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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank You, Amazon, 28 Aug 2009
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Les Diaboliques: She Devils (Empire of the Senses) (Paperback)
I don't know how many people bother to click on the recommendations tag at the top of the Amazon page. If you have never done so before then I would seriously suggest that you do so at some time. Admittedly it will throw up things you have, seen, read or listened to before, as well as some things you would never be interested in but sometimes you will find some gems. It was only by looking at the recommendations that I came across this fantastic little book.

Apparently when it was first released all copies were seized by the French Ministry of Justice as it was believed to be a danger to public morals. Barbey escaped prosecution due to an influential friend and the book came out in a second edition in 1882. Nowadays this book is rcognised as a classic of French Literature and is apparently taught in French schools. So what do we have here? This is a book of six short stories and now considered to be Barbey's masterpiece. All the stories are told as if they were reminiscenses or stories recounted to the narrator; they involve the seven vices as written about by Dante. What really is a shock for the time they were written in is that they involve strong women with powerful desires where most were still writing about timid women who stayed in the home or were prostitutes and at the lower end of the social hierarchy. Barbey was much appreciated by the aesthetic and decadent movements of the fin de siecle.

In these tales women either commit crimes or push men to do so and are real femmes fatales. These stories also border on the edge of the gothic/ romantic writings of the age into a more mordern style. In the first tale a young girl sneeks through her parent's bedroom to sleep with the lodger only to die on a occasion when they are together. The lodger in the end does a bunk because of this; so you can see there is something macabre and blackly comic running through a lot of these stories, indeed almost Hoffmanesque. From tales of murder to degrading sex to humiliate husbands Barbey has indeed produced something original here. You should be warned however that the tales are sparse and it is what the reader sees in them that makes them come to life, rather like The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Popular Classics). If you like something edgy or are into nineteenth century literature this is a must have that you will want to read again and again. All in all this is a great little book that deserves to be read by a wider audience, and indeed would be good for something a little different for reading groups.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important text that's hard to find, 4 Oct 2011
This review is from: Les Diaboliques: She Devils (Empire of the Senses) (Paperback)
I have spent years searching for this book - admittedly not desperately, but every now and then. It is almost non-existent in book shops, but here it is, online.
This is a collection of stories that all involve death or crime of some kind and women. The women all feature as objects of desire and strong passions and conjoined with this is some form of death or crime (a typical fin-de-siecle preoccupation). Usually the story is also told from an outside point of view, so the reader doesn't get the whole story, but must make up the missing bits for her- or himself. For example, in "Beneath the Cards of a Game of Whist" we never know whether the male protagonist ever poisons anybody (though it is suggested) and exactly what kind of relationship he had with the daughter of his mistress and how this daughter dies. This makes the stories more compelling and realistic. In that story in particular the point of view is excellent and carries much of the interest of the story (and this is said at the beginning of this story: little hints are more compelling than having the whole canvas spread out in front of you).
Although written towards the end of the 19th century (which shows in the long sentence constructions and the somewhat slow pace of story-telling), the stories are stylistically still well worth reading. There are excellent turns of phrase and close and acutely observed descriptions, interspersed with some brilliant sayings (love this one: the way to a woman's first lover is longer and more arduous than to her tenth lover).
The introduction is not hugely enlightening or necessary, but adequate.
KINDLE: The text itself is riddled with errors, especially towards the end, which makes reading difficult. Exclamation marks are often rendered as "1" (so Menil! becomes Menil1) and the punctuation can be more than erratic (with full stops cropping up in the most unlikely places, particularly in "At a Dinner of Atheists"). My 'favourite' typo, which cost me the most time to decipher, was "Lhad" for "I had".
However, none of this can detract from the fact that this is an important and excellent book that is far too seldom published and far too difficult to get hold of (in bookshops). For anybody interested in the Gothic or the macabre or the fin-de-siecle (Baudelaire &c) it is mandatory reading; for anybody looking for something out of the ordinary and who is prepared to submit to more roundabout story-telling styles and the darker sides of human passions, this is also a rewarding read.
P.S. If you like the book, check out Felicien Rops's drawings to accompany each story (freely available on wikipedia).
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Les Diaboliques: She Devils (Empire of the Senses)
Les Diaboliques: She Devils (Empire of the Senses) by Jules Amedee Barbey D'Aureveilly (Paperback - 24 Oct 1996)
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