Tag Archives: Joris-Karl Huysmans


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Là-Bas [Amazon, Bookshop, Gutenburg, Local Library] by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Huysmans Là-Bas

When Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote Là-Bas (published in 1891), he was already notorious for his seminal novel of decadence Au Rebours. Là-Bas introduces Huysmans’ autobiographical protagonist Durtal as a medievalist antiquarian. In the course of his researches into the fifteenth-century diabolist Gilles de Rais, Durtal becomes aware of and then infiltrates a modern Satanist sect. This book was a literary success, and its sale was banned in French railway stations.

The arch-Satanist of the book, Canon Docre, was based by Huysmans on an actual clergyman from Bruges, while an opposed character, the mystic Doctor Johannes, was modeled on the heretic priest Joseph-Antoine Boullan. When Huysmans met him, Boullan had recently assumed the governance of a neo-Gnostic sect first organized by Eugene Vintras.

Huysmans had networked among the occultists of his day, including Gerard Encausse and his neo-Martinist set and others associated with the Kabbalistic Rose-Croix of Peladan. But he alienated himself from all of these when he unwittingly chose sides in an ongoing feud between Boullan and the neo-Rosicrucians, with the latter chiefly represented by Stanislas de Gauita and Oswald Wirth. Involving himself in this scene, Huysmans experienced a delicious paranoia that the novel communicates beautifully.

Boullan died in 1893 and Huysmans’ friend Jules Bois accused the Paris Rosicrucians of having magically assassinated him. So the conflict persisted.

Five years after the publication of Là-Bas Arthur Edward Waite wrote that Monsieur Huysmans “has given currency to the Question of Lucifer, has promoted it from obscurity to into prominence, and has made it the vogue of the moment.” That moment, of course, was the acme of the Palladist conspiracy theory of Leo Taxil, postulating an elite of satanic sex-fiends at the heart of global freemasonry.

A generation later, when Aleister Crowley issued a reading list for his students, he called Là-Bas “An account of the extravagances caused by the Sin-complex.” In addition, it is valuable to latter-day Thelemites for its sardonic humor, its intuitions about certain features of Eucharistic magick, and its veiled references to historical antecedents of the EGC rite.

Fantazius Mallare

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fantazius Mallare: A mysterious oath by Ben Hecht, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich:

Ben Hecht's Fantazius Mallare from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Ben Hecht’s character Fantazius Mallare is definitely a descendant of Huysmanns’ decadent paragon Des Essientes. The omniscient third-person narration in this novel alternates with passages from Mallare’s journal, so that Mallare’s misconceptions and deepening delusions are set into ironic relief. At the same time, he spouts epigrammatic verities in the throes of his self-induced madness. Like Au Rebours, this story is one where decadence converges with asceticism.

First published (and banned) in 1922, the tale is written without reference to definite place. Mallare simply lives in “the town.” There is a family of gypsies on its “outskirts.” Its time is of an indefinite modernity, signaled by the references to hypnosis, and one incongruous mention of “Christian Scientists.” It might well be an allegory, in which Mallare represents the development of the will to knowledge in our artificial and alienated society.

One of the best parts of the book is the preliminary “dedication,” in which the author catalogs at great length his various enemies with their faults. The ending takes place in the form of a journal passage, and it was not clear to me what the “objective” state of affairs was supposed to be at that point.

The Wallace Smith illustrations seem to have an inconsistent relationship to the text, but they’re terrific regardless. Their cadaverous figures in tortured poses all have a deliciously hieratic quality. [via]


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