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Joris-Karl Huysmans

Joris-Karl Huysmans Joris-Karl Huysmans[2†]

Joris-Karl Huysmans, born Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans on February 5, 1848, in Paris, was a notable French novelist and art critic. Known for his distinctive language and detailed descriptions, he worked at the Ministry of the Interior while writing his novels. His major works, including "À rebours" (Against the Grain), shifted from Naturalism to the decadent movement and later explored Catholicism. His trilogy "Là-bas" (Down There), "En route" (On the Way), and "La cathédrale" (The Cathedral) reflect his spiritual journey. Huysmans died on May 12, 1907, leaving a lasting impact on French literature[1†][2†][3†][4†].

Early Years and Education

Joris-Karl Huysmans was born in Paris, France, on February 5, 1848[1†][2†]. His father, Godfried Huysmans, was Dutch and worked as a lithographer[1†][2†][3†]. His mother, Malvina Badin Huysmans, had been a schoolmistress[1†][2†][3†]. Tragically, Huysmans’s father passed away when he was just eight years old[1†][2†].

After his father’s death, his mother quickly remarried[1†][2†]. Huysmans resented his stepfather, Jules Og, a Protestant who was part-owner of a Parisian book-bindery[1†][2†]. This period of his life was marked by significant upheaval and change, which may have influenced his later work[1†][2†].

Despite the challenges he faced during his early years, Huysmans completed his coursework and earned a baccalauréat[1†][2†]. The details of his early education are not well-documented, but it is clear that he was well-educated, as evidenced by his extensive vocabulary, detailed descriptions, satirical wit, and far-ranging erudition[1†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Joris-Karl Huysmans began his career in the French Ministry of the Interior at the age of 20[1†][2†]. He held this civil service position for 32 years[1†][2†], during which he wrote many of his novels using official time[1†][2†].

Huysmans’s early work was influenced by contemporary naturalist novelists[1†]. His first novel, “Marthe, histoire d’une fille” (1876; Marthe: The Story of a Whore), was about his liaison with a soubrette[1†]. He also wrote a novella, “Sac au dos” (1880; “Pack on Back”), based on his experience in the Franco-German War[1†]. This novella was published in “Les Soirées de Médan” (1881), a collection of war stories written by members of Émile Zola’s “Médan” group of naturalist writers[1†].

However, Huysmans soon broke with the naturalist group[1†]. He published a series of novels that were too decadent in content and violent in style to be considered examples of naturalism[1†]. The first of these was “À vau-l’eau” (1882; “Down Stream”), a tragicomic account of the misfortunes, largely sexual, of a humble civil servant, Folantin[1†].

His best-known novel, “À rebours” (1884; “Against the Grain” or “Against Nature”), relates the experiments in aesthetic decadence undertaken by the bored survivor of a noble line[1†][2†]. This novel marked Huysmans’s association with the decadent movement[1†][2†].

In the ambitious and controversial “Là-bas” (1891; “Down There”), Huysmans tells of the occultist revival that occurred in France in the 1880s[1†]. The book, which interweaves a tale of 19th-century Satanists with a life of the medieval Satanist Gilles de Rais, introduced Durtal, a clearly autobiographical protagonist[1†]. Durtal reappeared in Huysmans’s last three novels: “En route” (1895; On the Way), “La Cathédrale” (1898; “The Cathedral”), and “L’Oblat” (1903; “The Oblate”)[1†][2†].

“En route” is an account of Huysmans-Durtal’s religious retreat in the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame d’Igny and his return to Roman Catholicism[1†]. “La Cathédrale”, set at Chartres with its cathedral as the focus of the book, is essentially a study of Christian architecture[1†][2†]. “L’Oblat” is set in the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé, near Poitiers, where Huysmans lived as an oblate (lay monk) from 1899 to 1901[1†][2†].

Huysmans’s work is considered remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, extensive vocabulary, detailed descriptions, satirical wit, and far-ranging erudition[1†][2†][3†]. His deep pessimism, which led him to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, is also evident in his work[2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Joris-Karl Huysmans’s literary career was marked by a series of works that had a significant impact on the literary world. His first publication was “Le Drageoir àépices” (1874), a collection of Baudelairian prose poems[5†]. He then wrote a series of naturalistic novels focusing on the sordidness and futility of everyday life[5†]. These included:

Huysmans then broke away from the naturalist movement and published a series of novels that were too decadent in content and violent in style to be considered examples of naturalism[5†][1†]. These included:

Each of these works represents a significant milestone in Huysmans’s literary career, reflecting his evolving style and themes[1†][5†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Joris-Karl Huysmans’s work is considered remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, large vocabulary, descriptions, satirical wit, and far-ranging erudition[2†]. Initially, he was considered part of the Naturalism movement, but he became associated with the decadent movement with his publication of “À rebours” (Against the Grain or Against Nature)[2†]. This novel relates the experiments in aesthetic decadence undertaken by the bored survivor of a noble line[2†][1†][2†].

