crawford cover

Studies in Foreign Literature

Virginia M Crawford

Duckworth and Co, 1899.



In the history of a human soul there are times of stress and times of lull; there are days of fiery combat followed by long months of seeming inertia and spiritual torpor. It was of the former that M. Huysmans wrote in En Route, perhaps the most extraordinary book of recent years. In La Cathédrale he has led his pilgrim Durtal by slow and deliberate steps through the intermediate stage that divides his repentance at La Trappe from his entrance into the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes. It is a period of introspection and orientation, of patient self-communing and silent longing, a period that must come to every soul if the work of conversion and illumination is to be a permanent one. Its interest is purely subjective; there is no action, no incident, hardly any characterisation. It belongs to M. Huysmans alone to create a novel from such a lack of external circumstance. I doubt whether any other living writer would have ventured on so apparently thankless a task. Of necessity the dramatic element which played so large a part in En Route is entirely absent from its sequel. The great fight between faith and unfaith is over; and as far as the outside world is concerned, the curtain might well have been rung down on the victor. But to Huysmans as to Maeterlinck, and indeed to all whose gaze would penetrate beneath life’s surface, the real tragedy of our existence only begins there where external adventure and dangers cease, and the silent hidden life of the dreamer and the mystic possesses a charm and a value denied to that of the man of action.

For my own part, I am filled with a sense of gratitude towards M. Huysmans for having given us La Cathédrale. It is full of beautiful writing, of wonderful descriptive pages, of delicate appreciations, of spiritual insight into Christian symbolism. It opens up unsuspected vistas of thought, and invests even familiar objects with a new and profound significance. For lovers of religious and Catholic art, for students of architecture, for all those whose souls have been touched however lightly by the remote beauty of mysticism, almost every page will appear endowed with a gentle, deliberate charm. Yet it is difficult to believe that the book will ever enjoy a wide popularity with the general English public. Its very form as fiction will tell against it. Rightly or wrongly, the average novel-reader does expect a certain play of incident, a pretence at least at plot, and in La Cathédrale he will find neither. Even the incomparable Mme. Bavoil, through whose intervention the reader in the early chapters looks for some relaxation from the strenuous purpose of the author, is kept sternly in the domestic background of the Abbé Gévresin’s lodging. Anticipating amusement, I can conceive that he will pronounce many of Huysmans’ most beautiful pages intolerably tedious. And it must be admitted that these are often strung together with a clumsiness which it is surprising to find in a literary artist of M. Huysmans’ experience. His transitions are carelessly effected, and the little incidents that seemingly malgr&eacue; lui he is forced to introduce serve merely as so many pegs on which to hang his erudite disquisitions. With an over-prodigal hand he pours out before the reader his treasures of mediaeval lore, the strange medley of learning that he has acquired by long gleaning in the by-paths of the world’s history. It would be easy to prove that M. Huysmans might have constructed a more effective book from out of the vast storehouse of his knowledge. But even in the somewhat disjointed state in which he has elected to give his work to the world, there are treasures of thought, of description, of learning which silence criticism.

No writer can equal M. Huysmans in sheer descriptive power. Flaubert produced an incomparable effect by his deliberate detailed pictures, his unrivalled skill in the choice of an appropriate adjective. Zola merely sees the obvious and superficial, and enumerates his points like the items in a catalogue. But Huysmans seizes at once the spiritual and the material; he identifies himself with his subject, he breathes its atmosphere, and not a detail of the physical features escapes him. Perhaps it was a sub-conscious knowledge of his own power that led him to Chartres, where he found in the Cathedral a subject worthy of his pen. It is to Chartres that he conveys his hero in company with the Abbé Gévresin, and throughout the book the Cathedral — its history, its architecture, its symbolism — is intimately interwoven with Durtal’s soul’s progress. Thanks to M. Huysmans, Chartres will henceforth live in our imaginations as it has never lived before. To bring a great work of art within the understanding of the multitude, to make it a living reality to those whose eyes have never been gladdened by its vision, is surely a creative act second only to that of the original creators. With an ecstasy born of faith, the author has steeped himself in the atmosphere of the sacred pile. To him it is a poem in stone, a sublime prayer come down to us from the Middle Ages, a living monument to the falth of the past. He hurries thither at early dawn in order to see the morning light steal through the forest of slender pillars, and he spends long hours in solitary contemplation of its marvellous sculptured porches. He singles out its beauties one by one — its statues, its stone traceries, the tender vivid blue of its incomparable windows — and he describes each detail with the elaborate precision that he acquired from his early training in the naturalist school. But permeating all he discerns the mystery of faith, the presence of the unseen, the mystic influence of the Blessed Virgin to whose worship the Cathedral is dedicated. No saint shares in her honours; no hallowed bones rest beneath the pavement of her temple; to Mary alone, to the two miraculous Madonnas of Notre-Dame de Sous-Terre, and Notre-Dame du Pilier, her suppliant worshippers turn for consolation. Among these Durtal comes to be numbered; with Verlaine he registers the vow, ’Je ne veux plus aimer que ma mère Marie’; and devotion to the Virgin — who in the religion of the pious Frenchman occupies much the same place as his own mother fills in his family affections — becomes inextricably mingled with his aesthetic reveries on line and colour.

