October/November 2018 Reading Group Selection: The Damned by J.K. Huysmans

 

Be sure to grab a new copy of this month’s reading group selection: The Damned by J.K. Huysmans, translated and introduced by Terry Hale.

The Book Beat reading group will meet Wednesday, November 14th at 7:00 pm at Goldfish Tea Cafe, located at 117 W. Fourth Street in Downtown Royal Oak. All are welcome.

Get 15% off on the Current Reading Group Selection.

“Literally translated as “down there”, là-bas is here used by Huysmans in its other sense: Hell. This novel is one of the key texts of the Decadent movement of the 1890s and writhes with satanists, occultists, incubi (male demons), succubi (female demons) and intellectuals.” – Sophia Martellia, The Guardian

“…Huysmans, a neuralgic misfit who converted to Christianity after writing “À Rebours.” Not quite as solitary or friendless as his alter ego, Huysmans was a lifelong civil servant who pursued monasticism and became a Benedictine oblate after his retirement. The persistent theme of his books is humankind’s unending stupidity—l’éternelle bêtise de l’humanité. He wanted nothing more than to flee ‘the horrible reality of existence, to leap beyond the confines of thought.'” – Adam Leith Gollner, The New Yorker

From the back cover:

“Durtal, a shy, censorious man, is writing a biography of Gilles de Rais, the monstrous fifteenth-century child-murderer thought to be the original for ‘Bluebeard’. Bored and disgusted by the vulgarity of everyday life, Durtal seeks spiritual solace by immersing himself in another age. But when he starts asking questions about Gilles’s involvement in satanic rituals and is introduced to the exquisitely evil madame Chantelouve, he is soon drawn into a twilight world of black magic and erotic devilry in fin-de- siècle Paris.”


Joris-Karl Huysmans, original name Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans, (born Feb. 5, 1848, Paris, France—died May 12, 1907, Paris), French writer whose major novels epitomize successive phases of the aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual life of late 19th-century France.

Huysmans was the only son of a French mother and a Dutch father. At 20 he began a long career in the Ministry of the Interior, writing many of his novels on official time (and notepaper). His early work, influenced by contemporary naturalist novelists, include a novel, Marthe, histoire d’une fille (1876; Marthe), about his liaison with a soubrette, and a novella, Sac au dos (1880; “Pack on Back”), based on his experience in the Franco-German War. The latter was published in Les Soirées de Médan (1881), war stories written by members of Émile Zola’s “Médan” group of naturalist writers. Huysmans soon broke with the group, however, publishing a series of novels too decadent in content and violent in style to be considered examples of naturalism.

The first was À vau-l’eau (1882; Down Stream), a tragicomic account of the misfortunes, largely sexual, of a humble civil servant, Folantin. À rebours (1884; Against the Grain), Huysmans’s best-known novel, relates the experiments in aesthetic decadence undertaken by the bored survivor of a noble line. The ambitious and controversial Là-bas (1891; Down There) tells of the occultist revival that occurred in France in the 1880s. A tale of 19th-century Satanists interwoven with a life of the medieval Satanist Gilles de Rais, the book introduced what was clearly an autobiographical protagonist, Durtal, who reappeared in Huysmans’s last three novels: En route (1895), an account of Huysmans-Durtal’s religious retreat in the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame d’Igny and his return to Roman Catholicism; La Cathédrale (1898; The Cathedral), basically a study of Nôtre-Dame de Chartres with a thin story attached; and L’Oblat (1903; The Oblate), set in the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé, near Poitiers, in the neighbourhood in which Huysmans lived in 1899–1901 as an oblate (lay monk).

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