Sunday, July 23, 2023

Fortnightly Book, July 23

 Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889) is one of the great late Romantic authors of France. He would be of significance for French literature even if only for his critical work, in which he argued for the value of a significant number of authors who, in part because of his work, became major figures in the French literary canon. But he is also a major figure in his own right, although the deliberately perplexing character of his work has often complicated his reception.

 A literal dandy, who dressed all his life in the aristocratic style of Beau Brummell, he spent the early portion of his life as an atheist critic of Christianity, but in the 1840s converted to Catholicism. It was also about this time that his literary star began to rise. His fiction and poetry were in Decadent style, and his fiction particularly often had an erotic aspect to it, his 1851 work, Une vieille maîtresse, beginning a long history of his works being denounced as immoral. As with Poe and Baudelaire, evil and its attraction plays a significant role in his stories. 

The next fortnightly book is the work often considered his masterpiece, and regularly taught in French schools today, Les Diaboliques, or 'The She-Devils', a collection of short stories about women committing crimes in the Norman countryside. When it was published in 1874, the usual charges of immorality began to spread, and the Ministry of Justice attempted to seize all extant published versions on the grounds of blasphemy and obscenity; the censorship backfired, as censorship often does, and made it one of the most widely read works of the day. Barbey d'Aurevilly was saved from being prosecuted for the book only by having very good connections.

I'll be reading it in the Dedalus edition, translated by Ernest Boyd.