Gothic architecture to Huysmans is the purest, noblest expression in stone of man’s aspirations towards the divine. Its pointed archways, its tall, slender spires spring heavenward like tender, confident, audacious prayers.

’Romanesque,’ he writes, ’is the La Trappe of architecture; it gives shelter to austere Orders, to sombre convents, to men who kneel on ashes chanting penitential psalms in plaintive voices, with heads bowed low...From its Asiatic origin Romanesque has retained something of the pre-Christlan era; within its walls man prays to the implacable Adondi rather than to the charitable Child, the tender Mother. Gothic architecture, on the other hand, is less timid, more concerned with the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity and with the Virgin; it shelters Orders that are less rigorous and more artistic ; beneath its roof prostrate figures rise up, lowered eyes are raised, and sepulchral voices grow seraphic.’

In a word, Romanesque for Huysmans typifies the Old Testament, and Gothic the New. And of all the marvellous Gothic cathedrals dotted over France, the Cathedral of Chartres, ’une blonde aux yeux bleus,’ appeals to him as the most devotional, the most etherealised in its beauty. After long pages of ’architectural exegesis,’ he sums up his impressions of the lofty interior in an outburst of rapturous devotion-

’Elle se spiritualisait, se faisait toute âme toute prière, lorsqu’elle s’élançait vers le Seigneur pour le rejoindre; légère et gracile, presque impondérable, elle était l’expression la plus magnifique de la beauté qui s’évade de sa gangue terrestre, de la beauté qui se séraphise. Elle était gréle et paâle comme ces Vierges de Roger van der Weyden qui sont si filiformes, si fluettes, qu’elles s’envoleraient si elles n’étaient en quelque sorte retenues ici-bas par le poids de leurs brocarts et de leurs traînes.’

Many will be tempted to read La Cathédrale solely for the sake of the beautiful descriptive passages which abound in its pages. And from that point of view alone the book is infinitely worth reading. And yet the descriptions of Chartres are subsidiary in intention to the description of Durtal’s state of soul, and the great moral purpose of the book is of higher import than its aesthetic qualities. In its spiritual aspect, if not in all its material details, La Cathédrale is a chapter in an autobiography as truthful and as penetrating as any of the great confessions which remain for all time among the most fascinating and instructive of human documents. No one in discussing, let us say, the Confessions of St..Augustine, would restrict himself solely to the literary aspect of the work, and to do so in the case of Huysmans would be not less ineffectual. Là Bas, En Route, and La Cathédrale form the veracious history of a soul’s conversion from materialism of the grossest kind to faith of a high spiritual order. And the story has been told by one of the greatest literary artists of the day. It is here that its almost unique value becomes evident. In it we are brought face to face with the essential truths of life presented in their most convincing aspect. If, as it is sometimes alleged, genius is neither more nor less than a capacity for perfect honesty of thought and expression, the writers of great autobiography — their names can be counted on the fingers of one hand — cannot fall short of genius. For to be honest about oneself is of all gifts the most rare. Even Cellini’s candid and fascinating Vita is written with a touch of bravado, and the Mémoires of Jean Jacques Rousseau have more than a touch of assumed sentimentalism. St. Augustine shares perhaps with St. Teresa the palm of supreme excellence in the sphere of spiritual revelations. Both were giants of the intellectual as well as of the spiritual life. Many of the mystical saints have manifested their interior life as an act of obedience and humility, but only a few possessed, in addition to purity of intention, those gifts of mind without which the gifts of the spirit cannot be made intelligible to the outside world. In J. K. Huysmans the necessary qualities are combined in a singularly high degree. He possesses an amazing, and to me an incomprehensible, capacity for squandering his soul on paper. for gauging the idiosyncrasies of his own temperament, for seizing his most fugitive emotions and pigeon-holing them for future literary use. That, in his three autobiographical volumes, he should have screened his identity behind the convenient mask of fiction, does not detract in any way from the sincerity of his work. Nowhere has he attempted to build up a personality around the figure of Durtal, to create a character for him by the aid of artistic embellishments. From first to last he writes of himself, from his own point of view, and the sense of his identity with his hero is so strong, that we might almost believe the personal pronoun had been replaced by the fictitious name only on the eve of publication.

