Monday, March 01, 2004


I just finished reading J.K Huysmans' La-Bas: A Journey Into The Self.

Originally published in 1891, here's a decent synopsis: "The classic tale of satanism and sexual obsession in nineteenth-century Paris, in an attractive new edition. The novel's enervated anti-hero, Durtal, is writing a book about Gilles de Rais, child-murderer and comrade in arms of Joan of Arc. When he's not swotting up on alchemy, visiting Rais' ruined castle and fantasising about a mystery woman, he is pondering Catholicism with his friends. But his sexual adventures and historical studies mesh when he's invited to witness a black mass. Strong meat for diseased imaginations." - TIME OUT.

By 'modern' standards, the strong meat isn't all that putrescent; but La-Bas is still an interesting little read. One caution - Huysmans' apparently raging misogyny can be off-putting to modern sensibilities. But in the end, Madame Chantelouve seems the more interesting personality anyway, over the principal character Durtal (La-Bas is nearly auto-biographical; durtal=huysmans).

But what fascinating notes! Huysmans alludes to many real-life examples of the nefarious & the eccentric, that populate the historical landscape from the Middle Ages into The Belle Époque. I have many dog-eared pages now, to help remind me of other topics I should read up on and where to find them.

The report on sexual abuse of minors by catholic priests, if totally honest, should also include a huge Historical Notes section. To conduct a proper Black Mass, an ecclesiastic background helps.


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