To Walk the Night (William Sloane) • The Well Beloved (Thomas Hardy) • L’Ève Future (Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam) • L’Atlantide (Pierre Benoit)
The four novels under discussion here are probably ones never read by most audiences, with the possible exception of The Well Beloved by Thomas Hardy.
They are four curiosities, three of which seem to belong to a past age, yet they have strange links with the latest in time, in itself often classed as ‘pulp fiction’ or a variation on the science fiction genre.
What they have in common is that they deal with women, with a very specific male idea of women, something alluring, infinitely attractive, and yet also dangerous, potentially or actually lethal, a Siren-like presentation of intersexual relations, even where the power seems to reside almost completely in the hands of men.
But it is important to emphasize that these women are not the great heroines of nineteenth-century realist fiction: Emma Bovary, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina and Dorothea Brooke have little in common with these weird sisters. They belong to another order of being, one which could almost be classed as supernatural, beyond the normal range or interest of perception, even for authors as penetrating and comprehensive in their vision as Tolstoy, Flaubert or George Eliot.