Against the Grain


First published in 1884, À rebours (Against the grain) by the French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848−1907) reflects the author’s departure from the romanticism of Émile Zola and his adoption of a new Symbolist aestheticism. In the absence of a plot, the narrative focuses on the main character, Jean des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive aesthete and antihero who rejects modernity and cultivates a taste for decadence. After leading an eventful and exuberant life, des Esseintes becomes weary of society and retreats to a suburban home in Fontenay-aux-Roses, where he collects what he believes are the most precious works of art and the rarest objects and indulges in study and idleness. He creates intricate perfumes and plants a garden of venomous flowers. The story of a turtle that dies under the weight of the gemstones that des Esseintes has encrusted in its shell serves as a metaphor for the destiny of the book’s main character. Try as he may, des Esseintes is unable to escape from his weariness of the world and decides to return to Paris. The fin-de-siècle aestheticism created by Huysmans was largely influenced by the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stéphane Mallarmé and the paintings of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon. À rebours became the manifesto of the spirit of decadence with which a whole generation of French artists and intellectuals identified. The edition presented here is one of only 130 copies and includes 220 colored wood-block etchings by the renowned French painter, etcher, and illustrator Auguste Lepère (1849−1918).

Last updated: July 8, 2015