J.-K. Huysmans.

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unquestionable difficulties still arose. If red and yellow are
heightened by light, the same does not always hold true of their
compound, orange, which often seems to ignite and turns to nasturtium,
to a flaming red.

He studied all their nuances by candlelight, discovering a shade
which, it seemed to him, would not lose its dominant tone, but would
stand every test required of it. These preliminaries completed, he
sought to refrain from using, for his study at least, oriental stuffs
and rugs which have become cheapened and ordinary, now that rich
merchants can easily pick them up at auctions and shops.

He finally decided to bind his walls, like books, with coarse-grained
morocco, with Cape skin, polished by strong steel plates under a
powerful press.

When the wainscoting was finished, he had the moulding and high
plinths painted in indigo, a lacquered indigo like that which
coachmakers employ for carriage panels. The ceiling, slightly rounded,
was also lined with morocco. In the center was a wide opening
resembling an immense bull's eye encased in orange skin - a circle of
the firmament worked out on a background of king blue silk on which
were woven silver seraphim with out-stretched wings. This material had
long before been embroidered by the Cologne guild of weavers for an
old cope.

The setting was complete. At night the room subsided into a restful,
soothing harmony. The wainscoting preserved its blue which seemed
sustained and warmed by the orange. And the orange remained pure,
strengthened and fanned as it was by the insistent breath of the

Des Esseintes was not deeply concerned about the furniture itself. The
only luxuries in the room were books and rare flowers. He limited
himself to these things, intending later on to hang a few drawings or
paintings on the panels which remained bare; to place shelves and book
racks of ebony around the walls; to spread the pelts of wild beasts
and the skins of blue fox on the floor; to install, near a massive
fifteenth century counting-table, deep armchairs and an old chapel
reading-desk of forged iron, one of those old lecterns on which the
deacon formerly placed the antiphonary and which now supported one of
the heavy folios of Du Cange's _Glossarium mediae et infimae

The windows whose blue fissured panes, stippled with fragments of
gold-edged bottles, intercepted the view of the country and only
permitted a faint light to enter, were draped with curtains cut from
old stoles of dark and reddish gold neutralized by an almost dead
russet woven in the pattern.

The mantel shelf was sumptuously draped with the remnant of a
Florentine dalmatica. Between two gilded copper monstrances of
Byzantine style, originally brought from the old Abbaye-au-Bois de
Bievre, stood a marvelous church canon divided into three separate
compartments delicately wrought like lace work. It contained, under
its glass frame, three works of Baudelaire copied on real vellum, with
wonderful missal letters and splendid coloring: to the right and left,
the sonnets bearing the titles of _La Mort des Amants_ and _L'Ennemi_;
in the center, the prose poem entitled, _Anywhere Out of the
World - n'importe ou, hors du monde_.

Chapter 3

After selling his effects, Des Esseintes retained the two old
domestics who had tended his mother and filled the offices of steward
and house porter at the Chateau de Lourps, which had remained deserted
and uninhabited until its disposal.

These servants he brought to Fontenay. They were accustomed to the
regular life of hospital attendants hourly serving the patients their
stipulated food and drink, to the rigid silence of cloistral monks who
live behind barred doors and windows, having no communication with the
outside world.

The man was assigned the task of keeping the house in order and of
procuring provisions, the woman that of preparing the food. He
surrendered the second story to them, forced them to wear heavy felt
coverings over their shoes, put sound mufflers along the well-oiled
doors and covered their floor with heavy rugs so that he would never
hear their footsteps overhead.

He devised an elaborate signal code of bells whereby his wants were
made known. He pointed out the exact spot on his bureau where they
were to place the account book each month while he slept. In short,
matters were arranged in such wise that he would not be obliged to see
or to converse with them very often.

Nevertheless, since the woman had occasion to walk past the house so
as to reach the woodshed, he wished to make sure that her shadow, as
she passed his windows, would not offend him. He had designed for her
a costume of Flemish silk with a white bonnet and large, black,
lowered hood, such as is still worn by the nuns of Ghent. The shadow
of this headdress, in the twilight, gave him the sensation of being in
a cloister, brought back memories of silent, holy villages, dead
quarters enclosed and buried in some quiet corner of a bustling town.

