By Joris-Karl Huysmans, Patrick McGuinness
The hero of this curious novel is des Esseintes, a neurasthenic aristocrat who has grew to become his again at the vulgarity of contemporary existence and retreated to an remoted nation villa. the following, followed in simple terms via a number of silent servants, he pursues his obsessions with unique vegetation, infrequent gem stones, and complicated perfumes and embarks on a sequence of more and more unusual aesthetic experiments, beginning with the choice to offer his vast puppy tortoise a jewel-encrusted shell...
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The following year (1885) saw the publication of a parodic volume, The Deliquescences, by one ‘Adoré Floupette’, written by two poets – Vicaire and Beauclair – as a send-up of their ‘Decadent’ contemporaries. As Appendix II of contemporary reviews and responses shows, some of Huysmans’ readers thought of Against Nature as at least in part parodic. 18. For an account of images and representations of women in this period, see Shearer West, Fin de Siècle: Art and Society in an Age of Uncertainty (London: Bloomsbury, 1993).
8 Two years later, when Huysmans became associated with the Naturalists, he was a vocal defender of Zola and his principles, publishing a passionate defence of Zola’s L’Assommoir and of Naturalist writing. Huysmans soon became acquainted with the most innovative writers and artists of the period. Among his friends and correspondents were Flaubert, the Goncourt brothers, Maupassant, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and Mallarmé – a representative cross-section of the many literary tendencies of the time.
For Des Esseintes, language, like meat, is at its tastiest as it is turning – as, on the cusp of rotting, the flavours are released. It is one of Against Nature’s recurrent analogies: between food and language, and if the reader finds Huysmans’ style ‘hard to swallow’ or ‘hard to keep down’ this is as it should be. After all, this was an author who regularly wrote to his friends asking for information on technical language, bureaucratic lingo, street slang, and who relished the strange words he dredged up from glossaries and manuals.