Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) was a French writer, famous for the novel ‘À rebours’ as well as ‘Là-Bas’. His work was considered to be quite decadent and perverse, with great attention given to sensual description and themes such as homosexuality and Satanism being given attention. Originally interested in the Naturalist style of writing, Huysmans later became more aligned to the Symbolists; he was also inspired by his return to the Catholic church in later life. He was an admirer of two of the painters referred to in this story, namely Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau, as well as the burgeoning art movement of Impressionism.
‘Là-Bas’ was published in 1891, and soon became banned in some places. The disillusioned protagonist, Durtal, researches the practice of Satanism in contemporary France, finding that it is still very much in existence. He comes to this discovery through first reading about the life of the 15th Century murderer, Gilles de Rais, who is himself a highly significant figure for our purposes; he has long been thought to be a model for the fairy tale ‘Bluebeard’, which in turn is a clear influence of ‘The Bloody Chamber’. De Rais was a Breton knight and Baron, and the convicted killer of up to 200 children. The natures of the crimes were particularly sadistic, and included extreme acts of paedophilia. His alleged interest in the occult is the link to his appearance in Huysmans’ story.