Des Esseintes' Infatuation with Artifice in Huysmans' Against Nature

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Des Esseintes' Infatuation with Artifice in Huysmans' Against Nature

In J.-K Huysmans Against Nature, Des Esseintes rebels against his family, religion, and Parisian society to establish an identity unique to himself. He perceives this rejection of the truistic self as the development of individuality when, in actuality, it is only a self deriving from his reaction to the overstimulated public. By decorating his abode with eccentric objects, he falsely believes that he can detach himself from the common populace. When he finds new objects to focus upon, he is able to depose his emotions and instill them within the object. Des Esseintes wants to be a rare individual; through his bizarre purchasing and decorum he thinks he is his own self. As Des Esseintes becomes more and more neurotic, the objects start to drain life out of him and begin to take on a life of their own. Through this exchange of energy, Esseintes hopes to obtain distinct persona that is independent from mass society’s. His perversion and manipulation of natural objects reflect his need to create a fantasy world, an unrealistic world where he can escape from the harsh realities of his childhood and will be “unspoilt by rampaging Parisians”1. This retreat can only last so long before Des Esseintes realizes that he cannot survive without being a part of society; he returns to Parisian life as a way of fleeing his past as well as avoiding his own apparent afflictions that will melt away when he conforms to society’s standards.

In response to living a desensitized Parisian lifestyle and a monotonous upbringing, Des Esseintes creates ideal settings that stimulate his “overfatigued senses”2. Des Esseintes is born into a family which had been inbred. This ...

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...ermarry, his interaction with Parisians, and because of his religious background. The city provides him with an atmosphere of comfort because he doesn’t have to make his own decisions, the mass public does that for him. In the city he has the comfort of direction. Therefore, he looks to the public and Parisian society to help define and construct one simple mass identity.


1. Huysmans, J.-K., Against Nature, trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Penguin Books, 1959). 24.

2. Huysmans, 23.

3. Huysmans, 17.

4. Huysmans, 24

5. Huysmans, 18.

6. Huysmans, 26.

7. Ibid.

8. Huysmans, 21.

9. Huysmans, 23; 27.

10. Huysmans, 31.

11. Huysmans, 39.

12. Huysmans, 38; 36.

13. Huysmans, 32.

14. Huysmans, 37.

15. Huysmans, 27.

16. Huysmans, 63.

17. Huysmans, 66.

18. Huysmans, 67.

19. Ibid.

20. Huysmans, 68.

21. Huysmans, 30.
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