Finishing Touches: Clothing and Accessories as Tokens of Cruelty and Evil in Rachilde and Barbey d’Aurevilly


  • Elise Bouley


In decadent fiction, evil is manifested through perversion, a taste for torment, and the creation of sexual, gender, and moral transgressions. In Rachilde’s and Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s works, manifestations of evil and demonstrations of femininity are co-constructed. Each short story in Barbey’s Les Diaboliques (1874) foregrounds a different femme fatale whose beauty is perhaps only rivalled by her talent for cruelty. In each story, these women deceive, kill, and seduce with their good looks, or use their sensuality to captivate their male prey. The three stories that I focus on in this article, ‘Le Rideau cramoisi’ [The Crimson Curtain], ‘Le Plus bel amour de Don Juan’ [The Most Beautiful Love of Don Juan], and ‘Le Bonheur dans le crime’ [The happiness in crime], stage a cross-fertilization between appearance and cruelty that is comparable to another major piece of French decadent fiction, Rachilde’s well-known novel La Marquise de Sade (1887) in which the protagonist, Mary Barbe, is a young and fashionable misanthrope whose distaste for men and mankind is often sartorially determined. Her peculiar beauty and extravagant garments operate as a repository of tools and weapons that she uses to harm, torture, and humiliate the men around her.