route cover

En route (1895)


The Nation

24 May 1919. London.

Books in Brief

Is the religious quickening caused by the world war responsible for the American re-issue of Huysmans’s "En Route" (Dutton)? First published in England in 1896, one year after the appearance of the French original, this story of a soul’s conversion and purification is in no sense a novel; it is a confession, exhaustive and exhausting in its prolix introspective honesty — a confession which only recalls the tortured self-questionings of St. Augustine. It progresses as slowly and heavily as they, with something of the rambling solidity of the monastery walls which frame as many chapters; but it has a psychological interest in the rugged vividness of its self-dissection, as in the vividness and realistic strength of its time-worn background of stone. One seems to be lifted back into the Middle Ages, to realize something of their naive belief, in this narrative filled with sombrely magnificent pictures, wherein an author’s religious experience develops into little essays or dialogues on the "Dies Irae", the "De Profundis", the symbolism of the Liturgy, the lives and miracles of the saints, the monastic rule, and the various orders and monasteries. It is, indeed, a disguised confession; the translator’s preface, an attempt to prove the objectivity of the story, is belied by the subsequent facts of Huysmans’s life. His own conversion was attended if not conditioned by similar retreats to similar asylums; he, too, was led to mysticism aesthetically, through his senses; indeed, his whole art, after is first moment of objective naturalism, only shows us the personal reactions of its author’s own pessimism, as the sick man turned here or there in his search for an anodyne for his exasperated neurasthenia. From his nerves, indeed, his art, like his dyspepsia, sprang: his diction, rough, vibrant, surly, "strangles the image in a muscular fist," or slashes deep into the corpus vile of life, with no professional apologies to the reader. Argot, neologisms — all words are good, if they will but give him the last fleeting impression, sharpen the very razor edge of the sensation. The translation by Mr. Kegan Paul is faithful to this blunt honesty, as it is to the religious motive of the original.