Against Nature: A Rebours, Paperback
3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


'It will be the biggest fiasco of the year - but I don't care a damn!

It will be something nobody has ever done before, and I shall have said what I had to say.' As Joris -Karl Huysmans announced in 1884, Against Nature was fated to be a novel like no other.

Resisting the models of classic nineteenth-century fiction, it focuses on the attempts of its anti-hero, the hypersensitive neurotic and aesthete, Des Esseintes, to escape Paris and the vulgarity of modern life.

Holed up in his private museum of high taste, he offers Huysmans's readers a treasure trove of cultural delights which anticipates many of the strains of modernism in its appreciation of Baudelaire, Moreau, Redon, Mallarme and Poe. This new translation is supplemented by indispensable notes which enhance the understanding of a highly allusive work.

ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780199555116



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Review by
Against Nature (A rebours in the French original, also sometimes translated as Against the Grain) concerns itself with a degenerate French aristocrat, Jean des Esseintes, the last of his line, who has sunk so deep into the mire of degradation and decadence that he is bored and disgusted with his life, to the extent that he sells the family chateau in order to create a stream of income and retreats to the suburbs, renouncing the debased life he has lived and all acquaintances, becoming in almost every way a luxuriating hermit, nevertheless taking care to employ servants who can shield him as inconspicuously as possible from the quotidian necessities of living. Des Esseintes' debauchery has left him debilitated and has turned him into a narcissistic and neurotic, if highly intelligent, hypochondriac who seems to enjoy ill health. Where his physical ailments end and his neuroses begin is unclear. He decorates his house according to his own unique aesthetic and surrounds himself with books and art which reflect that artistic sense which is revealed as the book progresses.A rebours is "against nature" in the sense that des Esseintes has concluded that man has outdone nature at her own game, so he contrives to surround himself with artifice. It is also "against the grain" in the sense that almost everything des Esseintes does and nearly all the opinions he expresses are the antithesis of popular taste. The very form the book takes is in counterpoint to the Naturalism that dominated contemporary French literature. At the time the book was published in 1884, it created a tremendous stir among the "Naturalists," Émile Zola in particular, as they believed Huysmans had struck the death knell of that brand of realism. However, A rebours is a one-of-a kind work, one upon which a school of literature could not realistically be fashioned. While it is a breathtaking read, one cannot seriously imagine wanting to read another like it. It is challenge enough to get through the original, not because it isn't entertaining, but the level of erudition, the vast vocabulary, the plethora of obscure literary references going back to Classical Latin, the catalogues of paintings, the lists of flora, of perfumes, of gemstones, not to mention the never-ending description, all go on and on leaving the reader gasping for a breath of fresh air. Consequently, it is not an easy book to read in either English or the French original. Copious notes and a good introduction are the order of the day. Thankfully, the Oxford World Classics edition provides both.Despite its being one of a kind, A rebours heralds the birth of the modern and post-modern novel. It is without a plot and treats of but one character, but the reader has the sense that a story is being told, although the story merely follows the timeline of des Esseintes' life. Some chapters cause one to ask: "Is this a novel or a scholarly treatise?" Others have an episodic quality. Regardless, the novel elevates description to new heights, as it is devoid of dialogue.As a literary artifact of the late nineteenth century, A rebours is tremendously interesting. There is much to be learned here, and readers interested in the history and development of literary types will probably find it fascinating. However, I do not think it will appeal to everyone. Just the same, I am very glad I read it.
Review by

This "novel" is actually a series of prose poems describing in minute detail the life of the mind of a fin-de-siecle decadent as viewed through the prism of his opinions about such matters as Latin literature and precious stones. As such, it hearkens back to the great decadent poets of the France of a generation earlier, and, to a lesser degree, the futurists who emerged a decade or so later. It is very difficult and unrewarding reading, despite the occasional impressive use of imagery, and few will care to plow through a book which requires four or five trips to the dictionary to complete reading one page.

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