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The Damned (La-Bas) (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 29, 2002

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The Damned (La-Bas) (Penguin Classics) + Against Nature (A Rebours) (Penguin Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (January 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140447679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140447675
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907) is recognized as one of the most challenging and innovative figures in European literature and acknowledged as principal architect of the fin-de-siècle imagination. He was a career civil servant who wrote ten novels, most notably A Rebours and Là-Bas.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By GeoX on December 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
La-Bas is more like an actual novel than Against Nature, inasmuch as it has actual characters other than the protagonist, as well as a plot, of sorts. I think this is also why it doesn't work as well; in spite of the more novelistic elements, it still retains much of the earlier work's self-indulgence, giving the work as a whole something of a watered-down feel: the characters aren't that interesting.
In reading this book, you will learn more about historic views of demonology than you probably ever wanted to know, with characters earnestly expounding on possessions, curses, and exorcisms; this is given an extra edge by the fact that Huysmans himself was apparently a firm believer in it. It's interesting for a while, but the fact is, it does get old. Against Nature jumped from topic to topic quickly enough that tedium never really had time to set in; not so here, unforunately.
The back cover copy claims that "...when he [Durtal, the protagonist] meets the exquisitely evil Madame Chauntelouve, he is drawn into the twilight world of black magic and erotic devilry of fin-de-siecle Paris." This makes the book sound far more interesting than it actually is. The twilight world in question basically consists of people sitting around and talking about the aforementioned subjects, and the infamous black mass at the end is pretty tame by modern standards. I can see how this stuff could have been shocking a century ago, but now I think it likely to arouse, if anything, historical interest more than anything else. I would say that the most interesting part of the book consisted of the sections on the child murderer Gilles de Rais, about whom Durtal is trying to write a biography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven Davis on April 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
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. Là-Bas 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.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. G. Plumb on August 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have enjoyed several Huysmans works - 'Against Nature', 'With the Flow' - and there are common elements repeated in 'The Damned'. The importance of food for example. In 'With the Flow' the descriptions of food are invariably vile - a complete contrast occurs in 'The Damned'. Perhaps the enjoyment of food is a contrast Huysman consciously plotted to counteract the appalling evils he describes - many of these are truly gross, and if ever a book cover should have a rating like a movie, or a warning like a particularly graphic news item on TV, well this is one. I could understand some readers throwing the book away in disgust and never completing it.

But the group of men (and the bell-ringer's wife) who come together frequently throughout the novel are learned and convivial. And even Durtal's seduction of (by?) another man's wife does not turn me against him. But for me there are two immensely memorable minor characters - Durtal's cat who is truly hilarious, and his concierge, who's pretty funny too.

Durtal is a writer preparing a biography of Gilles de Rais, a monstrous child murderer of the fifteenth century. It is the narrative of Gilles' life that is so disgusting - not only what he did, but also the sacrilege embedded with it. And Durtal explores the remnants of that sacrilege and black magic as it persists into the nineteenth century.

Other recommendations:

Huysmans 'Against nature'

Huysmans 'With the Flow'
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