Other literary forms

Although writing fiction was the prime vocation of Joris-Karl Huysmans (HOY-smahnz) throughout his active career of some thirty years, his novels were regularly interspersed with other kinds of writing, mostly journalistic and, during his final decade, primarily religious. His first publication was not a novel but a collection of short journalistic pieces written in the lyric style of Charles Baudelaire’s prose poems: Le Drageoir aux épices (1874; A Dish of Spices, 1927). Six years later, he published a larger collection of the same kind of writing, this time under a more descriptive and prosaic title, Croquis parisiens (1880; Parisian Sketches, 1962). Neither collection of prose poems added significantly to his reputation, but when he turned his hand to art criticism, he was quickly noticed for his discernment in spotting the best work of the new Impressionist school.

Huysmans’s studies of Impressionism appeared in book form in 1883, under the title L’Art moderne. In 1905, toward the end of his life, he would publish another collection of articles on art and architecture, Certains (1889; translated with L’Art moderne as Critical Papers, 1927). That same year he also published Trois Primitifs (three primitives), an expression of his interest in religious art. His other nonfictional writings on religious subjects include the hagiographical Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam (1901; St. Lydwine of Schiedam, 1923) and a book about the meaning of the shrine at Lourdes, Les Foules de Lourdes (1906; The Crowds of Lourdes, 1925). For most of his career, he contributed articles to a variety of journals, on a variety of subjects—book reviews, drama criticism, social analysis, religious architecture—but very little of that work was collected and published in book form. However, several volumes of his correspondence with various public figures, literary and other, have been published.


Joris-Karl Huysmans was too eccentric, in his person, in his interests, and in his literary activity, ever to be at the center of the intellectual life of his times. Yet, from his position on the periphery, he was able to contribute at least three notable achievements to his age, all of which were influential long after his death. The first achievement was his early championing of the controversial art of the Impressionists. His ability to explain their art and to identify their aesthetic accomplishments helped the Impressionists to achieve wide public recognition as major artists and helped the public of the 1880’s to appreciate their work. Huysmans was not their only champion in the earliest days of the school—his friend Émile Zola had championed their cause even earlier than Huysmans had—but he had the great merit of expounding their artistic principles with clarity and perceptiveness, thereby also preparing a receptive public for other movements in the arts that grew out of Impressionism: Symbolism, Surrealism, and primitivism.

Two literary achievements can be added to Huysmans’s accomplishments as an art critic, both of which have clear lines of affinity with the ideas about painting that he advocated. His most lasting literary achievement was to have created two masterpieces that served his generation as models of what could be done in fiction by the literary equivalents of the Impressionist movement, known variously as Symbolism,...

(The entire section is 433 words.)


Antosh, Ruth B. Reality and Illusion in the Novels of J.-K. Huysmans. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1986.

Baldick, Robert. The Life of J.-K. Huysmans. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Banks, Brian R. The Image of Huysmans. New York: AMS Press, 1990.

Brandreth, Henry R. T. Huysmans. New York: Hillary House, 1963.

Cevasco, G. A. The Breviary of the Decadence: J.-K. Huysmans’s “À rebours” and English Literature. New York: AMS Press, 2001.

Cevasco, G. A. J.-K. Huysmans: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

Ellis, Havelock. Affirmations. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.

Hafez-Ergaut, Agnès. Le Vertige du vide: Huysmans, Céline, Sartre. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.

Kahn, Annette. J.-K. Huysmans—Novelist, Poet, and Art Critic. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1987.

Laver, James. The First Decadent: Being the Strange Life of J. K. Huysmans. New York: Citadel Press, 1955.

Lloyd, Christopher. J.-K. Huysmans and the Fin-de-Siècle Novel. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1990.

Ridge, George Ross. Joris-Karl Huysmans. New York: Twayne, 1968.