- Reviewed by
It is true, as the promotional statement on the cover of this book indicates, that "interest in the French Decadent writer Joris-Karl Huysmans has never been higher since his lifetime." However, when the same statement boldly asserts that "[t]his book is a summa of all works on or by Huysmans," one cannot help thinking this is a bit presumptuous. Indeed, there are major critical works on Huysmans in French, German, Italian, and even in English, that this book does not mention. The Image of Huysmans is divided in three major sections: "Huysmans in England and America," "The Works," and "The Life." It also displays a chronology of Huysmans's life, and two Appendices, one on Huysmans's iconography, and one consisting of an excerpt from En Route, his first Catholic novel. The sections entitled "The Works" and "The Life," although well-written, offer very little, if anything, new, for the Huysmans scholar. They constitute at best a concise, easy to read, introduction for the general reader discovering Huysmans. The author graciously acknowledges his debt, in particular, to the canonical Life of Joris-Karl Huysmans by the Oxford scholar Robert Bladick, adding that "after receiving its seal by translation into French (and being reprinted [End Page 523] in 1975) this study is still rightly considered definitive." One has to agree, and therefore it is hard to get the point of the sixty-five pages that are simply a shorter, duller version of Baldick's brilliant Life. As regards the section on the works, it might be useful to the neophyte reader, but again, it can hardly replace the volume published by George Ross Ridge in the Twayne World Author series, which Banks dutifully reviews in the first section of his book. All in all, this first section is the only truly original contribution. It is a careful study, in a little more than eighty pages, on the reception of Huysmans in Great Britain and North America, since the late 1880s. There is a substantial wealth of interesting information, such as the problems Huysmans' Anglo-Saxon publishers encountered with censorship in the twenties and thirties. Là-bas, in particular, Huysmans' fictional account of modern satanic practices, was the target of British and American censors. We learn that the English edition had been "condemned, although not withdrawn," in Great Britain, whereas the American issue of the novel, in 1924, had been suppressed altogether.
Brian Banks, it seems, has written the wrong book. It should have been entitled The Image of Huysmans in England and America, and should have consisted of this first section alone, expanded into a full-fledged reception study. To conclude on a nice note, one can praise the visual and material quality of the book, enriched by some twenty-five pages of illustrations.