According to Baudelaire, the devil’s best trick was to convince us that he doesn’t exist. But for Joris-Karl Huysmans, though he doubted the existence of God, belief in the devil was never a problem. For him the devil may not have been omnipresent, but he was certainly ubiquitous. Almost to his dying day, Huysmans shielded himself against the Prince of Darkness with amulets, votive statues, and talismans of all sorts. His bachelor apartment reeked with the fumes of holy tapers, left burning all night to discourage succubi and “ecclesiastical larvae” (presumably the ghosts of defrocked priests). Even garish ecclesiastical furnishings, all the vulgar paraphernalia of late-nineteenth-century French Catholicism, struck him as mischievous interventions of the Lord of the Flies. And yet, faith in the devil led him, by slow and torturous routes, to a fervent piety. The irony was not lost on him. “With his hooked paw the devil drew me to...


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