route cover

En route (1895)


The Nation

1 July 1897 (Vol. 65, No. 1670). New York: USA.

En Route. By J K Huysmans. Translated from the French by C Kegan Paul

London — Kegan Paul & Co; New York — New Amsterdam Book Co.

The translator of M Huysmans’s ’En Route’ says, in a preface, that the "true interest of the book is in the defence of monastic orders and the description of such a life seen from very near." The description is undoubtedly interesting, but its value as a defence is small, because, for a Catholic, the monastic system needs no defence, and others can hardly fail to be offended, if not shocked, by a close view of the Trappists and other ascetic communities. It is even possible that an exposure of the mysteries, which probably takes the license of fiction, might appear to a devout Catholic blasphemous as the desecration of a shrine. After the miracle of Durtal’s conversion, which is assumed in the beginning, his struggles to cleanse a decidedly filthy mind are narrated at great length with noticeable literary force and skill. The analysis of his fears, doubts, hopes, depressions, and exaltations is frank and radical, but the conception of a soul’s travail is sensual and intellectual, while the operation of spiritual grace is only an assumption. The fascination of mysticism for certain natures is set forth with fullness of detail which makes it both revolting and ridiculous to other natures, and serves to fortify a common opinion that the agonies and ecstasies of mystics are mostly an abnormal exaltation of the senses willfully deprived of natural outlets. The traditions of the Catholic church, its music, architecture, ritual, and imposing functions, are freely used to obtain effects sometimes intensely dramatic and sometimes cheaply theatrical. The translator credits M. Huysmans with a sincere intention to redeem wanderers from the faith, it is not hard to think of soberer methods which mould surely be more efficacious.