The Werewolf of Paris – novel (1933)

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The Werewolf of Paris is a 1933 horror novel as well as a work of historical fiction by Guy Endore. The novel follows Bertrand Caillet, the eponymous werewolf, throughout the tumultuous events of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1870-71.

Like much Gothic fiction, The Werewolf of Paris opens with a frame story in which the author explains his struggle with the fantastic elements of his tale. Here the narrator, an anonymous American working on his doctoral research in Paris, discovers a manuscript in the hands of some trash-pickers. He describes it as “the Galliez report: thirty four sheets of closely written French, an unsolicited defense of Sergeant Bertrand Caillet at the latter’s court-martial in 1871.”

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A descendant of the cursed Pitamont clan, which destroyed itself in a long feud with the neighboring Pitavals, Bertrand is born one Christmas Eve to an adolescent girl who had been raped by a priest, Father Pitamont. Bertrand grows up with strange sadistic and sexual desires which are usually expressed as dreams. Sometimes the dreams are memories of actual experiences in which he had transformed into a wolf.

His step-uncle, Aymar Galliez, who raises the boy (along with his mother Josephine and a servant Françoise), soon learns of Bertrand’s affliction. Bertrand flees to Paris after his assault on a prostitute, his unnatural union with his own mother, and his murder of a friend in their home village. Aymar tries to find Bertrand by studying the details of local crimes, such as the mutilation of corpses and various murders.

Bertrand joins the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War, doing little fighting and finding love from a girl who volunteers at a canteen, the beautiful and wealthy Mlle. Sophie de Blumenberg. Masochistic and obsessed with death, Sophie helps Bertrand avoid the violent effects of his transformation by allowing him to cut into her flesh in order to suck her blood…The narrative proper is followed by a grisly appendix citing a municipal report on the cemeteries of Paris. The report indicates that the grave of one “Sieur C … (Bertrand)” contained the body “of a dog, which despite eight years in the ground was still incompletely destroyed.”

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The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1870-71 provide the immediate backdrop to The Werewolf of Paris, although Endore also makes many references to the Revolutions of 1848, when Aymar was physically disabled and traumatized amid the intense street fighting in Paris. The novel is filled with allusions to notable historical figures including Bismarck, Blanqui, Courbet, Dumas, Haussmann, and Thiers.

Endore uses the werewolf narrative to depict and comment on the fervid political climate of France in the nineteenth century. More specifically, his narrator comments cynically on the confusions and mistakes of the Commune, but always in the context of the unsurpassed brutality of the capitalist system. In a characteristic passage referring to the bloody suppression of the Commune by the combined forces of capital and aristocracy, Endore’s narrator points out that the “Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one. The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 commoners before the firing squads in one week.

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The Werewolf of Paris was a #1 New York Times bestseller upon publication, despite the economic difficulties of the time. The thriller went through numerous printings of the clothbound first edition, now increasingly rare. It is rumored that Endore, suffering under the impact of the Great Depression, sold the manuscript outright to Farrar & Rinehart for a flat fee, thus receiving no additional royalties from its subsequent success.

The book has subsequently had many reprints, sold both as a crime and a horror novel. It was one of the novels that made up the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, published by Sphere in the UK during the 1970s.

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Hammer Film Productions’ The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) was an adaptation of the novel, although almost all the political content and most of the dark sexuality was removed from the story,  now set in nineteenth-century Spain. The film was, nevertheless, one of Hammer’s most heavily censored films at the time of release. Tyburn’s  Legend of the Werewolf (1975), set in nineteenth-century Paris, reflects some aspects of the novel, but Endore is not credited.

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