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Lost Illusions: Paul Léautaud and his world, published in 1974, was Harding's only biography set against the backdrop of the Parisian literary scene.
Reviews of Lost Illusions: Paul Léautaud and his world
"...a rewarding book...highly informative and carefully documented study..." Peter Quennell, The Observer







The book
Paul Léautaud (1872 - 1956) is one of the oddest characters in French literature.  Although he only saw his mother on half a dozen occasions, he fell in love with her and was tormented by an incestuous longing for her until her death.  In this absorbing study, the first full-length biography in any language, Harding re-creates the vanished world of a man who, once regarded as a mere eccentric, is now recognised as a significant figure in contemporary literature. Léautaud's experience of life gave him the material for writings which, as exercises in self-revelation, are unequalled for their frankness and ruthless honesty.  He was ready to sacrifice everything for the pleasure of speaking his mind - about himself and anyone else.  Harding traces  Léautaud's intimate friendships with many famous writers of the time and gives us a lively panorama of the French literary scene, peopling it with a host of minor but vivid characters.  Most of all, he movingly portrays a writer of rare integrity.   
The man
Paul Léautaud, the illegitimate son of a prompter at the Comédie-Française and an actress who deserted him at birth, spent a wretched childhood tyrannised by a brutal father.  He became a staff member of the notable review, the Mercure de France, and was at the centre of Parisian literary life for over half a century.  The result was his immense Journal littéraire which he wrote up each evening with a goose-quill pen by candle-light.  Léautaud chose to live alone in a ramshackle suburban house with the animals he loved better than any human - dozens of cats and dogs, many of them strays rescued from the streets of Paris, a monkey, a goat, a goose and, for a while, a donkey.  At the age of seventy-eight, after a lifetime's obscure poverty, Léautaud became a celebrity overnight, thanks to radio interviews that revealed his wit and malice to millions who would never have read his books.  But fame had come too late, in 1956, at the age of eighty-four, Léautaud died.