, depuis le soir où Francis Forster nous avait présentés l’un à l’autre, à l’issue de la générale de Cœurs Ennemis. Ce que je sais en tout cas, et c’est cela qui est remarquable pour moi, c’est que je n’ai pas essayé de construire avec lui. Tout s’est fait naturellement. Nous avons couché ensemble dès ce premier soir. La rue Bridaine a retenti fort tard cette nuit-là des échos de cette découverte de nos corps. Pierre me parut très émouvant lorsqu’il se trouva nu devant moi, rapidement déshabillé, ne pouvant pas dissimuler l’envie qu’il avait réfrénée toute la soirée. Je me suis déshabillé à mon tour, lentement, lui laissant le loisir de regarder chaque élément de mon anatomie. Je n’ai jamais eu honte de montrer mon corps. Pierre a su l’apprécier et s’en rendre maître toute la nuit. Il était beau, à peine éclairé par le halo de la lune qui pénétrait dans la chambre par l’une des fenêtres, le torse luisant de sueur, le regard encore un peu hagard, son sexe retrouvant enfin le repos après ses multiples assauts. […] » (Horlange, 31-32)
– Franz Arsene
Carnets sous l’Occupation (1942-1945)
Paris during the German Occupation… Young writer and artist at heart, Franz wants only one thing: to be able to love Pierre without hiding. Pierre chooses the easy way to live. Between the war and the disillusioned reality of the Paris society, Franz seems to only find peace through the pages of his diary.
Will you be able to be curious enough to guess the secret behind the relationship between Franz and Karl-Erick? This is not what you believe…
Interview with Karl-Erick Horlange
Looking back on your career, it is quite obvious that it’s been a long time you’ve been interested in History and literature, and that you do enjoy writing (tell me if I’m wrong). Why have you waited for that advanced moment in your career to write a book? What was(were) the triggering factor(s)? How much time has passed from the moment the idea of starting to work on a book came to your mind to the moment when you were finally able to hold a copy in your hands? And last, why did you choose this particular medium as a means of personal expression?
Studying in literature and history has always been an evidence to me. Reading, for me, since my earliest years, is an evidence. It is through books that I have made the most of my learning. All I feel like doing right now is to thank the professors who encouraged me to open certain books. Writing has also come to me very quickly. To tell you an anecdote, I remember writing at the age of 12 a short play I had staged with some fellow classmates, here again with the support of some professors. Don’t worry, the text is gone now, it certainly wasn’t worth much, but this does prove that I had always found in the act of writing a means of expression. I have never stopped writing since then, yet, from writing to publishing, there was only one barrier I didn’t dare to break. Publishing books is an overused means of expression nowadays, and in my opinion, a considerable part of what is published does not deserve the paper on which it is printed. I have waited until I was completely satisfied of my text. The possibility to self-publish has been the triggering factor, which would allow me to publish the text I wanted, without anybody establishing any changes on it. The idea to publish came to me thanks to my partner and Anthony McFly, a talented young writer, author of Le Ventre de mes yeux. I was lucky that a French publishing company was interested in the self-published book and decided to publish it itself exactly as it was, without changing any comma. This first novel has been the result of an exhaustive work that lasted several years. I’ve had this project in mind since my college years. Why a novel? Because I don’t know how to paint, to play any instrument, or to make films. I am only a man of the words.
As a History and Geography teacher, why is the French Occupation the period you are the most attracted to in comparison (or not) to the others? Are there any other historical periods that you are passionate about?
The French Occupation is to me a fascinating period. It is full of action, tragedies, and acts of heroism as well. But above all, it is a time when one asked the question of choice. What makes one become either a hero or a zero? Louis Malle’s film Lacombe Lucien was criticized when it was released because the main character finds himself a collaborator somewhat by chance. And it is that in particular that I find fascinating in this remarquable film. One does not always chooses, and one finds himself overcome by outside events. I have documented myself a lot on this period, as one can see it on the shelves of my bookcase. I’ve also had the chance, when I was in college, to follow the classes of Michèle Cointet, who just like her husband, is a big specialist of the Vichy regime. Apart from the French Occupation, I am also passionate about other periods, fortunately, for example, the Low Roman Empire, but it is a bit tougher I must say.
