Foreword Twenty Years After the Novel, A rebours, Jorge Karl Huysmans

Avertissement du Traducteur - December 2010

This is my rendering into English of J. K. Huysmans' 1903 preface to his A Rebours (1884), an important work of the late 19th Century literary decadence movement. While steeped in the imagery of decadent and symbolist aims, it strove to be a novel of morals - à la Gustave Flaubert - from which decadence had ironically attempted to distance itself.

I have known of A Rebours since my undergraduate days and recently revisited the novel as part of my analysis of literary and philosophical prefaces - specifically their identity when combined with a semiotics of the software license preamble, a preamble having been attached to both proprietary and open software. Both the literary preface and license preamble act as a way to constrain primary works without actually rewriting them necessarily, just distantly changing their identities, in effect providing their only sense of completion as an author revisits the past or frames the present to move on to an alternate future.

NOTE: this is a speedy draft attempting to become more familiar with the text. I am currently going back through the French and consulting other translations in order to eliminate our friends, les faux amis, and other unpardonable mistranslations!

I think all men of letters are like me and never re-read works upon their appearance in print. Nothing is, in effect, more disenchanting, more painful, than to gaze, after some years, at these sentences. They are in some way, decanted and deposed at the bottom of the book, and, most often, their volumes do not, like wine, grow better over time. Momentarily clarified by age, their chapters go flat and their aroma weak.

I've had this impression of certain bottles spread across the wine rack of A Rebours, and so I feel I must unscrew their corks, open them.

And, with sufficient melancholy, I'm trying to recall, in leafing through its pages, the condition of the soul I very well had at the moment in which I wrote them.

We were then immersed in complete naturalism, but this school, which must have realized the unforgettable service of situating actual personae in exact milieus, was condemned to go on endlessly, running in place.

An exception can be admitted hardly, in theory at least. It was confined thus in painting of common existence; under the pretext of making them come alive, it tried hard to create beings as close as possible to good, average people. This ideal was, within the genre, realized in the chef-d'oeuvre which had been much more than L'Assommoir, the paragon of naturalism, or L'Education sentimentale of Gustave Flaubert. This novel was for all of us men of the "Soirees de Medan", a true bible, but with just a few cashes of wheat. It was finished off, not to be touched again even by Flaubert. We are now thus completely reduced to maneuvering, to roving upon paths more or less completely explored.

As we must grant virtue as an exception, it comes by a similar move away from the naturalist plane. Not possessing the the Catholic concept of fall and temptation, we ignored what efforts, what sufferings it had issued: the heroism of the soul, victorious against snares, escaped us. We've come to no idea to describe this fight, with its highs and lows, its retaliatory, fake attacks, and its skilled aides often appearing very far from the one attacked by The Accursed in the quiet of the cloister. Virtue seemed to us to be a privilege of beings without curiosity or stripped of sense, with little affection, in every case, in treating the point of view of art.

Indeed, vices remained, but the field was there to cultivate and restrain them. It was still limited to the territories of the Seven capital sins, out of which, one sin alone against the the sixth Commandment of God was almost accessible.

Others have harvested the grapes terribly, pulling seeds from only a few. Avarice, for example, has been squeezed to the last drop by Balzac and Hello. Haughtiness, anger and envy carried along in all romantic publications and in these dramatic subjects have been as violently warped by an abuse of scenes that should have been truly necessary for genius to rejuvenate them in a book. As for Gluttony and Laziness, it seemed they could have been incarnated, on the other hand, in episodic characters and they beg comparison more with common meals or first-rate singers than with a novel of morals.

