Linking The Picture of Dorian Gray and Huysmans’ A rebours (Exercise #3)

TASK:

For this interpretive reading exercise, please pick one passage (one sentence or up to one paragraph long) from both Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and from Huysmans’ A rebours (Against the Grain; Against Nature) that importantly links the two novels, in your opinion, for example with regard to common themes, characters, moods, ideas, style, plots points, etc.   Insert your passages below (indicate from which novel), and add a very brief explanation of the type of link you see.  

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Page 156 of Dorian Gray :
“As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all”
Page 65 of Against Nature :
” The reading of the Latin works he loved, works almost all composed by bishops and monks, had undoubtedly played a part in bringing on this crisis. Enveloped in a convent-like atmosphere that was scented with the heady, intoxicating perfume of incense, his nerves had become overwrought and, through associations of ideas, these books had, in the end, repressed the memories of his life as a young man, and brought back into the limelight these memories of his childhood years with the Jesuit Father.”

Explanation:  I find the juxtaposition of these two passages particularly interesting for two reasons. The first, is that both passages bring forth the question of the role of art : what is its impact ? What is its purpose? Is it that “beautiful things mean only Beauty” as Wilde put forth in the Preface of Dorian Gray, in certain respect foreshadowing the Parnassian ideal of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake). How do works of art influence those who witness or experience them, if at all?  This first point brings forth the second question which is implicit in both these passages, and that is the question of responsibility. Both Dorian Gray and Des Esseintes are quick to throw the blame for their less-than-ideal behavior and hedonism on the art they have allegedly been influenced by. But to what extent is this allegation fair? And, if it is, does this mean that art itself is the responsible party? We would need to accept a different definition and different connotations for the word “art”, where its representatives would no longer only be beautiful, but also potentially ugly and evil, as seems to be suggested by both of the novels (and by the decadent movement itself).

Post by CAN

Page 138 of À Rebours (Against Nature)

Des Esseintes étudiait, analysait l’âme de ces fluides, faisait l’exégèse de ces textes ; il se complaisait à jouer pour sa satisfaction personnelle, le rôle d’un psychologue, à démonter et à remonter les rouages d’une œuvre, à dévisser les pièces formant la structure d’une exhalaison composée […].” (201) / Des Esseintes studied an analysed the essence of these fluids, carried out an exegesis, so to speak, of their texts; he delighted in playing, for his own personal satisfaction, the role of a psychologist, taking apart and re-assembling the mechanism of a work, unscrewing the pieces that formed the structure of a compound perfume […].”

Ch. 11 of  The Picture of Dorian Gray

“And so [Dorian] would now study perfumes and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily scented oils  and burning odorous gums from the East […] and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of perfumes […] that are said to be able to expel melancholy from the soul.”

Explanation: The link in those two passages is quite obvious and pertain the idea according to which a certain form of art, in this case the art of creating complex perfumes, could cure the soul (as a ‘psychology’). In the chapter 11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde draws on  this peculiar and yet mysterious representation of the Decadent aesthetic of the Fin de Siècle. This allegory of the art of mixing essences and composing perfumes is associated with the art of combining word, and meaning (alternatively through a ‘psychology’ or as ‘poetry’), that is to say, through something that is essentially intangible and spiritual.

– R.C.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, page 52 (Chapter 4):

“‘The only artists I have ever known, who are personally delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But the inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. he lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.'” (Lord Henry)

A rebours, page 152 (Chapter 14):

“Des Esseintes, who, out of a loathing for the banal and the commonplace, would have welcomed the most laboured literary follies, the most flamboyant extravaganzas, passed many lighthearted hours with this book, in which the comic was intermingled with a chaotic energy, where single disconcerting lines would shine forth brilliantly from totally unintelligible poems like the litanies of his ‘Sommeil’, where at a certain point he described sleep as: ‘Obscène confesseur des dévotes mort-nées.'”

