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The Decadent movement in literature - Huysmans' "À Rebours"

"Barbaric in its profusion, violent in its emphasis, wearying in its splendor, it is - especially in regard to things seen - extraordinarily expressive, with all the shades of a painter's palette. Elaborately and deliberately perverse, it is in its very perversity that Huysmans' work - so fascinating, so repellent, so instinctively artificial - comes to represent, as the work of no other writer can be said to do, the main tendencies, the chief results, of the Decadent movement in literature." (Arthur Symons, The Decadent Movement in Literature)

"A Rebours," (1884) variously translated as "Against Nature" or "Against the Grain," is Huysmans first major work.  This represented a turning away from the Naturalists (he considered Zola his mentor) toward the Symbolists and the newly developing Decadent movement.

In the preface to the 1903 reprint Huysmans writes:

"It was the heyday of Naturalism, but this school, which should have rendered the inestimable service of giving us real characters in precisely described settings, had ended up harping on the same old themes and was treading water. It scarcely admitted — in theory at least — any exceptions to the rule; thus it limited itself to depicting common existence, and struggled, under the pretext of being true to life, to create characters who would be as close as possible to the average run of mankind."

In this work the main character becomes "an eccentric, reclusive aesthete and antihero who tries to retreat into an ideal artistic world of his own creation."

After all, if Naturalism is what we wanted, why would we read books?

It is widely believed that À rebours is the "poisonous French novel" that leads to the downfall of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The book's plot is said to have dominated the action of Dorian, causing him to live an amoral life of sin and hedonism.

Let's see what all the talk is about. . . 


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  • Kinga

    1 · September 7, 2014

  • Rick O.

    Baudelaire is referenced several times ('course!) by Huysmans, and several of these are to his poem "The Enemy," my personal favorite. So I can't resist:

    My childhood was nought but a ravaging storm,
    Enlivened at times by a brilliant sun;
    The rain and the winds wrought such havoc and harm
    That of buds on my plot there remains hardly one.

    Behold now the Fall of ideas I have reached,
    And the shovel and rake one must therefore resume,
    In collecting the turf, inundated and breached,
    Where the waters dug trenches as deep as a tomb.

    And yet these new blossoms, for which I craved,
    Will they find in this earth—like a shore that is laved—
    The mystical fuel which vigour imparts?

    Oh misery!—Time devours our lives,
    And the enemy black, which consumeth our hearts
    On the blood of our bodies, increases and thrives!

    1 · September 7, 2014

  • Chad B.

    Still trying to figure out what is Des Esseintes is "for." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7cry-4pyy8

    September 3, 2014

  • Chad B.

    I can't help myself from picturing Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch.

    August 26, 2014

    • Rick O.

      Perhaps Dorian Gray wasn't the only one that fell under the book's influence? (I like the guest appearance of my pal in ch XII)

      August 26, 2014

  • mariann

    Is this the book with the jewel-encrusted turtle?!?!

    August 3, 2014

    • Imran M.

      The "German" in the label means "eccentric"

      August 5, 2014

    • Rick O.

      The banger.com is an abbreviation. The persons whole name is "Jeff Headbanger." (the illustrations, though are legit - from the 1931 Illustrated Edition of the novel)

      August 5, 2014

  • Jeff S.

    Rick, it's "À Rebours," not "Au Rebours." Looking forward to it.

    1 · July 13, 2014

    • Imran M.

      It was easy to get the slanty thing on my ipad.

      1 · July 13, 2014

    • Three S.

      Because ipads are decadent

      1 · July 14, 2014

  • Three S.

    whoops, conflict this weekend.

    July 14, 2014

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