The hours of eating were also regulated. His instructions in this
regard were short and explicit, for the weakened state of his stomach
no longer permitted him to absorb heavy or varied foods.

In winter, at five o'clock in the afternoon, when the day was drawing
to a close, he breakfasted on two boiled eggs, toast and tea. At
eleven o'clock he dined. During the night he drank coffee, and
sometimes tea and wine, and at five o'clock in the morning, before
retiring, he supped again lightly.

His meals, which were planned and ordered once for all at the
beginning of each season, were served him on a table in the middle of
a small room separated from his study by a padded corridor,
hermetically sealed so as to permit neither sound nor odor to filter
into either of the two rooms it joined.

With its vaulted ceiling fitted with beams in a half circle, its
bulkheads and floor of pine, and the little window in the wainscoting
that looked like a porthole, the dining room resembled the cabin of a

Like those Japanese boxes which fit into each other, this room was
inserted in a larger apartment - the real dining room constructed by
the architect.

It was pierced by two windows. One of them was invisible, hidden by a
partition which could, however, be lowered by a spring so as to permit
fresh air to circulate around this pinewood box and to penetrate into
it. The other was visible, placed directly opposite the porthole built
in the wainscoting, but it was blocked up. For a long aquarium
occupied the entire space between the porthole and the genuine window
placed in the outer wall. Thus the light, in order to brighten the
room, traversed the window, whose panes had been replaced by a plate
glass, the water, and, lastly, the window of the porthole.

In autumn, at sunset, when the steam rose from the samovar on the
table, the water of the aquarium, wan and glassy all during the
morning, reddened like blazing gleams of embers and lapped restlessly
against the light-colored wood.

Sometimes, when it chanced that Des Esseintes was awake in the
afternoon, he operated the stops of the pipes and conduits which
emptied the aquarium, replacing it with pure water. Into this, he
poured drops of colored liquids that made it green or brackish,
opaline or silvery - tones similar to those of rivers which reflect the
color of the sky, the intensity of the sun, the menace of rain - which
reflect, in a word, the state of the season and atmosphere.

When he did this, he imagined himself on a brig, between decks, and
curiously he contemplated the marvelous, mechanical fish, wound like
clocks, which passed before the porthole or clung to the artificial
sea-weed. While he inhaled the odor of tar, introduced into the room
shortly before his arrival, he examined colored engravings, hung on
the walls, which represented, just as at Lloyd's office and the
steamship agencies, steamers bound for Valparaiso and La Platte, and
looked at framed pictures on which were inscribed the itineraries of
the Royal Mail Steam Packet, the Lopez and the Valery Companies, the
freight and port calls of the Atlantic mail boats.

If he tired of consulting these guides, he could rest his eyes by
gazing at the chronometers and sea compasses, the sextants, field
glasses and cards strewn on a table on which stood a single volume,
bound in sealskin. The book was "The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym",
specially printed for him on laid paper, each sheet carefully
selected, with a sea-gull watermark.

Or, he could look at fishing rods, tan-colored nets, rolls of russet
sail, a tiny, black-painted cork anchor - all thrown in a heap near the
door communicating with the kitchen by a passage furnished with
cappadine silk which reabsorbed, just as in the corridor which
connected the dining room with his study, every odor and sound.

Thus, without stirring, he enjoyed the rapid motions of a long sea
voyage. The pleasure of travel, which only exists as a matter of fact
in retrospect and seldom in the present, at the instant when it is
being experienced, he could fully relish at his ease, without the
necessity of fatigue or confusion, here in this cabin whose studied
disorder, whose transitory appearance and whose seemingly temporary
furnishings corresponded so well with the briefness of the time he
spent there on his meals, and contrasted so perfectly with his study,
a well-arranged, well-furnished room where everything betokened a
retired, orderly existence.

Movement, after all, seemed futile to him. He felt that imagination
could easily be substituted for the vulgar realities of things. It was
possible, in his opinion, to gratify the most extravagant, absurd
desires by a subtle subterfuge, by a slight modification of the object
of one's wishes. Every epicure nowadays enjoys, in restaurants
celebrated for the excellence of their cellars, wines of capital taste
manufactured from inferior brands treated by Pasteur's method. For
they have the same aroma, the same color, the same bouquet as the rare
wines of which they are an imitation, and consequently the pleasure
experienced in sipping them is identical. The originals, moreover, are
usually unprocurable, for love or money.