His work expressed his deep pessimism, which had led him to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer[2†]. In his later years, his novels reflected his study of Catholicism, religious conversion, and becoming an oblate[2†]. He discussed the iconography of Christian architecture at length in “La cathédrale” (The Cathedral), set at Chartres and with its cathedral as the focus of the book[2†].

Huysmans’s novels “Là-bas” (Down There), “En route” (On the Way), and “La cathédrale” (The Cathedral) are a trilogy that feature Durtal, a character on a spiritual journey who eventually converts to Catholicism[2†]. In the novel that follows, “L’Oblat” (The Oblate), Durtal becomes an oblate in a monastery, as Huysmans himself was in the Benedictine Abbey at Ligugé, near Poitiers, in 1901[2†][7†][8†].

“La cathédrale” was his most commercially successful work. Its profits enabled Huysmans to retire from his civil service job and live on his royalties[2†].

Personal Life

Joris-Karl Huysmans, born as Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans, was the only son of a French mother and a Dutch father[1†][2†]. His father, Godfried Huysmans, was a lithographer by trade, and his mother, Malvina Badin Huysmans, had been a schoolmistress[1†][2†]. His father passed away when he was eight years old[1†][2†]. After his mother quickly remarried, Huysmans resented his stepfather, Jules Og, a Protestant who was part-owner of a Parisian book-bindery[1†][2†].

During his childhood, Huysmans turned away from the Roman Catholic Church[1†][2†]. He was unhappy at school but completed his coursework and earned a baccalauréat[1†][2†]. Despite these early challenges, Huysmans managed to carve out a successful career for himself in the French Ministry of the Interior[1†][2†].

Huysmans never married or had children[1†][2†]. He supported himself through a 30-year career in the French civil service[1†][2†]. In his later years, Huysmans lived as an oblate in the Benedictine Abbey at Ligugé, near Poitiers, from 1899 to 1901[2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Joris-Karl Huysmans, born as Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans, left an indelible mark on the literary world[1†][2†]. His major novels epitomize successive phases of the aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual life of late 19th-century France[1†][2†]. His work is considered remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, large vocabulary, descriptions, satirical wit, and far-ranging erudition[1†][2†].

Huysmans’s literary journey was inseparable from his personal conversion to Catholicism[1†][9†]. His novels, especially the later ones, have been primarily regarded as source material for the biographer[1†][9†]. His work expressed his deep pessimism, which had led him to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer[1†][2†]. In later years, his novels reflected his study of Catholicism, religious conversion, and becoming an oblate[1†][2†].

His most commercially successful work was “La cathédrale” (1898), set at Chartres and with its cathedral as the focus of the book[1†][2†]. The profits from “La cathédrale” enabled Huysmans to retire from his civil service job and live on his royalties[1†][2†].

Also a perceptive art critic, Huysmans helped win public recognition of the Impressionist painters[1†]. He exemplified his hard-won belief in the value of suffering in his courageous bearing during the months of pain that preceded his death from cancer[1†].

Huysmans passed away on May 12, 1907, in Paris[1†][2†]. His legacy continues to influence the literary world, and his novels remain a significant part of the aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual life of late 19th-century France[1†][2†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Joris-Karl Huysmans: French author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Joris-Karl Huysmans [website] - link
  3. New World Encyclopedia - Joris-Karl Huysmans [website] - link
  4. IMDb - Joris-Karl Huysmans [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Joris Karl Huysmans [website] - link
  6. Wikisource (English) - Joris-Karl Huysmans [website] - link
  7. Cambridge University Press - The Cambridge Introduction to French Literature - Chapter: Huysmans: against nature (Chapter 19) [website] - link
  8. Paris Update - Review of "Huysmans, Critique d’Art," Musée d’Orsay [website] - link
  9. Springer Link - The Struggle for the Soul of the French Novel - Chapter: Huysmans and the Art of Conversion [website] - link
  10. Goodreads - Author: Joris-Karl Huysmans (Author of Against Nature) [website] - link
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