THE NATION May 16, 1907 (Vol. 84 No. 2185).

New York: USA.


Too much importance can easily be attached to the “soul-history” of a professional littérateur like Joris Karl Huysmans, who has just died at Paris. He began his career as a crass realist. He ended in medieval mysticism, and on the way passed through various philosophical and emotional vagaries which it has been habitual to characterize as steps in a consistent evolutionary process. How sincere were Huysmans’s successive conversions? If sincere, in the ordinary sense of the word, how indicative of actual change beneath the falling and swell of the literary emotional surface? The fact that Huysmans passed from extreme naturalism to extreme supernaturalism may mean only a taste and capacity for dealing with primary colors and strong lights, such as is by no means uncommon among Huysmans’s compatriots. Ludovic Halévy is the author of probably the most widely accepted text book idyl in the world, “L’Abbe Constantin,” though in his Offenbachian librettos and elsewhere he has shown that he by no means lacked the Attic salt. Zola himself, Huysmans’s first master, has written beautiful idyls. The gifted French author, with his talent, is like the small boy with his new jack-knife: not at all averse to show how many different things it can cut. When he’s horrid; as he likes to be so often, he’s very, very horrid; but when he’s good, he can very often beat the sentimentalists at their own game. But in so doing he does not avoid the sense of the false note to be found in Théophile Gautier when he protests his equal susceptibility to the beauty of Venus Anadyomene and of the Virgin.