Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Comte De

(1838-1889) French writer who first gained fame for two volumes of short stories: Contes Cruels (coll 1883; trans Robert Baldick as Cruel Tales 1963 UK) and Nouveaux Contes cruels ["New Cruel Tales"] (coll 1888), some of the contents of which, along with stories from the first volume, appeared as Sardonic Tales (coll trans Hamish Miles 1927 US). The term Conte Cruel is taken from these volumes, which subvert the fable-like content and moral suasion of the traditional French "conte" through a Grand Guignol-like exorbitance of cruelty – derived in VDLA's case through Charles Baudelaire's translations of Edgar Allan Poe. Claire Lenoir (in Tribulat Bonhomet coll 1887; trans Arthur Symons 1925 US) is a Horror tale of posthumous Possession, in which the philistine Dr Tribulat Bonhomet causes mayhem while understanding nothing of the cruelty of the Universe.

Axel (1872 La Renaissance Littéraire et Artisticque; 1885-1886 Jeune France; rev 1890; trans H P R Finberg 1925 UK; new trans June Guicharnaud 1970 US) is a play whose dithyrambic expansiveness precludes stage-presentation. The eponymous Rosicrucian count and Magus – victim of an ethic which entails renunciation and death over any attempt to press through life – inhabits an impregnable Edifice safe from the savageries of the world. His famous declaration – "Vivre? Les serviteurs feront cela pour nous" ["Live? The servants will do that for us"] – and the final love-death ceremony he enters into with his inamorata make him a central example of the Knight of the Doleful Countenance, in which guise he has influenced generations of fantasy writers, in particular those inclined to the creation of Dying-Earth tales.

Much of VDLA's work – including Prolégomenès ["Prolegomena"] (1862), the first part of an unfinished occult novel – was published privately, and has not yet been made available in translation. [JC]

Other work: L'Ève future (1886; trans Marilyn Gaddis Rose as The Eve of the Future 1981 US; new trans Robert M Adams as Tomorrow's Eve 1982 US), sf.

Comte de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam Jean-Marie-Mathias-Philippe-Auguste


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.