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Who’s Who

…in the Life of Makhali-Phāl

This article introduces Makhali-Phāl’s influential professional network, as well as her closest personal friends and  family.

Much of this information is based on the primary research that Professor Sara Elizabeth Harris conducted in France in the early 1970’s, recently verified by Kent Davis and supplemented by Ravynn Karet-Coxen in communications with Makhali-Phāl’s family. For complete information about modern scholarship, please visit the Makhali-Phāl Research Network page.

Makhali-Phāl (1898-1965)

Poet & Author

Makhali-Phal - Circa 1933

Makhali-Phal - Circa 1933

In 1898, Makhali-Phāl (christened Nelly-Pierrette Guesde) was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Her father, Pierre Mathieu Thédore Guesde, was a French colonial administrator. Her mother, Néang Mali (Anne Marie) was Cambodian. From birth, Makhali-Phāl combined the opposing worlds of Europe and Asia.

According to her biographical profile in Poètes d’expression française (1945 edition), Makhali-Phāl and her younger brother Roger traveled to France on the 1906 voyage of King Sisowath, members of his Royal Court and his Royal Dance Troupe. While we have not substantiated this with documentation, there are many facts that make this theory seem quite logical.

In France, she and Roger were raised and educated by her father’s parents in Pau. As she blossomed into a young woman, Makhali-Phāl began devoting her creative life to seeing, feeling and expressing the conflict, harmony, pain and hope inherent in the union of the powerful forces of the Orient and Occident that existed inside her.

Makhali-Phāl was immedicately recognized as a literary talent upon the publication of her first book of poetry, Cambodge, in 1933. She continued to write (see a complete list of her works here) until her death in 1965. Through Makhali-Phāl’s visionary words, the ancient souls of Asia’s Khmer race live again, sharing their wisdom, genius and beauty in ways that still resonate in our modern era.


Makhali-Phāl – Literary Network

Gaston BACHELARD (1884-1962)


Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962)

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962)

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard was attracted to Makhali-Phāl’s work by her second novel, Narayana ou Celui Qui Se Meut Sur Les Eaux, as he expressed a a letter to Makhali-Phāl, 1 November, 1952.

In her research, Sara Elizabeth Harris observes that Narayana would have held special appeal for Bachelard due to his fascination with water, expressed in his study, L’Eau et les rêves (Paris: Gallimard, 1942) in which he observed:

« L’eau, comme on disait dans les anciens !ivres de chimie, ‘tempère les autres éléments.’ En détruisant la sécheresse–l’œuvre du feu–elle est vainqueur du feu; elle prend sur le feu une patiente revanche elle détend le feu, elle apaise le fièvre. Plus que le marteau, elle anéantit les terres, elle attendrit les substances. »  (pp. 241-243).

In a letter reacting to both Narayana and Le Roi d’Angkor Bachelard praised the strength of Makhali-Phāl’s writing with his observation that she is consistently able to send the reader “far deeper into his own dream world” or “songe” than would ever seem possible at first glance.

Ferny & Raoul BESSON

Novelist (Ferny) & Personal Friends

Ferny Besson

Ferny Besson

Ferny Besson was perhaps Makhali-Phāl’s closest friend, and she spent many happy times with Ferny and her husband Raoul at their rural home “Aux Araros” in Barbizon, France.

The Besson’s were also close friends with Alexandre Vialatte and Madame de la Rouchfoucauld, which strengthened Makhali-Phāl’s relationships with those influential people.

In the early 1970’s, it was Ferny who introduced researcher Sara Harris to Alexandre Vialatte and Madame de la Rouchfoucauld for research interviews. Ferny and Sara maintained correspondance throughout the period Sara was preparing her doctoral thesis “Makhali-Phāl: The Epic Novel as Poem.”

In 1999, Pion Press in Paris published a collection of letters between Ferny and Alexandre Vialatte entitled Correspondance avec Ferny Besson (1949-1971).


Poet, Dramatist, Diplomat (1868-1955)

Paul Claudel - TIME Magazine, March 21, 1927

Paul Claudel - TIME Magazine, March 21, 1927

Paul Claudel discovered Makhali-Phāl by reading her second novel, Narayana, as did Gaston Bachalard. He was so impressed he submitted her book as a candidate for the Prix Lange from l’Académie française, which it won in 1944.