Many readers of En Route declared themselves sceptical as to the reality of the author’s reconciliation with the Catholic Church, of which the book professes to be the record. They maintained that the religious attitude was a mere pose adopted for artistic effect. The extraordinarily dramatic treatment of purely spiritual experiences afforded perhaps some superficial excuse for so fundamentally false a view. I do not think that any reader could fall into the same error after reading La Cathédrale. Faith — vivid, unquestioning, mediaeval — is stamped on every page. It is full from beginning to end of that sense of finality that conies to the hunian soul after a long wrestle with the withering torments of unbelief. It is altogether more humane, more charitable than its predecessor, less prolific in bitter sarcasm and rash judgments against all who fall short of the spiritual ideals of the neophyte. The patient study of which the book gives evidence — it is the outcome of three years’ labour — could only have been voluntarily undertaken by one drawn irresistibly to such subjects by the magnetism of faith. Huysmans’ soul is one that could never have accommodated itself to a purely negative creed. Religion alone could save him from incurable melancholy. All his life he has suffered from a veritable craving after the supernatural and a crushing sense of the misery of our material existence. In his most unbelieving period, with that curious perversity of the intellect which frequently prompts men to cling to the most petty superstitions after they have thrown off all so-called ’orthodox’ belief, he flung himself for a time into the study of Satanism, Magic, and those varied spiritualistic phenomena from which a jaded Parisian public seeks to gain some new excitement, hoping to find relief from the intolerable tedium of his days. The very excesses of his sensual life can be explained as a blind striving after the unattainable. Then grace came to him, and he turned once more to the Catholic faith of his childhood. Of the struggle that ensued between the spirit and the flesh the most elaborate and convincing picture is drawn in En Route. All convention, all reticence is cast aside, and the naked soul of the sinner is exhibited in a hand-to-hand struggle with the forces of evil that his own vicious life has drawn upon him. The recital fills one with a sense of awe, of the grandeur of life’s combat, such a sense as comes to one before the Last Judgment in the Sistine. And over all there is the conviction, subtly conveyed, that of himself, Durtal, timid, hesitating, even reluctant, could have effected nothing; that he would have been helpless before the torrent of temptations that assailed him had he not been borne forward by sonic irresistible force, some compelling power, the ’yet not I’ of the apostle. For, in truth, Durtal himself is a sorry hero, who enlists our sympathies only by the candour and humility of his miserable revelations. True, there is in him no touch of self-glorification, none of the morbid vanity of the reformed drunkard ’testifying’ to the excesses of his unregenerate state. But even in La Cathédrale, when he has fought the great fight and has reached a haven of comparative calm and security, he is at best plodding, conscientious, humble, but never heroic. There is a want of robustness about him which, I confess, fills me at times with an unreasonable irritation. For, in reality, Durtal is an accurate study of human nature painted with the patient fidelity of Van Eyck; and his very frailty brings into prominent relief the doctrine of sanctification by grace, which is the underlying ’motif’ of the whole autobiography.

