His Mistress’s Liver: Un Conte Diabolique

Diableries

From Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, Brian May

From Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, Brian May

Halloween is rapidly approaching and, as this is my busiest time of year, I offer a stomach-churning piece of vintage horror fiction to spoil your appetite. At least one hopes it is fiction.

The New Literary Sensation Which is Convulsing Paris—A Sample “Diabolical Story.”

Paris has a new sensation. It is of a literary nature, and is described by the press at large as the most novel and piquant collection of stories ever published. The title of this fascinating volume is “Contes Diaboliques,” and its contents are certainly diabolical enough to justify their collective name. The author is Eugene Gaillet. Some idea of the character of his muse may be obtained from the following, the first story in the book. It is called by the charming title,

“MY FIRST MISTRESS’ LIVER.”

“It was in what they call the good old times. I lived in the Latin quarter, and studied men, women and morals from life. One evening in the carnival season I was crossing, I don’t exactly remember what bridge, on my way to the opera hall, when I perceived a shadow moving down the quai. As I had no faith in ghosts, I was not long in satisfying myself that this mysterious shade was a human being.

“It was a woman, and, suspecting something from her stealthy and rapid movements in such a place and at such a time, I followed her. I was not mistaken in my apprehensions.

“She was bent on suicide, and I overtook her just in time to seize her by the hair and prevent her casting herself into the river.

“She wrestled furiously with me, and begged me to let her go. But I held her fast, and drew her up to the quai, when she sank fainting on a bench. A cab passed, and I halted it, and put her inside. We drove to my lodgings, and I carried her in.

“There she was revived, and I learned her story.

“That story—why recapitulate it here? Who has not heard those narratives of virtue in want pursued by gilded sin? Suffice it to say that she had fled from temptation, willing to deliver herself up to

DEATH RATHER THAN CORRUPTION.

“Genevieve—that was her name—was a perfect little dragon of virtue. You laugh—you do not believe in prize virgins. Well, wait and hear me out.

“Her simple and sincere story moved me profoundly. And I resolved to be worthy of her confidence. My resolution was soon formed. My apartments consisted of a sitting room and bedroom. The latter I ceded to Genevieve, camping myself on the bedroom sofa. She slept the sleep of a tranquil conscience. I could not close my eyes.

“Next morning she rose, dressed, and put her room in order. Then she said to me:

“Since you have condemned me to live, sir, now do your duty and show me how I am to do so. But remember. I am seventeen years old. I am and will remain an honest girl.

“This was embarrassing, to say the least. I evaded the problem temporarily by inviting her to breakfast.

“As we ate, an idea came to me, an idea born of her little white hands, which so daintily did the service of the table. It was a novel idea, but youth has the privilege of

NOVELTY AND EXTRAVAGANCE.

“’Mademoiselle,’ I said. ‘I will make you a proposition if you promise to view it without suspicion.’

“’I have no reason to doubt your good faith, sir.’ She replied.

“’Thank you. You see from your surroundings that I am not rich.’

“’It is true.’

“’Neither am I a beggar, however.’

“’Well?’

“’I have the wherewith to live and help others live. Besides, I have the money I had intended to spend on the carnival. Now listen. This is my house. This is my room. This is yours. Remain, and keep my house for me as a sister would that of a brother.’

“’Your hand on it, sir,’ she said, ‘I trust you.’

“I kissed her on the forehead.

“From that day I led a new and charming life. I curtailed all my extravagances, but still existed more luxuriously than I ever had before. As for Genevieve, she was an angel. Can I say more?

“One morning she took my forehead between her hands and whispered in my ears:

“’I love you. What will you do with me now?’

I kissed her and answered: “’Genevieve, my little wife.’

“Now came the great preparations for our marriage. The news made a stir in the quarter, I can assure you; but what did I care for that. They

CALLED ME AN ASS.

But I looked at Genevieve, and their sarcasms passed unfelt. On the eve of my marriage my old friend Charles B___ called on us. Charles was a medical student and had been my other self.

“Charles spoke of our old loves and our old lives. Among other things he told me of the death in the hospital of Marguerite Chiffon—Marguerite, my first mistress, a good girl, but wayward and fickle as the summer wind. She had died in frightful torments, of an abscess of the liver.

“’The case is very interesting,’ said Charles with the horrible coolness of the scientist. ‘I intend to investigate it closely.’ Next morning, as usual, Genevieve prepared our breakfast. It was the breakfast of our wedding day, and she was as gay and happy as a bird. For me—I had dreamed the night through of poor Marguerite, and woke with an aching head.

