Like those other horror classics, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” this notorious novel doesn’t just aim for rawhead-and-bloody-bones gruesomeness. Instead, it raises all sorts of wholly modern questions about personal responsibility and the intricate relationship between sex and violence. It covers every aspect of human bestiality, whether manifested in family feuds, warfare, political revolution, clerical pedophilia, incest, cannibalism, sado-masochistic sexual practices, miscarriages of justice, or the callous abuse of the demented. There’s an old Latin tag “Man is wolf to man” — and “The Werewolf of Paris” proves its universal truth. But don’t worry, horror fans: At the book’s center lurks a shape-shifting monster who rips and devours human flesh.
- Michael Dirda
Lupine savagery in ‘The Werewolf of Paris,’ by Guy Endore
The novel opens with a graduate student in Paris being disturbed in his work by a young woman visiting from America. Eliane soon compels the unnamed narrator to take her to all the hot spots, where she downs bottles of champagne and grows increasingly abandoned in her behavior. Finally, late at night at a restaurant near the Les Halles meat market, Eliane — feeling “hot” — strips down to her underwear and offers herself to anyone who will have her, eventually going off with a complete stranger.
This and his own encounter that night with a prostitute lead the narrator and a new acquaintance into a discussion of sexual insatiability as evidence of “possession by the spirits of beasts” and by the spirit of the wolf in particular. “The word wolf is to be recognized in the Latin vulva, and in the word lupanar, a brothel, lupus being Latin for wolf. You know the Roman festival the Lupereales. It would correspond to our carnival and was characterized by a complete abandonment of morals.”
As the narrator continues his walk home, he happens upon some trash collectors who have found a hand-written manuscript. He glances at its pages, and the words “lupanar” and “wolf” catch his attention. Written by a 19th-century hack named Aymar Galliez, the largely biographical document offers “an unsolicited defense” of Sgt. Bertrand Caillet at the latter’s court-martial in 1871.
Galliez’s memoir begins when a young country girl named Josephine comes to live with the writer’s aunt. She is just 14, but she attracts the attention of the local priest, Father Pitamont, whose family has long been linked to wolfish savagery. During a violent thunderstorm, Pitamont rapes the girl, an act that “unleashes” something inside her, transforming the hitherto demure servant into a promiscuous slut. As the household maid says a few months later, “Everybody, simply everybody has had her.” When taken to task by her employer, Josephine replies: “I like it so, madame. Must I really stop? I’ve tried very hard not to do it, but I can’t stop myself.”