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Controcorrente by Joris-Karl Huysmans

Controcorrente (original 1884; edition 2009)

by Joris-Karl Huysmans, A (A)

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2,160463,006 (3.85)116
Authors:Joris-Karl Huysmans
Other authors:A (A)
Info:Milano, Mondadori, 2009
Collections:Your library
Tags:Dekadenz, Klassiker

Work details

Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (1884)

  1. 50
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (roby72, Zeeko, JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Wie in Wikipedia zu 'Gegen den Strich' beschrieben: "Ein französischer Roman, der den Protagonisten in Oscar Wildes Roman Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray zu dekadenten Ausschweifungen inspiriert, wird häufig als Anspielung auf À rebours gedeutet. Wilde war - wie auch Stéphane Mallarmé - ein Bewunderer des Romans."… (more)
  2. 20
    Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (defaults)
  3. 00
    Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo (William-90)
    William-90: A similar hymn to procrastination.
  4. 00
    Festins secrets by Pierre Jourde (Eustrabirbeonne)
  5. 00
    Reading Writing by Julien Gracq (Eustrabirbeonne)
  6. 00
    With the Flow by Joris-Karl Huysmans (arztriper)

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English (38)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Against Nature (A rebours in the French original, also sometimes translated as Against the Grain) concerns itself with a degenerate French aristocrat, Jean des Esseintes, the last of his line, who has sunk so deep into the mire of degradation and decadence that he is bored and disgusted with his life, to the extent that he sells the family chateau in order to create a stream of income and retreats to the suburbs, renouncing the debased life he has lived and all acquaintances, becoming in almost every way a luxuriating hermit, nevertheless taking care to employ servants who can shield him as inconspicuously as possible from the quotidian necessities of living. Des Esseintes' debauchery has left him debilitated and has turned him into a narcissistic and neurotic, if highly intelligent, hypochondriac who seems to enjoy ill health. Where his physical ailments end and his neuroses begin is unclear.

He decorates his house according to his own unique aesthetic and surrounds himself with books and art which reflect that artistic sense which is revealed as the book progresses.

A rebours is "against nature" in the sense that des Esseintes has concluded that man has outdone nature at her own game, so he contrives to surround himself with artifice. It is also "against the grain" in the sense that almost everything des Esseintes does and nearly all the opinions he expresses are the antithesis of popular taste. The very form the book takes is in counterpoint to the Naturalism that dominated contemporary French literature. At the time the book was published in 1884, it created a tremendous stir among the "Naturalists," Émile Zola in particular, as they believed Huysmans had struck the death knell of that brand of realism.

However, A rebours is a one-of-a kind work, one upon which a school of literature could not realistically be fashioned. While it is a breathtaking read, one cannot seriously imagine wanting to read another like it. It is challenge enough to get through the original, not because it isn't entertaining, but the level of erudition, the vast vocabulary, the plethora of obscure literary references going back to Classical Latin, the catalogues of paintings, the lists of flora, of perfumes, of gemstones, not to mention the never-ending description, all go on and on leaving the reader gasping for a breath of fresh air. Consequently, it is not an easy book to read in either English or the French original. Copious notes and a good introduction are the order of the day. Thankfully, the Oxford World Classics edition provides both.

Despite its being one of a kind, A rebours heralds the birth of the modern and post-modern novel. It is without a plot and treats of but one character, but the reader has the sense that a story is being told, although the story merely follows the timeline of des Esseintes' life. Some chapters cause one to ask: "Is this a novel or a scholarly treatise?" Others have an episodic quality. Regardless, the novel elevates description to new heights, as it is devoid of dialogue.

As a literary artifact of the late nineteenth century, A rebours is tremendously interesting. There is much to be learned here, and readers interested in the history and development of literary types will probably find it fascinating. However, I do not think it will appeal to everyone. Just the same, I am very glad I read it. ( )
4 vote Poquette | Jun 26, 2014 |
But I just don't enjoy the pleasures other people enjoy!

With this exclamation, Jean des Esseintes, the sole character in Huysmans' Against Nature, sums up the central theme of the novel.

Against Nature is an atypical novel: there is only one character - the decadent and ailing aristocrat des Esseintes - and there is no traditional plot to speak of, rather the novel catalogues and discusses the varied tastes des Esseintes has in literature, art, music, perfume, and flowers to name a few. Des Esseintes prides himself on having tastes far removed from the common, vulgar crowd of everyday society, from whom he has secluded himself in an eremitic existence in a country manor to be left in solitude with his possessions and sensual experiences. Veering between extreme and nervous excitability to debilitating ennui, des Esseintes represents the ultimate in decadent fin de siècle aesthetics.

