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Against Nature (1884)

by Joris-Karl Huysmans

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,924633,242 (3.77)144
`It will be the biggest fiasco of the year - but I don't care a damn! It will be something nobody has ever done before, and I shall have said what I had to say.'As Joris -Karl Huysmans announced in 1884, Against Nature was fated to be a novel like no other. Resisting the models of classic nineteenth-century fiction, it focuses on the attempts of its anti-hero, the hypersensitive neurotic and aesthete, Des Esseintes, to escape Paris and the vulgarity ofmodern life. Holed up in his private museum of high taste, he offers Huysmans's readers a treasure trove of cultural delights which anticipates many of the strains of modernism in its appreciation of Baudelaire, Moreau, Redon, Mallarme and Poe. This new translation is supplemented by indispensablenotes which enhance the understanding of a highly allusive work.… (more)
  1. 80
    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
    Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse by Alexander Pushkin (TheLittlePhrase)
  4. 00
    Five Novels by Ronald Firbank (uncultured)
    uncultured: Firbank is the bridge between Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh. Huysmans would approve.
  5. 00
    Submission by Michel Houellebecq (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: In "Unterwerfung" geht es um einen Professor der Literaturwissenschaften mit Schwerpunkt "Huysman". Entsprechend wird auch viel über Huysman gesprochen.
  6. 00
    With the Flow by Joris-Karl Huysmans (arztriper)
  7. 00
    Festins secrets by Pierre Jourde (Eustrabirbeonne)
  8. 00
    Reading Writing by Julien Gracq (Eustrabirbeonne)
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» See also 144 mentions

English (49)  Italian (4)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  All (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
This may shock you, but locking yourself in your house and attempting to never leave again typically leads to negative health outcomes.

Jean des Esseintes, the only character of any significance in Against Nature, decides that people, places, and things all suck so badly that he will never deal with them again. He buys a house a decent ways away from Paris and shuts himself in with books, rugs, paintings, and a whole lot of free time, but you don't make it through half a chapter before you pick up on an immediate problem with his plan: he's read all the books and seen all the paintings before.

Des Esseintes considers all the people he used to surround himself with in Paris to be dumb, and that's fine. But occasionally, dumbness confronts you in a way that will at least force you to use your brain in a way you normally don't. If all you do is read the same stuff, look at the same stuff, and think about the same stuff over and over again, even if you consider the ideas held within to be good ones, your brain will turn to mush.

Des Esseintes' brain is no different than ours, so you might think we'd get a book about a fun mental breakdown or some wacky antics springing forth from the guy's cabin fever, but we get nothing at all. All we get the entire book is a long list of the guy's opinions on French literature. None of them ever change at any point during the story. None of them are ever particularly interesting. This goes on for 200 pages.

I don't have any problem with the writing style or anything like that, but Against Nature is the equivalent of me squishing my grumpiest 25 Goodreads reviews together and pretending I made a novel. Joris-Karl Huysmans didn't write a novel here. He wrote an op-ed.

That's not why it's bad, though. There are good op-eds (occasionally), and using a character that may or may not exist can be a useful tool for making whatever point you want to make. That being said, I am 100% sure that there aren't any good op-eds that go on for 200 pages. None of Huysman's arguments here are complicated, and he should have had this baby wrapped up by around page 50.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with long books. Don't forget though, this isn't really a book. Imagine the Washington Post just being one 200-page George Will column every week.

Now if you've read about the book before, you might be saying to yourself, "Wait! I thought this Des Esseintes guy was supposed to be all naughty and stuff. Isn't that usually interesting?"

Let me rain on your parade really quickly. Here's a description of the kinds of parties Des Esseintes used to attend. Read it several times and let it wash over you. In the days when he had belonged to a set of young men-about-town, he had gone to those unconventional supper-parties where drunken women loosen their dresses at dessert and beat the table with their heads.Loose dresses and massive head wounds? My dick just shot straight to the moon. I'd love to go to that kind of party, or at least read about one, but at the start of this thing, Des Esseintes decides that he doesn't want to do any of that stuff anymore.

Don't worry. He still does some pretty debauched stuff like... like... putting pretty jewelry on top of a turtle. That qualifies, right?

At the end of the book, Des Esseintes gets a tummy ache and is told by his doctor to start doing stuff besides having a narrator tell the reader what books he likes. He whines, and then that's it. Book over. It's all been a pointlessly negative waste of time.

I don't mind ennui and pessimism in literature, but I really get frustrated when they get posed as enlightened viewpoints or concepts worthy of being the center of one's existence. That's obviously the wrong way to look at it, and I don't even think obviously is a strong enough word. Yes, compassion, empathy, love, generosity, synonyms of all those words, etc. won't always make a person happy, but it's the only thing that's ever worked, and I'll say it again, that's obvious. The problem is consistently transforming that knowledge into action, dealing with the potential consequences of doing the right thing when it isn't popular, blah blah blah all the Sunday School stuff you already know. Making a case for this weird autistic hedonism of Des Esseintes is insane, yet Huysmans tries it here anyway. It isn't a particularly valiant effort.

If you're going to buy Against Nature anyway, get the Penguin Classics edition. It's got an Appendix full of contemporary reviews (Emile Zola's is particularly fun), and I think the last line of Emile Goudeau's reflections on the book is a good place to finish. Read this majestically hopeless book, then bury your impossible illusions, drink fresh water, and start loving - anything, even a dog. ( )
1 vote bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
An influential French realist novel/ response to realist novels. The start of the genre of Decadence, which spawned Dorian Gray and and other expressions of hedonism. Though I prefer Wilde's novel for its plot and characters, the author's main concern with Against the Grain, or Against Nature, is depicting the infinite ennui of our richly spoiled narrator, who is not satisfied with the excessive overabundance produced by his fortune because his imagination is limitless and insatiable.

