PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translator: Judith Landry Cover design: Marie Lane
A brief but sparkling bon-bon from the French writer Jacques Cazotte, who was guillotined in 1792. A young captain, stationed in Naples, is tempted into summoning up Beelzebub, who appears first in the guise of a hideous camel, then as a cute spaniel, and lastly - and most dangerously - as a gorgeous, pouting nymphette who declares herself enamoured of the young man and follows him everywhere. This is an amusing study of temptation, with sinister undertones.
In Biondetta there remains no trace of the monstrous apparition conjured up by Alvaro in the ruins of Portico. The satanic seductress is hidden behind the face of the tormented and plaintive beauty until the end of the fable.
The Devil in Love is famous on various counts: for its charm and the perfection of its scenes, but above all for the originality of its conception.
Jacques Cazotte took the side of the king during the French Revolution. When his plans for a hypothetical counter-revolution were discovered, he went to the guillotine. So died one of the founding fathers of modern fantastic fiction. The Devil in Love, the tale of a young man Beelzebub sets out to enslave by seducing him, is his masterpiece. Unfortunately, for those who are not students of fantastic fiction, this theme has been so well developed in the intervening centuries that its main interest is historical. Even Brian Stableford, in his introduction, acknowledges it is 'something of a curate's egg, brilliant in some respects but ham-fisted in others.' Stableford's preface is more interesting than the work itself.
Translated by Judith Landry, THE DEVIL
IN LOVE is the latest beneficiary of Dedalus’
commendable policy of rescuing deserving
works from obscurity. This novella
by Jacques Cazotte, a writer who was
guillotined during the French Revolution,
is an early example of the devilish tempter
mode of fiction, its antecedents and
importance underlined by Brian Stableford
in his introduction, and it doesn’t quite fit
with my theme of historical horror as the
setting was contemporary when the book
written, but by the end of this piece the only
definition we’ll have for ‘historical horror’ is
stuff Pete read this month, so allow it.
While serving in the Neapolitan guard,
the Spaniard Alvaro falls in with a group
of cabbalists who show him how to raise
Beelzebub. Monstrous at first, the demon
transforms into the beguiling Biondetta, and
begins her assault on his heart, on the one
hand offering Alvaro everything that pride
and avarice could desire, and on the other
appealing to the good side of his nature
by posing as an innocent who can only be
saved by his love. Alvaro is won over, though
he retains doubts about her intentions, and
is only saved by the intervention of another
female, one whose claim on his heart
even Biondetta can’t negate, despite
her best efforts to do so.
It all seems rather dated and
clichéd by modern standards,
though the case could be made
that this is the prototype on which
the clichés were based, and there’s
still much of interest. Alvaro is
essentially a good person undone by his
wish to understand more of the natural
world and exert control over it through
knowledge. He is lured into a solipsist
reality shaped by Biondetta, all the time
believing that he has mastery over her,
with the demon’s machinations delighting
with their subtle complexity and the way
in which Alvaro is torn first one way and
then the other, until undone by his better
instincts. There are a few moments to cause
shudders as well, such as the summoning
of Beelzebub in the Portico, and the final
transformation with its vision of horned
snails, followed by the revelation of how
everything has been affected.
This is a book to read for its importance
to the genre of weird fiction and value as
an historical artefact, rather than for any
intrinsic literary worth, but it passes the
time amiably enough and won’t disappoint
the reader who comes to it with realistic
expectations. Dedalus are to be thanked for
making it available to modern audiences,
and in such an attractive package.
No. of pages: 112
Publication date: 23.03.2011
ISBN 978 1 907650 05 5
Dedalus World English rights in this translation.