A Rebours/ Against the Grain
baroque, quasi-poetic style miex 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
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
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
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.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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