When I first read this passage from A rebours, I immediately thought of Lord Henry, and specifically of this interaction that he has with Dorian. On the surface, the two passages are quite different. One, that from A rebours, describes a specific work from a specific artist; the other discusses the nature of artists and their role in society in general. In both of these passages, however, what strikes me more than anything is the element of something beautiful shining through the “commonplace” murk. In the passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry is drawing a distinction between life and art, and suggesting that one can excel only in one of these. In the case of the good artist, the artist’s work is the bright point in the rest of the artist’s boring life. In the case of the bad artist, the social interest that the artist exudes shines through the mediocrity of the person’s art. In the passage from A rebours, this is on a smaller scale. Des Esseintes contemplates poetry in which certain lines shine forth from the surrounding mediocrity. It is not the artist as a person that Des Esseintes is considering, but rather the artist’s work. In both cases, this reminds me of the nature of individuality and its importance in Decadent and other literary types, as in these passages there is something special about the subject (the person or the poem, respectively) that stands out. These passages also both remind me of the idea of pleasure for the moment. In the passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray, this moment is less temporal than conceptual, a moment of a person’s entire being rather than a moment of time. In A rebours, this moment can be temporal, in the space of time in which the poem is read, or spacial, if looking at the poem on a page and noting the phrases, or moments, that shine amongst the rest.

-M.P.

P. 165-166 of À rebours: “La verité c’est que je tâche simplement de préparer un assassin. Suis bien, en effet mon raisonnement. Ce garçon est vierge et a atteint l’âge où le sang bouillone […] il prendra l’habitude de ses jouissances que ses moyens lui interdisent. […] En poussant les choses à l’extrême, il tuera je l’espère […] alors mon but sera atteint, j’aurai contribué à créer un gredin, un ennemi de plus pour cette hideuse société qui nous rançonne. […] Fais aux autres ce que tu ne veux pas qu’ils te fassent; avec cette maxime tu iras loin.”

P. 135-136 of Dorian Gray: “As Dorian hurried up [the house’s] three rickety steps, the heavy odour of opium met him. He heaved a deep breath and his nostrils quivered with pleasure. When he entered, a young man with smooth yellow hair, who was bending over a lamp, lighting a long thin pipe, looked up at him, and nodded in a hesitating manner. ‘You here Adrian?’ muttered Dorian. ‘Where else should I be?’ he answered, listlessly. ‘None of the chaps will speak to me now.’ […] ‘I don’t care,’ he added with a sigh. ‘As long as one has this stuff, one doesn’t want friends. I think I have had too many friends.'”

Explanation:

In the above passages, we see two characters that both Dorian and des Esseintes have corrupted. Although each young man’s descent into darkness is different, both of the leading men knew what they were doing when they set out to do so (in one case the whore house, and in the other the opium den). Although the distortion of Adrian’s soul is less explicit, and less premeditated than the corruption of the 16 year old assassin, the end goal is one and the same. It must be said at this point, that Dorian has already been “poisoned” by Huysmans’s novel. Should we therefore associate his slandering of male youths as a result of his reading? When Basil enumerated the young men and women that have been negatively affected by Dorian’s decadent behavior, the reader is caught off guard. We know Dorian is slowly becoming a vile human being, but chapters have passed in which we know nothing of his behavior. All of a sudden the transformation is complete—Dorian is truly and totally changed by the yellow book, and our proof lies in Adrian’s filthy surroundings and addiction. Although he is an addict (as opposed to a killer), I see Adrian as the 16-year-old assassin a year or two after des Esseintes has met him, and therefore altered him.

MCR

From the Picture of Dorian Gray, page 159:

“[Dorian’s knife] would kill the past and when that was dead he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and, without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it” (159).

From À rebours, page 180:

‘May you crumble into dust, society, old world, may you expire!’ claimed Des Esseintes, filled with indignation at the ignominious spectacle he was conjuring up, his protest shattering the nightmare that oppressed him…the soul sees nothing that upon reflection, it does not find distressing” (180).

