Demons of the Night is a trove of haunting fiction—a gathering, for the first time in English, of the best nineteenth-century French fantastic tales. Featuring such authors as Balzac, Mérimée, Dumas, Verne, and Maupassant, this book offers readers familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffman some of the most memorable stories in the genre. With its aura of the uncanny and the supernatural, the fantastic tale is a vehicle for exploring forbidden themes and the dark, irrational side of the human psyche.
The anthology opens with "Smarra, or the Demons of the Night," Nodier's 1821 tale of nightmare, vampirism, and compulsion, acclaimed as the first work in French literature to explore in depth the realm of dream and the unconscious. Other stories include Balzac's "The Red Inn," in which a crime is committed by one person in thought and another in deed, and Mérimée's superbly crafted mystery, "The Venus of Ille," which dramatizes the demonic power of a vengeful goddess of love emerging out of the pagan past. Gautier's protagonist in "The Dead in Love" develops an obsessive passion for a woman who has returned from beyond the grave, while the narrator of Maupassant's "The Horla" imagines himself a victim of psychic vampirism.
Joan Kessler has prepared new translations of nine of the thirteen tales in the volume, including Gérard de Nerval's odyssey of madness, "Aurélia," as well as two tales that have never before appeared in English. Kessler's introduction sets the background of these tales—the impact of the French Revolution and the Terror, the Romantics' fascination with the subconscious, and the influence of contemporary psychological and spiritual currents. Her essay illuminates how each of the authors in this collection used the fantastic to articulate his own haunting obsessions as well as his broader vision of human experience.