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Preface to Les Diaboliques

The preface to this famous collection of tales authored by this Frenchman, as included in the first edition.

Here are the first six stories!

If the public bites and finds them to its taste, six more will then be published because in total they are twelve, twelve mistresses of sin!

Of course, with the title of Diaboliques, they could not possibly pretend to be a book of prayers or of Christian imitation.  They are nonetheless lush with true observation, however daring, and have been written by a Christian moralist who believes – and these are his own poetics – that great painters can paint anything and that these paintings are always both moral and tragic; from them will inevitably emerge the horror of the things they describe.  Only the impassive and the mocking are truly immoral.  And the present author, who believes in the Devil and in his influence upon the world, is not mocking anything at all and has no purpose in recounting these tales to those of pure soul other than to terrify and repulse them.

Once the public has read Les Diaboliques, I doubt there will be anyone who will wish to read it again, which is exactly what comprises the morality of a book.

That said as a matter of honor, we should answer another question.  Why has our author bestowed such a sonorous name upon these plain and dirt-strewn tales?  Is Diaboliques a bit too much?  Was the name chosen only for the stories included here or for the women at their core?

Alas, all these tales are true.  Nothing was invented or devised, we simply could not name the actual people involved!  They have been masked; and in these masks we can perceive the outline of their dresses.  "The alphabet belongs to me," said Casanova when he was reproached for not using his name.  The alphabet of novelists is the life of all those who have experienced passion and adventure, and it is only a matter of combining the letters of this alphabet with the discretion of profound art.  Moreover, despite the necessary precautions at the heart of these tales, there will undoubtedly be some among us whose attention will be attracted by the title Diaboliques, and who will not find them quite as diaboliques as they seem to boast of being.  They will expect inventions, complications, research, refinements, and all the shaking and trembling of modern melodrama (which is taking hold everywhere, it seems, even in the novel).  But these charming souls will be sadly mistaken!  Les Diaboliques are not devilries, they are truly "the diabolical," real stories of our progressive age and of a civilization both so delicious and divine that when we dare to describe them it always seems that they have been dictated by the Devil himself!  The Devil is like God.  Manichaeism, the source of the great heresies of the Middle Ages, might not be quite as stupid as we thought.  Malebranche said that God can be recognized by employing the simplest of means possible.  The same can be said of the Devil.

As for the women in these stories, why wouldn't they be the titular Diaboliques?  Are they not sufficiently steeped in diabolism in their own person as to deserve this gentle moniker?  Diaboliques!  There is not one of them here who is not diabolical to some degree; there is not one of them here whom we might seriously address with the words "my sweet angel" without fear of exaggeration.  Like the Devil – who was once an angel himself but fell irreparably – if they are angels then they are angels in his image, their heads lowered and the rest on high!  There is not one of them here who is pure, virtuous or innocent.  Monsters even, at least to some extent, they represent a collective of good sentiments and morality of precious little consideration.  Thus they could also have been called Les Diaboliques without really earning it.  We would have liked to create a museum of these ladies – as we wait for an even smaller museum of those ladies who are their counterparts and their foils in society, because all things come in pairs!  Art has two lobes just like the brain.  Nature resembles these women who have one blue eye and one black.  Here is their black eye in blackest ink, in the ink of those of easy virtue.

Perhaps later on we will publish something on their blue eye.  After Les Diaboliques, why not Les Célestes if we can find a blue of sufficient purity ...

But does such a color exist?


Paris, May 1, 1874

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