The Cathedral

Published by Dedalus Books in 2011

blue  Translated by Clara Bell (amended and updated by Brendan King).

blue  Includes photos of a number of sculptures and statues mentioned in the text.

blue  To purchase this book click here.

After the Satanic debaucheries of Là-bas (1891) and the sensual battles of En Route (1895), comes the cloistered calm of The Cathedral (1898). In this long, reflective novel, Huysmans’ alter-ego, Durtal, sets out to explore the mystic symbolism embodied in one of the greatest gothic edifices in France, Chartres cathedral. Written at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that threatened to tear France apart, Chartres cathedral became for Huysmans a potent symbol of the harmonious diversity of the Middle Ages, one that had the porential to unify the divisions in contemporary French society. This complex, multi-layered vision of Chartres cathedral as a structure in which art, science and religion could exist in harmony rather than discord captured the public imagination on its first publication and The Cathedral beccame a runaway bestseller.

This is the first time that Clara Bell's original — and up to the present time only — translation has been revised and updated. Numerous errors have been corrected and some short passages that were cut from the original for being too coarse have been restored and included. As well as a preface by Brendan King placing the novel in its socio-cultural context, this edition also includes photographs of major sculptures from the North and South porches which Huysmans' describes in the text and which allow the reader to see how the author's imagination responded to the stimulus of medieval art.

"To get at that truth which is…the deepest meaning of beauty, to find that symbol which is its most adequate expression, is in itself a kind of creation; and that is what Huysmans does for us in The Cathedral. More and more he has put aside all the profane and accessible and outward pomp of writing, for an inner and more severe beauty of perfect truth. He has come to realise that truth can be reached and revealed only by symbol."

Arthur Symons, The Saturday Review, 1898.

“Durtal extols the flaming raptures of the mystical Gothic, tries to comprehend the stone text of Chartres and is extremely funny about the horrors of living in the provinces, although equally viperish on the subject of Parisian literary life. These books mark a 19th century spiritual journey undertaken by a very modern sensibility; Durtal's wicked, witty, self-lacerating voice could be that of a contemporary medieval scholar with a bad case of mystical anomie.”

Elizabeth Young, City Limits

“Although the main character in The Cathedral is Durtal, the cathedral is the main focus of the book. Durtal’s spiritual awakening is explored through his homage to, and desire to unravel the meaning of, Chartres Cathedral. Crafted with painstaking attention to detail, the novel is both an account of a conversion and a detailed examination of the langauge of medieval art.”

Dr. Penelope Woolf