Transposing this insidious deviation, this adroit deceit into the
realm of the intellect, there was not the shadow of a doubt that
fanciful delights resembling the true in every detail, could be
enjoyed. One could revel, for instance, in long explorations while
near one's own fireside, stimulating the restive or sluggish mind, if
need be, by reading some suggestive narrative of travel in distant
lands. One could enjoy the beneficent results of a sea bath, too, even
in Paris. All that is necessary is to visit the Vigier baths situated
in a boat on the Seine, far from the shore.

There, the illusion of the sea is undeniable, imperious, positive. It
is achieved by salting the water of the bath; by mixing, according to
the Codex formula, sulphate of soda, hydrochlorate of magnesia and
lime; by extracting from a box, carefully closed by means of a screw,
a ball of thread or a very small piece of cable which had been
specially procured from one of those great rope-making establishments
whose vast warehouses and basements are heavy with odors of the sea
and the port; by inhaling these perfumes held by the ball or the cable
end; by consulting an exact photograph of the casino; by eagerly
reading the Joanne guide describing the beauties of the seashore where
one would wish to be; by being rocked on the waves, made by the eddy
of fly boats lapping against the pontoon of baths; by listening to the
plaint of the wind under the arches, or to the hollow murmur of the
omnibuses passing above on the Port Royal, two steps away.

The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply
enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the
dream reality for the reality itself.

Artifice, besides, seemed to Des Esseintes the final distinctive mark
of man's genius.

Nature had had her day, as he put it. By the disgusting sameness of
her landscapes and skies, she had once for all wearied the considerate
patience of aesthetes. Really, what dullness! the dullness of the
specialist confined to his narrow work. What manners! the manners of
the tradesman offering one particular ware to the exclusion of all
others. What a monotonous storehouse of fields and trees! What a banal
agency of mountains and seas!

There is not one of her inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing
it may be, which human genius cannot create; no Fontainebleau forest,
no moonlight which a scenic setting flooded with electricity cannot
produce; no waterfall which hydraulics cannot imitate to perfection;
no rock which pasteboard cannot be made to resemble; no flower which
taffetas and delicately painted papers cannot simulate.

There can be no doubt about it: this eternal, driveling, old woman is
no longer admired by true artists, and the moment has come to replace
her by artifice.

Closely observe that work of hers which is considered the most
exquisite, that creation of hers whose beauty is everywhere conceded
the most perfect and original - woman. Has not man made, for his own
use, an animated and artificial being which easily equals woman, from
the point of view of plastic beauty? Is there a woman, whose form is
more dazzling, more splendid than the two locomotives that pass over
the Northern Railroad lines?

One, the Crampton, is an adorable, shrill-voiced blonde, a trim,
gilded blonde, with a large, fragile body imprisoned in a glittering
corset of copper, and having the long, sinewy lines of a cat. Her
extraordinary grace is frightening, as, with the sweat of her hot
sides rising upwards and her steel muscles stiffening, she puts in
motion the immense rose-window of her fine wheels and darts forward,
mettlesome, along rapids and floods.

The other, the Engerth, is a nobly proportioned dusky brunette
emitting raucous, muffled cries. Her heavy loins are strangled in a
cast-iron breast-plate. A monstrous beast with a disheveled mane of
black smoke and with six low, coupled wheels! What irresistible power
she has when, causing the earth to tremble, she slowly and heavily
drags the unwieldy queue of her merchandise!

Unquestionably, there is not one among the frail blondes and majestic
brunettes of the flesh that can vie with their delicate grace and
terrific strength.

Such were Des Esseintes' reflections when the breeze brought him the
faint whistle of the toy railroad winding playfully, like a spinning
top, between Paris and Sceaux. His house was situated at a twenty
minutes' walk from the Fontenay station, but the height on which it
was perched, its isolation, made it immune to the clatter of the noisy
rabble which the vicinity of a railway station invariably attracts on
a Sunday.

