Huysman's Against the Grain: The Willed Exile of the Introverted Decadent

Willed exile and the deepest condition of introversion was the way chosen by Duke Jean des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysman's extraordinary novel, A rebours (1884). Inability to face and live in reality, uncontrollable ennui, and hatred for society that he saw as superficial, banal, vulgar, and materialistic, all these motivated des Esseintes' withdrawal from the world and reclusion in a country home not far from Paris. Alienated from his fellow beings, Huysmans' anti-hero hoped that by cutting himself off from the intellectual, spiritual, and philosophical morass of contemporary society he would be left untainted and free to indulge his every wish. To this end, he regulated his life in such a way as to keep his mind and senses forever active in the creativity of a world of fantasy and artifice of his own. An analysis of his dehumanized existence, which revolved around the acquisition of rare and exotic objects (furnishings, paintings, books, flowers, foods, liqueurs) is the subject of this study. (BLK)
Knapp, Bettina L
Volume 1991-1992 Fall-Winter; 20(1-2): 203-21