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Against Nature (A Rebours) (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 24, 2004

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Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Born in Paris in 1848 and acknowledged as a principal architect of the fin-de-siècle imagination, Joris-Karl Huysmans was a career civil servant who wrote ten novels, most notably A Rebours (1884) and Là-Bas (1891). Huysmans died in 1907. Robert Baldick (d.1972) translated widely from the French and wrote a biography of Huysmans. Patrick McGuinness is a Fellow and Tutor in French at St Anne's College, Oxford, and editor of Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siecle (Exeter UP, 2000).

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (February 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140447636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140447637
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 86 people found the following review helpful By GeoX on November 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
Against Nature utterly captivated me. Never before had I read a novel that dared throw any and all narrative convention to the winds with such mad abandon. Huysmans himself thought the public would have no interest in it, and to be perfectly honest, I can't for the life of me see why he wasn't absolutely correct. And yet, for some reason, I just couldn't get enough. Chapters that do nothing more than expound upon Des Esseintes's favorite painters or Latin writers amount to little more than reader abuse, but I found them endlessly fascinating regardless. No doubt part of this was nothing more than shocked delight at the sheer perversity of the little experiment, but I don't think my interest was entirely predicated on novelty--Huysmans is actually quite a good writer (I read the Penguin edition, as translated by Robert Baldick, for what its worth), and Des Esseintes's whims, desires, and recollections are often so extravagantly bizarre as to be quite funny. And then, of course, there's the 'plants' chapter, which is quite probably the most grotesque and macabre thing I've ever read. It's a bit of a shame that it's stuck right in the middle of the book, as it does make the subsequent material seem a bit anticlimactic, but then again, if Huysmans had any sort of regard for narrative structure, he wouldn't have written this diabolical piece of work in the first place. If Zola was Pink Floyd, Huysmans was the Sex Pistols. You need to read Against Nature.
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90 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Theolonius on June 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Frankly, I wrote this commentary on Margaret Mauldon's translation of A Rebours to divert the buyer to a much better one, that is, the classic translation by Robert Baldick, also available from
This new modernized translation is supposed to be truer to the french original text, but it is not so. It's thorny and crammed with clashing sentences and too many words. Take for instance the prologue,
"Cramped and confined within those old frames where their great shoulders stretched across from side to side..."
Now compare this with Baldick's version which is more to the point,
"Imprisoned in old picture-frames which were scarcely wide enough for their broad shoulders.."
It's also obvious that Baldick's translation is much truer to the musical language that Huysmans wrote his book in. In fact Baldick mentions it in his preface to the translation. His assesment of A Rebours is also valuable for the understanding of the author's accomplishment.
The only thing valuable in this poor substitute is the appendix which consists of Huysmans' preface to A Rebours written twenty years after the novel. But to compare Baldick's translation, written in the late fifties, with this grammatical scramble is like comparing a nightingale's song to a cricket's. I sincerely recommend you rather buy Baldick's translation over this one.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gebert on August 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
Assuming that this "Viking" edition is in fact the Penguin edition or some relation, this is by far the preferred edition of Huysmans' strange masterwork. The translation by Robert Baldick, Huysmans' most trustworthy biographer, is not only NOT slightly censored like the earlier English one reprinted by Dover... it's also a much livelier read. Which is important because, after all, there's not much of a conventional plot here; the story such as it is depicts the gradual enervation of a decadent aristocrat as he exhausts the pleasure to be found in every pleasure he can think of.
Huysmans was literature's great complainer, capable of finding the misery and ennui in any situation-- even bachelorhood in late 19th century Paris. And while the book is regarded mainly as a manual for decadent living (Dorian Gray kept it by his bed), full of recherche and recondite indulgences, Huysmans' depiction of the unending quest for novelty and sensation is also drolly funny at times-- as in the scene in which an impotent des Esseintes takes up with a ventriloquist in the hopes that she can get a rise out of him by impersonating her own husband threatening violence outside the door while they copulate
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James J. Omeara on August 20, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'll assume that you already know about this book, or can get what you need from the other reviews. I'm just focusing on the edition: the 2004 Penguin Classics reprint of Robert Baldick's 1956 translation but with a new introduction and notes by Patrick McGuinness (and a new cover, of which more anon).

Now, I think of myself as a Huysmans 'completist,' and would have thought that I have a copy of just about every edition. But I've never seen this one in a bookstore (even here in NYC) and only came across it by accident on Amazon. As other reviewers have noted, the translation, though older, is much more readable than the Oxford Classics one. The latter has far more annotation, especially for the surveys of Latin and French "decadent" literature, but you really don't need that for more than your first reading. This is the edition to get if you plan to revisit the work from time to time, as I did (and do).

Why else? Well, the Oxford edtion is printed on cheap, thin paper that browned almost immediately, and produces irritating "see-through" effects; the cover, of my copy at least, instantly creased itself rather than folding, making it hard to hold (and ugly). This Penguin is on bright, white paper, and with larger type (though consequently is also a bit larger in size). Des Esseintes would approve!

But the main reasons are two: the intro, and the cover. McGuinness does a much better, or at least more interesting, job of relating the book to its time and ours, bringing in far more interesting tie-ins (Breton's "black 'umour" rather than "Huysmans's anality", Marianne Faithful saying she'd only bed guys who read the book, rather than Oxford's cringe-inducing comparison to Kurt Cobain(!
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