Huysmans' prose is replete with obscure and idiosyncratic vocabulary and detailed narrative descriptions, all of which have ably and faithfully translated into English by Robert Baldick. Huysmans also displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of many subjects including perfumery, classical Latin authors, and tropical plants.

Against Nature indeed goes against the grain of traditional plot-driven novels, focusing rather on the psychology and tastes of the central character, decadently languishing in luxurious tastes and emotions. It is a deeply interesting psychological study of one man and his retreat from society, and the effect it has on him. It remains a classic Symbolist and Decadent piece of literature, and as the author himself said, it has exploded onto the literary scene "like a meteorite" and remains powerful even now.

( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
This "novel" is actually a series of prose poems describing in minute detail the life of the mind of a fin-de-siecle decadent as viewed through the prism of his opinions about such matters as Latin literature and precious stones. As such, it hearkens back to the great decadent poets of the France of a generation earlier, and, to a lesser degree, the futurists who emerged a decade or so later. It is very difficult and unrewarding reading, despite the occasional impressive use of imagery, and few will care to plow through a book which requires four or five trips to the dictionary to complete reading one page. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Nov 8, 2013 |
The novel has a promising beginning - a couple of short chapters summarizing the narrators societal debaucheries and excesses that have lead him to despair and the decision to abandon society. He then goes on to ponder the superiority of the artificial over Nature, culminating in a gorgeous metaphor:"Is there a woman, whose form is more dazzling, more splendid than the two locomotives that pass over the Northern Railroad lines? One the Crampton, is an adorable, shrill-voiced blonde, a trim gilded blond, with a large, fragile body imprisoned in a glittering corset of copper, and having the long sinewy lines of a cat. Her extraordinary grace is frightening, as, with the sweat of her hot sides rising upwards and her steel muscles stiffening, she puts in motion the immense rose-window of her fine wheels and darts forward....There was also a description of the "new generation" that made me laugh, they "seemed to find it necessary to talk and laugh boisterously in restaurants and cafes. They jostled you on sidewalks without begging pardon. They pushed the wheels of perambulators against your legs without even apologizing." It sound just like my reaction to present day Park Slope, Brooklyn!

However, the novel is completely plot-less. Each subsequent chapter wallows in the description of a particular sensation - a chapter on color as the narrator decorates his new abode. A chapter on taste as he imaginatively mixes cocktails (each liquor is defined as a musical instrument and he orchestrates their flavors). There is a chapter on scent as the narrator mixes perfumes, a chapter on his youthful religious studies, a chapter on his current library. And on and on and on.

It is extremely well-written, but the aspects that interested me the most were in the early chapters. And while I enjoy creative metaphors and beautiful descriptions, after a while it gets tedious. ( )
  ELiz_M | Oct 21, 2013 |
Oxford World's Classics edition translated by Margaret Mauldon

I finally read this properly in one go... Though when I say in one go, that was over a few days: I found it like the richest, most gorgeous cake imaginable. I could hardly imagine anything more wonderful whilst I was reading it, but every now and again I paused, and the pause turned into hours or a day or two as I realised retrospectively a feeling of sensory overload. Perhaps not unlike that des Esseintes experiences when confronted with the noise and bustle of Paris.

Several years ago I started the Penguin translation of À rebours but was devastated by its dry-dullness. This didn't feel like the book which meant so much to Oscar Wilde and numerous others, which I'd been hearing about and been a little intimidated by since I was 14 or 15. I was confused, disappointed and embarrassed. The Mauldon translation doesn't have such good reviews but I found it hypnotic from the first page, as the book should be.

des Esseintes is a man who defines himself by taste, and in that I found this perhaps the most modern book of its age I've ever read. So long as they've been around (so for me really only since the early to mid 2000's), I've always loved internet profiles full of great long lists of people's tastes in everything. On the rare-ish occasion when I found someone who'd posted really fascinating things I would return to it repeatedly, look the unknown things up, start reading/listening/watching stuff myself. À rebours provides details of his thoughts on the authors, information about them so it provides that experience of doing a search, of clicking through to the blog posts, on the same page.

It was many years before I realised it consciously, but as far as my favourite people are concerned I often have at least as strong a relationship with their cultural stuff as with them as a friend, and in some cases it's the artefacts that have been constant, when people moved on. (I think this began because it wasn't until I was 19 that I got to know anyone in real life who shared a lot of my taste and whose own likings inspired me; having spent so long waiting, having or having had such things within reach became completely compelling. And whilst I am, thank goodness, not so impossibly fussy as d'E, I can certainly hear my younger self - or myself as I might be if trapped for too long in the wrong place - in his elitist frustrations "Did he know one man capable of appreciating...?"