The truth is that Haughtiness is the most magnificent of crimes to study, in infernal ramifications of cruelty towards one's neighbor and by the false humility that Gluttony tows before Lust and Laziness; Theft had been a master of surprising excavations, if one had scrutinized these sins with a lamp and torch of the church and having their Faith; but none of us were prepared for this work; we were thus driven back into making the same mistake, easiest to decorticate the whole, back into the sin of Lust, under all its forms. And God knows we've done our best. But this sort of merry-go-round was short-lived. The novel we should have invented could be summed up in these few lines: to know why One such gentleman committed or did not commit adultery with One such madame. If we hope for distinction and recognition, then as an author in the best tone, we placed the work of flesh between the Marquise and the Count. If we want, on the contrary, to be a popular writer, a prose stylist going with the flow, we remain between the lover and the street girl. Only the frame differs. This distinction seems, to me, to have prevailed currently in the good graces of the reader because I see that currently, hardly any plebeian or bourgeoise loves can be repaid, but instead continue to savor the stops and starts of a Marquise, coming to join her tempter in a tiny mezzanine of which the aspect changes according to the upholsterer's fashion of the time. Will she fall? Will she not? this being titled a psychological study. Well, there is a place for such.

I grant however, that when I happen to open a book and, as I perceive eternal seduction and no less eternal adultery, I'm inclined to close it, not at all desiring to know how the idyll depicted will conclude. The volume in which there are no recognized documents, the book which teaches me nothing, no longer interests me.

At the moment when A Rebours appeared, that is to say, in 1884, the situation was as follows: naturalism had run out of steam, trotting backward in the same circle. The sum of observations we each collected, in taking them on itself and others, became exhausted. Zola, who beautifully decorated the theater, drew them by painting on canvases more or less precise, suggesting very well, the illusion of movement and life. His heroes were stripped of soul, staged quite adequately by impulsions and instincts, which simplified the labor of analysis. They shifted, accomplishing summary acts peopled with silhouettes extended far enough by scenery which became the principal characters of his dramas. He celebrated various markets, novelty shops, railroads, mines and human beings, playing no more than the role of utilities and walk-ons. But Zola was Zola, that is to say hardly great, but endowed with powerful lungs and large fists.

Others of us, less saddled and preoccupied with a more subtle and true art must ask ourselves if naturalism did not lead to an impasse, and if we did not soon come to bump against an inpenetrable wall.

To tell the truth, these reflexions only sprang up in me much later. I sought vainly to escape the cul-de-sac in which I was suffocating, but I had no determined plan, and A Rebours, which liberated me from a literature without target, in giving me fresh air, is a perfectly unconscious work, imagined without preconceived ideas, without intentions for the future, without any sense of a whole.

It first occurred to me, as a brief fantasy, under the form of a bizarre tale. I kind of imagined a pendant to A Vau-l'eau, transferred into another world. I devised a Monsieur Folantin, considerably learned, refined, wealthy, and who discovered, in artifice, a derivative of disgust that inspired the worries of life and the American morals of his time. I captured him fleeing, in a dream, parting his wings and taking refuge in fairy-like, extravagant illusions, living alone, far from his own country, in a memory evoked by most cordial epochs of less vile environments.

And to measure its adequate consideration, the subject became swollen and necessitated patient research: each chapter became a coulis of a specialty, the sublime of a different art. It was condensed in one "of meat", gems, perfumes, flowers, religious and lay literature, common music and plainsong.

What was odd was that, without having first doubted, I was led back by the same aspect of my labors to study the Church under many different viewpoints. It was, in fact, impossible to go back to any era which humanity should have known up until the middle ages, without stating that She holds it all, that art only existed in Her and by Her. Having lacked faith, I gazed at her, a little defiant, surprised at her importance and glory, asking myself how a religion that seemed made for children could suggest so marvelous of works.

I felt my way around Her, reaching for more than I could see, reconstituting myself with fragments that I found again in museums and books, as a collection. And now, as I traverse, after longer and surer investigations, the pages of A Rebours which had treated Catholicism and religious art, I notice that this miniscule panorama, painted on pages and notepads, is exact. What I painted, then, was succinct: lacking development, but truthful. Since then I've been limited to growing my sketches and adjusting them.

Currently, I could very well sign the pages of A Rebours on the Church, because they appear to have been, in effect, written by a Catholic.