From his first revolt against materialism it is Christianity in its most mystical aspect that has attracted Durtal. He spurns the utilitarianism that has crept into much of the so-called Christianity of the present day. He is even bitterly and uncharitably intolerant of prim piety, of the worldly compromises of a ’bourgeoisie dévote,’ of religious observances performed in a narrow and Pharisaic spirit. His soul yearns after the highest life, the fullest comprehension of the Infinite. He is not a mystic, but he is a keen-sighted and sympathetic student of mysticism. He has made a prolonged and critical study of the mystical writings of the Middle Ages, of St. Bernard and St. John of the Cross, of St. Gertrude and St. Angela, and of his own mediaeval countryman the Admirable Ruysbroeck, from whom Maeterlinck also has drawn many of the purest thoughts in Le Triéor des Humbles. The lives of the mystical saints appeal to him intensely, and he paints them with a passion of sympathy which brings out at once their spiritual grandeur and their touching human weakness. I look forward eagerly to that life of Blessed Lidwine which he has repeatedly foreshadowed. Indeed, I would like a whole series of lives of saints from his pen. They would be full of supernatural grace and passionate human feeling, far indeed removed from the edifying lay-figure of the conventional hagiographer, for whom he has so profound a contempt. Take his little sketch of the almost unknown Dutch Carmelite of the seventeenth century, Marie Marguerite des Anges, whose life of amazing mortification was crowned after death by a miracle. She appears before us as real, as true, as palpable in Huysmans’ few ecstatic pages as if her life had been passed on our own plane of daily existence, instead of in a spiritual atmosphere of which most of us can form simply no conception at all. To Huysmans the contemplative life is the highest good, the most complete realisation of the end for which man is created. For him, as for the mystic, the spiritual life alone is real, and present, and actual; the material life, that which we realise by our senses, is dim and temporary and of no account. Monasticism, the life of the cloister, where alone the contemplative life can flourish, hovers unceasingly before his vision as the ultimate goal. Both his latest books are penetrated by the sense of its beauty, of its extraordinary fascination. He brings it before the reader in a way that no great novelist has done before, that no English novelist has ever attempted. Here, in modern industrial England we have entirely lost sight of the spiritual value of the ascetic life — and a life of contemplation is of necessity founded on the rock-bed of asceticism — oblivious that the greatest wisdom and the purest knowledge have come down to us through no other channel. We are apt to talk of monasticism as though it were some exploded fallacy of a superstitious past instead of its being the natural expression of one of the most profound and permanent cravings of human nature. We see the external triviality, the superficial narrowness of the religious life, and we entirely fail to see its hidden significance, the great underlying truths of which the material acts are but the outward expression. The life of the soldier in its daily round of drill and guard-duty and rigid discipline would appear equally petty and futile, were it not within the comprehension of us all that it constitutes an essential preparation for deeds of heroism on the battle-field. So the daily life of the monk or nun, the prayer, the silence. the mortifications are an essential preparation for that more intimate union with the Divine which is of the essence of all mysticism. And to the true soldier, as to the true religious, the imposed privations and the daily discipline are joyfully borne as the appointed means towards a supreme end.

To Huysmans alone among modern novelists there has come this unique comprehension of all that is concealed behind the wall of the cloister. He is as keenly alive to the refined spirituality that distinguishes communities of women as to the more robust virtues of the male Orders. Nor is his admiration based upon a romantic and imaginary conception of cloistered life. His fundamental realism does not fail him even here. He notes the coarse chapped hands and plain freckled faces of some humble Franciscan Sisters, in whose chapel he has gone to pray, and at La Trappe there is no attempt to gloss over the repulsive physical details inseparable from a life of extreme toil and mortification. If in his picture of ’le frère Siméon,’ the strongest and the most astounding thing he has ever accomplished, he has ventured for an instant to lift the veil that shrouds the regions of spiritual ecstasy from the eyes of ati unbelieving generation, he has none the less noted with an almost savage fidelity the unsavoury surroundings of the swineherd’s daily life. It is the essential beauty of a life of prayer and renunciation that appeals to him. He has steeped himself in the sentiment of the Middle Ages; he has familiarised himself with the most ecstatic revelations of conventual visionaries witil the veiled arcana of the religious life stand revealed before him. It is only possible to mention the description of Notre Dame de l’Atre in En Route, for it would be impossible to speak in adequate terms of pages so eloquent, so intimate, so filled with spiritual enlightenment. In La Cathédrale the penitential ideal of Trappist austerity has given place to the gentler, more cultivated, ideal of Benedictine learning. It is the Benedictines who have preserved for us the glorious traditions of plain-chant; it is in their convents and monasteries alone that the Divine Office is rendered with all the solemnity, all the measured beauty of which it is capable. The incomparable liturgy of the Church is the subject of their constant solicitude. They have been the zealous guardians of religious art in music, in painting, in architecture; and they have declined to countenance the singeries musicales and tawdry decoration which an irreligious age has introduced into the Sanctuary. To Durtal, a student and a recluse, whose aesthetic tastes are inextricably mingled with his religious aspirations, the Order of St. Benedict presents features of irresistible attractiveness. As he says of himself in La Cathédrale: ’He had nothing else in his favour, but at least he could plead a passionate love of mysticism and of the liturgy, of plain-chant and of cathedrals! Truthfully, and without self-deception, he could say, "Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth."’ In a Benedictine monastery, if anywhere, he may find peace for his tortured soul, and a rule of life not too austere for his poor shattered body. Slowly he feels himself drawn, as by invisible cords, until in the closing pages of his book he stands on the threshold of Solesmes. L’0blat is already announced, but it probably will not be given to the world until M. Huysmans has definitely severed himself from his Parisian life. Personally, I hope it may be so; for a study of monastic life in the present day, written with inside knowledge, not, as is usually the case, by some renegade monk, but by one gifted with all the spiritual and artistic qualifications for such a task, would certainly prove a document of the highest human interest. It may be reserved for M. Huysmans to carry forward with his pen that revival of monasticism in France which Lacordaire, preaching to all Paris from the pulpit of Notre Dame in the proscribed white robes of the Dominican, initiated by his penetrating eloquence and the magnetism of his personal example.

