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Against Nature (À Rebours)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  11,000 ratings  ·  795 reviews
With a title translated either as Against Nature or as Against The Grain, this wildly original fin-de-siècle novel follows its sole character, Des Esseintes, a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa where he indulges his taste for luxury and excess. Veering between nervous excitability and debilitating ennui, he gluts his aesthetic appetites with cla ...more
Paperback, Penguin Classics, 242 pages
Published May 1st 2003 by Penguin (first published 1884)
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Bill Kerwin

Did I really read this book forty years ago? Or did I just read the passages about the "perfume organ" and the jewel encrusted turtle and later assumed I had read the rest? If I did read it, I was completely wrong in my evaluation of this as a static, effete precursor to Dorian Gray, a work marooned in the vanished aesthetic of the late nineteenth century. No, no. "Against the Grain" is much, much richer than that.

For starters, it is an accomplished work of realism that turns realism on its head
Glenn Russell
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidity.”
― Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain

Against the Grain (alternately translated as Against Nature) is a slim novel (110 pages) where French author Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) employs a torrent of baroque descriptions and unending streams of rococo linguistic curlicues to write about a bored, jaded aristocrat by the name of Des Esseinte
J.G. Keely
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
The hipsters are right: society is trying to destroy you--not your body, or your mind, but you, the part which makes an individual. That's what society is: the aspect of human life that is not the self, but is communal, the part that causes humanity to behave like a colony of ants.

As brilliant Nietzsche scholar Rick Roderick pointed out, advertisement is the opposite of psychotherapy. The idea of therapy is to take things that are hidden within your brain--biases, prejudices, hangups, fears, hab
Steven Godin
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
After feasting on an excessive orgy of oysters, smoked salmon, quail eggs, marinated lobster, rare partridge breast, honey glazed pig trotters and spiced wine, I followed with a desert consisting of apple strudel with clotted cream and sticky chocolate pudding in a warm orange sauce, I took to the sofa in front of the open log fire while stretching my feet out on the Persian rug, keeping my fine Turkish cigarettes and bottle of plum brandy close at hand I finished reading 'À rebours'
(Against Nat
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Manny by: Sabrina Crews
It must have been so exciting to be a novelist in the second half of the nineteenth century. You weren't limited to just creating a novel; if you were talented, you could create a whole new kind of novel. Here, Huysmans has written the first example known to me of the novel where nothing happens. Frail, sickly des Esseintes has dissipated a good part of his inheritance on various kinds of vice (there is a memorable passage early on about the mirrors in his bedroom). Now he's tired of it. He reso ...more
If Proust composed his In Search of Lost Time without having read this book, I'll eat my hat. Of course, the similarities may have been unavoidable when considering that both authors concern themselves with the period of haute couture and Faubourg Saint-Germain culture, and even chose the same aristocrat to model their own wildly eccentric characters on, the Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac inspiring both Huysmans' Des Esseintes and Proust's Charlus. And it could have been sheer coincidence that Hu ...more
"The world is too much with us; late and soon," Wordsworth wrote in 1802, "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Joris-Karl Huysmans' fin de siècle novel, Against Nature (À Rebours), tells the story of an aristocratic dandy who finds the realities (more specifically, the vulgarities) of everyday life so insufferable that he decides to lock himself away in a house at Fontenay-aux-Roses, "far from the incessant deluge of human folly," to live a solitary life through books, paintings, art ...more
Vit Babenco
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don’t know intentionally or not but Against Nature is an absolute opposite of Walden by Henry David Thoreau and it is a complete denial of nature.
“Nature, he used to say, has had her day; she has finally and utterly exhausted the patience of sensitive observers by the revolting uniformity of her landscapes and skyscapes. After all, what platitudinous limitations she imposes, like a tradesman specializing in a single line of business; what petty-minded restrictions, like a shopkeeper stocking o
Apr 01, 2021 rated it liked it
I read this short, claustrophobic novel in the hot 'n steamy summer of 1968.- You may remember that summer. Riots were erupting in the US as Richard Nixon seemed headed for certain victory in the election for the term that ended with the Watergate burglary.

So, with his ironclad security as Prez, quite soon we "wouldn't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore!" Instead he would kick first. Until the debacle that brought him down.

But that summer day was a day for trying to get some much needed Rand
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Decadent Rants and Harangues

This 1884 novel is a wonderful assemblage of prescient and decadent rants.

