Des Esseintes' Infatuation with Artifice in Huysmans' Against Nature

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Des Esseintes' Infatuation with Artifice in Huysmans' Against Nature

In J.-K Huysmans Against Nature, Des Esseintes rebels against his family, religion, and Parisian society to establish an identity unique to himself. He perceives this rejection of the truistic self as the development of individuality when, in actuality, it is only a self deriving from his reaction to the overstimulated public. By decorating his abode with eccentric objects, he falsely believes that he can detach himself from the common populace. When he finds new objects to focus upon, he is able to depose his emotions and instill them within the object. Des Esseintes wants to be a rare individual; through his bizarre purchasing and decorum he thinks he is his
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Among these predetermined characteristics that make Des Esseintes eccentric from birth, his parents are both faded characters; his mother had nervous attacks when she was under lights or heard noises and his father “was almost a complete stranger” because he was constantly on business trips5. His mother’s need to be in darkness gives reason as to why Des Esseintes enjoys colours and light. Esseintes becomes a radically outlandish character in opposition to his extremely drab, distant parents. His childhood is riddled with boredom and solitude which enforces his natural tendency to be an outcast. While Des Esseintes may claim to have a unadulterated identity, he does many things in response to his upbringing:

“Thus, in hateful and contemptuous memory of his childhood, he had suspended from the ceiling of this room a little silver cage containing a cricket which chirped as other crickets had once chirped among the embers in the fireplace at Chateau de Lourps. Whenever he heard this familiar sound, all the silent evenings of constraint he had spent in his mother’s company and all the misery he had endured in the course of a lonely, unhappy childhood came back to haunt him”6.

By having this as a reminder of his mother and of Chateau de Lourps, Des Esseintes is momentarily able to purge himself of the past. The object is an escape from the reality of his past memories and recollections. When he engages in
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