What can a book become? A song? A film? Another book? Or a niche perfume? As Timothy Han / Edition launches Against Nature, Dino Bonačić looks at the influence of the obscure novel that defined a most decadent movement.
Doesn’t independence feel so decadent these days? Thinking for yourself, fighting against everything you believe is wrong and for everything you consider to be right. The collective stream of similar thoughts wash over one like a wave, too strong for an individual to fight against. At the end of the day, defeated, they quit give in.
But then there’s Jean des Esseintes. He is not one to quit trying. He goes his own way,
“Dorian Gray reads ‘Against Nature’ and causes, shall we say, mischief all over Victorian England, inspired by the decadence of Jean des Esseintes.”
Joris-Karl Huysmans’ 1884 book Against Nature (À rebours) is a novel that caused quite a commotion without making much noise. Tectonic plates of influence rumbling beneath the surface. Its main character, Jean des Esseintes, was a symbol of a self-proclaimed anti-bourgeois society. He used his eccentric experiences to rail against the bourgeoise, and formatted a whole new reality out of his own vision of the world around him. Gustave Moreau’s paintings on the wall with Baudleaire’s poetry scattered around the room. He was a decadent man, one that believed he was better the other decadents he railed against. A man you’d love to hate.
Just six years after Huysmans’ novel was published, Oscar Wilde released the first version of The Picture of Dorian Gray in Philadephia based literary publication Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. In those eighteen years that Wilde’s infamous transgressor enjoyed the eternal beauty of his picture, he was sustained by inspiration from a dirty French novel. Indeed, Dorian Gray read Against Nature whilst causing debauchery all over Victorian England. Inspired by the decadence of Jean des Esseintes. The thoughts Jean des Esseintes imagined transcended into actions Dorian Gray enacted; the symbolism transformed into his own version of reality. And so do we with the books we read. Some of us take those novels and make other books, others turn them into films. Some, like Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, create a questionable album titled after the book. And then there’s the parfumeurs, taking lines and turning them into scents. Delicious, confusing, thought-provoking scents.
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