The Damned, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Joris-Karl Huysmans' shocking novel of an innocent's descent into a world of depraved, blasphemous rituals, The Damned (La-Bas) caused a scandal when it was first published in nineteenth-century France.

This Penguin Classics edition is translated with an introduction and notes by Terry Hale.Durtal, a shy, censorious man, is writing a biography of Gilles de Rais, the monstrous fifteenth-century child-murderer thought to be the original for 'Bluebeard'.

Bored and disgusted by the vulgarity of everyday life, Durtal seeks spiritual solace by immersing himself in another age.

But when he starts asking questions about Gilles's involvement in satanic rituals and is introduced to the exquisitely evil madame Chantelouve, he is soon drawn into a twilight world of black magic and erotic devilry in fin-de- siecle Paris.

Published in 1891, The Damned cemented Huysmans's reputation as a writer at the forefront of the avant-garde and as one of the most challenging and innovative figures in European literature.In his introduction, Terry Hale discusses autobiographical aspects of this scandalous novel, Huysmans's fascination with occult practices, the real woman who inspired the character of Madame Chantelouve and other literary accounts of Gilles de Rais.

This edition also includes further reading, a chronology and notes.Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) is now recognized as one of the most challenging and innovative figures in European literature and an acknowledged principal architect of the fin-de-siecle imagination.

He was a career civil servant who wrote ten novels, most notably A Rebours and La-Bas.If you enjoyed The Damned, you might like Huysmans's Against Nature (A Rebours), also available in Penguin Classics.




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Review by

A learned paranoid Catholic and Satanic adventure novel with a longing for the good old days - as in, the dark ages. It is apparent to me that Huysmans decided to end this just as it was nearing its climax. The night I finished the book, I dreamt of a small black volume that contained the missing ending, written, but also suppressed, by Huysmans. If you should happen to run across it, please let me know.

Review by

The end of the 19th century was a time when science had battered the foundations of orthodox religion, but could not yet dispel many notions of the supernatural. Spiritualism became an upper class fad, and there was a renewed interest in the darker forms of occultism. <i>Là-Bas</i> both represents and depicts this period of exploring the fringes of the supernatural.The novel opens with its principle character, a writer named Durtal, having one of many discussions with his friend Hermies, a physician. They are criticizing Naturalism, the literary movement led by Émile Zola. What Durtal finds objectionable is not "the language of the lockup, the doss house and the latrines," but the fact that it "promotes the idea of art as something democratic" and denies the "higher levels of existence."Durtal announces that he is commencing a writing project that will address the spiritual as well as the material. It is to be a biography of Gilles de Rais, a 15th century military leader, occultist, and serial killer. Throughout the novel, Huysmans interweaves the biographical details of Gilles de Rais with the story of Durtal and his friends. Once a celebrated general under Joan of Arc, Gilles retired to his baronial estates in Brittany where he began dabbling in alchemy. This led to the practice of celebrating the Black Mass, a ceremony meant in this case to invoke Satan's aid in converting lead to gold. But the Black Mass, as Gilles practiced it, required the blood of a freshly slain child. This soon became a sexual fetish for the baron, who became one of history's most notorious child killers.From Hermies, Durtal learns that there are people practicing the black arts even in his own time. In various dinner table conversations--much of the novel consists of dinner table conversations--Durtal learns about contemporary practitioners of astrology, exorcism, spiritual poisoning, and other rites. He is most fascinated by the Black Mass, however, and eventually gets his chance to observe one with the aid of a mysterious and anonymous female admirer. The views of Durtal and his friends reflect the author Huysmans's increasing conservatism and orthodoxy. There is a nostalgia for the Middle Ages, a time when the "plebs" knew their place and accepted their lot in life--in contrast to the Paris "rabble" whom Hermies describes as "avaricious, abject and stupid." Most tellingly, Satan is depicted as a Socialist revolutionary in this invocation: "Thou art the champion of the poor, and the staff of the vanquished! Endow them with hypocrisy, ingratitude and pride, that they may defend themselves against the Children of God, the rich and wealthy!"The author's elitism may be as repugnant to some as the Gilles de Rais's murders, but that doesn't keep <i>Là-Bas</i> from being a fascinating and entertaining novel. The discussion of the dark arts is highly informative but kept light enough--would you be so kind as to pass the creamed peas--by the interjection of small talk to avoid becoming a lecture. While it's rather light on plot, there is enough graphic sex and violence in <i>Là-Bas</i> to make it controversial at the time in France and unpublishable elsewhere. It is very much worth reading for the light it sheds into the darker corners of history and its insight into the intellectual currents of the <i>fin de siècle.</i>

Review by

One thing to remember when considering this novel is that it is only the first, if now the most famous, of a sequence of four about the protagonist Durtal: Là-Bas (1891); En route (1895); La cathédrale (1898); and L'Oblat (1903). The sequence develops Durtal's relationship with Catholicism, and I think presents him as a more complete character, something which may seem to be lacking if one has read only this first novel of the sequence.

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