The Role of Paintings in Three Novels by J.-K. Huysmans

This essay focuses on the use Huysmans makes of concrete, identifiable pictures in three novels: Marthe (1876), A rebours (1884), and Là-bas (1891). The paintings under discussion include works by Hogarth, Rembrandt, Moreau, Grünewald, and Patenir. In the three novels, Huysmans uses pictures to achieve varying ends: to reveal ironic truths about the characters, to symbolize their fears and obsessions, and finally in Là-bas, to symbolize the novel itself. In the latter novel, a painting by Patenir serves as a form of metaphorically displaced mise en abyme, or ecphrasis. Huysmans's use of paintings is indicative of a wish to write novels that transcend the limits of their own medium. (RBA)

Antosh, Ruth B
Volume 1984 Summer-Fall; 12(4)-13(1): 131-46.