Monday, October 22, 2012

A' Rebours

A' Rebours or Against Nature/Against the Grain by J.K Huysmans is one of those infamous novels associated with decadent literature that I've been meaning to read for sometime, I read the translation by Robert Baldick in an old red hardback edition published by Penguin back in 1959. Originally published in 1884 the novel's main protagonist is Des Esseintes a cultured recluse who at the beginning of the novel moves into a house at Fontenay, the books main narrative is situated with him in this house sorting through his books and paintings, (which is a great excuse to include the Mort de Sappho by Gustave Moreau from wikipedia commons) it feels that Des Esseintes is imposing on himself an exile from the mass of society.

Throughout the novel we are given his views on the literature and arts, the novelists and poets that remain those that extol the same virtues that he holds are; Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Mallarme and toward the end Des Esseintes draws our attention to August Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, (review of his Cruel Tales forthcoming), he also has a selection of the classics of Rome in Latin editions which he talks through as he and his servant rearrange them on his shelf, another author who is mentioned to quite some extent is Charles Dickens, although not in any great depth, at one point Des Esseintes very hastily organises a trip which he informs his servants that he could be away for perhaps months, weeks, days or hours, we get the impression that he's heading for London, but gets distracted buying a Baedeker on London and then going on to an inn, this scene is quite a strange one as he imagines the people around him as if he were actually in a London pub to the degree that it almost reads like he is hallucinating, which in a way is a foretasting of another aspect of the narrative, Des Esseintes's declining health. There are some reminices, an episode where he treated a young man he met to an introduction to a brothel which Des Esseintes sees as the young man's initiation into the real world, and Des Esseintes describes the decoration of his house in some detail. The novel ends with Des Esseintes venting his vexation of the transparency of the ethics of his age, and under the orders of his doctor having to return to Paris.

A passage from A'Rebours -

The confused mass of reading and meditation on artistic themes that he had accumulated since he had been on his own, like a barrage to hold back the current of old memories, had suddenly been carried away, and the flood was let loose, sweeping away the present and the future, submerging everything under the waters of the past, covering his mind with a great expanse of melancholy, on the surface of which there drifted, like ridiculous bits of flotsam, trivial episodes of his existence, absurdly insignificant incidents.

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