Explanation: What stood out to me most here about these passages were the parallels in both word choice and meaning. In both passages, there are words used that connote strong or violent images; consider “kill”, “dead”, “monstrous soul-life”, and “hideous warnings” used in the Picture of Dorian Gray, along with “crumble into dust”, “ignominious spectacle”, “nightmare”, and “oppressed” in À rebours. This was clearly intentional, and it effectively reveals some of the more subtle feelings of the character at hand while at the same establishing a more somber mood. In addition, both passages mention destruction of the past, or of old society, which I thought was an important theme of both texts. Finally, the last sentence of the passage from À rebours– “the soul sees nothing that upon reflection, it does not find distressing” seemed to me something that could have absolutely been placed in the Picture of Dorian Gray. The double negative here makes it a bit hard to understand, but it seemed to be saying something like “when the soul reflects itself, it does not like what it sees”—which is perhaps one of the most important themes in Dorian Gray, therefore drawing further parallels between the two texts. -MG

From Against Nature, p. 18-19:

“The imagination could easily compensate for the vulgar reality of actual experience. In his view, it was possible to fulfill those desires reputed to be the most difficult to satisfy in normal life, by means of a trifling subterfuge, an approximate simulation of the object of those very desires.”

From the Picture of Dorian Gray, Ch. 11:

“And, certainly to him Life itself was the first, the greatest of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.”

Explanation: Putting these two quotes in juxtaposition reveals a fundamental difference between Dorian Gray and Des Esseintes’ characters. While Des Esseintes scorns the real and buries himself within the artificial, Dorian actively pursues the real life experience. This dissonance of attitude toward the real reveals something of both men’s idea about art. For Des Esseintes, it is the artificial, above all, that holds artistic value. Its feat of simulating the real so well and so sufficiently makes it praiseworthy in its own right, especially since it is a direct product of human genius. There is also some sense that valuing the artificial above all has some utilitarian value: if the artificial is a sufficient replacement for the real, he need not bother with the real world that wearies and annoys him so much. Dorian, on the other hand, relishes the life experience as the ultimate form of art. This is a stark contrast from Des Esseintes’ subjugation of such experience to the higher ideal of artifice. By reversing this hierarchy and placing experience above all artifice – or perhaps exalting experience as the ultimate form of artifice – Dorian locates the most artistic value in the lived life. He roams the city while Des Esseintes shuts himself away; he is drawn to and fascinated by people whereas Des Esseintes spurns them. Whether the differences between the two can be put down merely to a difference in disposition – one is socially charismatic while the other is a misanthropic recluse – or a more fundamental difference their opinion of art is not clear. Given, however, that Dorian takes his inspiration from Des Esseintes, the contrast is interesting. -A.A.

_______________________________________________________

*** From Huysmans (beginning of Chapter VIII – third paragraph) : “He liked to compare a horticulturist’s shop to a microcosm in which all categories of society were represented: the flowers that are poor and coarse, the flowers of the slum, which are not truly at home unless reposing in a garret window-sill, their roots jammed into a milk bottle or an old pot, the sunflower for example; the pretentious, conformist, stupid flowers, like the rose, which belong exclusively in porcelain holders painted by young girls; finally the flowers of high lineage such as orchids, delicate and charming and quiveringly sensitive to cold, exotic flowers exiled in Paris to the warmth of glass palaces, princesses of the vegetable kingdom, living a segregated life, having no long anything in common with the plants of the street or the flora of the middle classes.”

*** From Wilde (toward the end of Chapter XI – sixth-to-last paragraph) : “Yet these whispered scandals only increased in the eyes of many his strange and dangerous charm. His great wealth was a certain element of security. Society — civilized society, at least — is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating. It feels instinctively that manners are of more importance than morals, and, in its opinion, the highest respectability is of much less value than the possession of a good chef. And, after all, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who has given one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his private life. Even the cardinal virtues cannot atone for half-cold entrees, as Lord Henry remarked once, in a discussion on the subject, and there is possibly a good deal to be said for his view. For the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us. Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.”

