Marthe: Histoire d’une fille, 1876 (Marthe: Story of a Prostitute, 1927)
Les Sœurs Vatard, 1879 (The Vatard Sisters, 1983)
En ménage, 1881 (Living Together, 1969)
À vau-l’eau, 1882 (novella; Down Stream, 1927)
À rebours, 1884 (Against the Grain, 1922)
En rade, 1887 (Becalmed, 1992)
Un Dilemme, 1887
Là-bas, 1891 (Down There, 1924; better known as Là-Bas, 1972)
En route, 1895 (English translation, 1896)
La Cathédrale, 1898 (The Cathedral, 1898)
L’Oblat, 1903 (The Oblate, 1924)
“Sac au dos,” 1880 (in Les Soirées de Médan; English translation, 1907)
Le Drageoir aux épices, 1874 (A Dish of Spices, 1927)
Croquis parisiens, 1880 (Parisian Sketches, 1962)
L’Art moderne, 1883 (translated with Certains as Critical Papers, 1927)
Certains, 1889 (translated with L’Art moderne as Critical Papers, 1927)
La Bièvre, 1890
Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam, 1901 (St. Lydwine of Schiedam, 1923)
De tout, 1902
Esquisse biographique sur Don Bosco, 1902
Trois Primitifs, 1905
Les Foules de Lourdes, 1906 (The Crowds of Lourdes, 1925)
The Road from Decadence, from Brothel to Cloister: Selected Letters of J. K. Huysmans, 1989 (Barbara Beaumont, editor)
Down Stream, and Other Works, 1927 (includes Down Stream, Marthe, A Dish of Spices, and Critical Papers)
Œuvres complètes, 1928-1934 (23 volumes)
Descended from a Dutch family of painters, French novelist Charles Marie Georges Huysmans (Dutch HOY-smahns or French wees-mahns) wrote under the pseudonym of Joris-Karl, or J.-K., Huysmans. After receiving a baccalauréat in 1866, he worked for thirty years in the Ministry of the Interior. This provided Huysmans with a small income that allowed him to devote his free time to literature. He was drafted into the National Guard in 1870 and served at the front during the Franco-Prussian War and then as a clerk. His first volume of stories showed the influence of Charles Baudelaire. He next came under the influence of Émile Zola, whom he knew well; he wrote a series of novels of everyday life in which he tried to outdo his master in the field of naturalism.
Some of Huysmans’s works were self-published or published outside France, partly because of their controversial nature. He was also active as an art critic and advocate of impressionism, writing for Le Voltaire, L’Art Moderne, and other periodicals in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. Taking a new direction with the publication of Against the Grain, he produced his most important novel and the first volume of a loosely connected series. This story of the decadent aristocrat, the Duc des Esseintes, had a great influence on French and English writers of the 1890’s and is described in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The jaded duc, seeking in bizarre fashions for new and unattainable sensations, was the prototype for the fin de siècle hero.
With Down There, Huysmans continued the work begun in Against the Grain, changing his hero’s name to Durtal and giving him a different social background. These novels are a spiritual autobiography, overlaid with much esoteric learning, of Huysmans’s own struggle toward faith. Durtal goes first to a Trappist monastery and finally to the city of Chartres, where he becomes a Benedictine oblate. In the last books, the plots are reduced to a minimum, and the author concerns himself with elaborate discussions of medieval religious symbolism and the lives of saints and mystics. Here and elsewhere, Huysmans worked to combine naturalism and spiritualism, drawing details of both human decadence and occult practice from his own experience.
Aside from his influence on the literature of the 1890’s, Huysmans is known for depicting a characteristic problem of the late nineteenth century: the struggle to regain the religious faith that, particularly in Roman Catholic countries, so many had lost. (Huysmans himself eventually became a devout Roman Catholic.) Later critics have also discussed Huysman’s themes of gender and sexuality, his social and political commentary, and the problematic nature of his language.