Born in 1992 as Eddy Bellegueule in Hallencourt, a little village of 1400 souls in northern France, Édouard changed his surname to Louis when he left the violent working-class milieu of his parents and moved to Paris. Louis was in residence at the Montgomery House this Spring and met with graduate students over lunch.
The Program also coordinated a public lecture by Louis on Thursday May 18, which was attended by Dartmouth undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. Attendees also had the opportunity for book signing before and after the event.
While at Dartmouth, Louis shared the different meanings that literature can hold in life today and what literature can do in terms of societal (and individual) change. His visit came after the world-wide success of his first novel The End of Eddy, published in 2014 at the age of 21. An autobiographical work telling the story of a young gay boy growing up in the isolated, working class village of Hallencourt in northern France, misogyny, homophobia, and class structure are some of the themes of the novel, shedding light on the hardships faced by Louis' family and others in rural France. The book has been translated into more than 20 languages since its publication, and has sold over 300,000 copies in its first year.
At the Montgomery lunch, students asked Louis about his inspiration for the novel. "I wanted to write this book because when I moved to Paris after growing up in this small town, a village where most of the people vote for the national front, I started to discover literature and books – and I realized that I couldn’t find the word of my childhood, the poverty and disposition of my people. So, I started writing about it," he responded. He cited authors Toni Morrison and William Faulkner, French philosophers Pierre Bordieu and Michel Foucault, and film director Xavier Dolan among his literary influences.
The End of Eddy is an example of how gender, race, and class work together and inter-relate in a working-class milieu. Louis noted that sexual struggle is intimately intertwined with class and socio-economics, and it was his sexuality that freed him from working-class norms and allowed him to break out of his class. "I was saved because I was gay and I had to flee [my town] because I couldn’t fit in. Masculinity was defining everything and it forced me to go away and build a different future."
Speaking of the role of literature in addressing the violence of his community, and others like it, he called for an authenticity of voice in literature. "If violence is already there before we even know it, then the question 'where does it come from or who does it come from?' is too imprecise. Perhaps we should not be asking 'why is there violence in the world?' Or 'who gives violence to the world?' We should ask 'what can we do to reduce violence?'"
He stated that the responsibility lies with the privileged who are ultimately responsible for encouraging and continuing the cycle of violence and repression. Louis asserted that creativity – in the forms of literature, art, song, etc. - is a powerful medium that can define what is important to individuals and the whole of society, and what needs to change. The creator can silence or illegitimate an issue while empowering the significance of another. He affirmed the authenticity of every word he wrote in The End of Eddy and the crucial role his non-fiction narrative can play in stopping the silencing of France's poor residents, like his family, in literature.
The success of his first novel was followed by the publication of his second in 2016 titled Histoire de La Violence ("The History of Violence"). Exploring the depths of violence and how it is instigated and passed on, manifesting in various forms, Louis' second novel attests to his belief that having and understanding different narratives of violence is one way of bringing an end to it.
Also on Louis' current agenda is his third novel, still in the works, as well as a film adaptation of his second. "I am also working on my PhD, which I write when I have 2-3 hours free!"
Professor of Comparative Literature and American Studies, Klaus J. Milich directs the Montgomery Fellows Program which has brought people who have had world-wide influence and success to Dartmouth, giving students a unique opportunity to meet and engage with these individuals in fields ranging from the arts to politics. Please visit the program website at http://montgomery.dartmouth.edu for more information about the current term's fellow(s) and upcoming events.