To the more detached reader, all these lists of stuff and misanthropy will be redolent of Patrick Bateman - and I daresay they were an influence on Bret Easton Ellis. But although I hadn't read it properly, À rebours and many of the things it mentions have been part of my world for more than half my life. So it is completely different: it feels like home.

Even in its less beautiful attributes, which I'd long forgotten about and was initially saddened by. With his sneering isolationism, extreme sureness of taste and cruel streak, never mind the home full of fascinating things, (and Schopenhauer fandom) the protagonist reminds me a great deal of an ex from seven years ago. I remember on first seeing his flat struggling to describe how amazed I was and that it was like something I'd always tried to imagine, actually brought to life ... Now I would simply say "you're des Esseintes on a budget, aren't you?

Even in some of its more abstruse ways the book is comfortable: having been to a Catholic school and then studied medieval and Renaissance history the lengthy discussion of theologians was hardly alienating. (Initially it was unexpected but really it fits very well here: with the modern view of the church as corrupt, with its fondness for decoration, and the imposition of requirements so particular that very few fulfil them.)
And the chapter on perfume. A neglected art with only niche enthusiasts because it is a) so fleeting and b) completely dominated by commercialism. The closest you can get to an art gallery of perfume is a wander in Liberty's fragrance hall (or similar in other major world cities) but things are always there for the purpose of being sold. (I'm not a very good perfumista though because I'm too much of a serial monogamist: after a short phase of transition and trying, one fragrance soon feels like part of me and I stick loyally with it for several years. On the offchance anyone else who cares about such things is reading, the previous one was Bvlgari Black, and the current one is L'air de Rien. Which must be terribly dependent on skin chemistry because many reviews make it sound utterly foul, yet to me it's lovely if perhaps dreamy and impractical. "incense, vintage shops and sex" is how I would describe it. Rather suits this book in fact.)

And I am so so glad I didn't read this book in my teens. I have a feeling it could have ended up on the small list of things I wish I had left till later not because their content was any more shocking than countless other things I read at the time, but because something in them chimed too deeply with me and I took them wrongly as prescriptive (Nicola Six in London Fields) or descriptive of just about everyone (Alfie the film) and they thus dramatically affected the course of my life more than most people would suppose.
Though I was already sick of being told to stay in and be careful of my strange health problems... and I had reasonable years of fun and adventures and work before stuff got too bad. So my axis is basically opposite to that of des Esseintes: better health resulting from staying in, when I would, temperamentally, like to be out there doing stuff. He does show that staying at home doesn't have to be boring (though the richer you are the better in that respect). But he also shows unsurprisingly that it's a damn sight more enjoyable for those who are natural misanthropes and recluses.

I am not sure it's worth trying to analyse him scientifically because he's a symbol not a case study: though he doesn't appear to have a physical adverse reaction or allergy to anything in the city, his personality traits mean he is very annoyed and therefore stressed by it: a little autistic and a little narcissistic if you like labels. Stress probably isn't very good for the complex set of genetic diseases he has got from generations of inbreeding. And his being recommended to throw himself totally into city life - rather than a more likely prescription such as to try and get a bit of fresh air and find a few friends to chat to - is part of the decadence of absolute contrasts with which Huysmans was opposing the Naturalist school of writers.

I didn't plan specifically to finish the book today, but curiously this is one year, minus one day, after the last start date I entered on Goodreads.

Started 24 May 2012, finished 23 May 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (55 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Huysmans, Joris-Karlprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baldick, Robert.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bo, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dèttore, UgoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellis, HavelockIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nylén, AnttiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redon, OdilonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaidenberg, ArthurIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Over two months elapsed before Des Esseintes could immerse himself in the peaceful silence of his house at Fontenay, for purchases of all sorts still kept him perambulating the streets and ransacking the shops from one end of Paris to the other.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140447636, Paperback)

A wildly original fin-de-siècle novel, Against Nature follows its sole character, Des Esseintes, a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa where he indulges his taste for luxury and excess. Veering between nervous excitability and debilitating ennui, he gluts his aesthetic appetites with classical literature and art, exotic jewels (with which he fatally encrusts the shell of his tortoise), rich perfumes, and a kaleidoscope of sensual experiences. The original handbook of decadence, Against Nature exploded “like a grenade” (in the words of its author) and has enjoyed a cult readership from its publication to the present day.

Features a new Introduction, chronology, and notes and reproduces Huysmans's 1903 preface
Includes a section of contemporary reviews and responses from writers including Mallarmé, Zola, and Wilde

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:03 -0400)

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