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Là-bas (1891)


The Saturday Review.

May 2, 1891.


M. Huysmans (7), like all French novelists of a certain school, is tormented by the "farthests" of others, as geographers say. He seems to have heard the voice cry antiquam exquirite matrem, and to have interpreted, let us look up old wives’ fables. And the old wives’ fables (of course, as unsavoury ones as possible) which he has chosen to look up are those of demoniality, black masses, &c., in general, of Gilles de Rais, the mediaeval Jack-the-Ripper of children, in particular. Michelet and others helping, he has executed his purpose, writing with some skill — when M. Huysmans uses an intelligible lingo he generally does that — and rather artfully interspersing his version of the ghastly legends of Tiffauges and Champtocé with a modern story of the inquiries of a Parisian novelist (assisted, of course, by somebody else’s wife) into the practices of contemporary devil-worshippers. These seem to have forgotten that their master is on high authority a gentleman, and that there is neither fun nor felicity in frantic and foolish filth.