Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
En Route
Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907)
En Route, a novel, by J. K. Huysman (1895), is translated by Kegan Paul. The author, whose literary career began in 1875, has devoted himself largely to what may be termed a kind of brutal mysticism. His works ‘Marthe,’ ‘Les Sœurs Vatard,’ and ‘En Ménage,’ deal largely with themes that are sordid and scarred with hatred and ugliness, as if his mission were mainly to portray “la bêtise de l’humanite.” A morbid delight in what is corrupt leads to a corrupt mysticism. What is known as Satanism finds its extreme expression in his novel ‘La-Bas.’ It is a “surfeit of supernaturalism producing a mental nausea.” ‘En Route’ depicts the “religious” conversion of a young debauché of Paris, Dartal by name,—a character who first appears in ‘La-Bas.’ He is blasé, empty of motives of capacity for pleasure or endeavor. He takes to visiting the churches; feels a certain spell produced by the ritual and music; and at length, drawn into the monastic retreat of La Trappe, he becomes a convert to religion, and dwells with delight and much fine analysis on his experience of a kind of ecstasy of restraints, a “frenzy of chastity.” The story is autobiographic: “the history of a soul.” It abounds in passages of great brilliancy and beauty; and in some of the meditations on the inner meaning of the ritual, and the effect of the music of the church, his interpretations will meet with a very sympathetic response from many readers. His description of the Breviary is a splendid piece of writing. The book may be called a faithful account of the “ritualistic disease,” as it affects the French mind. “It was not so much himself advancing into the unknown, as the unknown surrounding, penetrating, possessing him little by little.” He closes suddenly with his entering into the “night obscure” of the mystics. “It is inexpressible. Nothing can reveal the anguish necessary to pass through to enter this mystic knowledge.” The soul of the writer seems to think aloud in the pages of his book; he frankly portrays his condition: “too much writer to become a monk; too much monk to remain a writer.” The reader remains in doubt, after all, as to whither the hero of the book is en route. ‘En Route’ is a perfect guide-book to the churches of Paris, their exteriors and interiors, their clergy, and the daily life of each church.  1

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