Thursday, November 05, 2015
I wrestled with how I was going to write an article on Là-Bas, the 1891 novel by J K Huysmans (for this article I read the Brendan King translation).
In many respects this is not at all a vampire novel and yet it is often listed as such due to the fact that it has a focus on Gilles de Rais, the 15th Century serial killer. De Rais is sometimes associated with vampirism (in that peculiar way that some serial killers are) and, indeed, Huysmans makes such a connection – as we will see. That would, however, at most raise thought of an Honourable Mention.
The book also mentions the succubus (and the incubus) and there is often crossover between the succubus and the vampire. Huysman is explicit with that crossover. Also mentioned in passing is the Comte de Saint-Germain who would come to have an association with vampires thanks, in no small part, to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. However, as this book hails from the 19th Century and, also, as it happens to be a marvellous piece of prose I decided to list it under classic literature.
The book follows Durtal, a novelist and thinly veiled cipher for Huysmans himself, who is disenchanted with the modern day and is writing a novel centred on the life of Gilles De Rais. He does liken De Rais to a vampire at one point when he suggests “He had worshipped death, had loved like a vampire, and had embraced unparalleled expressions of suffering and fear”. More explicitly he describes De Rais as indulging in necrophilic activities with those he killed and then likens that to the actions of Sergeant Bertrand the infamous 19th century necrophiliac known as the Vampire of Montparnasse.
Durtal discovers that there may still be Satanism occurring in 19th Century France and eventually gets himself invited to a black mass – so that he can experience such an activity and thus write with authority about the black masses De Rais allegedly attended. In his quest for the occult aspect we discover a theory of different types of succubae. As well as being demons in their own right it is suggested that they may also be the animated corpse of a woman – animated by the devil, “which adds the hideously carnal prospect of vampirism to that of demonism”. So in all aspects vampirism is related to carnality, specifically of a necrophilic nature.
So there you have it. Not vampirism as commonly thought of but a marvellous piece of French literature.