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Faith & Passion in Evil
on 16 July 2009
La Bas is about Durtal, a second grade writer penning the biography of Gilles de Rais. Gilles is a 14th c. character who fought the English alongside Joan of Arc. Somewhere along the way however, Gilles goes bananas and starts kidnapping, raping and then murdering beautiful young boys in a satanic orgy that ran to vampirism and cannibalism. La Bas recounts Gilles' misdeeds extensively through Durtal's thoughts. The rest of the book presents a number of fantastical conversations on occultism, Catholicism, astrology, medicine, magic, Satan worship and such like. Some readers may find certain sections deeply disturbing.
I found it interesting that Huysmans based his book on real evidence of occultism in 19th c. France where people believed in superstitious voodoo and spiritualism: séances and the ability of some people to change into cats or send curses through the ether. In France! I thought these beliefs only existed in Africa.
A few other themes get the treatment: the gullibility of the poor masses; the total capitulation of society to business interests and commercial profit; the charlatans of the medical profession (which actually helps one understand the need for something like the U.S Food & Drug Agency); and finally, that woman is fickle and sly, evil and sinful. Mme. Chantelouve arrives out of nowhere and seduces Durtal. After Durtal "took possession" of her body he found her "repugnant" and why not, since she "initiated him into obscenities". Even the book's back cover calls her "exquisitely evil" when there was nothing overwhelmingly evil about her. Wicked misogyny.