Of Pride and the Fall: The Allegorical À rebours

Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours may appear to be a flimsy descriptive tale about an isolated æsthete, designed simply to highlight the author's own bizarre æsthetic tastes or to provide a naturalistic portrait of the aesthete type. But the complex book truly serves to allegorize a theme Huysmans discussed later in his life: the inevitable fall of the proud man. By showing how Des Esseintes perversely worships arcane æsthetic objects with a pseudo-religious awe, Huysmans reveals how a prideful person will automatically retreat from the essence of true religion: humble acceptance of life in the harsh but worthy environs of human community. Yet one sees, in the book's character-description, not only Des Esseintes's self-destructive pride isolating him from others and causing his physical collapse, but also his inherent desire to know an Edenic harmony with others and with God, such as that he briefly glimpsed in childhood. Thus, his final timid turn to Christianity, with his wary acceptance of its vision of suffering as the price of human redemption, follows naturally from the needed resolution of conflict in his personality. Huysmans's fictional art has deftly outlined this pattern of themes. (JBL)

Loomis, Jeffrey B
Volume 1984 Summer-Fall; 12(4)-13(1): 147-61.