Although, I felt quite distant from religion! I did not dream that from Schopenhauer, whom I admired beyond reason, to Ecclesiastes and the book of Job was only a step. The premisses of Pessimism are the same, only when it is a matter of concluding something, the philosopher is without clothes. I love his ideas on the horror of life, the stupidity of the world, on the inclemency of destiny. I equally love them in the Holy Books, but the observations of Schopenhauer don't lead to anything. He leaves you, that is to say, flattened; his aphorisms are ultimately only a herbarium of dry complaints. The Church explains origins and causes, signals ends, presents remedies; it's not content to give you a consultation for your soul; it treats and heals you when the German quack has sufficiently demonstrated that the affection from which you suffer is incurable and he turns his back to you and sneers.

His Pessimism is none other than that of the Scriptures from which he borrowed. He has said no more than Solomon, than Job, no more than even The Imitation, which, very much before him, summed up all his philosophy in one sentence: "It is true misery to live on earth!"

At a distance, these similitudes and dissimilarities clearly reveal themselves, but in this period, if I've indeed perceived them, I did not belabor them: the need for conclusion offers me no temptation. The route traced by Schopenhauer was completely open to idyllic voyage, and of a varied aspect; I peacefully strolled upon it, without wishing to know of its end. Then, I had no actual, clear due date, no apprehension of an outcome. The mysteries of catechism appeared childish: as all Catholics, in the end I was perfectly ignorant of my religion, had not realized that all is mystery, that we only live in mystery, that if chance existed, it would be still more mysterious than Providence. I did not acknowledge pain inflicted by God, and imagined that Pessimism could be counselour to lofty souls. What idiocy! This was hardly experimental, having little of the human document (to serve up a term dear to naturalism). Never has Pessimism consoled it, nor diseases of the body nor those bedridden by the soul.

I smiled then, that after so many years, I reread these pages in which these theories, so resolutely false, are affirmed.

Still, what shocks me the most in this reading, is this: all the novels I have written since A Rebours are contained within a seed (germe) in this book. Its chapters are, in effect, only pieces of the volumes which would follow them.

The chapter on the Latin literature of decadence I have developed elsewhere, at least more profoundly, in treating the liturgy in En Route and in L'Oblat. I would print it even today, without changing anything, save the aqueous prose and blistering rhetoric of Saint Ambrose, for which I've never cared. It appears to me still to need qualification as "boredom of the Ciceronian Christian", but, on the other hand, this poet is charming, and his hymns and those of his school figure in the Breviary, and are among the most beautiful that the Church has preserved. Let me add that it is true that a mildly special literature of the hymnary might have found its place in the compartment reserved for this chapter.

No more than in 1884, I presently am not crazy about the parsimonious Latin classic of Maro and "Chickpea". As in the time of A Rebours, I prefer the language of the Vulgate to the century of Augustus, even in contrast to that of Decadence, but more curiously however, with its aroma of wildfowl and its tints garnished with venison. The church, after having disinfected and rejuvenated it, had created, it seems to me, in order to limit the order of ideas unexpressed until then, grandiloquent vocables and exquisitely tender diminutives, to thus fashion a language very superior to the dialect of Paganism -- and Durtal still thinks, on this subject, just like des Esseintes.

I have revisited the chapter on gemstones in La Cathedrale, concerned then with the point of view of the symbolism of gems. I've animated the dead gemstones of A Rebours. Of course, I won't deny that a beautiful emerald should be admired for its sparkles, sizzling in the the fire of its green substance, but is it not, if we are ignorant of the idiom of symbols, an unkown, a stranger with which one may not converse and which is itself tarnished because we do not understand its locutions? Now it is much more, much better than that.

Without admitting along with an old author of the 16th century, Estienne de Clave, that gemstones are engendered, like natural persons, from a semance spread within the womb of the soil, we may very well say that they are signifying minerals, loquacious substances, that they are, in a word, symbols. They have been envisioned in this way since the earliest antiquity, and the tropology of gems is one of the branches of this Christian symbolism so perfectly forgotten by priests and laypersons of our time, that I have attempted to reconstitute in grand lines in my volume on the Basilica of Chartres.

The chapter of A Rebours is then only superficial, like a flush bezel. It's not what it must be, jewelry from beyond. It fills jewelry cases more or less descriptive, is more or less well arranged in a wrist watch, but it is all and yet not enough.

The painting of Gustave Moreau, the engravings of Luyken, the lithographs of Bresdin and Redon are how I still see them. I have nothing to modify in the ordering of this tiny museum.

For the awful chapter VI, corresponding to the number, without preconceived intentions, of the commandment of God that it has offended, and for certain parts of the 9th which can be juxtaposed, I would no longer write so evidently this way. It should have at least been necessary to explain, in a most studious fashion, by this diabolical perversity which is taken too far, from a point of view of lewdness above all, in the exhausted brains of the people. It seems, in effect, that the diseases of the nerves, that neurosis open within the soul fissures by which the Spirit of Evil penetrates. It is an enigma which remains elucidated; the word hysteria resolves nothing; it can suffice to precisely indicate a material state, to note irresistible rumors of sense; it won't detect attached spiritual consequences, and, more specifically, those sins of secretiveness and lies, which are almost always transplanted. What are the terms and accomplishments of this peccamineous disease, in what proportion is the responsibility attenuated to reach in the soul a sort of possession which comes to enter into the disorder of its most unfortunate body? No one knows. On this matter, medicine makes no sense, and theology is silent.

By fault of a solution that he could not obviously support, des Esseintes should have envisaged the question through the point of view of fault and expressed at least some regret: he abstained from carrying the blame, and gave retort. But schooled as much by the Jesuites for whom he crafted - more than Durtal - an eulogy, he has become, in consequence, so rebellious to divine constraints, so pigheaded as to slop through his carnal slime!

In any case, these chapters appear as stakes unconsciously planted to indicate the route of La-Bas. We can otherwise observe that the library of des Esseintes locks away a certain number of magic books and the ideas enunciated in the seventh chapter of A Rebours, on sacrilege, act as bait on which a future, more fundamental treatment of the subject might nibble.

This book of La-Bas that frightened so many people I would also no longer write in the same way, as I have become Catholic again. It is, in effect, the villainous and sensual side developed there, which meets disapproval. Yet I concede, I've sped past, said nothing. The documents with which I have dealt, in comparison to those that I have omitted and that I possess in my archives, are quite tasteless dressings, quite mellowed sugar almonds!

I still believe that despite these cerebral dementias and alvine follies, this work has, by the same subject it has exposed, paid service. It has called attention back to the schemings of Malin who had managed to have himself denied. It was the point of departure of all the studies which are renewed in the eternal process of Satanism. It has aided, in unveiling, in annihilating the odious practices of sorcerers. Overall, it has stepped in and combatted very resolutely for the Church against the Devil.

To return them to A Rebours, of which this work is only a succedaneum, I can repeat, with an account of flowers, what I have already related in my account of stones.

A Rebours only considers them from the point of view of contours and tints, not at all in the point of view of significations that they discover. Des Esseintes has chosen only bizzare but taciturn orchids. He felt it appropriate to add that it should have been difficult to make, in this book, flora speak, attacked by asphasia, a mute flora, because the symbolic idiom of plants died with the Middle Ages, and the vegetable creoles cherished by des Esseintes were unknown to allegorists of the time.

The counter-argument of this botany, I have since written in La Cathedrale, concerning this liturgical horticulture which has given rise to pages as curious as those of Saints Hildegard, Meliton, and Eucher.

I have unveiled the related question of odors as mystical emblems in the same book.

Des Esseintes is only preoccupied with secular perfumes, those simple, or extracts, or common, composite perfumes or aromas.

He might have also experimented with aromas of the Church: incense, myrrh, and this strange thymiama that the bible cites, still suggested by this ritual to be burned with incense under the sludge of bells, at the time of their baptism, after the bishop has washed them in holy water and holy chrism and oil of the sick. Yet this fragrance seems forgotten by the same Church, and I believe a parson would be greatly astonished if asked for Thymiama.

Its recipe is deposited, however, in The Exodus. The Thymiama is composed of styrax, of galbanum, incense and onycha, and this last substance is none other than the operculum of a certain sea shell of a type of purpules dredged through marshes of India.

Now, it is difficult, not to say impossible, being given an incomplete description from this sea shell and its place of provenance, to prepare an authentic Thymiama. How terrible this is, because otherwise, this lost perfume would, for Des Esseintes, have certainly excited ostentatious evocations of ceremonial galas, liturgical rites of the East.

As for the chapters on contemporary lay and religious literature, they are, to me, even like Latin literature, imbeciles morally just. They are devoted to the common art of aiding the rendering then currently unknown poets: Corbiere, Mallarme, Verlaine. I retract nothing of what I wrote 19 years ago. I have kept my admiration for these writers. What I've professed for Verlaine has even grown. Arthur Rimbaud and Jules Laforgue might have merited being shaped within the anthology of des Esseintes, but have not yet printed anything in our era, and it is only much later that their works have appeared.

I don't imagine, on the other hand, that I will ever savor modern religious authors who pillage A Rebours. I must not give the impression that the critique of the late Nettement is blockheaded and that Madame Augustus Craven and Mademoiselle Eugenie de Guerin are quite lymphatic blue-stockings and pious but barren. Their juleps seem to me to be faded. Des Esseintes has passed on to Durtal his taste for spices and I believe both of them would understand well enough to prepare, in the place of these potions, a gingered essence of art.

I've changed my mind no more on literature of the brotherhood of Poujoulat and des Genoude, but am less strictly bound by Father Chocarne, cited in a portion of pious cacographies, because he has at least edited some medullary pages on mysticism in the introduction to the works of Saint John de la Croix, and I would be equally wishy-washy about Montalembert who, by lack of talent has offered an incoherent and mixed work, but ultimately moving, on monks. I would no longer write so that the visions of Angele and de Foligno are foolish and fluid, for the opposite is true. Still, I must attest, relieved, that I have only read them in the translation of Hello. Now, the former was possessed by a mania for pruning, sweetening, softening the mystics, for fear of committing a crime against the fallacious power of the Catholics. He put an ardent work full of sap under pressure, and has only extracted a colorless and cold juice, badly reheated, in the cooking pot, on the old age of his style.

That said, as translator, Hello has appeared as a tate-poule and a pieusard, it is just to affirm that he was, that he operated on his own account then, as a handler of original ideas, a perspicacious exegete, a truly strong analyst. He was even, among writers at his level, the only one capable of thought. I've rescued of d'Aurevilly to extol the work of this man, so incomplete, but so interesting, and A Rebours has, I think, helped to give a little success that his best book, L'Homme, has obtained since his death.

This chapter's conclusion concerning modern ecclesial literature was what, among the geldings of religious art, was the only standard: Barbey d'Aurevilly, and this opinion remains resolutely exact. The former was a single artist, in the pure sense of the word, who produced the Catholicism of this time. He was a great prose writer, an admirable novelist with an audacity that made brey a liturgical procession that exasperated the explosive vehemence of their sentences.

Finally, if ever this chapter can be considered as the point of departure of other books, it is very well that of the plainsong that I have since amplified, in all my volumes, in En Route and above all in L'Oblat.

After this brief examination of each of the specialties spread through the store cases of A Rebours, the impending conclusion is this: the book was a piece of my Catholic work found entirely as a seed within it.

And the incomprehension and idiocy of some sects and some disruptors of the priesthood appear to me, unfathomable once more. They've pushed some years for the destruction of this work, which I no longer possess as property, without even realizing that the mystical volumes which have succeeded it are incomprehensible without it, because it is, I repeat, the root from which everything grew. How can we otherwise appreciate the work of a writer, collected together, if we take not his beginnings, if we do not follow him step by step - how above all can we realize the march of Grace in a soul, if we suppress the traces of its passage, if we efface the initial impressions it leaves?

What is certain in every case is that A Rebours broke with precedents, with Les Soeurs Vatard, En Menage, A Vau-l'eau - it placed me on a path for which I did not anticipate there would be any result.

Otherwise as full of wisdom as the Catholics, Zola sharply sensed it. I recall that I'd gone, some days after the appearance of A Rebours, to Medan. One afternoon, as we were both walking in the country, he stopped brusquely and, his eyes became dark, he blamed me for the book, saying that I struck a terrible blow to naturalism, that I had diverted its school, that I burned my boats with such a novel besides, because no genre of literature were possible in this genre, exhausted in a single volume. And amicably - since he was a very brave man - he asked me to return to already paved territory, and to harness my powers for a study of morals.

I listened to him, thinking that he once had it all, and reason, and retort - reason, in accusing me of depleting naturalism and barring me from all paths - retort, in the sense that the novel, as he sensed, seemed moribund to me, wasted in uninteresting repetitions by what he either wanted or did not want for me.

For many things, I could not freshen the air, to flee the environment, to keep from suffocating. Then, the desire which taught me to shake off prejudices, to break the limits of the novel, to introduce art, science, history, no longer serves, in a word, this form as a frame to insert the most serious labor. To me, this was what shocked me most of all about this epoch, to suppress traditional intrigue to find even passion, woman; to concentrate the paintbrush of light on a single character, placed a great cost on the new.

Zola was not convinced by my arguments, and he reiterated his affirmation again: "I don't accept that method and view may be changed, that we may burn what we idolize."

Ah ha! Has he not played, for himself also, the role of a good Sicambre? He has, otherwise modified his composition and writing process, at least varied his fashion of conceptualizing humanity and explaining life. After the dark pessimism of his first books, have we not had, under the color of socialism, the beatific optimism of his last?

We must indeed confess, no one understands the soul less than naturalists who propose to observe it. They have seen the existence of only one piece. They only accept it conditioned by probable elements, and I have since learned, by experiment, that the improbable is not always, in the world, in the state of exception, that the adventures of Rocambole are at times as exact as the cells of Gervaise and Coupeau.

But the idea that des Esseintes could be as true as his characters are to him, disconcerts, almost irritates Zola.


I have, for a few pages now, spoken of A Rebours mostly from the point of view of literature and art. I must now speak from the point of view of Grace, leaving it in part unknown, some projection of the soul of which I am ignorant may often be found in a book.

This orientation to Catholicism, so bright, so clear in A Rebours remains, I wager, incomprehensible.

I have not been trained in congregational schools, but very much so in the lyceum; I was never pious in my youth, and the aspect of childhood memory, first communion, education which holds, so often, a great place in conversation, has held no place in mine. And what still complicates the difficulty and derails all analysis, is that, when I wrote A Rebours, I had never set foot in a church, I knew no practicing catholic, no priest. I experienced no divine touch inciting me to devote myself to the church, I lived peacefully in my trough; it seemed completely natural to satisfy the whims of my senses, and the thought did not even come to me that this type of conversion might be defended.

A Rebours had appeared in 1884; I was partially converted while in the Trappist Monastery in 1892. Almost eight years passed before the sowing of this book. Let's put two years, three even, for the labor of Grace: deaf, stubborn, at times sensible. Not five years went by that I remembered having experienced no catholic velleity, no regret of the life I led, no desire to reverse it. Why, how have I been pinned to this path then lost to me in the night? I am absolutely incapable of saying how. Nothing, other than the ascendancies of Beguine convents and cloisters, of prayers of a very fervent dutch family, otherwise barely known, will explain the perfect unconsciousness of the final cry, the appeal to religion on the last page of A Rebours.

Yes, I know quite well, there are very strong people who follow plans, organize itineraries in advnace and follow existence here. It is even understood, if I'm not mistaken, that with will, one arrives at the whole; I want very much to believe, but, I confess, I have never been a tenacious man nor a crafty author. My life and my literature are in part passivity, the unknown, a very certain direction outside of me.

Providence was merciful to me and the Virgin, good to me. I am limited to not counteracting them when they show their intentions; I have simply obeyed. I have been led by what one calls "extraordinary paths" ; if some can have the certitude of annihilation, regardless and without the aid of God, it is me.

Those who have no Faith will object that with similar ideas, one is not far from reaching a fatalism and a negation of all psychology.

No, because faith in Our-Lord is not fatalism. The free arbiter remains safe. I could, if it pleased me, continue to cede to luxurious emotions and remain in Paris, and not go and suffer in a Trappist Monastery. Without a doubt God has not insisted, but in completely certifying that the will is intact, we must grant however that the Savior offers much more of himself, that he harasses you, stalks you, "heats you up", in order to serve an energetic term of the basse police. But I repeat, one can, by these risks and perils, send him packing.

For psychology, it is something else. If we envision it as I envision it, from the point of view of a conversion, it is, in its preludes, impossible to disentangle: certain corners are tangible perhaps, but others are not - the subterranean labor of the soul escapes us. Without a doubt at the moment I wrote A Rebours, there was a movement of the earth, a foraging of the soil to plant foundations, which I did not myself realize. God burrows down to place his threads, and he only operates in the shadow of the soul, in the night. Nothing was perceptible. It was only many years after that the spark began to run down the thread. I then felt the soul moved with these jolts; it was yet neither very painful nor very clear. Liturgy, mysticism, art were their vehicles or means; this has generally happened in churches, at Saint Severin above all, where I went, out of curiosity, in idleness. I only experienced, in helping out with the ceremonies, an interior trepidation, this tiny trembling that we endured, in seeing, listening or in reading a beautiful work, but it was not precisely attacked, ordered according to its pronouncement.

I merely loosened myself, little by little, from my shell of impurity. I began to be disgusted with myself, but I even rebelled against articles of Faith. Objections that I posed seem to me irresistible; one beautiful morning, when I awoke, they were, without ever my knowing how, resolved. I prayed for the first time, and an explosion was made.

All of this appears, for those who do not believe in Grace, mad. For those who have felt its effects, no astonishment is possible, and as surprising as it was, it could only exist for the period of incubation where one does not see and does not perceive anything, the clearing of the rubble and the foundation that we do not even doubt.

In short, I understand to a certain point, what has happened between the years 1891 and the year 1895, between La-Bas and En Route, nothing at all between the year 1884 and 1891, between A Rebours and La-Bas.

If I've not understood myself, this would be the strongest reason others will not have understood des Esseintes. A Rebours falls, then, as an aerolite in the field of literary fair - and this was a stupor and an anger. The press was disordered: never had it rambled in so many articles. After having treated me as an impressionist misanthrope and a complicated imbecile, Normaliens such as M. Lemaitre were upset that I made no elogy to Virgil and would declare in peremptory fashion, that the decadents of the Latin language, in the Middle Ages were only "ramblers and cretins". Other critical entrepreneurs want very much to advise me that it would be profitable to suffer in a spa-prison, under the whip of its shower. And, in their turn, the lecturers shall be made to mingle there. In the nasturtium room, the halfwit archon Sarcey cries: "Please hang me indeed if I understand one traitorous word in this novel!" In short, the grievous news, such as the Revue des Deux Mondes, has prompted their leader, M. Brunetiere, to compare this novel to the vaudeville acts of Waflard and Fulgence

Out of this hub-bub, a single writer comes clear, Barbey d'Aurevilly, who had otherwise not known me at all. In an article of the Constitutionnel, starting from the 28th of July 1884, and collected in his volume of Le Roman Contemporain of 1902, he writes:

After such a book, there no longer exists the choice for an author to make, between the mouth of a pistol or the foot of the cross.

It has been made.