According to me, the book switches equally and regularly between History and the question of homosexuality. Why have you chosen to approach the question of homosexuality through this historical period (because after all, there are still homosexuals who suffer nowadays, and there are also countries that have known times of crisis, dictatorships, or wars way worse than the French Occupation)? Why have you wanted that one doesn’t overstep the other? Why haven’t you decided to sort out Franz Arsene’s written works dealing with homosexuality to present them in a single book for example? Or if it is not the case, why have you decided to focus either on the historical peiod, either on homosexuality?
I might surprise you, but the question of homosexuality isn’t essential in the book. It deals with a love story, as simple as it is. Moreover, people often talk nonsense about homosexuality in France in those years. People seem to forget that since the Civil Code, it is thanks to the consul Cambacérès that homosexuality is not considered a crime in France anymore. On the other way, this sexual orientation has always been poorly regarded of course, but that is another debate. The Vichy regime has taken care of the matter, and afer the war, nothing would ever be changed because homosexuality would then by considered a “social plague” at the Assembly. What obsesses the French rulers is the fear of a drop in the birth rate. And homosexuality bothers people because of that. During the war, many homosexuals were deported in France, but they mostly lived in the Eastern departments annexed by the Reich, and thus fell into the rules of the German laws and the too famous paragraph 175. Or else they might have had sexual relations with occupants, which was not tolerated. The main characters of the novel have to choose between their political engagement and their personal life. I do think both aspects are equally important in the book.
Has something either negative or positive happened to you in real life for you to be brought to talk about homosexuality in a book? Has the book’s publication brought you some relief in any way?
I am part of a generation in which the discovery of one’s homosexuality, as a teenager, was mainly a terrible shock because one didn’t know who to talk to about it. Today, it is still far from a won battle, but there are associations, there is the Internet, there are films and series with homosexual characters who are depicted in a positive way. Try to imagine a teenager in the 1970s in a provincial French city who discovers he likes men! I was lucky. I’ve never suffered from my sexual orientation. Like the majority of homosexuals, I have lived my orientation clandestinely for a long time. But after a while, I found myself exposed to light without even having to come out. The publication of the book brought me some relief because it allowed me to bury a story that’s been haunting me for a long time. A story I wanted to offer to others, which I did.
In what way(s) are you touched by Arsene, and more particularly concerning his relation to the world, to other people, but above all… to men?
Franz Arsene is touching because he is never sure about anything. Not even about his love interests, his friends, or his choices. He is not even convinced that his written works could be valuable. He embodies the role of a writer. As an author from those past years said, it is difficult to play in a world where everybody cheats. He likes men, in a very clumsy way. The only thing he clearly assumes is his sexual orientation. He cannot live without men. And not only from a sentimental point of view, but also from a carnal one.
What would you blame Arsene for (if you have reasons to do so)?
At times, I would like to shake him up. He sometimes gets too comfortable in his suffering. He cannot understand that one must never ever expect things in return from others. He must be a sort of possessive lover.
How do you think that the question of homosexuality has evolved in the occidental world nowadays? Has it really evolved?
I am not optimistic on this subject. The occidental societies have provided more and more rights to homosexuals, but only under the pressure exerced by some homosexuals themselves. One must honor every one of those who have fought for this. The young generations seem to forget it, as if the tolerance they do benefit from had come all by itself! By the way, I just used the term of tolerance. That is exactly it. Homosexuals are tolerated, they are not accepted yet. I still fear some kind of backfire. I wish I were wrong. But if I had to give one piece of advice to young homosexuals, it would be to be alert, and to never drop their guard.
Basing myself upon your book, I would like to ask you a few questions that may sound a bit existential. How would you explain the fact that, from a physical, physiological, and psychological point of view, a man can be attracted to another man? What differs from the feelings and sensations one can experience through a heterosexual relationship (if there is one or more differences according to you)? Or is homosexuality exactly like heterosexuality in terms of amorous feelings and physical sensations, apart from the fact that this love is obviously demonstrated between two people of the same gender? Do you think it is physiologically and psychologically possible to switch from one sexual orientation to another in one’s life?
