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Book Title: Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils) (Dedalus European classics)|
Date of issue: August 15th 1987
ISBN 13: 9780946626137
The author of the book: Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 621 KB
Edition: Buccaneer Books
Read full description of the books Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils) (Dedalus European classics):
Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808 – 1889), romantic with the sensibility of a decadent , self-styled dandy, teller of risqué novels and short stories, shocked readers and infuriated the authorities with the publication of Les Diaboliques. But there is much more to this captivating novel with its sumptuous, elegant language, well-crafted metaphors and highly visual and sensual imagery than simply shock value. Below are a number of themes common to the six separate tales comprising this novel:
Story within a story
For example, in The Crimson Curtain, the first-person narrator tells us as readers how one evening years ago while returning from a hunting trip he shared a carriage with a rotund, old dandy he calls Vicomte de Brassard. The carriage made a stop in a small provincial town for repair. Gazing up at an upper-story window of one of the town’s large buildings, a crimson curtain caught the narrator’s attention; he points out the captivating tint of the curtain to his riding companion. Ah, such are the twists of fate, since, as it turns out, that exact room with the crimson curtain was a dramatic marker for de Brassard’s life -- it all happened back in the day when he was but a seventeen-year-old sublieutenant. And dandy de Brassard tells the tale.
Storytelling with a hook
There’s a point, usually about half way through, when something unexpected happens to propel the story into overdrive. And what variety of event are we alluding to here? Why, of course, as if lighting a fuse to a stick of dynamite, a woman ignites a man’s passion: BOOM! Now we’re reading a Barbey-d’Aurevilly-style spellbinding page-turner.
For Barbey d’Aurevilly, a dandy is not only a man scrupulously devoted to style, neatness and fashion but, as he describes Vicomte de Brassard, a dandy has a seductive beauty which seduce not only woman but circumstances themselves; has a careless disdain and repugnance of discipline; keeps several mistresses at the same time like seven strings of his lyre; drinks like a Pole; jests about his own immorality; belongs to his own times and transcends his times; and, lastly, above all else, scorns all emotion as being beneath him.
Conversation as a cultural highpoint
In all six of these Barbey d’Aurevilly tales, the characters raise conversation to an art form – probing inquiry; genteel exchange; elaborate, detailed storytelling with all the necessary color and nuance to convey a vivid, sensual picture; and, above all, a deep respect for the speaker, permitting one’s interlocutor time and space – none of those spurious interruptions commonplace in our current world: cutting a speaker off mid-sentence, answering cell-phones, texting, checking emails, looking at one’s watch (the ultimate insult). Indeed, engaging in conversation as a cultivated skill, a consummate refinement, similar to playing baroque music or painting in oils.
Woman as the real power player
19th century France: Victorian, bourgeois, patriarchal, or, in other words, a male-centered, conservative, reason-dominated society. But the dirty little secret for the upholders of Victorian patriarchy is our all-too-human life is fueled by passion and emotion, most particularly sexual emotion – sexual attraction, sexual arousal and, of course, erotic love. The power of each of these Barbey d’Aurevilly tales lies in the fact a female instigates or initiates the key action. Talk about turning those Victorian values upside down and shaking! No wonder the authorities hated Barbey d’Aurevilly and banned his 1874 novel – Les Diaboliques also gave the French reading public one of its first tastes of what came to be known as the Decadent Movement, with its smashing to bits the connection and linking of virtue/reward, vice/punishment, good morals/happiness and bad morals/unhappiness, as in Happiness in Crime, a tale of two adulterers and murderers who live happily ever after.
For a more specific rasa, let’s look at one of the tales. In The Greatest Love of Don Juan, we read of a Don Juan-like lover, Comte de Ravila, dining with twelve of his previous romantic conquests. Barbey d’Aurevilly describes the physical strength and mature sensuality of these sumptuous lovers: “Full curves and ample proportions, dazzling bosoms, beating in majestic swells above liberally cut bodices . . . “ And then he writes of the sheer psychic power of these ladies as the evening progresses: “They felt a new and mysterious power in their innermost being of which, until then, they had never suspected the existence. The joy of this discovery, the sensation of a tripled life force, the physical incitements, so stimulating to highly strung temperaments, the sparkling lights, the penetrating odor of so many flowers swooning in an atmosphere overheated with the emanations of all these lovely bodies, the sting of heady wines, all acted together.”
Then, one woman demands our Don Juan tell the story of the greatest love of his life. If effect, he is being asked to choose one of his lovers amongst the present company. Comte de Ravila tells his story but, turns out, the story is not at all what these ladies expected.
My take is Ravila did the exactly the right thing. True, his story was not a tale of wild, heart-stopping, hot-blooded passion – he probably had twelve equally erotic and fantastically romantic stories to tell on that subject, one for each lady present, however his story was of a completely different cast but a story that had, from his perspective, a happy ending – he escaped from the banquet with the real prize: his life.
What an impossible question to ask a man: to choose one woman amongst twelve surrounding him. If he did, he most likely would have been torn to shreds by eleven Dionysian-frenzied former lovers. That’s the way to think on your feet and save your skin, Ravila. Bravo!
Read information about the authorJules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly was a novelist and literary critic at the Bonapartist paper Le Pays who was influential among fin-de-siècle decadents.
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