Something Huysmans says of another book of rants could apply equally to his own work:

"Conceived as harangues, they contained a certain strong muscular energy and were astonishing in the intolerance of their convictions."

Scoundrels and Imbeciles

Jean Des Esseintes (I'll call him Des E for short) fills his life with literature, art, music, furniture, jewelry, flowers, perfumes, food and liquor.

Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, fiction, decadence
An ornate, sickly, claustropobic book, full of fascinating discussions about art and literature, and studded with items of outré vocabulary (I still haven’t worked out what mœchialogie means). It is a novel for people who like talking about novels – the plot itself is slim and of little importance. I’ll summarise it quickly: des Esseintes, a rich, effete aristocrat, retires from a life of excess and debauchery to live in his retreat at Fontenay outside Paris, where he shuts himself off from the ...more
Jun 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The ideal novel for people who hate novels. And other people.
Jan 28, 2016 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fionnuala by: Michel Houellebecq, Marcel Proust
April 7th, 2016
I finished this book more than two months ago and it’s been lying unreviewed since, partly because I hadn’t time to review it and partly because I didn’t know how to review it. I could have just written a short account of how much I enjoyed reading the book, especially the art and literature sections, but I always like to find a unique angle on the books I review, I like to find something to say, or at least a way to say it, that may not have been thought of before, impossible as
MJ Nicholls
Some top reviews on here already, let me point you towards Manny, Lee, and Nate for excerpts and analysis. I feel no need to review this one, so I shan’t trouble you for likes (Mike—I mean it!) In short, I loved the ornate, glissading descriptions of art, music, perfume, theological texts, peptone enemas, and the fabulous namedropping of French writers such as the Goncourt Brothers, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Charles Cros, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Ernest Hello, Léon Bloy, Barbey d’Aurevilly, and Franço ...more
Nate D
Des Essientes, a debauched noble at the end of his line, in rebellion against the modern world, humanity, and nature itself (the title is variably translated as "Aganist the Grain" or "Against Nature"), sells the family manor and retreats to a country house in order to languish in exquisite hypochondria and nervous affectation. What strength is left to him he expends obsessing over art, literature, design, and even gardening, in dissertations on artificiality and garish morbid splendor that comp ...more
Jun 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: actual-trash
It’s almost short enough to be called a novella but I read Godel, Escher, Bach (~12x this size) a few weeks ago in about half the time it took me to finish this. When I finished, I wanted to faceplant into straight bleach with my eyes open.

I don’t know what prompted me to pick this book up, but it was a mistake. Just a terrible, terrible mistake. If I were a person who ever DNF’d stuff, this would be a prime candidate. However, DNFing gives me such deep lingering doubts and guilt that I end up
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dense drug trip. This celebrated work (1884) offers sensual and philosophic ruminations. There's no story. Each chapter has a theme: art, religion, literature, society, etc. Huysmans lauds painters
Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon; writers Baudelaire, Mallarme, Poe. On a Symbolist "high," the reclusive hero seeks "new perfumes, ampler blossoms, untried pleasures." He arranges obscure words like exotic flowers as he speaks of a mistress "who loved to have her nipples macerated in scents."

Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
One doesn't read A Rebours, one lives in it, like a ghost that is compelled to haunt a place even though it would rather leave behind the place in which it was murdered. Once the book is finally closed, one deals with the hangover caused by existentialist self-loathing for every luxury one has ever allowed oneself. ...more
Eddie Watkins
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french-fiction
If the hero of this novel had a more anglo-friendly name, it would be the byword for hyper-neurotic aesthete dandies, as Sherlock Holmes is in the world of detective. I don’t know how to properly pronounce des Esseintes, so I have always referred to him as that guy from Huysmans’ novel. Truth be told I don’t even know how to properly pronounce Huysmans, or rather I think I do but when I do I feel self-conscious. So I usually just spend my time thinking about des Esseintes and Huysmans, rather th ...more
Lee Klein
Sep 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Difficult to do this one justice. Took forever to read its 200+ dense pages. Well worth it, especially for the plush, precise, unexpected turns of the language, multi-phrase pile-ups on the Trans-European Translation Expressway. Mostly a catalogue of art, books, and music the main dude likes. The main dude, also, is extraneurotic, extraordinarily rich, aestheticized to the extreme, and willfully isolated from the world. He has a garden of semi-pornographically described carnivorous plants. He pa ...more
Description: Des Esseintes is a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa where he indulges his taste for luxury and excess. Veering between nervous excitability and debilitating ennui, he gluts his aesthetic appetites with classical literature and art, exotic jewels (with which he fatally encrusts the shell of his tortoise), rich perfumes, and a kaleidoscope of sensual experiences.

