Les Diaboliques

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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 (see The Flowers of Evil: Litanies Of Satan)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.

46 thoughts on “Les Diaboliques

  1. Great post. Satan scares me — got to be careful around him. Admire your research as always, looking forward to the next 🙂

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    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.

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  2. Another very engaging and informative post and the books sound so cool. I love flauting cultural mores, and the “Devil” is such an absurd Christian concept that it’s one of my favorites.

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  3. 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.

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  4. “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. 🙂

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  5. 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?

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    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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  6. The troubled mind of an misogynist. Seemed to be quite his topic. So modern satanism is influenced by misogyny? In my perception there was always a link. So what did the symbolists change anyway? Hm, well, I’m not at all in the topic, very interesting, anyway. And the illustrations are stunning! Have a nice day, Mr Cake.

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    1. The symbolists inverted the trappings and the decor, if you like, of what Satanism is like in the popular imagination and movies. Misogyny has influenced a lot of things, not just Satanism. Thank you for the comment which I hope I answered to your satisfaction and you too.

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      1. The decadents believed that civilisation was decaying and collapsing and the nascent women’s right movement was a sign of decadence, hence the right wing, reactionary Catholicism of most of the decadents, with the notable exception of the anarchist Octave Mirbeau, who was however virulently anti-feminist. But that probably has more to do with his extreme masochism and his preference for cruel girlfriends. But more about the decadent anarchist later.

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      2. Thank you. Their was a female decadent writer called Rachilde, who got permission from the Parisian police to dress as a man. She wrote Monsieur Venus and Marquise De Sade, full of gender bending as you would expect with those titles.

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