*** Explanation – The first passage that drew my attention was the one from Huysmans’ novel, to which attention was brought during our class on Monday. My impression of the passage was that it was a perfect little dig at the expense of the realist/naturalist strain of fiction against which Huysmans was ostensibly reacting. The notion of the “microcosm” was what inspired this impression of mine; one thinks of the famous opening of Balzac’s “Père Goriot,” for example, and manner in which the reader is introduced to the characters through the architectonics of the Maison Vauquer. Moreover, the manner in which the flowers are described in terms of their living conditions, ones that are “ideal” or “less-than-ideal” depending upon what essential properties the organisms possess and what sorts of circumstances are required for those properties to fulfill their potentiality, for the organism to become what it is, so to speak, makes one think of the positivist outlook and broadly deterministic picture of social relations novels like Zola’s seem to evince. More properly to Huysmans’ novel, however, the passage underlines themes we’ve certainly discussed in class, perhaps foremost the delight in artificiality that is palpable throughout. However, in light of the novel’s preoccupations with the proper order of society, to which I suspect more credit is due than the one we’ve given it, this delight in artificiality would seem to consist in a celebration of humankind’s capacity to create a kind of “second nature” for itself (as evidenced by those flowers — exotic princesses — who, despite being utterly wrested from their proper place, nonetheless retain their sense of distinction and superiority in an otherwise alien environment to which they do not actually have claims to authority). Having hopefully made clear and plausible what I find interesting in this passage, though more could be said, I will now say something about Wilde’s passage, which I take to be expressing something of consonance. In his typically tart fashion, Wilde ascribes to Dorian (who cites Lord Henry approvingly in explicating his view) the thought that, in his case, appearances are what count, to put it simplistically. That is, to say the same thing in a relatively more complicated way, Wilde gives voice to what might be called a perversion of a broadly Hume-inspired picture of moral evaluation wherein reason is muted and impression-based sentiments get the upper-hand. It is thus, presumably, that seemingly superficial (and, for most of us, morally irrelevant) factors such as one’s dinner etiquette come to matter more than deeper (and, for most of us, morally relevant) factors such as how one comports oneself in morally loaded scenarios. The remarks that ensue having to do with how essential “form” is, how the canons of society are (or should be) the canons of art, how life should have the “dignity” and “unreality” of “ceremony,” and how it should have the insincerity of worthwhile plays, an insincerity that engenders a multifaceted (literally, “many-faced”) eruption of identity, all seem (to me, anyway) to strike several notes regarding artificiality in a way similar to the Huysmans passage I described above. Here, too, a kind of “second nature” (a “second moral nature,” to be precise) seems to be celebrated, though perhaps with a greater ambivalence or irony than in Huysmans. Nonetheless, both passages similarly express the sense in which the covering-over or doubling of “nature” (as some sort of foundational state of affairs) is a distinctly human activity, one from which it is unlikely to extricate itself. – DJM

From The Picture of Dorian Gray:

“Campbell buried his face in his hands, and a shudder passed through him.

‘Yes, it is my turn to dictate terms, Alan. You know what they are. The thing is quite simple. Come, don’t work yourself into this fever. The thing has to be done. Face it, and do it.'” (125)

From Against Nature:

“‘To take an extreme case, Auguste will– I hope– kill the man who turns up at the wrong moment while the lad’s trying to break into his desk; in that event I’ll have achieved my purpose, I’ll have contributed, as far as lies within my power, to create a scoundrel, one more enemy of this hideous society which is holding us to ransom.'” (60)

Explanation: Both of these scenes reveal the manipulative nature of the protagonists. Dorian uses blackmail to convince Campbell to conceal Basil’s murder. Des Esseintes purposefully manipulates a young, lower-class boy into a life of crime and perhaps murder. In addition to the negative Bildungsroman aspect of Dorian Gray (the novel and character), both of these instances can be seen as a degeneration of two males subservient to Dorian and Des Esseintes, who belong to the upper classes of society. – KJO

