This week I took the chance to read one of the books that had been recommended for me by Hannah, Against Nature. This novel by Joris-Karl Huysman is the story of Jean des Esseintes who segregates himself from city life and moves into the country. Each chapter discusses his cultural exploration looking at literature, art and music and also stretches to horticulture.
Huysmans add weight to the fact that Des Esseintes is attracted to luxury in items he has and the stature he holds. Des Esseintes is enthralled by French literature and writers such as Baudelaire. He has a high taste in music and art. He describes items of value with descriptions that create strong imagery.
” He drank this liquid perfume from cups of that Oriental Porcelin known as egg shell china”
What I appreciate about the character of Des Esseintes is that fact there is always some humour behind what he does and the way he lives in solitude. When he is ill, he seeks out his own remedies such as digesting meat stew and drinking only the liquid. He also elects to embellish in gold and with exotic jewels his tortoise as he felt he was not fancy enough. I especially enjoyed the part where he explained breakfast had made him ill so he asked for boiled eggs, when they came they made him feel even worse, so he gulped them down with some wine.
Huysmans talks several times about furniture and motifs from the Middle East. The book published in 1884 would be around the period of time when goods and ideas were coming into the West.
“He had fitted the boudoir with delicate carved furniture in pale Japanese Camphor wood under a sort of canopy of pink Indian satin”
“Silver from China, Pearly gold from Japan”
I found this book a tricky read, the language was very intellectual and some of the words employed were complex. However I appreciated the imagery that was conjured up whilst I was reading. I feel this book has brought me back to the idea of Commodity Fetishism in a different era. I think this book could be an interesting starting point for some more of my creative work, especially as it is an academic book.
Book: Huysmans J K, A Rebours (1884) Penguin Classics, London