The conversion of M. Huysmans is no isolated episode in the history of contemporary French literature. Whether or no it heralds, as many have assumed, the dawn of a Christian renaissance in France, it may unquestionably be held to indicate a revolt against materialism, both in faith and in literature. Verlaine and Huysmans, Ferdinand Brunetière and François Coppée have each in turn, and according to the measure of his abilities, borne witness to one and the same truth. They have, one and all, deliberately altered their attitude towards life, and have publicly burned the gods whom they previously adored. Naturalism in art and materialism in religion have outlived. their day in Paris, and the swing of the pendulum is now set in the contrary direction. Men have wearied of mere exteriority, of faithful photographic reproduction, and they have wearied above all of the attitude of mind which can only perceive the sordid and repulsive side of life. Amid the strange tangle of vague religious aspirations and fantastic spiritualistic beliefs with which all classes in Paris seem to be infected at the present time, we can discern a real craving after the invisible, a longing for closer union with the spiritual forces of existence. It is on these lines alone that we can hope for the revival of literature from the present condition of national decadence. Literature is in the main true to life just in so far as it marks the eternal correspondence between the seen and the unseen; and to-day we are learning to realise afresh the value of symbolism as a means of bringing home this correspondence to the world’s intelligence. In France it seems to me at least possible that this revolt against materialism may crystallise into a definite revival of Catholic faith. French literature has always represented within its boundaries the two extremes of a licentious paganism and the expression of an intense Christian spirituality. The literary level of purely devotional writing has usually been very much higher in France than in other countries, Spain alone, perhaps, excepted. The pagan and the Christian element in literature dominate each other in turn in succeeding waves of national emotion. In the earlier years of the present century there occurred an unexpected recrudescence of Christian faith when Chateaubriand gave the signal with his Ginée du Cliristianisme, and De Maistre and Lamartine, Lamennais and Montalembert devoted their pens with a passionate energy to the service of the Church. To-day, under altered conditions, and on a somewhat wider basis, the same phenomenon may repeat itself; and the symbolist movement, with the author of En Route as its most penetrating exponent, may mark the advent of a new period of spiritual efflorescence on Gallic soil.

To the critic M.Huysmans’ art presents many conflicting qualities. We shall understand it better if we bear in mind that he is, by early training, a realist. Zola, who makes no mistakes, except in literature, always knew that Huysmans, and not Maupassant, was the man of genius. To-day, freeing himself from the shackles of the naturalist school, he transfers to the spiritual plane all the accuracy, the conscientiousness, the powers of observation which he acquired in the past. He penetrates to the spiritual meaning of life with the same unerring precision as in former years he painted external features. There are even times when old associations are so strong upon him that he seems to take pleasure in applying ignoble words to spiritual purposes with a jarring effect. It is one of the few blots on a style at once singularly harmonious and extraordinarily terse and daring. Symbolism, that most elusive of studies, he reduces to an exact science. He has mastered it in all its details, all its ramifications. He enters exhaustively into the symbolism of numbers and of gems, of colours and scents, of beasts and birds, and he tabulates the conflicting theories of saints and of scholars. That on a subject so suggestive and so beautiful he should have ended by wearying the reader with a mass of ill-arranged detail is a matter of very real regret. He has possessed himself by much reading of a vast store of rare and some what fantastic information, pigeon-holed ready for use. But, like Zola, he lacks discrimination in the use of his material; he keeps nothing back, forgetful that the reader’s appetite may not be as exorbitant as his own. The superficial critic will probably condemn his habit of intercalating ill his narrative long pages which have no direct connection with his subject. D’Annunzio sins ill the same way. It is a proceeding that violates the accepted canons of literary construction of our day. But if canons are violated with good results, where is the evil? The proceeding becomes rather ail affirmation of a new law. And the long criticism of Fra Angelico in La Cathédrale, though at first sight it may annoy us as a digression, grows upon us by degrees, until we come to see that it lights up the book as one of the beautiful windows at Chartres lights up the dim interior.