From The Picture of Dorian Gray:
(Pg 122-3) In a few moments Alan Campbell walked in, looking very stern and rather pale, his pallor being intensified by his coal-black hair and dark eyebrows…He spoke with slow deliberation. There was a look of contempt in the steady searching gaze that he turned on Dorian. He kept his hands in the pockets of his Astrakhan coat, and seemed not to have noticed the gesture with which he had been greeted.
From Against Nature:
(Pg 90) Des Esseintes examined him…He looked as if he should be in school, and was wretchedly dressed in a little cheviot jacket too tight round the hips…His face was disquieting; pale and drawn, with quite regular features under long black hair, it was lit up by great liquid eyes their blue-shadowed lids close toa nose stippled in gold by a few freckles; the mouth that opened beneath, though small, was bordered by thick lips divided down the centre with a groove, like a cherry. Face to face, they stared at one another for a moment, then the young man lowered his eyes and came nearer…[Des Esseintes] slowed his pace as he thoughtfully considered the young man’s mincing walk.
Explanation:
There is nothing really extraordinary about the two passages that I have chosen to compare, as the ones that I specifically had in mind earlier have already been discussed. But these in particular struck me as being significant because they bear witness to the encounter between the respective protagonist of each novel and their (former) lover. It is probably mere chance, but both Alan Campbell and the unnamed boy-lover that Des Esseintes takes on are described as pale, serious-faced young men, with black hair and a nervous, almost surly attitude. The in-depth characterization of these characters’ appearances, demeanor, and dress (in addition to the detailed description allotted to Jacques in Monsieur Vénus) may lead one to speculate that there may have been certain physical stereotypes that were identified with the gay sub-culture–just as we have clichés and stereotypes today, there may have been pre-conceived notions of how gay men and women dress and look, which Wilde and Huysmans invoke in their novels. -LH

From Against Nature, “Preface Written 20 Years After the Novel” 

“The truth is that Pride would have been the most splendid of sins to study, in its diabolical ramifications of cruelty towards others and of false humility, that Gluttony, dragging in its wake Lust, Sloth, and Covetousness, would have provided material for astonishing investigations, if these sins had been scrutinized by a Believer…” (pg 184)

From The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter 12

“‘…Come, I tell you. You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face.’ There was the madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stamped his foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent manner. He felt a terrible joy at the thought that someone else was to share his secret, and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin of all his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with the hideous memory of what he had done. ‘Yes,’ he continued, coming closer to him, and looking steadfastly into his stern eyes, ‘I shall show you my soul. You shall see the thing that you fancy only God can see.'” (pg 113-114)

Explanation: If it were historically possible, I would believe that Wilde wrote Picture as an answer to Huysmans’ challenge. I hadn’t thought of him this way before, but Dorian is perhaps one of the most obvious examples in all of literature of an investigation of the diabolical ramifications of pride. The first change to the portrait is the “touch of cruelty around the mouth” (74) from his appalling treatment of Sibyl Vane. Right before Dorian murders him, Basil tells him that his “prayer of pride” (115) had been answered. He is driven to stab the portrait at least in part by his proud refusal to confess his sins. Despite the corruption of the painting, this is no sensationalist piece with shocking tales of lust and gluttony littering every chapter; Dorian’s (mis)adventures are only implied and left to the reader’s imagination. By pushing Dorian’s other vices and excesses into the background, Wilde brings only Dorian’s pride into focus. And it is a masterful study. –LN

“I was putting into practice the layman’s parable, the allegory of universal education which aims at nothing less than transforming all men into Langloises, by – instead of permanently and mercifully putting out the eyes of the poor – by striving to force them to open their eyes wide, so that they may notice that some of their neighbours have destinies that are quite undeservedly more merciful, and enjoy pleasures that are keener and more multi-faceted and, consequently, more desirable and more precious … the fact is that since pain is an effect of education, since it deepens and sharpens in proportion as ideas spring up, the more one tries to polish the intelligence and to refine the nervous system of those poor devils, the more one will develop in them those fiercely long-lasting seeds of moral suffering and of hatred” (Huysman, 61).

“He was a marvelous type, too, this lad, whom by so curious a chance he had met in Basil’s studio; or could be fashioned into a marvelous type, at any rate … There was nothing that one could not do with him. He could be made a Titan or a toy … Yes; he would try to be to Dorian Gray what, without knowing it, the lad was to the painter who had fashioned the wonderful portrait. He would seek to dominate him – had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirit his own. There was something fascinating in this son of Love and Death.” (Wilde, 40).

