Joris-Karl Huysmans’s career as a novelist falls, almost too neatly, into three distinct phases, each lasting about one decade. However, those three phases—naturalistic, Decadent, and religious—are so startlingly different from one another that traditional literary historians have usually found little underlying unity in his development and much that seems arbitrary and even willfully eccentric. It is perhaps this impatiently unsympathetic reaction to his work and his personality that accounts for the common tendency to relegate Huysmans to the role of a minor curiosity in the history of the novel. With the perspective of time, however, one can recognize more readily that Huysmans evolved quite comprehensibly as a writer, in accordance with the forces at work in and around him. Although it is true that his work, as a whole, falls well short of greatness, at its best it is worthy of serious attention and is significant in the history of literary ideas and aesthetics.
The special quality of Huysmans’s sensibility and imagination determined the apparently erratic course of his evolution as a novelist and imprinted on his career whatever unity it can be shown to possess. Because he was intellectually insecure and lacked confidence in his own literary formation, he was easily influenced at the start of his career by more assertive personalities. That is why his early works strike the informed reader as derivative in both theme and approach, resulting,...
(The entire section is 3378 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Joris-Karl Huysmans Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!