By Joris-Karl Huysmans, Patrick McGuinness
The hero of this curious novel is des Esseintes, a neurasthenic aristocrat who has became his again at the vulgarity of recent lifestyles and retreated to an remoted state villa. right here, followed merely via a number of silent servants, he pursues his obsessions with unique flora, infrequent gem stones, and intricate perfumes and embarks on a chain of more and more unusual aesthetic experiments, beginning with the choice to provide his vast puppy tortoise a jewel-encrusted shell...
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Additional resources for Against Nature (Penguin Classics)
For others, like the critic and novelist Remy de Gourmont, it was formally and thematically liberating. It was a novel that seemed not to want to be a novel; nothing happened, and yet the writing was dense, crowded and allusive. It was obscene, garish, depraved; but it was also a curiously ascetic and inward book. It dwelt fascinatedly on bodily functions, messy ailments and lurid sexual adventures, but it appeared also to strive for serenity and peace. In at least one respect Against Nature can be called a classic: it portrayed its time but also intervened in it.
Against Nature is a novel of surfeit: surfeit of knowledge, sensation, culture; and it culminates in a surfeit of self. It is a kind of Symbolist or Decadent Heart of Darkness in its thwarted dreams of isolation, power and discovery. Like Heart of Darkness it analyses the deadly game of self-fulfilment and self-escape; like Conrad’s great novel it ends with a snarl of pessimism both at the world and at the counter-world forged in its stead – forged in the sense of faked as well as newly created.
For Des Esseintes, language, like meat, is at its tastiest as it is turning – as, on the cusp of rotting, the flavours are released. It is one of Against Nature’s recurrent analogies: between food and language, and if the reader finds Huysmans’ style ‘hard to swallow’ or ‘hard to keep down’ this is as it should be. After all, this was an author who regularly wrote to his friends asking for information on technical language, bureaucratic lingo, street slang, and who relished the strange words he dredged up from glossaries and manuals.