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  • J.-K. Huysmans chez lui
  • Christopher Lloyd
J.-K. Huysmans chez lui. Edited by Marc Smeets. (CRIN, 52). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. 182 pp. Pb €36.00; $50.00.

The title of this collection of ten essays evokes both Huysmans’s family links with Holland and, by extension, his attraction towards Northern Europe and the quest for a home or homeland undertaken by many of his fictional characters. Marc Smeets’s Introduction reminds us that Huysmans’s uncle Constant frequently invited him to the Netherlands as a child, although their contact diminished from 1877, probably because the Dutch branch of the family disapproved of the writer’s bohemian image. But while Holland remained the imagined country of childhood happiness, Huysmans also developed a lasting friendship with the Dutch writer Arij Prins from 1885, and maintained contacts with Belgian authors such as Hannon, Lemonnier, and Rodenbach. Estrella de la Torre-Giménez argues that Huysmans’s cult of ‘nordicité’ gave him a close affinity with the Franco-Flemish model of national and cultural identity that such writers cultivated. By adopting the pseudo-Flemish forenames ‘Joris-Karl’ (reduced to ‘J.-K.’), Huysmans was patently proclaiming his Nordic origins, as Philippe Barascud notes in an essay that devotes fifteen pages to studying the variant spellings of the author’s names (Huysmans, Huÿsmans, Huijsmans, and Hüysmans are all documented) and concludes that J.-K. Huysmans is the standard form adopted in most of his books. Yet despite this somewhat ponderous demonstration, the editor and some other contributors persist in referring to ‘Joris-Karl’ Huysmans. In a protracted analysis of pictorial markers in the prose poem ‘La Kermesse de Rubens’, Jonathan Devaux asserts that Huysmans is seeking to recreate ‘le fantasme d’une expérience de l’origine’ (p. 46) and to ‘fustiger l’esprit parisien au nom d’un Nord mythifié’ (p. 43). [End Page 358] Comparing Huysmans and Barrès, Patrick Bergeron observes their shared ‘horreur de la vie commune’ (p. 111), but determines that ‘tout Huysmans aboutit à la peinture, tout Barrès à la politique’ (p. 119). Maarten van Buuren’s essay ostensibly studies Huysmans’s treatment of the artistic temperament and the physiology of character and neurosis, but actually devotes more space to Zola and Baudelaire. Sylvie Thorel-Cailleteau indeed defines Huysmans’s ‘intimisme’ as ‘une marge du naturalisme en même temps qu’une dégradation du baudelairisme’, involving ‘la surenchère dans le médiocre’ (p. 138). Anthony Zielonka traces Huysmans’s hagiographical quest in Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam, but excessive textual quotations and plot summary impede critical analysis. Jérôme Solal offers a more lucid and interesting account of Sainte Lydwine and its resolution of the dialectic of inside and outside that entraps Huysmans’s protagonists: through total self-abnegation Lydwine escapes her voluntary entombment and communes with the divine, becoming a mediator between sacred and profane. Jean-Marie Seillan offers a sensitive reading of the link between Catholicism and racialism: despite his notorious ‘geographical intolerance’ (p. 159), largely based on cultural stereotypes rather than personal knowledge of foreign peoples, Huysmans does occasionally show his awareness that Catholicism means ‘universality’. He retains racial differentiation and alterity while refusing the hierarchy of superiority that usually accompanies them (for example, in his account of the ubiquity and morphology of the Virgin Mary in La Cathédrale). All in all, although these essays offer valid insights, they cover ground that some readers will find very familiar.

Christopher Lloyd
Durham University


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pp. 358-359
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