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J.K Huysmans

            Strangely enough, J.K. Huysmans is probably more well-known today because of Oscar Wilde than his own works, yet it was Huysmans who preceded and profoundly influenced Wilde. Huysmans chief work, the 1884 A Rebours (Against the Grain), the most important work of The Decadence movement at the time, is more famously known as the corrupting book read by Dorian Gray in the Oscar Wilde’s novel. Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, the illustrator of Salomé, so adored Huysmans that they took a pilgrimage to paris to see him in the 1890’s, only to find the reformed Huysman cloistered in a monastery, refusing to meet with them and cautioning against the Decadent path. (http://www.banger.com/art/zaid/index.html)

            Although best known for its place in Dorian Gray, A rebours had an equally great influence on Salomé. Wilde was obsessed with Huysman’s descriptions of Gustave Moreau’s paintings of Salomé, almost preferring them to the paintings themselves. (Satzinger 235). The language Huysman used in these descriptions would be echoed by Wilde in Salomé:

La face recueillie, solennelle, presque auguste, elle commence la lubrique danse qui doit réveiller les sens assoupis du vieil Hérode ; ses seins ondulent et, au frottement de ses colliers qui tourbillonnent, leurs bouts se dressent ; sur la moiteur de sa peau les diamants, attachés, scintillent ; ses bracelets, ses ceintures, ses bagues, crachent des étincelles ; sur sa robe triomphale, couturée de perles, ramagée d'argent, lamée d'or, la cuirasse des orfèvreries dont chaque maille est une pierre, entre en combustion, croise des serpenteaux de feu, grouille sur la chair mate, sur la peau rose thé, ainsi que des insectes splendides aux élytres éblouissants, marbrés de carmin, ponctués de jaune aurore, diaprés de bleu d'acier, tigrés de vert paon.
            (Huysman, A Rebours, Ch. 5)

Her face wore a thoughtful, solemn, almost reverent expression as she began the wanton dance that was to rouse the dormant passions of the old Herod; her bosoms quiver and, touched lightly by her swaying necklets, their rosy points stand pouting; on the moist skin of her body glitter clustered diamonds; from bracelets, belts, rings, dart sparks of fire; over her robe of triumph, bestrewn with pearls, broidered with silver, studded with gold, a corselet of chased goldsmith's work, each mesh of which is a precious stone, seems ablaze with coiling fiery serpents, crawling and creeping over the pink flesh like gleaming insects with dazzling wings of brilliant colours, scarlet with bands of yellow like the dawn, with patterned diapering like the blue of steel, with stripes of peacock green. (Translation from http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/jkh/rebours.html)

Not only are the flavor, the sensuality, the lyricism, and the adoring, staring gaze on Salomé all found in Salomé, but also its precise imagery and language. Compare the description of jewels in the above passage to those by Herod taken from Salomé:

Hérode:  Vous voyez, vous ne m'écoutez pas. Mais soyez calme. Moi, je suis très calme. Je suis tout à fait calme. Écoutez. J'ai des bijoux cachés ici que même votre mère n'a jamais vus, des bijoux tout à fait extraordinaires. J'ai un collier de perles à quatre rangs. On dirait des lunes enchaînées de rayons d'argent. On dirait cinquante lunes captives dans un filet d'or. Une reine l'a porté sur l'ivoire de ses seins. Toi, quand tu le porteras, tu seras aussi belle qu'une reine. J'ai des améthystes de deux espèces. Une qui est noire comme le vin. L'autre qui est rouge comme du vin qu'on a coloré avec de l'eau. J'ai des topazes jaunes comme les yeux des tigres, et des topazes roses comme les yeux des pigeons, et des topazes vertes comme les yeux des chats. J'ai des opales qui brulent toujours avec une flamme qui est très froide, des opales qui attristent les esprits et ont peur des ténèbres. J'ai des onyx semblables aux prunelles d'une morte. J'ai des sélénites qui changent quand la lune change et deviennent pâles quand elles voient le soleil. J'ai des saphirs grands comme des neufs et bleus comme des fleurs bleues. La mer erre dedans, et la lune ne vient jamais troubler le bleu de ses flots. J'ai des chrysolithes et des béryls, j'ai des chrysoprases et des rubis, j'ai des sardonyx et des hyacinthes, et des calcédoines et je vous les donnerai tous, mais tous, et j'ajouterai d'autres choses. Le roi des Indes vient justement de m'envoyer quatre éventails faits de plumes de perroquets, et le roi de Numidie une robe faite
de plumes d'autruche. J'ai un cristal qu'il n'est pas permis aux femmes de voir et que même les jeunes hommes ne doivent regarder qu'après avoir été flagellés de verges. Dans un coffret de nacre j'ai trois turquoises merveilleuses. Quand on les porte sur le front on peut imaginer des choses qui n'existent pas, et quand on les porte dans la main on peut rendre les femmes stériles. Ce sont des trésors de grande valeur. Ce sont des trésors sans prix. Et ce n'est pas tout. Dans un coffret d'ébène j'ai deux coupes d'ambre qui ressemblent àdes pommes d'or. Si un ennemi verse du poison dans ces coupes elles deviennent comme des pommes d'argent. Dans un coffret incrusté d'ambre j'ai des sandales incrustées de verre. J'ai des manteaux qui viennent du pays des Sères et des bracelets garnis d'escarboucles et de jade qui viennent de la ville d'Euphrate . . . (Wilde, Salome)

Herod:Listen. I have jewels hidden in this place -- jewels that thy mother even has never seen; jewels that are marvellous to look at. I have a collar of pearls, set in four rows. They are like unto moons chained with rays of silver. They are even as half a hundred moons caught in a golden net. On the ivory breast of a queen they have rested. Thou shalt be as fair as a queen when thou wearest them. I have amethysts of two kinds; one that is black like wine, and one that is red  like wine that one has coloured with water. I have topazes yellow as are the eyes of tigers, and topazes that are pink as the eyes of a wood-pigeon, and green topazes that are as the eyes of cats. I have opals that burn always, with a flame that is cold as ice, opals that make sad men's minds, and are afraid of the shadows. I have onyxes like the eyeballs of a dead woman. I have moonstones that change when the moon changes, and are wan when they see the sun. I have sapphires big like eggs, and as blue as blue flowers. The sea wanders within them, and the moon comes never to trouble the blue of their waves. I have chrysolites and beryls, and chrysoprases and rubies; I have sardonyx and hyacinth stones, and stones of chalcedony, and I will give them all unto thee, all, and other things will I add to them. The King of the Indies has but even now sent me four fans fashioned from the feathers of parrots, and the King of Numidia a garment of ostrich feathers. I have a crystal, into which it is not lawful for a woman to look, nor may young men behold it until they have been beaten with rods. In a coffer of nacre I have three wondrous turquoises. He who wears them on his forehead can imagine things which are not, and he who carries them in his hand can turn the fruitful woman into a woman that is barren. These are great treasures. They are treasures above all price. But this is not all. In an ebony coffer I have two cups of amber that are like apples of pure gold. If an enemy pour poison into these cups they become like apples of silver. In a coffer incrusted with amber I have sandals incrusted with glass. I have mantles that have been brought from the land of the Serer, and bracelets decked about with carbuncles and with jade that come from the city of Euphrates . . . .
(Lord Alfred Douglas translation

LINKS

Huysman's A rebours, French

Huysman's Against the Grain (English translation)

Huysman’s descriptions of Moreau’s paintings, w/ the paintings themselves

Original illustrations of A Rebours

Literary Influences

Flaubert

Mallarmé

Huysmans

Maeterlinck

Moreau and Beardsley

Images

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