Sunday, May 23, 2010

Huysmans - A Rebours

Joris-Karl Huysmans' novel A Rebours (Against Nature) is a classic of decadent literature. Its dark pessimism (partly inspired by Schopenhauer) is striking in its literary expression. Huysmans is concerned with what is deeply ambiguous about the human condition, and the work shocks as it delights.

It was A Rebours that shot Odilon Redon to fame. It was the first time Redon's work had received such wide exposure. The reason Huysmans included Redon in his work was that it exemplified perfectly the strangeness and disconnection that Huysmans was attempting to imbue in A Rebours.

Another important figure of nineteenth century French artistic culture, Charles Baudelaire, finds his way into the pages of this beguiling text. Huysmans first work, a collection of prose poems, was said to be very much influenced by Baudelaire. As with Redon, Baudelaire gives voice to the darker side of humanity, and does so in a wonderfully extravagant literary way. Baudelaire shocked, just as Huysmans was to, and therein lies the latters interest.

Other notable figures of French letters at the time find there way into A Rebours. Stephane Mallarme is discussed at length, as is Paul Verlaine. Mallarme is much preferred by Huysmans - Verlaine is accused of being derivative. A further interesting figure to appear is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is very interesting in terms of this epoch of French writing. Most of those writing in Paris at the time were strongly influenced by Poe, and indeed Mallarme and Baudelaire were heavily indebted.

A Rebours is a momentous and meticulous work. In many respects it is encyclopedic in its knowledge of fields as diverse as Latin poetry and botany. Its attention to the smallest detail gives this work a breath that will astonish all those who read this wonderful text for the first time.

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