Claudel’s original letters, examined by Sara Harris, praise the poetic quality of Narayana:

“Quel bouquin étonnant! …Le voici ‘le bouddhisme’ par votre poème superbe tellement mêlé à cette vie grandiose de la jungle que je demeure interdit: Qui êtes-vous?”

Claudel, a devout Catholic, later conducted a lengthy correspondence with Makhali-Phāl to discuss the topic of religion with her. While Makhali-Phāl also considered herself Catholic, Claudel could not accept this claim due to her belief in reincarnation and other Buddhist concepts that she embraced.

Pierre Loris (see below) also commented that Makhali-Phāl “was eager to be a serious Catholic,” but to discuss the dogma per se, either of the Catholic Church or of the Buddhist Church was an idea foreign to her; her view was that Buddhism and Catholicism could be complimentary.

Charles FOROT (1890-1973)

Charles FOROT (1890-1973)Publisher and Editor of Du Pigeonnier Press

Cambodge - Makhali-Phal's first poetry collection published by Charles Forot in 1933.

Cambodge - 1933

Charles Forot founded the respected independent Du Pigeonnier press in Saint-Félicien and published Makhali-Phāl’s first literary work, Cambodge.

Forot was renowned for promoting literary, visual and theatrical arts in the Ardeche region of France. Follow this link to his official archive.

Edmond JALOUX (1878-1949)

Novelist, Essayist and Critic

Edmond JALOUX (1878-1949)

Edmond JALOUX (1878-1949)

Edmond Jaloux (see biographical information in French here) wrote the insightful Avant-propos to the 1937 edition of Chant de Paix, Makhali-Phāl’s epic poem to the Khmer people first published by the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, with the help of Suzanne Karpelés (see below).

Mr. Jaloux’s Foreword is included in the 2010 edition of Chant de Paix, translated into English and Khmer for the first time. He wrote his piece shortly after being accepted to the l’Académie française in 1936.

Wikipedia article about l’Académie française (in English).

Suzanne KARPELÉS (1890-1969)

Literary, Spiritual & Educational Innovator in Cambodia

Suzanne Karpelés

Suzanne Karpelés

In 1922, Suzanne Karpelés traveled to Cambodia as the newest academic in the male-dominated École Française d’Extrême-Orient. Through her tireless and bold efforts, she reshaped literature in education in Cambodia.

In 1937, Makhali-Phāl entrusted Suzanne with the task of publishing her most spiritual work, Chant de Paix, in Phnom Penh at the Buddhist Institute. In the 2010 edition of this work, translated to English for the first time as Song of Peace, Ravynn Karet-Coxen considers the influence that Suzanne had upon Makhali-Phāl’s life and philosophy.

For a detailed account of Suzanne Karpelés’s life and accomplishments consult Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation 1860-1945 by Penny Edwards.

Gaston le Provost de LAUNAY (1874-1957)

Gaston le Provost de Launa

Gaston le Provost de Launay

Gaston le Provost de Launay met Makhali-Phāl at Madame de la Rochefoucauld’s salon in the 1930’s. She later fell in love with him and they became constant companions. They never married, however, and maintained separate residences until his death in Paris on March 10, 1957.

Born in 1874, and twenty-four years her senior, Gaston was a wealthy member of the French aristocracy, and a prominent political figure who was well respected in his field. Makhali-Phāl spent the latter half of her life with him, traveling frequently to the Rivera which she loved very much.

Pierre LORIS

Personal friend, Literary Consultant
& Co-Director of French Public Radio Cultural Broadcasts

Pierre Loris became a close friend of Makhali-Phāl, acting as her literary advisor and Makhali-Phāl consulted with him at length while she was writing Le Roi d’Angkor, Le Feu et l’Amour and Les Mémoires de Cléopâtre.

In interviews and correspondence with Sara Harris, Loris explained that Makhali-Phāl worked to resolve tensions between East and West in most of her literature; tension that was essentially a matter of perspective.

In the East, knowledge is sought after, but time is not of the essence as it is in Western society. In the East, one keeps seeking through many lives until one reaches Nirvana, while in the West we only have one life to make our mark in the world. In the East, there is a sense of unity among all living things, while the West emphasizes individuality.


