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A repèl (À rebours). by J.-K. Huysmans

A repèl (À rebours). (1884)

by J.-K. Huysmans, Martí Martí i Pol (Translator)

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2,111443,088 (3.84)109
Title:A repèl (À rebours).
Authors:J.-K. Huysmans
Other authors:Martí Martí i Pol (Translator)
Collections:Your library
Tags:Novel·la, Segle XIX

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
    With the Flow by Joris-Karl Huysmans (arztriper)
  4. 00
    Festins secrets by Pierre Jourde (Eustrabirbeonne)
  5. 00
    Reading Writing by Julien Gracq (Eustrabirbeonne)

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» See also 109 mentions

English (36)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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 |
If Proust composed his In Search of Lost Time without having read this book, I'll eat my hat. Of course, the similarities may have been unavoidable when considering that both authors concern themselves with the period of haute couture and Faubourg Saint-Germain culture, and even chose the same aristocrat to model their own wildly eccentric characters on, the Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac inspiring both Huuysmans' Des Esseintes and Proust's Charlus. And it could have been sheer coincidence that Huysmans' delving into the cyclic throes of obsession and boredom seem almost a basic structure for Proust's cathedrals of thought and memory. Still, the semblances are striking, although the differences forbid any possible thoughts of one author relying too heavily on the other. For while Proust is gorgeous and light and understanding of almost every nuance of the human condition, Huysmans is, well.

Looking on the bright side of things, I hope that, one fine day, he'll kill the gentlemen who turns up unexpectedly just as he's breaking open his desk. On that day my object will be achieved: I shall have contributed, to the best of my ability, to the making of a scoundrel, one enemy the more for the hideous society which is bleeding us white.

That's Des Esseintes for you, speaking of a boy-child he had granted three months of bi-weekly brothel visits to, for no other reason but a sudden whim to conduct a viciously abhorrent sort of social experiment. He doesn't get any better through the course of the book, for he is as capable of dwelling on the most beautiful of conjectures in full possession of his educated faculties as he is of condemning the smallest aspect of life with all the spite and bigotry a human could possibly muster.

So what can redeem this spoiled and sickly creature, fully equipped with a substantial fortune, disgust with the whole of the human race, and access to the whole range of what culture, from the loftiest of heights to the most depraved (in his day, at least) of lows and everything that mixes that two, has to offer? For one, the fact that this contrary soul is indeed human despite the weirdly grotesque passions that power it, and through all the oddities Des Esseintes surrounds himself one can still see the insolvable human condition that plagues every one of us. He may be as easy to hate and be disgusted with as easily as he hates and is disgusted with everything beyond his luxuriously painted and perfumed bower, but he does have some measure of taste that one cannot help but take note of, and perhaps even sympathize with.

He wanted, in short, a work of art both for what it was in itself and for what it allowed him to bestow on it; he wanted to go along with it and on it, as if supported by a friend or carried by a vehicle, into a sphere where sublimated sensations would arouse within him an unexpected commotion, the causes of which he would strive to patiently and even vainly to analyse.

He'll pursue this ideal through sight in painting and horticulture, through taste in mouth organs and strenuous dilutions, through smell in perfumes and twisted senses, from the most ancient annals of religion to the newest source of physical debauchery that only those with a sensibility honed by years of monetary excess can hope to afford. That unwholesome mix of artificiality posing as the real thing is fully expressed in the prose itself, metaphors that don't bother to limit themselves to one side of the equation and fully immerse themselves in delight and disgust.

…and the Cypripedium, with its complex, incoherent contours devised by some demented draughtsman. It looked rather like a clog or a tidy, and on top was a human tongue bent back with the string stretched tight, just as you may see it depicted in the plates of medical works dealing with diseases of the throat and mouth; two little wings, of a jujube red, which might almost have been borrowed from a child’s toy windmill, completed this baroque combination of the underside of a tongue, the colour of wine lees and slate, and a glossy pocket-case with a lining that oozed drops of viscous paste.

Oftentimes, he'll box himself up in snooty prejudices and hypocritical ideologies, but occasionally one will recognize measures of contemporary thought within his reminisces and desires, one of the most surprising instances occurring when he dwells upon the issue of abortion. At other times he will think on qualities of pieces that at his point in time had not yet been composed, accrediting his thoughts that those who concern themselves with certain ideals will not find themselves content with the current age.

Sensitive to the remotest affinities, he would often use a term that by analogy suggested at once form, scent, colour, quality, and brilliance, to indicate a creature or thing to which he would have had to attach a host of different epithets in order to bring out all its various aspects and qualities, if it had merely been referred to by its technical name. By this means he managed to do away with the formal statement of a comparison that the reader’s mind made by itself as soon as it had understood the symbol, and he avoided dispersing the reader’s attention over all the several qualities that a row of adjectives would have presented one by one, concentrated it instead on a single word, a single entity, producing, as in the case of a picture, a unique and comprehensive impression, an overall view.