For me, the best parts of the novel were the surreal breakdowns, the insular jaunts, where our Des Esseintes becomes unhinged and casts aside his ephemeral paradise to examine bleak reality and his own insanity. I am reminded of Coleridge's poem, Kublai Khan, and Confessions of an Opium Eater. It is astounding how touches and suggestions of Huysmans' novel arise all over the world of literature.

Des Esseintes hesitating castigation of Catholicism betrays his fascination with it. The way he dismisses literature and art, purity and romance makes one suspect that beyond secretly longing to fulfill an ideal out of reach, he wishes for the solace these worldly things can bring. He cannot make up for his own weakness by coating himself in pretty garb, and he cannot repair the disappointment he feels in himself by throwing nature and humanity into the flames. To the point of absurdity, the main character is unwilling to seriously consider the question of who is in the wrong: society or himself.

Without a hint of plot or side characters to distract us, we can examine Des Esseintes between the lines of his endless descriptions of frills and embellishments. Fighting off boredom has never been such a challenge as when there are too many objects to distract him. We are treated to opinions on Baudelaire and Poe, Rabelais and Boethius, Moliere and even Zola. By throwing other writers under the omnibus, it becomes clear where Huysmans drew his inspiration. Without the richness of the prose, the abundance of fascinating Objet d'art, and the contrived mellifluousness, this would be nothing more than an unreadable pamphlet. Even with the transparent madness of the main character it is still a catalog of antique curiosities, a cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and a masterpiece composed of flowers, perfumes and floral wallpaper.

It is easy to fantasize about Baroque palaces of desire. But when it comes right down to it, dreams are mere vacations from real life. You will get far more meaning by wringing out the contents of a novel by Zola, than if you highlight the important parts of Against Nature. This book is shallow, but that is not to say it does not taunt you, make you think, and entice you with its redolent aroma. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
The author himself thought this book would be a universal flop; au contraire, it wasn't. Instead, it has affected writers, poets, libertines and other people around the world, and continues to impress, outrage and mess with people's ideas on what a book should be like.

A man, Jean Des Esseintes, creates his own artistic creation through eccentric and bohemian ways. For example, he ponders the significance of colours and blends of those for ages, along with smells and sights.

The translation is wonderful, riddled with footnotes and illustrations that flesh out Esseintes' surroundings and references, and the book contains a splendid end note from the translator along with a list of names and explanations; without the annotations, I would not have graded this book as highly as I have. Apart from the namedroppings, this book is worth a lot. ( )
  pivic | Mar 23, 2020 |
Jean Des Esseintes is a very rich man, the last of a noble family, who led a life of parties and mistresses in Paris, until he becomes disgusted by society, and moves to an isolated country house to enjoy his art treasures and books in quiet contemplation. He asserts that his tastes are highly discriminating, and he has rare books bound in rare leather, many paintings and drawings, often erotic, and goes through crazes for plants, then artificial plants, and even at one point a jeweled turtle. He has an elaborate dispenser of alcohlic spirits, that he can use to create just the right taste for his mood, and has an exhaustive collection of perfumes. In his isolation he begins to dream of previous affairs, becomes ill, and at the end is sent back to Paris by his doctor. The book is full of unusual words and detailed descriptins or musings about literature and Des Esseintes' collections. ( )
  neurodrew | Mar 7, 2020 |
La Bible de l'esprit décadent et de la "charogne" 1900. À travers le personnage de des Esseintes, Huysmans n'a pas seulement résumé, immortalisé les torpeurs, les langueurs, les névroses vénéneuses et perverses du siècle finissant. Des Esseintes est aussi un héros kierkegaardien, à la fois grotesque et pathétique, une des plus fortes figures de l'angoisse qu'ait laissées notre littérature. Fils spirituel de René et de la génération du mal du siècle, il annonce à bien des égards le Bardamu de Céline et le Roquentin de "La Nausée".

Huysmans crée ici un personnage fascinant, des Esseintes, qui représente ce qu'on a appelé "la décadence"; dégoûté de la vulgaire réalité, il cherche désespérément, en recourant sans cesse à l'artifice, des sensations rares et des plaisirs toujours nouveaux, jusqu'à l'hallucination, presque jusqu'à la folie.
Dans le tohu-bohu qui accompagna la publication d'"À rebours" en 1884, Barbey d'Aurevilly écrivait : "Après un tel livre, il ne reste plus à l'auteur qu'à choisir entre la bouche d'un pistolet ou les pieds de la croix". Huysmans lui donna raison en se convertissant peu après.
  Haijavivi | Jun 12, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (53 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Huysmans, Joris-Karlprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ascari, FabrizioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldick, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldick, Robert.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bo, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dèttore, UgoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellis, HavelockIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
King, BrendanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nylén, AnttiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redon, OdilonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sbarbaro, CamilloTranslatorsecondary 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.
If, in a cosy fantasy of cultural influence, one were to present one's young niece or nephew with their first nineteenth-century novel, only the most wicked amongst us would choose Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against Nature (in the original French, A rebours). (Introduction)
Judging by the few portraits that have been preserved in the Chateau de Lourps, the line of the Floressas des Esseintes consisted, in bygone days, of muscular warriors and grim-looking mercenaries. (Prologue)
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