Read here

Opening: The Floressas Des Esseintes, to judge by the various portraits preserved in t
Highly recommended for the adventurous!
This is one of those books that you will either love or hate, and whatever reason you would have for either reaction I would completely understand and accept as valid. The book is not unlike a laundry list: if your laundry list happened to divide the clothes into type and color of fabric, dimensions, history of the development of the materials used, the sensation of folding each item and ad infinitum. This is the story of an obsessive looking for order, pai
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky peacock of a novel. These are not my words, but rather from my GR friend Glenn whose review from 2014 popped up on my daily update yesterday.

Quirky. Des Esseintes is an aging man, fed up with Parisian life, who escapes to his inherited house in Fontenay. Reflecting on the words of Schopenhauer, he came to the conclusion to withdraw from the world, “If a god made the world, I would not love this god because the misery of the world shreds my heart.” He lives there alone with two servants
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Thinking of the new existence he was going to fashion for himself, he felt a glow of pleasure at the idea that here he would be too far out for the tidal wave of Parisian life to reach him, and yet near enough for the proximity of the capital to strengthen him in his solitude. For, since a man has only to know he cannot get to a certain spot to be seized with a desire to go there, by not entirely barring the way back he was guarding against any hankering after human society, any nostalgic re
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book. Not only is it interesting in and of itself, containing some magnificent writing, but it presents an original and fundamental analysis of the entire movement away from Naturalism (Huysmans began as a disciple of Zola) and into Symbolism (Mallarmé), Decadence, and (hence) into Modernism (including even the strand that issues in the likes of a Julius Evola *). I have learned an enormous amount from reading it.

(* p. 146: "In these comparatively healthy volumes Barbey d'Aur
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
An aging Parisian aristocrat, fed up with the usual, decides to withdraw from the world and live a solitary life. No plot, one character: just this guy, Des Esseintes (he has servants, but they're non-characters, he doesn't even talk to them). He ensconces himself in an isolated villa determined to give himself only the best--or what he thinks are the best. He extols them and rants against what he hates. Here is where some readers are appalled because some of the choices he makes appear to be do ...more
Karen Witzler
I read this in 1978. I was a freshman at the University of Florida. I took it to a football game to read because I knew I would be bored without a book. I read a passage where Huysmans describes the glorious un-naturalness of the color combination of orange and blue. I laughed out loud. I suppose I should re-read, but my copy , with so many other treasures, has been lost to downsizing. I hope a young person bought it from the library sale and reads it in the bright sunlight.
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: french-lit, favorites
Well, I can honestly say I've never read anything like it, nor have I encountered a character as oddly loveable and annoying as Des Esseintes. The last of a Hapsburg-esque line of ancestors, he's a misanthropic aristocrat ailing from generations of inbreeding and a life of excess and immobility, warped from being forever consumed with his own thoughts and nothing else. He builds a new home for himself with the intent of isolation, and pretty much exists within his own material possessions, compl ...more
Michelle Curie
Sep 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
"Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidity."

Vanity isn't just gross, it's also pretty boring. Before Dorian Gray there was Des Esseintes, a man living in excess, obsessed with aesthetics and decadence. And what an appalling man that was.

In a way, this novel deserves to be spoken about in two different ways: in regard to its impact as much as the joy of reading it. It certainly wa
Stephanie Ricker
Dec 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: classics, french
I read Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans, a copy of which I swiped years ago from a professor’s free-book shelf. Oscar Wilde was evidently fascinated by the book, and in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian reads this “poisonous French novel” and is obsessed by it. What sort of book would Dorian Gray enjoy, you ask? Mainly a very long catalogue of the likes and dislikes of an effete, high-strung , overly intellectual wuss possessing far too much time and money and lacking all common sense. The ...more
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Charles Marie Georges Huysmans was a French novelist who published his works as Joris-Karl Huysmans.

He is most famous for the novel À rebours (Against Nature). His style is remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, wide-ranging vocabulary, wealth of detailed and sensuous description, and biting, satirical wit.

The novels are also noteworthy for their encyclopaedic documentation

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