Foreign Language Editor – Albin Michel

The Young Concubine

The Young Concubine

In addition to being a literary consultant, Madame Noëlle Pasquier also became a close personal friend of Makhali-Phāl. She would also join her relaxing at the Besson’s home in Barbizon.

As an editor for Albin Michel, she arranged for translation of La Favorite de Dix Ans in 1941, published as The Young Concubine by Random House in NY in 1942. had access to the dossiers of Makhali-Phal’s novels, which she opened to Sara Harris during her primary research in France in the early 1970’s. me. Noël also arranged an introduction to Makhali-Phal’s surviving niece, Madame Nelly Quedville.

Edmée de la ROCHEFOUCAULD (1895-1991)

Literary Critic


Edmée de la Rouchefoucauld (1895-1991)

Madame de la Rochefoucauld, a literary critic and member of one of France’s best-known families, discovered Makhali-Phāl in the 1930’s. Makhali-Phāl became a regular visitor to her salon at 8 Place des États-Unis in Paris where she met many individuals who would influence her life and career.

Sara Harris interviewed Madame de la Rochefoucauld during her primary research in the early 1970’s.

Alexandre VIALATTE (1901-1971)

Personal friend, Author, Journalist & Poet

Alexandre Vialatte (1901-1971)

Alexandre Vialatte (1901-1971)

As a journalist, Alexandre Vialatte wrote many articles about Makhali-Phāl, and shared his personal observations with Sara Harris in interviews just before his death.

He was a prolific author with books such as The Loves of Mata-Hari, My Kafka, Kafka or the Diabolical Innocence, The Final News of Man, The Red Fluid, In a Corner of the Desert, The Fruits of the Congo, The Elephant is Irrefutable, Bestiary and many others.


Makhali-Phāl – Family

Louis Atharese GUESDE (1843-1924) & Nelly de Bonneterre

Paternal Grandparents

Louis and Nelly educated she and her brother in Pau, France from approximately 1906-1922.

Pierre Mathieu Thédore GUESDE (1870-1942?)

& Néang Mali – Anne Marie GUESDE (1877-?)

Father and Mother

Pierre Guesde

Pierre Guesde

French and Cambodian parents of Nelly-Pierrette Guesde, later known as Makhali-Phāl (1898) and Roger Guesde (1900). Pierre Guesde held a number of important positions with the French colonial administration, in Indochina and in France.

Guesde appears in records as Administrator of Civil Service of Indo-China at the International Opium Convention in The Hague; first as a Delegate Plenipotentiary establishing the final protocol on December 1, 1911 and then representing the President of the French Republic on January 23, 1912 to sign the agreement. Other documents identify Guesde as a “former Resident-Superior in Indochina.”

Guesde took an important role in planning the Indochina section of the “Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes” in Marseille and also served as Commissioner of the Indochinese Section for the 1931 Paris Exposition.

Roger GUESDE (1900-1969)


Makhali-Phāl was extremely fond of her brother, with whom she shared her mixed Cambodian and French heritage.

Roger and his sister traveled to France in 1906 on the same ship carrying King Sisowath, his court and the Royal Dance Troupe, all of them leaving Cambodia for the first time. Both children were then educated by their grandparents in Pau, France.

While Makhali chose to nurture her Cambodian side, Roger adopted more French attitudes. As a young man he went into the French colonial service and moved to Madagascar where he married and had a daughter, Nelly. Roger retired in France and his sister pre-deceased him by only four years.

Nelly & Jacques QUEDVILLE

Niece and Caregivers

Nelly & Jacques Quedville

Nelly & Jacques Quedville

Nelly was born in Madagascar, the daughter of Makhali-Phāl’s brother Roger. In 1950, Nelly moved to Paris to live with her aunt. The most personal impressions of Makhali-Phāl come from her niece.

In 1959, Nelly married Jacques Quedville. Soon, the two of them becamse Makhali-Phāl’s final caregivers as her cancer worsened until her death in 1965.

Nelly and Jacques have a grown son and daughter, Olivier and Marie, and live in southern France where they enjoy visits from their family and grandchildren. They continue to maintain Makhali-Phāl’s library and archives.

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