“We sat down to a grand dish of ham and eggs, followed by a noble stew. I was so distraught that I scarcely noticed what I was eating and the stew had almost vanished before it struck me what it was.

“’Ah,” said I, as Genevieve nibbled the last morsels. ‘but what a splendid

“’DISH OF LIVER’

“’Was it not,’ she replied, gayly.

“’But how did you come to buy a liver, of all things in the world?’

“’I! Well, that is good of you. You bought it yourself.’

“’My dear, I never was in a butcher-shop in my life.’

“’Then the janitor must have left it here by mistake, for I found it on the table by the door, wrapped up in a paper.’

“’That is funny. But it can’t be. The janitor does not make mistakes.’

“’Aha!’ she cried, ‘I have it.’

“’What?’

“’The sorcerer who provided for our breakfast.’

“’Who is it?’

“’Charles, to be sure. He intended it as a surprise for us.’

“At this moment came a knock at the door. It was Charles himself.

“’I disturb you early,” he said. ‘But I forgot something yesterday. Did you not find a bundle in a paper on this table?’

“’Yes.’ “’Oh! It is all right, then?’

“’All right,’ I repeated, with a horrible premonition oppressing me. ‘What do you mean?’

“’It was something I wanted to dissect—a study, a liver.’

“’A liver?’

“’Yes, of course,’ I cried. “What of it?’

“’He whispered to me, so that Genevieve could not hear,

“’THE LIVER OF POOR MARGUERITE.’

But Genevieve heard him, and with one piercing cry fell fainting.

“Next day she was dead—raving mad.

“Thus was it that my first mistress, dead, avenged herself on my wife that was to be.

“Do you wonder that now, when liver is placed on the table, I lose my appetite! My friends all know it, and when they invite me to dinner they spare me this affliction.”

The American reader will probably conclude that Eugene Gaillet is a very original writer, indeed. But his books are not exactly the kind a man wants to read himself to sleep with, if he has nerves.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 17 May 1884: p. 10

Ah, Paris! Home of absinthe- and fin de siècle-induced languor, the Catacombs, Decadent artists and poets, and the Cafe de la Mort (or the Cabaret du Neant) where the world-weary disported themselves in dim blue light at coffin tables, drank from skulls, and watched a corpse turn to a skeleton and back to the sound of lugubrious death-chants! Ah, the fantastique and macabre tales of the time–that graveyard soil enriched by corpses from which the Grand Guignol theatre grew.  It makes one quite nostalgic for a time when a medical student could purloin a diseased prostitute’s liver. J’aime le souvenir de ces époques nues…

Eugene Gaillet was a playwright who also wrote La Vie de Marie Pigeonnier [1884], a satirical response to “Memoires de Sarah Barnum,” a salacious roman a clef about Sarah Bernhardt by actress Marie Columbier.

Here is a rather scathing review of Contes Diaboliques:

Contes diaboliques, illustrés de quinze dessins, par M. Eugène Gaillet. Paris, librairie du Progrès. — Prix : 1 fr. 5o. Ces quinze histoires ont été écrites vraisemblablement pour figurer dans les colonnes de Variétés, d’un journal. Réunies, elles forment un volume de quelque deux cents pages. Les lecteurs qu’allèche l’horrible, plus que le plaisant, seront empoignés rien que par les titres, tous à sensation. Sauf une visite de digestion, un tantinet rabelaisienne, l’auteur y broie du noir à faire pâlir les marchands de cirage. Tantôt, se mettant en scène (occasion unique pour le je haïssable!) il fait manger le foie de sa première maîtresse à sa fiancée qui, du saisissement d’avoir ingéré ce discère, d’ailleurs cancéreux, devient folle et meurt. La Vengeance de l’oublié consiste, de la part d’un médecin, à interdire au nom de la Faculté, tout rapport intime entre une femme, qu’il s’est vu refuser, et le mari, rival moins odieux. Un mort au bal de l’Opéra n’est pas chose si extraordinaire qu’on pourrait le croire (tant de divertissements sont moins lugubres!). En tout cas, l’apologue tend à prouver que ce qu’on a de mieux à faire, une fois au Père-LaChaise, c’est d’y rester. Bref, d’une lecture facile, mais sans autre profit qu’une vulgaire distraction, ces Contes diaboliques ne valent pas le diable. Le Livre, Issue 1, Octave Uzanne, 1883

I am not even remotely an amateur in French literature, but I have not been able to locate any other biographical information on Gaillet. Any ideas? Wrap in butcher’s paper and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

For more fin de siècle fun in the same Contes Diaboliques spirit, see the new book by Brian May, Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell. The illustration above is taken from the book.