Explanation: I think both Des Esseintes and Lord Henry bear an interest in “fashioning” others into what they would like. I’m curious as to whether or not Wilde thinks this exerting of influence and molding of others is inherently bad, as Des Esseintes seems to portray education. As a result, I put these two passages in juxtaposition but would also like to consider the overall trajectory of The Picture of Dorian Gray: after all, Dorian does decay after coming into contact with Lord Henry.

– E.R.

“the leaves were set with the stones of an intense, unequivocal green:  with asparagus-green chrysoberyls; with leek-green peridots; with olive-green olivines; and they stood out against the branches made of purplish-red almandine and ouvarovite, sparkling with a dry brilliance like those flakes of scale that shine on the inside of wine-casks,” (Huysmans, 37).

“He would often spend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns red by lamp light, the cymophane with its wire-like line of silver, the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes, carbuncles of fiery scarlet…” (Wilde, 102).

IPN

“After dissociating himself from contemporary life he had resolved to introduce into his retreat no larvae of aversions or regrets; he had therefore wanted paintings that were subtle, exquisite, steeped in an ancient vision, in an antique corruption, remote from our ways, remote from our time.” – Against Nature, p. 44

“Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins – he was to have all these things.  The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.” – The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 84

Both Des Esseintes and Dorian Gray seek to escape from responsibility, shame and regret.  Des Esseintes does so by removing himself from the corruption “contemporary life,” and Dorian does so by allowing his portrait to carry his corruption.  Both men create an unreal world for themselves.  Des Esseintes is steeped in his dreams of antiquity, surrounded by images that suite his world, and Dorian plans a life of “eternal youth” and unchecked pleasure.  Neither wants to deal with the consequences of society, neither wants to bother with “regrets” or “shame,” and both want to live in a self-fashioned world. -YG

________________________________________________________

“…go straight home…and keep in mind this quasi-biblical saying: ‘Do unto others as you would not have them do unto you”… A Rebours, p. 60

“There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful.” The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 109

These quotations suggest the subversion of traditional morality for the sake of aesthetics. In the first example, Des Esseintes urges Auguste to take up a life of crime, which Des Esseintes  hopes will escalate to murder. Des Esseintes corrupts the Golden Rule to coerce Auguste, and this inversion reveals much about Des Esseintes’s ideology. There is something prideful in his purposeful misrepresentation. In the same way, Dorian believes that the ultimate goal is Beauty, whether it is morally questionable—even “evil”—or not.  Alcibiades.

A rebours- The entirety of Chapter 10, but specifically the section which reads, ‘I’m going to have to very wary of these delicious, detestable activities which utterly drain me,’ (Pg. 101) and the entirety of the enveloping scents of  the French fragrances of ‘jasmine, hawthorn and verbena,’ among others.

The Picture of Dorian Gray- Pg. 100- ‘in his search for sensations that that would at once be new and beautiful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to their subtle influences, and, then, having, as it were, caught their colour and satisfied his intellectual curiosity,’

A common theme running through both these novels is the idea that one can be enveloped or engrossed by art, to the point that it leads to a breakdown, either physical or mental. This is best encapsulated by the collapse of Des Esseintes in A Rebours and the obsession that Dorian develops with protecting his own personal ‘art.’ Both these sections make similar use of a rhythmic repetition that almost approaches tonal banality, thereby mimicking the enveloping nature of the fragrances and arts that entrap the souls of the two protagonists. While A Rebours contains a 5-page section purely focused on the various perfumes that Des Esseintes ingests, it is important to note that Dorian’s major  ruminations on arts, literature and fashion only come after he has read the ‘little yellow book’ that represents Huysmans’ masterpiece. Here, in a more microcosmic sense, Huysmans’ book itself is revealed to have profoundly affected Dorian’s spirit and rendered his fascination with transcending human impermanence. Therefore, it follows that we see in the two novels a shared belief in art’s inherent power and its ability to exert a powerful hysteria- note that Des Esseintes’ fainting spell would have been considered as traditionally feminine- upon men who should know better- note once again how much is made of the two characters’ education. Art as obsession is the key theme that binds these two novels.- DF

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