Cazotte: The Fantastique Writer Who Saw Death

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) note: some sources put his birth at 1720

” 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.” Anne Billson in Time Out “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.” Jorges Luis Borges “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. ” Gerard de Nerval- from the blurb for the Dedalus European Classics edition of The Devil in Love.
 
Written in 1772, (original French title: Le Diable Amoureux), The Devil in Love was Jacques Cazotte’s crowning achievement  of the fantastique which paralleled the English Gothics of the day.
 
Educated by Jesuits, Jacques worked for public office in Martinique, and returned to Paris with the rank of commissioner-general.   In his forties, he began his foray into writing.  Having little interest in the rationalism of the day, he penned a series of fantastical stories as well as translating several Arabian tales into French.
 
Cazotte’s belief in his ability as a seer led him to the Martinist mysticism of Martinez de Pasqually.  The esoteric form of Christianity concerned itself with the fall of man, and his return to the divine source.
 
Declaring himself a “mystical monarchist”, Cazotte warned several men and women at a dinner party in 1788 that they would all soon die by guillotine or noose.  To the theater critic Sebastian Chamfort,  he declared, “You will slash your own wrists 22 times before dying a long and miserable death.” 
 
When the French Revolution began, Chamfort supported it for humanistic reasons.  However, as it became more and more bloody, he condemned the murders and was imprisoned.  Wishing to escape a public execution, he slashed his wrists twenty-two times with a dull razor before dying.
 
Cazotte’s prediction to  The Marquis de Condorcet that he would one day take poison to escape the guillotine came true in 1794.
 
Jacques Cazotte could not escape his own fate, either.  On September 25, 1792 he was beheaded for treason.
 

French Gothic Novel or The Roman Noir

The term, “noir” instantly brings to mind the works of such authors as Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain, and Dorothy B. Hughes.  Many of their novels turned into the gritty, black and white films of the 1950s.  Tales of downtrodden men and women (victims and perpetrators alike) lost in the underbelly of society.

However, Roman Noir (black novel) was first coined by the French in the 18th century, and originally referred to the Gothic novels emerging from England at the time.

The English Gothic novel (born from Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto) were mysteries often set in ruined castles populated by lonely women, tyrannical Lords, and creepy servants.   Ancient curses, ominous visions, forbidden romance, and fears of the supernatural abound.

The Roman Noir became the parallel literary movement in France.  Notable authors included  Denis Diderot, Madame de Genlis,  Baculard d’Arnaud,  Stéphanie Ducrest de St-Albin,Gaston Leroux, Balzac, Vicomte d’Arlincourt,  Francois Ducray-Duminil,  Victor Hugo, and Maupassant.

During the nineteenth century,  in continuation of the Gothic or Roman Noir, a new emphasis on horror gave birth to the  le roman frenetique.  

-Lou Chaney as The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Gothic Reading

Gothic fiction originated in 1764 with the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.  From there, this genre which combined elements of horror and romance swept through England,  continental Europe, and even reached colonial America with the works of Washington Irving amongst others.

I’ve decided this shall be the year I study Gothic Literature in depth.  Now, if I was a purely logical person, I’d probably start my reading where it all began, namely inside that Castle of Walpole’s.

But since I enjoy doing things in my own odd ways- I thought it would be more fun to go about this in an entirely different manner.  Namely, fate would decide.

4 cards were pulled from my Bohemian Gothic Tarot Deck.

1. Devil- American Gothic

2.  Lovers- German Gothic

3.  Death- French Gothic

4.  Tower- English Gothic

Eyes shut.  Shuffling.  Card picked…

Death.

So, my long journey into the depths of the Gothic shall begin in France!

Next post: all about the French Gothic Novel

The Dragon Year Approaches

Wait.  Didn’t I just write my post, “The Year of the Rabbit”? 

Granted, I have no sense of time, and I can’t even wear a watch since my electromagnetic field kills them all.   But really.   How did we so quickly go from:

to:

Incredible or not, it is Jan 1, 2012.  (talk about sci-fi-ish sounding).  And we are now heading into the year of the dragon.  (Jan 23rd)

So, just like last year, I am continuing to work toward things.   I don’t like to make concrete goals.   Instead, I’m always seeking,  Always wanting to learn more.  Explore and expand my inner and outer worlds.

That said, in this- the year of the magestic dragon I shall continue to write every day (for the most part), continue studying that fascinating but infuriating language German, and being true to myself.

May everyone do what is best for them!

Here’s to the year of the dragon!

Published in: on January 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm  Comments (13)  
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