What I am going to answer only deals with my opinion, I want to precise it. Homosexual love does not differ from heterosexual love. The sentiments are the same. The difference lies in the fact that the codes are not the same. Homosexuals have long been hiding to live their love stories exactly like heterosexuals. I am convinced that, as the most serious scientists claim it, that one was born homosexual. One realizes it early enough in life. There are signs that are not misleading, even though one doesn’t always succeed in interpreting them immediately. When I was little, I used to watch a mythical show entitled Thierry la Fronde. I soon understood that it wasn’t the charming Isabelle, in the show, I was fascinated about… I do not believe people who discover they are homosexual when they are adults, and married with kids for some of them. They just wanted to hide the truth, to live a simple, ‘normal’ life. But it is not possible. Today, young people often allow themselves experiences. They are absolutely right. However, having sex with one’s best friend may not make you homosexual. It will probably be pleasant, but if you are heterosexual, you will remain heterosexual. And I’m not mentioning the subject of bisexuality, though I am convinced it does exist, and one does not choose it either.
Shall one rather see a praise or a denouncement through your book as far as the Occupation period (from an artistic, cultural, economic, historical, political, and social point of view), as well as Arsene’s relations are concerned?
I wish I could answer this question firmly. I do not condemn, I do not praise. People back then have lived as they could. The artistic world is often displayed as a symbol of the Collaboration. But for example, what should a prima ballerina at the Opera of Paris in 1942? Refuse to perform because there are Germans in the audience? I don’t have the answer. I would like to be sure of myself before acting honorably in such a historical period. But I don’t know what I would do, honestly.
Have you conducted some specific additional research for your book?
I have documented myself a lot about this period, of course, but my documentation has been spread over twenty years. In particular, I think I actually have read everything that was published about the Occupation, whether it dealt with books written by historians or journals written by some of the actors of that era. And I’m not talking about the memoirs a posteriori in which many give themselves the leading role.
Which literary genre do you prefer reading (if you do enjoy reading as much as writing!)? Which one is the most efficient in your opinion when one aspires to praise or denounce something? Which one does leave a mark in your mind after the reading?
My formation makes me read historical books essentially, but also many novels. A lot of classical works above all. The novel genre is probably the literary form that offers the most freedom for writing. But it does require talent.
What do you expect from your readers? What would you want them to remember after reading your book?
Above all, I do hope they won’t have the impression that they wasted their time while reading me. Then, I hope they will enjoy diving into this very intimate story, in a context that is not. And if they do learn historical details they didn’t know previously, it would be even better.
Would you wish to see your book translated in several languages? Or is your respect for Arsene’s native language too important for you to even consider translating his written works?
It would be a great pleasure to see my novel translated. It would allow a larger audience, outside the francophone world, to read it.
Are you planning to publish other books? And if so, what would you like to say about your next book?
I have other projects indeed. A novel I plan on publishing in 2019. At the moment, I have proposed the manuscript to several publishers, from France as well as from Quebec. If I don’t receive any positive answer, I will publish it myself, as it is a text I am attached to. It deals with the greatly-romanticized biography of a German actress from the 1920s and 1930s, almost completely unknown today. And I also currently work on another novel, still taking place under the Occupation, but totally different in the content and the form. Once one has had a taste of it, one cannot stop it.
About the author… by the author himself!
Karl-Erick Horlange is his pseudonym. He is a member of the UNEQ (Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois). His real name is Fabrice Schneider, and he is both a French and a Canadian citizen. He lived in France and Germany before moving to Montreal in 1999. He studied in France, in a preparatory class (Literature foundation courses) first, then at the University of Poitiers in History. He holds a Master in ancient History with very good merits. Holder of a secondary-school teaching diploma, he was a teacher in several schools in France, one of them being the Paris Opera. As a result, he remained pretty close to numerous dancers to this day. Since 1999, he is a teacher at the Collège Stanislas high school in Montreal. In 2017, he was made Chevalier of the Order of Academic Palms by the French government.
To buy the book, you have several ways.
– Les Mots à la Bouche (Paris, France)
On the Internet (excluding the sites of the bookstores above)
You are also welcome to contact the author using the following addresses:
Author and interviewer: Margaux Soumoy
Horlange, Karl-Erick. Agonie d’une passion : Carnets sous l’Occupation (1942-1945), Lulu, 2018, pp. 31-32
Interview with Karl-Erick Horlange, Facebook Messenger, Jan.-Feb. 2019