Joris Huysmans

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Joris Huysmans (France, 1848)

"A Rebours/ Against the Grain" (1884) ++ indulges in a baroque, quasi-poetic style mixed with an erudite exhibitionism.

Jean, the scion of the aristocratic family Esseintes, grew up disgusted by the tedious, pointless lives of his milieu. He quickly lost interest in the intellectual life, realizing that most intellectuals are simply pompous idiots. He was permanently unhappy and compensated with living a very decadent life. Eventually, overwhelmed with a feeling of self-contempt for his puerile eccentricity and wild sexual orgies, he decided to retire to a cottage in the countryside, without telling anyone. He loathed the stupitidy and mediocrity of the bourgeoise no less than the insignificance of the nobility. Without telling anyone, he retreats to a house in the countryside.
He is fond of the Latin classics, but has an eccentric taste (chapter 3 is basically Huysman's mini-history of ancient Roman literature). Jean commissions a gold shield, decorated with previous stones. He has paintings that he deliriously admire, especially one of Salome's legend. He picks expensive furniture that leaves the impression of common rags, exactly the opposite of what poorer families do (buy cheap stuff that looks like luxuries). In solitude he reminisces about the strangest facts: when he had such a painful toothache that he resorted to lower-class dentist; the member of his "club" of bachelors who decided to marry and soon hated it; and especially the effeminate teenage virgin Auguste, who became a psychological experiment. Jean took him to a brothel and promised to pay for his future visits as well, with the declared intention of getting the boy addicted to a hobby the boy could not afford so that he would become a criminal. Jean was disappointed that he never read the boy's name in the newspapers. Finally, Jean gets organized and begins decorating the mansion with bizarre furniture and flowers.

However he is visited by the specter of syphilis and begins to have nightmares. He remembers the acrobat Urania, so masculine that he felt they were exchanging their sexes, a cerebral curiosity attracting him to her lack of education or refinement. Then he slept with a ventroloquist. Then he fell for an effeminate boy. Jean spends time admiring the art of Gustave Moreau. Then he begins reviewing his vast library of books and a chapter is basically a biased summary of Latin literature, of which he dislikes the famous Virgil and Cicero in favor of the more obscure Petronius and Apuleius. But his nervous disorder keeps worsening. He cynically meditates on the paradox of abortion, punished by the law, when in fact the woman is merely saving an innocent from "the burden of life". He is aware that the world is changing, that brothels are closing and cafes are replacing them. The women still prostitute themselves, just in different ways. Meanwhile his health is deteriorating. He is not eating and getting weaker. He indulges in a lengthy soliloquy about French literature, of which he doesn't like the famous romantic writers while hailing Baudelaire, Verlaine, Corbiere, Mallarme, Villiers, d'Aurevilly. His favorite format is the prose poem. The process of "decomposition" that took centuries in Latin is happening under his nose in his age at a rapid pace. In music he loves Schubert's lieder. His hallucinations become so frequent and disturbing that Jean finally resorts to calling for a doctor. The doctor recommends that he abandons that lonely existence and returns to Paris. Jean loathes the thought of rejoining that debased nobility and that mediocre bourgeoisie, not to mention the greedy church. He sees his return as a calvary in a land that is killing intelligence, dignity and art. At the same time, as his health improves, Jean also feels a religious feeling reigniting inside him.

"La-bas" (1891)

synopsis forthcoming

"L'Oblat" (1903)

synopsis forthcoming

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