Charles Marie Georges Huysmans Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Descended from a Dutch family of painters, French novelist Charles Marie Georges Huysmans (Dutch HOY-smahns or French wees-mahns) wrote under the pseudonym of Joris-Karl, or J.-K., Huysmans. After receiving a baccalauréat in 1866, he worked for thirty years in the Ministry of the Interior. This provided Huysmans with a small income that allowed him to devote his free time to literature. He was drafted into the National Guard in 1870 and served at the front during the Franco-Prussian War and then as a clerk. His first volume of stories showed the influence of Charles Baudelaire. He next came under the influence of Émile Zola, whom he knew well; he wrote a series of novels of everyday life in which he tried to outdo his master in the field of naturalism.

Some of Huysmans’s works were self-published or published outside France, partly because of their controversial nature. He was also active as an art critic and advocate of impressionism, writing for Le Voltaire, L’Art Moderne, and other periodicals in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. Taking a new direction with the publication of Against the Grain, he produced his most important novel and the first volume of a loosely connected series. This story of the decadent aristocrat, the Duc des Esseintes, had a great influence on French and English writers of the 1890’s and is described in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The jaded duc,...

(The entire section is 447 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The roots of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s eccentric character and interests are not to be found in the prosaic surface details of his biography. Born Charles Marie Georges Huysmans in Paris, the only son of a thoroughly bourgeois couple, Huysmans entered government service when he was eighteen years old and held a position in the ministry of the interior for more than thirty years. By the time he retired from that post, at the age of fifty, he had become an established author whose books had sold well enough to make him economically independent. He never married, had relatively few friends, and had played little public role in the literary or political controversies of the times. He died at the age of fifty-nine, after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Beneath this uneventful surface of a civil servant’s life, however, a private existence of increasing alienation and anguished search for meaning had developed, and the evolution of those personal feelings had found its natural expression in the literary activity that had been the most vital part of Huysmans’s life since early adulthood, although it had been pursued as an after-hours avocation. One may surmise that his feelings of alienation from his world were partly inherited: His father was a Dutch lithographer who had come to Paris in search of work when he was about thirty years of age, had married a Parisian, and, having been unsuccessful at his trade and unhappy in his marriage, had died at the age of...

(The entire section is 494 words.)