Against Nature (Penguin Classics) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Patrick McGuinness

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 recent existence and retreated to an remoted nation villa. the following, observed purely by way of a number of silent servants, he pursues his obsessions with unique plant life, infrequent gem stones, and complicated perfumes and embarks on a chain of more and more unusual aesthetic experiments, beginning with the choice to provide his significant puppy tortoise a jewel-encrusted shell...

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Extra info for Against Nature (Penguin Classics)

Example text

Reading in Against Nature is only ever remembered or replayed, and all the evocative passages about Baudelaire or Mallarmé are memories of readings that finished before the novel began. Against Nature is about consumption in all its forms: financial, material, gastronomic, literary and artistic. With consumption there is also, inevitably (and in keeping with the Naturalist logic displayed by Zola’s concern for the defecating tortoise), expulsion. Des Esseintes takes enemas, has problems with his digestion, diets and then gorges himself.

The Baudelairean world, alive with ‘correspondences’ becomes, in Against Nature, a dead world where the metaphor and the model run rife, where the classificatory structure dominates, and where mediated knowledge wins out over experience. His black feast to mourn his virility signals also the death of a creative urge, buried under heaps of books and paintings. Just as the house in Fontenay becomes a kind of living tomb, so Against Nature becomes a catacomb of reference and allusion, full of dead learning.

Des Esseintes is a kind of Decadent everyman, but he is also a prototype. He has the classic Decadent childhood: a mother who inhabits dark rooms with some unspecified nervous disorder, dying for no clear reason. There is an absent father, a boarding school and loveless family existence. We are told that the Des Esseintes have used up their strength through generations of inbreeding, and that the present Duke is the last in the line, the culmination of a long process of ‘degeneration’. Against Nature opens, on the one hand, with a model of linearity and of the cyclic nature of Decadence; on the other, with crisis and dislocation.

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