As for the village itself, he hardly knew it. One night he had gazed
through his window at the silent landscape which slowly unfolded, as
it dipped to the foot of a slope, on whose summit the batteries of the
Verrieres woods were trained.

In the darkness, to left and right, these masses, dim and confused,
rose tier on tier, dominated far off by other batteries and forts
whose high embankments seemed, in the moonlight, bathed in silver
against the sombre sky.

Where the plain did not fall under the shadow of the hills, it seemed
powdered with starch and smeared with white cold cream. In the warm
air that fanned the faded grasses and exhaled a spicy perfume, the
trees, chalky white under the moon, shook their pale leaves, and
seemed to divide their trunks, whose shadows formed bars of black on
the plaster-like ground where pebbles scintillated like glittering

Because of its enameled look and its artificial air, the landscape did
not displease Des Esseintes. But since that afternoon spent at
Fontenay in search of a house, he had never ventured along its roads
in daylight. The verdure of this region inspired him with no interest
whatever, for it did not have the delicate and doleful charm of the
sickly and pathetic vegetation which forces its way painfully through
the rubbish heaps of the mounds which had once served as the ramparts
of Paris. That day, in the village, he had perceived corpulent,
bewhiskered _bourgeois_ citizens and moustached uniformed men with
heads of magistrates and soldiers, which they held as stiffly as
monstrances in churches. And ever since that encounter, his
detestation of the human face had been augmented.

During the last month of his stay in Paris, when he was weary of
everything, afflicted with hypochondria, the prey of melancholia, when
his nerves had become so sensitive that the sight of an unpleasant
object or person impressed itself deeply on his brain - so deeply that
several days were required before the impression could be effaced - the
touch of a human body brushing against him in the street had been an
excruciating agony.

The very sight of certain faces made him suffer. He considered the
crabbed expressions of some, insulting. He felt a desire to slap the
fellow who walked, eyes closed, with such a learned air; the one who
minced along, smiling at his image in the window panes; and the one
who seemed stimulated by a whole world of thought while devouring,
with contracted brow, the tedious contents of a newspaper.

Such an inveterate stupidity, such a scorn for literature and art,
such a hatred for all the ideas he worshipped, were implanted and
anchored in these merchant minds, exclusively preoccupied with the
business of swindling and money-making, and accessible only to ideas
of politics - that base distraction of mediocrities - that he returned
enraged to his home and locked himself in with his books.

He hated the new generation with all the energy in him. They were
frightful clodhoppers who seemed to find it necessary to talk and
laugh boisterously in restaurants and cafes. They jostled you on
sidewalks without begging pardon. They pushed the wheels of their
perambulators against your legs, without even apologizing.

Chapter 4

A portion of the shelves which lined the walls of his orange and blue
study was devoted exclusively to those Latin works assigned to the
generic period of "The Decadence" by those whose minds have absorbed
the deplorable teachings of the Sorbonne.

The Latin written in that era which professors still persist in
calling the Great Age, hardly stimulated Des Esseintes. With its
carefully premeditated style, its sameness, its stripping of supple
syntax, its poverty of color and nuance, this language, pruned of all
the rugged and often rich expressions of the preceding ages, was
confined to the enunciation of the majestic banalities, the empty
commonplaces tiresomely reiterated by the rhetoricians and poets; but
it betrayed such a lack of curiosity and such a humdrum tediousness,
such a drabness, feebleness and jaded solemnity that to find its
equal, it was necessary, in linguistic studies, to go to the French
style of the period of Louis XIV.

The gentle Vergil, whom instructors call the Mantuan swan, perhaps
because he was not born in that city, he considered one of the most
terrible pedants ever produced by antiquity. Des Esseintes was
exasperated by his immaculate and bedizened shepherds, his Orpheus
whom he compares to a weeping nightingale, his Aristaeus who simpers
about bees, his Aeneas, that weak-willed, irresolute person who walks
with wooden gestures through the length of the poem. Des Esseintes
would gladly have accepted the tedious nonsense which those
marionettes exchange with each other off-stage; or even the poet's
impudent borrowings from Homer, Theocritus, Ennius and Lucretius; the
plain theft, revealed to us by Macrobius, of the second song of the
_Aeneid_, copied almost word for word from one of Pisander's poems; in
fine, all the unutterable emptiness of this heap of verses. The thing
he could not forgive, however, and which infuriated him most, was the
workmanship of the hexameters, beating like empty tin cans and
extending their syllabic quantities measured according to the
unchanging rule of a pedantic and dull prosody. He disliked the
texture of those stiff verses, in their official garb, their abject
reverence for grammar, their mechanical division by imperturbable
caesuras, always plugged at the end in the same way by the impact of a
dactyl against a spondee.

