Jacques Cazotte’s novella The Devil in Love (1772) is a story about Alvaro, a cocky and curious youth who brazenly invokes Satan during a capriccio gone awry. Satan is taken aback by Alvaro’s seeming confidence and falls in love with him on the spot, entering his service as a womanly pageboy. Cazotte alternately describes Satan as a male or female, depending on Alvaro’s interpretation at the time – what he wants her/him to be.
Satan wants sex, which s/he finally achieves after pages of painstaking trial and error. Alvaro senses that his virginity is in peril and he begins a long journey back to his mother, who is the only protective force to guard him from a night of hot passion.
On his way back toward the womb, Alvaro is deflowered in a fallen coach by the side of the road. Like any stalker, Satan loses interest in her conquest once she receives Alvaro’s seed. He returns to his mother a mere carcass of the calla lily he used to be.
Cazotte’s tale got me thinking about gender and the devil in literature.
In its earliest incarnations, the devil’s body was female, its ambition male.
In the next few installments of Human Electricity I will address several texts through history that present the devil in uniquely gendered ways. I want to uncover an answer to two questions:
1. What affect has gender had on Western civilization’s conception of evil?
2. Was Satan punished – in fictional imagination – only due to his “masculine” aspirations? Or might we find instances in which his seemingly male desires are relayed in feminine terms? In other words, is Satan’s sin femininity?
Mostly, I just want to have fun discovering and rediscovering new and old texts.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!