I would like to take leave of M. Huysmans in one of his happier, more imaginative, moods. His is a dark, strenuous soul, to whom even the full light of Christian faith brings but a small share of that ’holy joy,’ of which Francis of Assisi will always remain the most exquisite type. But in La Cathédrale, we see traces of a melting pessimism, of softened judgments, of gleams of radiance penetrating the natural gloom of his soul. Here, on the eve of his departure for Solesmes, are the words in which he sums up his impressions of Chartres, the home of the Blessed Virgin, whose very features he seeks to trace in the mystic beauty of the interior:-

’Eh bien, moi, qui ne suis point un visionnaire et qui dois avoir recours a mon imagination pour me la figurer, il me semble que je l’aperçois dans les contours, dans l’expression même de la cathédrale; les traits sont un peu brouillés dans le pale éblouissement de la grande rose qui flamboie derrière sa tête, telle qu’un nimbe. Elle sourit et ses yeux, tout en lumière, ont l’incomparable éclat de ces clairs saphirs qui éclairent l’entrée de la nef. Son corps fluide s’effuse en une robe candide de flammes, rayée de cannelures, côtelée, ainsi que la jupe de la fausse Berthe. Son visage a une blancheur qui se nacre, et la chevelure, comme tissée par un rouet de soleil, vole en des fils dor; Elle est l’épouse du Cantique: "Pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol." La basilique où Elle réside et qui se confond avec Elle s’illumine de ses grâces; les gemmes des verrières chantent ses vertus; les colonnes minces et freêles qui s’élancent d’un jet, des dalles jusques aux combles, décèlent ses aspirations et ses désirs; le pavé raconte son humilité; les voûtes qui se réunissent, de même qu’un dais, au-dessus d’Elle, narrent sa charité; les pierres et les vitres répètent ses antiennes; et il n’est pas jusqu’àl’aspect belliqueux de quelclues détails du sanctuaire, jusqu’àcette tournure chevaleresque rappelant les Croisades, avec les lames d’épées et les boucliers des fenêtres et des roses, le casque des ogives, les cottes de maille du clocher vieux, les treillis de fer de certains carreaux, qui n’évoquent le souvenir du capitule de Prime et de l’antienne de Laudes de son petit office, qui ne traduise le "terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata" qui ne relate cette privauté qu’Elle possède, quand Elle le veut, d’être "ainsi qu’une armée rangée en bataille, terrible."

’Mais Elle ne le veut pas souvent ici, je crois; aussi cette cathédrale est-elle surtout le reflet de son inépuisable mansuétude, l’écho de son impartible gloire!’

We see in this beautiful passage the beneficent influence exercised by the great Gothic cathedral on the soul of the novelist. His six months at Chartres were spent in a spiritual ecstasy. Even in those moments of prostration, by which the fidelity of every soul is tested, he is conscious at Chartres of some tender spiritual protection which saves him from the lowest depths of desolation. He is lifted up out of the region of petty personal miseries which in the early pages of En Route were seen to paralyse his soul, and he lives in a new world — a world of dreams and aspiration and mystical beauty. There is a long spiritual pilgrimage between the Black Mass in Là Bas and the Communion in the crypt of Chartres. The two noblest emotions of which the soul of M. Huysmans is capable — religious faith and artistic enjoyment — find their highest expression combined within the grey walls of the Cathedral. At Chartres his soul is at peace. The book gives us a new sense of the magical force of Beauty, of the eternal power of Truth.