Madeleine LeDespencer

 Flower of Evil: The Satanic Woman of Fin de Siècle Paris, Berthe de Courrière

In decadent Paris, no figure cut a more sensual and diabolical presence than that of Hyacinthe Chantelouve, the fictional femme fatale and satanic initiatrix of J.K. Huysmans' (1848-1907) novel, Là-Bas. Madame Chantelouve was the dark reflection of the emancipated “New Woman.” She seemed to represent in equal parts all that traditional society feared, yet secretly desired. Yet, this character did not spring fully formed from Huysmans’ imagination; quite the contrary, she was the very thinly veiled likeness of a former lover, the bohemian mystic and poet Berthe de Courrière (1852-1916). A woman whom the poet Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915) would describe as

“...a kabbalist and occultist, learned in the history of eastern religions and philosophies, fascinated by the veil of Isis, initiated by dangerous personal experiences into the most redoubtable mysteries of the Black Art. A soul to which mystery has spoken - and has not spoken in vain.”

My talk will examine the life of this remarkable woman and the influence she wielded in the demimonde of Parisian literary circles at the end of the 19th century. She served as a catalyst for many enduring works of art and literature. She was a model and muse to the sculptor Clésinger and her likeness is etched into the visual history of Paris. As the lover and creative partner of Remy de Gourmont she inspired his works Sixtine and Le Fantome. Her presence haunts the artistic output of the decadence.

Madeleine LeDespencer

Madeleine LeDespencer is a visual artist, educator, and independent researcher whose focus is on Fin de Siècle conceptions of diabolism and heretical movements within Catholicism. She has written on decadence and the occult for Three Hands Press, Hadean Press, as well as various online journals. Her research on Berthe de Courrière was featured in the journal Cercle des Amateurs de Remy de Gourmont. She is currently writing a biography of Abbe Boullan for Three Hands Press due for publication in late 2018. Visit her website at