He may have enjoyed the works of Faulkner, whose The Sound and the Fury accomplishes just that. Or he may have spurned the work that occupies itself with trivial mundanities and contains not the slightest hint of elevated passions or feverish splendor. The world will never know. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Jun 2, 2013 |
'If rape and arson, poison and the knife
have not yet stitched their ludicrous designs
onto the banal buckram of our fates
it is because our souls lack enterprise!

But here among the scorpions and the hounds,
the jackals, apes and vultures, snakes and wolves,
monsters that howl and growl and squeal and crawl,
in all the squalid zoo of vies, one

is even uglier and fouler than the rest,
although the least flamboyant of the lot;
this beast would gladly undermine the earth
and swallow all creation in a yawn;

I speak of Boredom which with ready tears
dreams of hangings as it puffs its pipe.
Reader, you know this squeamish monster well,
- hypocrite reader, - my alias, - my twin!’


Joris-Karl Huysmans—sybarite, mystic, rake, oblate, and (of all things) civil servant—published what has been referred to as ‘the bible of the Decadence,’ À Rebours (often translated under the title of ‘Against Nature’ or ‘Against the Grain’), in 1884, setting in motion a literary movement that would come to include such icons as Mirbeau, Wilde, Rachilde, De Sa-Carneiro, and Beardsley. There had been earlier precursors who wore the mantle of ‘Decadent,’ sometimes with pride: Baudelaire, Poe, Gautier, Hugo; but it was Huysmans, with his callous disregard for convention, who established the motifs we refer to as ‘Decadent’ today. À Rebours has been viewed as more a catalog of tastes than a novel, considering that it is entirely devoid of a plot in any real understanding of the word; but the psychology of its central character, Des Esseintes, is a constant source of illumination, and remains as instrumental to defining the trappings of Decadence as the flamboyant catalog of literature, interior decoration, perfume, painting, and aesthetic experience that comprises the bulk of its pages.

Des Esseintes, a libertine, grown weary with the sordid pleasures of fin de siècle Paris, retreats into solitude; purchasing a house, and filling it with countless objects that reflect an ornate, languid, and near-hallucinatory preoccupation with aesthetic excess, Des Esseintes begins a personal quest to seek out higher and higher avenues of experience, cloistered away in effete seclusion from the insipid trivialities and tedious ennui of modern life. Here, in reclusion, he is free to experiment with lavish predilections and whimsical pursuits not afforded by his previous circumstances: from fatally bejeweling a tortoise to surveying the degenerate concerns of authors and artists as varied as Petronius, Verlaine, Apuleius, Baudelaire, and Gustave Moreau; in a typical episode of À Rebours, Des Esseintes, who had before found more beauty in the patent artificiality of paper flowers than in their natural counterparts, decides that the ultimate in sensation would involve procuring natural flora that possess the curious and almost ridiculous distinction of appearing more false than their artificial analogues.

This preoccupation with the supremacy of artificiality is, perhaps, the chief concern of À Rebours, illustrated with particular élan when Des Esseintes, who desires to travel to London as respite from the regularity of his life in seclusion, chances to dine, before embarking, at an English restaurant located in his abhorred Paris: after his meal, Des Esseintes promptly cancels his trip to England, returning to his country estate, having satisfied his desire to experience England by enjoying the artificial, Parisian notion of ‘England’ presented to him over dinner. On one hand, Des Esseintes is sure that he will be underwhelmed by the ‘real thing,’ as the beauty of a lover devoid of cosmetics cannot approach the painted opulence of an affected image; more subversively, however, our world-weary libertine is aware that the experience he seeks is of a uniquely ersatz variety, and that subjecting his ‘heightened tastes’ to the dismal, pedestrian pleasures of European society would dull, and perhaps corrupt, his delicate sensibilities.

This rationalization is archetypal, in that it examines one of the key paradoxes of the Decadent world-view (a world-view which, it should be noted, revels in the charms of a good paradox): that, while the Decadent soul may seek redemption from his patent artificiality and adulterated perversions, he remains well-aware that the ‘purity’ of these notions of contrition is threatened chiefly by his own surfeit of experience: for how can gauche, prosaic 'reality' ever compare to the sumptuous unreality created by the Decadent imagination? And how can confessing the sins of the Decadent soul be a worthy pursuit when these sins, in and of themselves, illustrate the absurdity of both ‘confession’ and ‘sin?' Far more intriguing to the Decadent would be the affected comforts of a life of religious rigor, entirely devoid of the moral reflections that generally accompany it: the architecture of the church, to the Decadent, is far more paramount than the goings-on inside of it; the ephemeral, sensual allure of the incense and wine and costume and resonance of the organ can never be matched by the rituals for which they have been appropriated.

Barbey d'Aurevilly may have been considering this puzzle when he famously portended a choice for the author of À Rebours between ‘the muzzle of a pistol and the foot of the Cross.’ Huysmans, intriguingly, chose the latter, applying to the rigorous philosophy of Catholic mysticism the same impassioned dedication his creation, Des Esseintes, applied to his own pursuit of aesthetic experience. Which is to say that Huysmans—author of the ‘bible’ of the Decadence, À Rebours—himself epitomizes the ultimate paradox of the Decadent imagination. ( )
4 vote veilofisis | May 24, 2013 |
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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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