Les Diaboliques

At a  Dinner of Atheists-Les Diaboliques- Barbey d’Aurevilly-Illustration Felicien Rops
After the scandal and subsequent prosecution that attended the publication of Les Fleurs Du Mal, the decadent writer and theorist of Dandyism, Barbey D’Aurevilly told his friend Charles Baudelaire that after such a book it only remains for him to choose between the muzzle of the pistol and the foot of the cross.

It was nicely put and neatly summarized the dilemma facing the true decadent. D’Aurevilly, like many other decadents, including J.K Huysmans, Leon Bloy (see The Captives of Longjumeau) and Villers de l’isle Adam (see To the Dreamers, To the Deriders) opted for the cross. However the Catholicism re-adopted by the decadents retained more than a whiff of sulphur about it. Often it seems as if they decided to pledge their devotion to God just in order to celebrate Satan and all his works, revelling all the more in the sins of the flesh. Sin gives sensuality an additional flavour. It is no exaggeration to say that the French Symbolists invented  the modern conception of Satanism.

D’Aurevilly’s masterpiece is the  short story collection Les Diaboliques, a celebration of crime and immorality. No matter how much the bored gentleman dandies try to excel in evil in Les Diaboliques they are no match for the Devil’s representatives on earth, all of whom wear petticoats. Containing such bon-mots as “The Devil teaches women what they are – or they would teach it to the Devil if he did not know” and “Next to the wound, what a woman makes best is the bandage”, D’Aurevilly encapsulated the misogyny of  the decadents in glittering, cynical one-liners. The book was illustrated by the Decadent artist par excellence Felicien Rops who also illustrated Les Fleurs Du Mal and whose entire artistic production was dedicated to an expose of the grip that Sin, Death and The Devil holds over the world.


32 thoughts on “Les Diaboliques

    1. It is an interesting subject the change of conception of the Devil in the 19th century. It was the age of revolutions and Blake’s reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost is key here ‘Milton was of the Devil’s party but he didn’t know it,’ amd Milton’s Satan was imbued with a tragic grandeur ‘Tis better to reign it hell than serve in heaven’. So the devil became the arch-rebel. As for my research I just know a lot of really useless information. Thanks as always for your support.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The illustrations are really something… I have an illustrated copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination that has grotesquely ‘beautiful’ (or beautifully grotesque, if you prefer) illustrations. It was my grandfather’s book and I remember being terrified and fascinated by the pictures as a child. I will have to see who the artist was… These illustrations reminded me of the Poe book.

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    1. Baudelaire was the first person to translate Poe, his stories were a sensational success in France and his life and work profoundly influenced the decadents. I love Rops work though subtle and understated he isn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “The Devil teaches women what they are – or they would teach it to the Devil if he did not know”
    Wow! It’s amazing that this was so blatant. Then again, maybe not… Fascinating. Thank you for the link. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a great fan of “l’ensorcelée” by d’Aurevilly – it is darkness and the fascination with sin and, as you mention, religion just adding spice to “le mal”
    I’ve only read it in French but I believe it’s “The Bewitched” in translation. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No I haven’t I have only read Lea Diaboliques though I will certainly seek it out. It is a great line what he said about the foot of the cross and the muzzle of a gun, he also used it for Huysmans, who chose the cross after a detour with black masses.


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