French writer Joséphin Péladan, born on this day in 1858, was the great Decadent theorist of androgyny. It was a theme which pervaded the 19 volumes of his epic work La Décadence latine, not least in the instalment entitled simply L’Androgyne. It was a phenomenon he saw as distinct from physical desire, a mystical union which dissolved on sexual contact. “Every exclusively masculine figure is lacking in grace,” he believed, “every exclusively feminine one is lacking in strength.”
Péladan’s own self-presentation brought together these thoughts with his conception of himself as a magus, or “Sâr” (descended from Babylonian royalty, no less), as American writer Warren Johansson describes:
Péladan himself fused a real sense of mission with an exhibitionism and a flair for the dramatic – with transvestite overtones – worthy of an Oscar Wilde. His dress ranged from the medieval to oriental robes with a nuance of the androgynous and from ecclesiastical vestments to the traditional raffish garb of bohemia.
As The New York Times also noted in its 1918 obituary, Péladan “was reputed to possess the wildest and most luxuriant head of hair and whiskers in the whole Latin quarter.”
Part prophet, part bard, part bearded lady – here is Joséphin Péladan in all his robèd splendour: