restricted access Julien Green: Religion and Sensuality and: Reality and Illusion in the Novels of J. K. Huysmans and: Zola (review)
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Reviewed by
Anthony H. Newbury. Julien Green: Religion and Sensuality. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986. 213 pp. $29.95.
Ruth B. Antosh. Reality and Illusion in the Novels of J. K. Huysmans. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986. 115 pp. $22.50.
Philip Walker. Zola. London: Routledge, 1985. 257 pp. $32.50.

Some interesting similarities link the writers who are the subjects of the books under review. Each was born into a middle-class home, each suffered from the death or absence of his father, each remained unmarried or (in Zola's case) was unhappily married, each was beset with anxiety, each betrays in his writings an obsession with sexuality, each was deeply concerned in one way or another with religion, and each was the son of an immigrant.

Julien Green is undoubtedly the least known of the three to American readers, in spite of his American heritage. His father, Edward Green, was born into a well-to-do family of cotton planters in Virginia but lost his fortune. Because of this disaster he was forced to seek employment elsewhere, and he became the European agent for the Southern Cotton Oil Company in Le Havre and later in Paris, where he eventually became Secretary of the American Chamber of Commerce, and where Julien was born in 1900. Because of his father's frequent absences, Julien's upbringing was heavily influenced by his Episcopalian mother, who read the Bible aloud to her children every evening and who passed on to her youngest son her puritanical views of sex and her fears of venereal disease. Somewhat nervous and fearful as a child, the impressionable young Julien believed, along with his sisters, that the house in Passy where he grew up was haunted, recounting in his Memories of Happy Days his attempts to invoke the devil from the closet in his parents' bedroom.

Julien Green's belief in Christianity was intense, as were his sexual urges, causing mental conflicts that became the material for many of his fictional works. It is this conflict between what one might term satyriasis and sainthood which Anthony Newbury has chosen as the subject of his study of Julien Green.

The organization of the book is straightforward. After a chapter devoted to Green's early life, the author considers one by one Green's novels and plays, beginning with Moira, which appeared in 1950, and ending with L'autre of 1970. The reader may well regret the omission of earlier works such as Mont-Cinère and Adrienne Mesurat, but the author has chosen to concentrate on that period of Green's life during which the conflict between sensuality and religious belief is most acute and most clearly manifest in Green's fiction. The method followed is thus mainly plot summary, relating themes and incidents in the novels to themes appearing in Green's autobiography and diary. [End Page 677]

Joris-Karl Huysmans is better known outside the world of Francophone literature than is Julien Green, but his reputation is, I suspect, still based primarily on the book that became the "bible" of the decadent movement, A Rebours. Huysmans is usually classified in the manuals as anaturalist writerand: disciple of Zola who later became disillusioned with naturalism and broke with his mentor. It is this simplified view of Huysmans that Ruth Antosh proposes to correct.

After an opening chapter in which she recapitulates the doctrine of "naturalisme spiritualiste," Huysmans' attempt in Là-Bas to define a naturalism which is not confined to the material world and of which the foremost exemplar in Huysmans' view was the painter Mathis Grünewald, the author searches for evidence of this spiritualism in the early works, that is, in works antedating the break with Zola. She identifies a characteristic and ever-present theme, namely Huysmans' descriptions of the rooms that his characters inhabit. These rooms represent the psyche of the character, his flight from the real world, and provide the locus for his reveries and debilitating self-contemplation. This concern with the inner life, in particular the dreams, hallucinations, reveries, and spiritual yearning of his characters, a concern evident in the earliest novels, is the sign for the author that Huysmans was never a...


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