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Against the Grain

Joris-Karl Huysmans

Book Overview: 

“THE BOOK THAT DORIAN GRAY LOVED AND THAT INSPIRED OSCAR WILDE”. Such is the enticing epigraph of one early translation of Huysmans’ cult novel, which is also routinely called the Bible of Decadence. Accurate descriptions, both, of this bizarre masterpiece which has reverberated ever since through high and popular culture.

“Against Nature” (or in this version “Against The Grain”) explores to the furthest limit the life of the world-rejecting aesthete living a reclusive existence devoted entirely to artificial paradises of his own devising. This is no solemn tract, however: the book’s anti-hero Duc Jean Floressas Des Esseintes spectacularly fails to achieve his life’s work, as all his attempts to create worlds of perverse experience through synaesthesia and interior decoration prove ludicrously unsatisfying and injurious to health. An innocent tortoise also falls casualty to his theories, in the wonderful fifth chapter.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .streets, when suddenly he found himself gazing at the very object of his wishes. There, in a shop window on the Palais Royal, lay a huge tortoise in a large basin. He had purchased it. Then he had sat a long time, with eyes half-shut, studying the effect.

Decidedly, the Ethiopic black, the harsh Sienna tone of this shell dulled the rug's reflections without adding to it. The dominant silver gleams in it barely sparkled, crawling with lack-lustre tones of dead zinc against the edges of the hard, tarnished shell.

He bit his nails while he studied a method of removing these discords and reconciling the determined opposition of the tones. He finally discovered that his first inspiration, which was to animate the fire of the weave by setting it off against some dark object, was erroneous. In fact, this rug was too new, too petulant and gaudy. The colors were not sufficiently subdued. He must reverse the process, . . . Read More

Community Reviews


“Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidity.”
― Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain

Against the Grain (alternately translated as Against Nature) is a slim novel (110 pages) where Frenc...more

The hipsters are right: society is trying to destroy you--not your body, or your mind, but you, the part which makes an individual. That's what society is: the aspect of human life that is not the self, but is communal, the part that causes humanity to behave like a colony of ants.

As brilliant Ni...more

An ornate, sickly, claustropobic book, full of fascinating discussions about art and literature, and studded with items of outré vocabulary (I still haven’t worked out what mœchialogie means). It is a novel for people who like talking about novels – the plot itself is slim and of little importanc...more

Tersine, nihayet bitti dediğim kitaplardan biri oldu, bir daha da cebir ve şiddet altında dahi olsam dönüp yüzüne bakmam. Tersine ile aynı günlerde Karatani’nin Transkritik: Kant ve Marx üzerine adlı kallavi bir kitabına başlamıştım. Benim iki kitabı aynı anda okurken rutinim şudur; kuramsal eser...more

If Proust composed his In Search of Lost Time without having read this book, I'll eat my hat. Of course, the similarities may have been unavoidable when considering that both authors concern themselves with the period of haute couture and Faubourg Saint-Germain culture, and even chose the same ar...more

After feasting on an excessive orgy of oysters, smoked salmon, quail eggs, marinated lobster, rare partridge breast, honey glazed pig trotters and spiced wine, I followed with a desert consisting of apple strudel with clotted cream and sticky chocolate pudding in a warm orange sauce, I took to th...more

Decadent Rants and Harangues

This 1884 novel is a wonderful assemblage of prescient and decadent rants.

Something Huysmans says of another book of rants could apply equally to his own work:

"Conceived as harangues, they contained a certain strong muscular energy and were astonishing in the intoleran...more

"The world is too much with us; late and soon," Wordsworth wrote in 1802, "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Joris-Karl Huysmans' fin de siècle novel, Against Nature (À Rebours), tells the story of an aristocratic dandy who finds the realities (more specifically, the vulgarities) of...more

Did I really read this book forty years ago? Or did I just read the passages about the "perfume organ" and the jewel encrusted turtle and later assumed I had read the rest? If I did read it, I was completely wrong in my evaluation of this as a static, effete precursor to "Dorian Gray," a work mar...more

It must have been so exciting to be a novelist in the second half of the nineteenth century. You weren't limited to just creating a novel; if you were talented, you could create a whole new kind of novel. Here, Huysmans has written the first example known to me of the novel where nothing happens....more

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