This is a very decadent book. If you don't like decadence then please leave well alone.
There are two translations of this work available on the web. The Howard translation (available via PG and elsewhere) is readable but incomplete; an anonymous 1928 translation is complete but stilted.
I have compromised and used the Howard translation but pasted in the censored sections from the anonymous translation. (I've added a note at the back of the book describing what I've done.)
It seems that Huysmans (who later converted to Catholicism) and Howard cut the whole of Chapter 6 and several paragraphs of Chapter 9. I believe that they were wrong to do so. Chapter 6 has the central character (the decadent duc des Esseintes) recolllecting an episode where he launched a young man on a life of vice. He then starts to read a scholastic book on the virtues of chastity. As far as I can see, this only serves to make decadence rather unpleasantly self-centred. The censored (now restored) passage in Chapter 9 briefly describes a gay liaison.
I have added some pictures, a TOC, corrected some typos and done a lot of formatting.
Nothing really happens. This is a novel of description. The duc des Esseintes - effete and decadent - buys a house near Paris and decorates it in a decadent way. He describes and catalogues his books and paintings. He experiments with perfumery. He plans a trip to England. He recollects past sexual adventures. He falls ill with digestive problems and, too decadent to eat in the same manner as normal people, takes nourishment via ememas. Not surprisingly, his physician diagnoses the duc as neurotic and sends him back to Paris to lead a normal life.
This novel was a great influence on Oscar Wilde. It is the yellow novel described in 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. Wilde was said to have been carrying a copy when he was arrested.
Huysman's earlier novels were in the style of the Medan school - mostly dreary naturalism, less well-written than the Goncourts. This marks his break with naturalism and a growing fascination with Symbolism.
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