Surrendering the second floor of the house to his servants, Des Esseintes decorates the walls and ceiling of the study in imitation of the bindings of his books, using coarse-grained morocco leather instead of wallpaper. Orange is the principal color, with blue-tinted windows curtained in dark red-gold. His dining room, separated by a padded corridor, becomes a smaller enclosure contained within the one designed by the house’s architect. It is timbered so as to resemble a ship’s cabin, with a window like a porthole looking out toward an aquarium stocked with mechanical fish.
In order to provide a suitable contrast to the violet and yellow tints of an Oriental rug, Des Esseintes adds to the decor of his study a large tortoise, the shell of which is glazed in gold and embellished with gems. The paintings he acquires for his study include Gustave Moreau’s two famous depictions of Salome, while his bedroom houses an El Greco, and his dressing room is decorated with ebony-framed engravings by Jan Luyken and works by Francisco de Goya and Odilon Redon. When the time comes to liven up his abode with flowers he selects carnivorous plants. As a backdrop for his hallucinatory nightmares, he purchases a black marble sphinx and a multicolored earthenware chimera.
The purpose of this environment–an archetypal expression of decadence–is not so much to reflect Des Esseintes’s flagrantly contradictory personality as to facilitate his research into the possibility of escape into a world of imagination. In violating all the customary norms of decorative taste and deploying the work of the most extreme artistic outsiders, Des Esseintes contrives to make the house into a kind of porthole through which the possibility of a gloriously perverse and wholly artificial existence is briefly glimpsed.
Bodega. London pub that Des Esseintes imagines visiting when he is seized by a desire to experience the England of Charles Dickens’s novels. He takes a train into Paris on a rainy day and imagines that the Seine River is the Thames. After buying a travel guide to London, he descends into a drinking establishment where English patrons are known to gather and transports himself, by the power of fantasy, into a world that is reminiscent of Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. However, the relief his fantasy provides is brief, and he is glad to return to his books. Even more than the house, this establishment is symbolic of the borderline between fact and fantasy, where actual locations become magic casements overlooking the enticing but unreachable landscapes of the imagination.