Borrowed from the perfected forge of Catullus, this unvarying
versification, lacking imagination, lacking pity, padded with useless
words and refuse, with pegs of identical and anticipated assonances,
this ceaseless wretchedness of Homeric epithet which designates
nothing whatever and permits nothing to be seen, all this impoverished
vocabulary of muffled, lifeless tones bored him beyond measure.

It is no more than just to add that, if his admiration for Vergil was
quite restrained, and his attraction for Ovid's lucid outpourings even
more circumspect, there was no limit to his disgust at the elephantine
graces of Horace, at the prattle of this hopeless lout who smirkingly
utters the broad, crude jests of an old clown.

Neither was he pleased, in prose, with the verbosities, the redundant
metaphors, the ludicrous digressions of Cicero. There was nothing to
beguile him in the boasting of his apostrophes, in the flow of his
patriotic nonsense, in the emphasis of his harangues, in the
ponderousness of his style, fleshy but ropy and lacking in marrow and
bone, in the insupportable dross of his long adverbs with which he
introduces phrases, in the unalterable formula of his adipose periods
badly sewed together with the thread of conjunctions and, finally, in
his wearisome habits of tautology. Nor was his enthusiasm wakened for
Caesar, celebrated for his laconic style. Here, on the contrary, was
disclosed a surprising aridity, a sterility of recollection, an
incredibly undue constipation.

He found pasture neither among them nor among those writers who are
peculiarly the delight of the spuriously literate: Sallust, who is
less colorless than the others; sentimental and pompous Titus Livius;
turgid and lurid Seneca; watery and larval Suetonius; Tacitus who, in
his studied conciseness, is the keenest, most wiry and muscular of
them all. In poetry, he was untouched by Juvenal, despite some
roughshod verses, and by Persius, despite his mysterious insinuations.
In neglecting Tibullus and Propertius, Quintilian and the Plinies,
Statius, Martial, even Terence and Plautus whose jargon full of
neologisms, compound words and diminutives, could please him, but
whose low comedy and gross humor he loathed, Des Esseintes only began
to be interested in the Latin language with Lucan. Here it was
liberated, already more expressive and less dull. This careful armor,
these verses plated with enamel and studded with jewels, captivated
him, but the exclusive preoccupation with form, the sonorities of
tone, the clangor of metals, did not entirely conceal from him the
emptiness of the thought, the turgidity of those blisters which emboss
the skin of the _Pharsale_.

Petronius was the author whom he truly loved and who caused him
forever to abandon the sonorous ingenuities of Lucan, for he was a
keen observer, a delicate analyst, a marvelous painter. Tranquilly,
without prejudice or hate, he described Rome's daily life, recounting
the customs of his epoch in the sprightly little chapters of the

Observing the facts of life, stating them in clear, definite form, he
revealed the petty existence of the people, their happenings, their
bestialities, their passions.

One glimpses the inspector of furnished lodgings who has inquired
after the newly arrived travellers; bawdy houses where men prowl
around nude women, while through the half-open doors of the rooms
couples can be seen in dalliance; the society of the time, in villas
of an insolent luxury, a revel of richness and magnificence, or in the
poor quarters with their rumpled, bug-ridden folding-beds; impure
sharpers, like Ascylte and Eumolpe in search of a rich windfall; old
incubi with tucked-up dresses and plastered cheeks of white lead and
red acacia; plump, curled, depraved little girls of sixteen; women who
are the prey of hysterical attacks; hunters of heritages offering
their sons and daughters to debauched testators. All pass across the
pages. They debate in the streets, rub elbows in the baths, beat each
other unmercifully as in a pantomime.

And all this recounted in a style of strange freshness and precise
color, drawing from all dialects, borrowing expressions from all the

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