Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jean Des Esseintes

Jean Des Esseintes (day zeh-SAHNT), the last descendant of a family of French aristocrats that has long been in decline, having fallen prey to the hereditary enfeeblement that—according to a common belief of the nineteenth century—was brought on by continued intermarriage and love of luxury. At the age of thirty, he is anemic, “neurasthenic” (a term replaced in modern parlance by such phrases as “highly strung”), and prey to all manner of real and imaginary illnesses. He already has indulged his appetite for commonplace pleasures and ordinary vices to the limit and now desires to become a recluse, surrounding himself with the best of everything that human artifice has to offer. He intends to live in splendid isolation, and although he retains two servants to do the housework and regularly consults his doctor, he remains the only authentic character in the narrow realm of his existence. In selecting the objects with which he intends to embellish and glorify his privacy, Des Esseintes always prefers the artificial to the natural and the fantastic to the representational. He prefers hothouse flowers to those that can stand exposure to the elements, and he has a particular affection for carnivorous plants. He prefers perfumes carefully designed by human artificers; these have the capacity to induce an orgiastic ecstasy in him. His favorite painter is Gustave Moreau, who delighted in depicting...

(The entire section is 558 words.)