Léon Bloy’s Symbolist Imagination

  • Malcolm Scott


Huysmans’ reputation as an ’aesthetic’ Catholic owes much to the image created by Léon Bloy in the satirical sections of his novel La Femme pauvre. There, in the guise of the artist Folantin, painter of canvasses such as ‘La Messe noire’ and ‘Les Trappistes en prière’ -titles in which literary equivalents are instantly recognisable -Huysmans is derided as one of those privileged mortals who have discovered God lurking in a stained-glass window.1 Despite these public shows of scorn for his former friend, which arose from personal resentments that need not concern us here,2 the two most important Catholic novelists of the century’s closing decades had many ideas in common. They included the conviction that Christian art, from the Renaissance onwards, was in a state of decadence. According to Bloy, Raphael and his contemporaries, the ancestors of ‘notre bondieuserie sulpicienne’ (FP, 80), had done as much harm to the Catholic cause as Luther. Their art, he writes in his other novel Le Désespéré, is inferior to ‘les extracorporelles Transfixions des Primitifs’ (D, 180). The thousand years of ‘patient ecstasy’ - the Middle Ages, an epoch venerated by him as by Huysmans - had been replaced by a falsely religious and profoundly profane art represented by paintings of Galathea’s well rounded buttocks (D, 178).


Historical Writing Symbolist Imagination Holy Ghost Fictive Element Literary Equivalent 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    J. Bollery and J. Petit (eds), Œuvres de Léon Bloy, 15 Vols (Mercure de France, 1963–75) IV, 198. Throughout this chapter, references to this edition will be followed in the text by volume and page numbers, with the exception of the two novels, Le Désespéré and La Femme pauvre,which are in volumes III and VII respectively, and will be shown simply as D and FP.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Quoted in J. Bollery, Léon Bloy: essai de biographie, 3 Vols (Albin Michel, 1947–54) I, 273.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See B. Sarrazin, La Bible en éclats: l’imagination scriptuaire de Léon Bloy (Desclée de Brouwer, 1977).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    See J. Lowrie, The Violent Mystique (Geneva: Droz, 1974) 110 et seq.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    R. Barbeau, Un prophète luciférien: Léon Bloy (Aubier, 1957).Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    E. Seillière, Léon Bloy: psychologie d’un mystique (Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Critique, 1936) 87.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    See P.J.H. Pijls, La Satire littéraire dans l’œuvre de Léon Bloy (Leiden UP, 1959).Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Quoted in J. Bollery, Genèse et composition de «La Femme pauvre» de Léon Bloy (Minard, 1969) 17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Malcolm Scott 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malcolm Scott
    • 1
  1. 1.University of St AndrewsUK

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