Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Fontenay-aux-Roses

Fontenay-aux-Roses (fahn-teh-NAY-oh-rohz). French town in which Des Esseintes takes up residence. The suburban house he selects seems at first to be a sensible compromise between the Château de Lourps in the Seine Valley and the clamorous crowds of central Paris. The stifling ennui generated by the provinciality of his family estate encourages him to the opposite extreme in Paris, where he takes great delight in furnishing his apartments in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. His desire is to create a retreat that will be both calm and curious.

Surrendering the second floor of the house to his servants, Des Esseintes decorates the walls and ceiling of the study in imitation of the bindings of his books, using coarse-grained morocco leather instead of wallpaper. Orange is the principal color, with blue-tinted windows curtained in dark red-gold. His dining room, separated by a padded corridor, becomes a smaller enclosure contained within the one designed by the house’s architect. It is timbered so as to resemble a ship’s cabin, with a window like a porthole looking out toward an aquarium stocked with mechanical fish.

In order to provide a suitable contrast to the violet and yellow tints of an Oriental rug, Des Esseintes adds to the decor of his study a large tortoise, the shell of which is glazed in gold and embellished with gems. The paintings he acquires for his study include Gustave Moreau’s two...

(The entire section is 518 words.)