Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482
The following quotes can be used directly to study the character of des Esseintes.
He . . . experienced a peculiar pleasure in being in a richly illuminated room, the only patch of light amid the shadow-haunted, sleeping houses. This was a form of enjoyment in which perhaps entered an element of vanity, that peculiar pleasure known to late workers when, drawing aside the window curtains, they perceive that everything about them is extinguished, silent, dead (Chapter 2).
This speaks volumes about Jean's personality. He looks for "light" and "illumination," knowing full well that his soul and inner self are, like the sleeping houses, "shadow-haunted," "silent," and "dead." Everything that surrounds him is dark.
The following quote is about the death of Jean's tortoise. This animal, who he suffocates, is abused under the guise of aesthetics. Des Esseintes paints its shell gold. He then encrusts jewels all over its shell and expects the animal to walk around unaffected by the added weight that the jewels exert on its body. Its death is symbolic of what happens when extravagance and excess enter one's life: the body implodes.
[The tortoise] did not budge at all and he tapped it. The animal was dead. Doubtless accustomed to a sedentary existence, to a humble life spent underneath its poor shell, it had been unable to support the dazzling luxury imposed on it, the rutilant cope with which it had been covered, the jewels with which its back had been paved, like a pyx (Chapter 5).
This next quote may be read as pure comedy. It first explains how des Esseintes's virility is weak and how the Pearls of Pyrenees, violet-scented sugar bonbons from Paris, awaken in him an erotic sensation as he feels the scent of femininity in the candies.
Usually he smiled as he inhaled this love aroma, this shadow of a caress which for a moment restored the delights of women he had once adored.
This is then followed by the memories of the women whom he loved in the past. We get the picture of maidens with beautiful skin and delicate features.
At the head of the procession of mistresses whom the fragrance of the bonbons helped to place in bold relief, one paused, displaying long white teeth, a satiny rose skin, a snub nose, mouse-colored eyes, and close-cropped blond hair.
Shortly after, however, we meet one of these ladies, and her description is far from the imagery that blooms from the decadent violet candies.
This was Miss Urania, an American, with a vigorous body, sinewy limbs, muscles of steel and arms of iron.
She had been one of the most celebrated acrobats of the Circus (Chapter 9).
To move from a "mouse-colored eye" girl to a woman who is a circus acrobat with limbs of steel is risible. It clearly shows that Jean looks like a wilting flower next to this athletic and strong female, highlighting the irony.