The Devil's Memoirs  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Les Mémoires du Diable [The Devil's Memoirs] is a 1838 French novel by Frédéric Soulié. In the novel, protagonist Armand de Luizzi sells his soul to Satan for a rather uncommon consideration. The book combines the roman frénétique and the roman noir with the passions of the Marquis de Sade.



The originality of Frederic Soulie in this novel consists in the terms demanded by the human party of the devil-compact. Armand de Luizzi sells his soul to Satan for a rather uncommon consideration. What tempts him is not wealth, which, indeed, he possesses, nor pleasure, which he probably thinks he can procure for himself without the Devil's aid. What he wants in exchange for his soul is to know the past lives, the trials and temptations, of his fellow-men and women. As Mr. George Saintsbury, in his History of the French Novel (1919), well remarks, this is "a thing which a person of sense and taste would do anything short of selling himself to the Devil, not to know."
--The Devil in Legend and Literature by Maximilian Josef Rudwin


Now, if anybody wants more than this—there is, in fact, a great deal more in the compass of two volumes,[279] containing between them less than six hundred pages—all I can say is that he is vexatious and unreasonable, and that I have no sympathy whatever with him. Of course the book is of its own kind, and not of another. Some people may like that kind less than others; some may not like it at all. But in that case nobody obliges them to have anything to do with it.
Soulié wrote nearly two score novels or works of fiction, ranging from Contes pour les Enfants to Mémoires du Diable. I do not pretend to have read all or even very many of them, for, as I have confessed, they are not my special kind. In novels of action there should be a great deal of fighting and a great deal of love-making, and it does not seem to me that either[280] was Soulié's forte. But as the Mémoires are sometimes quoted as his masterpiece, something should, I suppose, be said about them.
One thing about the book is certain—that it is much more ambitiously planned than the Château; and I do not think it uncritical to say that the ambition is, to a certain extent, successful. One credit, at any rate, can hardly be denied it. Considering the immense variety in circumstances of the bargains with[Pg 301] the Devil which are made in actual life, it may seem strange that the literary treatment of the subject should be so comparatively monotonous as it is. Soulié, I think, has been at least as original as anybody else, though it was of course almost impossible for him to avoid suggestions, if not of Marlowe, of Lesage, Goethe, Maturin (whose wide popularity in France at this time must never be forgotten), and others. At the very beginning there is one touch which, if not absolutely invented, is newish in the connection. The Château of Ronquerolles, again in the Pyrenean district (besides the advantages of a mountainous country, Soulié himself was born at Foix), has a range of mysterious windows, each of which has for many generations emerged, with the room appertaining, from wall and corridor without anybody remembering it before.[281] As a matter of fact these chambers have been the scenes of successive bargains between the Lords of Ronquerolles and the Prince of Darkness; and a fresh one is opened whenever the last inheritor of an ancestral curse (details of which are explained later) has gone to close his account. The new Count de Luizzi knows what he has to do, which is to summon Satan by a certain little silver bell at the not most usual but sufficiently witching hour of two A.M., saying at the same time, "Come!" After a slightly trivial farce-overture of apparitions in various banal forms, Luizzi compels the fallen archangel to show himself in his proper shape; and the bargain is concluded after some chaffering. It again is not quite the usual form; there being, as in Melmoth's case, a redemption clause, though a different one. If the man can say and show, after ten years, that he has been happy he will escape. The "consideration" is also uncommon. Luizzi does not want wealth, which, indeed, he possesses; nor, directly, pleasure, etc., which he thinks he can procure[Pg 302] for himself. He wants (God help him!) to know all about other people, their past lives, their temptations, etc.—a thing which a person of sense and taste would do anything, short of selling himself to the Devil, not to know. There are, however, some apparently liberal, if discreditable, concessions—that Luizzi may reveal, print, and in any other way avail himself of the diabolic information. But, almost immediately, the metaphorical cloven foot and false dice appear. For it seems that in certain circumstances Luizzi can only rid himself of his ally when unwelcome, and perform other acts, at the price of forfeiting a month of his life—a thing likely to abridge and qualify the ten years very considerably, and the "happiness" more considerably still.[282] And this foul play, or at any rate sharp practice, continues, as might be expected, throughout. The evil actions which Luizzi commits are not, as usual, committed with impunity as to ordinary worldly consequences, while he is constantly enlarging the debt against his soul. He is also always getting into trouble by mixing up his supernatural knowledge with his ordinary life, and he even commits murder without intending or indeed knowing it. This is all rather cleverly managed; though the end—the usual sudden "foreclosure" by Diabolus, despite the effort of no less than three Gretchens who go upwards, and of a sort of inchoate repentance on Luizzi's own part before he goes downwards—might be better.
The bulk, however, of the book, which is a very long one—three volumes and nearly a thousand closely printed pages—consists of the histoires or "memoirs" (whence the title) of other people which the Devil tells Luizzi, sometimes by actual récit, sometimes otherwise. Naturally they are most of them grimy; though there is nothing of the Laclos or even of the Paul de Kock kind. I find them, however, a little tedious.
The fact, indeed, is that this kind of novel—as has been hinted sometimes, and sometimes frankly asserted—has[Pg 303] its own peculiar appeals; and that these appeals, as is always the case when they are peculiar, leave some ears deaf. There is no intention here to intimate any superfine scorn of it. It has another and a purely literary, or at least literary-scientific, interest as descending from the Terror Novel of the end of the eighteenth century. It shows no sign of ceasing to exist or to appeal to those to whom it is fitted to appeal, and who are fitted to be appealed to by it. Towards the close of the period at which I ceased to see French novels generally, I remember meeting with many examples of it. There was one which, with engaging candour, called itself L'Hôtellerie Sanglante, and in which persons, after drinking wine which was, as Rogue Riderhood says, "fur from a 'ealthy wine," retired to a rest which knew no or only a very brief and painful waking, under the guardianship of a young person, who, to any one in any other condition, would have seemed equally "fur" from an attractive young person. There was another, the title of which I forget, in which the intended victim of a plunge into a water-logged souterrain connected with the Seine made his way out and saw dreadful things in the house above. There is really no great interval or discrepancy (except in details of manners and morals) between these and the novels of detective, gentleman-thief, and other impolite life which delight many persons indubitably respectable and presumably intelligent in England to-day.[283] To sneer at these would be ridiculous.
--A History of the French Novel by George Saintsbury


H. L. Mencken in his A Book of Burlesques (1916) included selections of The Devil's Memoirs.

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