- On Chanting, Wailing, and Spell-Casting:Haunting Voices in Jacques Cazotte’s Le Diable Amoureux
But, whatever may be the reader’s talent, he never produces as lively a feeling of pleasure as that which comes from dramatic recitation. When an actor speaks, he animates you, fills you with his thoughts, and transmits into you his emotions; he presents, not only an image, but the shape of an object, and the object itself.—Louis chevalier de Jaucourt, “Lecture,” in Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1765)1
This melodious song, that I had heard under the vaulted ceilings, the ravishing sound of this voice, this speech that seemed to come from the heart, reverberated in mine, and caused palpitations.—Jacques Cazotte, Le Diable amoureux (1772)2
Jacques Cazotte’s Le Diable amoureux (1772, 1776) is a novel filled with supernatural noise and uncanny voices: magical incantations, occult chanting, spirit invocations, ghoulish wailing, and lyrical spell-casting. The voices contained by the text are powerful and often musical forces that direct action and reaction in the novel’s fantastical universe, granting that space its own peculiar operating laws of cause and effect. At the beginning, the protagonist Dom Alvare learns from his master Soberano about the supernatural force behind incantations. Standing in the middle of a pentagram, Alvare intones a conjuring spell that would enable him to summon and control spirits. However, once his incantation summons the supernatural being Béelzébuth, the demon bellows a terrifying yawl that momentarily paralyzes Alvare in terror. Eventually, a terrified Alvare reins in his fear and commands the creature to take a series of more pleasant forms: a spaniel, a valet, an opera singer, and finally a beautiful woman, Biondetta, who also dresses like a valet called Biondetto. After this fateful [End Page 469] séance, the conjured spirit Biondetta/o persuades Alvare to enter into a demonic pact whose binding power is sealed once Alvare recites its words. Upon committing himself to Biondetta, Alvare’s perception of her becomes clouded. He is never certain whether Biondetta is a mortal woman or the hideous monster Béelzébuth in a feminine form. His doubt begins to consume him when he hears her sing a touching solo. Her voice nearly erases Alvare’s memory of her former monstrous appearance. This lyrical moment moreover represents a turning point that further destabilizes Alvare’s perception of the creature. Only at the end of the first edition (1772), does Alvare realize, in a surprising moment of clarity, that Biondetta is also Béelzébuth. Finally resolving this temptation story, Alvare casts the malevolent spirit away with a magical incantation that he forcefully intones.
This first edition differs from the canonical second one (1776) in both format and content insofar as the original version contains engravings and written passages that showcase a whole range of voices: demonic yawls, siren song and magical incantations. What’s more, the denouement of the first version differs from the ambiguous ending of the second edition.3 For the canonical version, Alvare remains uncertain of Biondetta’s supernatural origins until the end. In contrast, the first edition offers the protagonist a clear resolution in the form of a vocalized disenchantment wherein the protagonist recites a magical incantation whose force casts out the demon Béelzébuth. As a printed record of supernatural voices, this lesser-known first edition offers invaluable insights into eighteenth-century print techniques used for representing embodied and supernatural voices.
In addition to its value to print culture, this work also develops a critique of late eighteenth-century French perspectives on religious faith, reason, and human desire. In order to disentangle these various threads, I will first contextualize Le Diable’s supernatural voices alongside early modern accounts of demonic possession and occultism. I will then analyze how Le Diable overlays the demonic voice on top of late eighteenth-century representations of the voice in print and popular culture. For the final section, I will investigate how the protagonist uses reason to overcome Béelzébuth’s voice of possession. The thread woven across these sections traces a critique of eighteenth...